Tom Gabel of Against Me! is a punk-rock true-believer who wears his heart pinned to a denim jacket. It's there in the form of a tiny baby doll affixed to his chest to remember the recent birth of his daughter — and it's also there in the form of a button for the hardcore band Civil Disobedience, a favorite from his days as a Florida teen anarchist. Gabel is 29 now, with a successful band of his own, but he insists he isn't ready to abandon that initial jolt of punk rock discovery. "I want to maintain that feeling of being young and feeling like you can change the world," says Gabel, for whom personal protest tunes remain a core mission. "That is a very pure and honest feeling."
He sings of those early days in a new song, "I Was a Teenage Anarchist," but he questions what he now sees as another brand of conformity within that anarchic society: "I had the style, I had the ambition / I read all the authors, I knew the right slogans… But then the scene got too rigid / It was a mob mentality / They set their rifle sights on me." That song appears on Against Me!'s new album, White Crosses, set for release June 8th. "I don't want people to misinterpret the song as saying, 'I've somehow become more conservative in my views,' " Gabel explains. "I'm interested in autonomous thinking. I'm interested in being my own authority and not answering to anybody else."
Gabel wrote the new album while living in St. Augustine, Florida, around the corner from a field of 4,000 small, crooked crosses called the Cemetery of the Innocents, an anti-abortion display on the lawn of a neighborhood church. Gabel had to pass it nearly every day and his anger at the display inspired him to write the album's title song — one political act influencing another. "I had the urge to veer my car off the road and drive through the crosses, or to get out of my car and stomp every cross into the ground," he says. "Sometimes acts of destruction like that can be incredibly gratifying and cathartic. For me, writing this record and playing these songs gives me a similar feeling."
Writing in Florida also led Gabel to thoughts of the days before he founded Against Me! in Gainesville in the early '90s. "It ended up taking me in a really reflective direction," he says. "I spent a lot of time thinking about people I used to know, places I used to hang out, growing up in Florida. In became a Florida-heavy record."
The rest of Against Me! still lives in Gainesville, but Gabel relocated to Los Angeles during the recording of White Crosses. The album was cut at Eldorado Recording Studios in Burbank with Butch Vig, who produced the band's breakthrough 2007 LP New Wave. The new songs are tough, melodic bursts of noise: highlights of the 10 tracks include "Rapid Decompression," which is built on a Sex Pistols-inspired riff and shout-along lyrics about "the whole world falling apart." Vig also convinced Gabel to include the shimmering, romantic tune "Ache With Me" and while the bandleader was initially unsure about the track, he says it has become one of his favorite songs on the album. "It's about that feeling of being really unsatisfied and feeling like you're searching for something, but you don't necessarily know what it is," he says.
While Against Me! are slotted to launch their summer tour at Bonnaroo on June 13th with new touring keyboardist Franz Nicolay (formerly of the Hold Steady), Gabel will continue to write every day, scribbling in his journal or posting on his blog I Feel Sick to My Stomach. He's already got his band's next album on his mind. "I try to write in some shape or form nightly, daily, whatever, just to keep my chops up," he says. "You're only as good as the last song you've written."