Punk's Not Dead

Against Me! Plays anarchist punk rock for the masses.

It's been a pretty crazy past five years for Gainesville, Florida's Against Me! Although the band is currently headlining theaters, it wasn't that long ago that it was playing house shows in Midwestern cities such as Cleveland and risking its life to get through a set.

"The size of the living room could probably hold 25 people uncomfortably — and there were something like 200 or 250 in there," says bassist Andrew Seward, recalling one of the band's early gigs in the Midwest. "All I remember is after the second song somebody comes running up from the basement going, 'Everyone has to get out!' Apparently, the beams in the floor were bending and one cracked, so they had to get everyone out of the else or the floor was going to collapse and serious injuries would ensue."

That said, the members of Against Me! are no strangers to unconventional venues. "We've played everywhere," Seward says. "We've played cow stalls in a barn in Germany and microbreweries in Montana; we've played so many weird places, but it helps keep things interesting."

Alternately, the act — which often draws comparisons to the Clash — is as shocked as anyone else with the success of its latest album (and major-label debut) New Wave. "I'm totally blown away by the reaction," Seward says. "I mean, none of us expected someone like SPIN or Magnet not only to latch onto it, but to like it so much. Of course we're glad people like it, but if they didn't like it, we'd still be doing the same thing we're doing."

One gets the feeling that Seward is telling the truth, but regardless of that fact, the band has had punk-rock guilt heaped on it seemingly since its inception — a situation that seems as exhausting as the songwriting process alone is for most bands.

"Oh, it's absolutely tedious," Seward responds, when asked if it's frustrating that the band has to justify every decision it makes to its fans. "We signed to Fat Wreck Chords four and a half years ago — and most bands don't even last that long together," he continues. "We signed to Sire in December 2005, so we're going on two years now. But we own all the decisions we've made; we wanted to go to these labels and see what they could do. So we made this bed, and we're perfectly comfortable laying in it."

They should be — and for once, the critical acclaim for the band's Sire debut is well-deserved. From melodic mid-tempo tracks such as "Thrash Unreal" to the Franz Ferdinand-inspired "Stop" and the anti-war anthem "White People For Peace," New Wave may not be London Calling, but it's one of the strongest discs in recent memory.

"We don't know any better than anyone else, so we're definitely not into sloganeering or preaching," Seward explains when asked about the band's politics. "I just think the songs are honest and they speak for themselves. People are supposed to get what they get from it, and we're not supposed to tell them what it means, you know?"

This ambiguity has allowed Against Me! to tour alongside everyone from Anti-Flag to Mastodon to Cursive — and the band enjoys the fact that it hasn't been banished to the punk ghetto as of yet.

"We're really selfish in the fact that we want to keep it fresh for ourselves," Seward explains. "This is only the second day of tour with Cobra Skulls, World/Inferno Friendship Society and Sage Francis. I watched Sage Francis last night, and he's fucking amazing — and he's way more controversial than us if you're middle-class white American living in the South," he adds with a grin. "If your parents heard some of his songs, they'd probably get pissed, and I love that."

In fact, when asked what type of music the band listens to in the van, the list ranges from Spoon to Les Savy Fav — and despite Against Me!'s punk pedigree, the list contains far fewer anarchist anthems than one might expect. "Dude, I would go crazy if I just listened to punk rock; it would be so boring," Seward says candidly. "Not to sound vain, but I think we all share a common taste in good music, and it doesn't matter if it's punk or country or whatever.

"I'd rather listen to Hank Williams singing than something super heavy," he continues. "There is a time for that, but not all the time."

6:30 p.m. Sunday, November 25. Pop's, 1403 Mississippi Avenue, Sauget, Illinois. $16.50 advance, $17 day of show. 618-274-6720.

THE DOWNLOAD

Joe Jackson has been off our radar since his "Steppin' Out" days, but the man hasn't been wasting any time. Along with constantly revamping his brand of new wave piano-pop, Jackson spends his days rallying against anti-smoking legislation on both sides of the pond. You can read his recent essay "Smoke, Lies and the Nanny State" at his Web site, or head over to Stereogum to download "King Pleasure Time," the first single from the upcoming Rain. Due in January, the album features three of the original Joe Jackson Band members — and probably a few more song titles that will make nicotine fiends flick their Bics. (Visit www.joejackson.com and www.stereogum.com.)

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