The CultureMap Interview
The members of Against Me! are unlikely rock stars, and not just because singer Laura Jane Grace is one of the highest-profile transgender musicians working. The band’s evolution from scrappy punks playing basement shows to chart-topping, major-label act isn’t one with a lot of precedent. Usually bands that blow up from the underground do it quickly or not at all.
They’ve lost members for unlikely reasons — drummer Warren Oakes left two years after the band signed to Warner Brothers; released SPIN magazine’s 2007 album of the year, No Wave; and toured with the Foo Fighters in order to open a Southern-Mexican fusion restaurant in Gainesville, Florida — and split from their label shortly after releasing their highest-charting album, 2010’s White Crosses.
As the band loaded the van to head to Texas — they have shows in Houston and Austin (for Fun Fun Fun Fest) as well — CultureMap caught up with bassist Andrew Seward.
CultureMap: Do you approach a club tour in the United States differently from the big festival tour you have coming up in Australia with Big Day Out?
Andrew Seward: No, not really. I mean, you always have to kind of go around what your time constraints are. Big Day Out, off the top of my head, I don’t even know what the actual set time is, but I’m assuming it’ll be 30-40 minutes, something like that. A club show, we’ll play an hour and a half. But we always kinda take it the same way.
It sounds kinda ridiculously cheesy to say, but we just try to kill it every time. It doesn’t matter if you have 15 minutes. You just play as hard as you can for the time you have. Keeping it fresh — we have a lot of songs, so we always have a lot to choose from. So that’s never that much of a concern.
We have a bunch of new songs too, and we’re definitely excited to play those.
CM: It’s been a while since White Crosses came out. You guys are still playing live a lot, though. Given the way things worked out when you left Warner Brothers, was focusing on the live show a big priority for the band?
AS: We always focus on the live show. We’re the first ones to know when we have a bad show. We’re our biggest critics by far — up and beyond. It’s actually kind of ridiculous how self-criticizing we can be, when no one in the crowd could probably even notice. But that’s just how it is.
With White Crosses, nothing changed that made us sit down and evaluate our live show. It’s always being evaluated. It’s cheesy, but we never try to slack it.
CM: Does that come from the fact that you came up playing basements and spaces like that?
AS: We’re not as young as we used to be, I’ll say that. But we all grew up scrappy punk kids, putting out our own records and booking our own tours. We all come from that world, where you’ve played everything. You’ve played this person’s basement, this gazebo in Little Rock by the river in a public park where you can just show up and play, generator shows, stuff like that.
It’s always been that, and we still have that drive. You show up to a club and you’re like, “Oh, this isn’t the best layout or acoustics,” but what are you going to do? You go out and play your hardest. That’s always been a mainstay in our attitude.
CM: A lot of bands are going independent these days. Do you think Against Me! is uniquely suited to do that, given how you started and how devoted your fan base is?
AS: I don’t know. I mean, Against Me! has been a roller coaster, if you will. I’m gonna try not to dive into shit-talking anything — I always try to mind my p’s and q’s when it comes to that — but I think we’re just a band who wants to absolutely destroy. We want our records to sound sonically and musically as good as humanly possible. We don't want to put limitations on anything.
Honestly, I don’t know, if the relationship with Warner Brothers were still working out well, I’d probably be saying the same thing. As long as musically and sonically we still had control over everything, we’d still be doing it like that.
CM: I have a few trans* friends who don’t come from a punk rock background, but who’ve really gotten into the band since Laura came out. This band has always meant a lot to people personally, and it seems like Against Me! has always been bigger than the music in some ways. Is that something that you think about?
AS: I fucking love it. The more, the merrier. Everybody, come on, let’s hang out. Let’s have fun. That’s what it’s supposed to be about. It’s all supposed to be a loving community that supports each other. No time for bullshit. I think it’s amazing. Anyone who’s not from the world of punk rock, I think, would actually like our band. We’re not some [screams unintelligibly like a hardcore singer] band.
However you want to define punk rock — that’s not us. We’re people who love melody and love good songwriting. The band could love Crass just as much as the Rolling Stones. It’s music. It’s meant to be explored and thought about, not pigeonholed.
Against Me! plays Prophet Bar Saturday, November 3, at 8 pm.