Although they already had a handful of smaller releases under their belt, folk-tinged punk rockers Against Me! really pounced onto the scene with their highly beloved 2002 release, Reinventing Axl Rose (No Idea). The Florida quintet quickly became infamous for their sweaty sing-alongs as they toured basements across the nation. As their movement gained momentum, it became inevitable that something huge was going to happen. The band started booking bigger shows to accommodate their growing fanbase and major labels came knocking. Ultimately Against Me! decided to sign to Fat Wreck Chords in 2003, releasing As the Eternal Cowboy that same year. Fans misinterpreted their success, tagging them sellouts and claiming the band could no longer really represent the lyrics: "Our arena [sic] just basements and bookstores across an underground America."

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"I feel like for us personally, and maybe for a lot of other people, too, that Reinventing Axl Rose was a time and a place," says singer Tom Gabel, phoning in from outside a Billings, Montana, venue. "It signified the end of a time and a place, too, in a lot of ways. It's nice that people want to hold on to that, but we have to move on and keep progressing. It's important to me to write music that's relevant to right now in my life or right now in the world, too."

Their new record, Searching for a Former Clarity, responds to the public cries and criticisms of the band's evolution. Throughout the album's 50-plus minutes, Gabel calls himself an asshole, tries to quit the band, screams at the industry for making music a market, and dares the fans to see just how desperate and fucked up things can get. It's a back-and-forth argument, but it's also the most personally honest Gabel's lyrics have ever been.

"I feel like people expect you to just have everything fucking figured out, but that's not the way it is. That's not the way anybody is," he says. "You're constantly in this battle for the person you are, the person you were, and the person you're trying to become. It's a weird thing, and that's growing up, that's living life. For me it's a lot more honest to say that you're confused and you don't know what the answers are than to pretend that you do know what the answers are."

The band used to be fun basement anarchists who would shit-talk George W. and make their own T-shirts. Now they're playing arenas with Green Day and appearing on Conan O'Brien—but they're still voicing strong political opinions and pulling pranks, like locking pseudo-emo rockers Taking Back Sunday in their dressing room prior to showtime. Does Against Me! even have time to listen to the backlash? "Nah," Gabel says with a laugh. "I'm over it." MEGAN SELING

Support The Stranger

Against Me! play Neumo's Thurs Oct 13 with the Epoxies, the Soviettes, and Smoke or Fire. Show starts at 8 pm and costs $12 adv/$14 DOS.

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