Florida anarcho-punks AGAINST ME! have come a long way from beating on buckets and playing shouty, thrashy, minute-long songs in basements and house parties across the U.S. They’re hoping their fans will come with them, too.

Story: Jason Pettigrew

If it weren’t for cell phones, Tom Gabel would be a social fugitive. Though he’s technically based out of Gainesville, Florida, the Against Me! frontman is always on the move. Usually, it’s because Gabel and his bandmates-drummer Warren Oakes, guitarist James Bowman and bassist Andrew Seward-are on one of their seemingly endless touring campaigns. Today, however, after storing his personal effects at his mom’s place, Gabel is returning to the budget motel he’s temporarily calling home-prior to hitting the road once again, of course. “To me, it’s always about the next record, or the next song, or the next show,” he says of Against Me!’s work ethic. “I think we’re always on a quest for the next thing.”

Armed with an acoustic guitar, a strident voice and a love of protest music in the folk idiom-not the kind of stuff that goes down well in Gainesville’s conservative social climate-Gabel started Against Me! as a one-man venture in 1997. As the lineup changed, always with Gabel at its creative center, the band found themselves being embraced by underground punks who were looking for something more than just distorted, crusty sloganeering. It didn’t matter if they were plugging in or just hammering on acoustic guitars: By virtue of their strong songs and their frontman’s distinct voice, Gabel and his bandmates found their output resonating in the hearts of many a basement-show denizen. As expected, that respect has only intensified with every new tour announcement and every record release, from 2001’s Crime As Forgiven By to 2003’s As The Eternal Cowboy. But both packrats and punk bands quickly learn when the basement has reached its limit.

Recorded over a month’s time in Baltimore, the band’s new album, Searching For A Former Clarity, contains even more measured parts of ambition and vision. The frantic, minute-plus energy blasts that peppered Cowboy have been replaced with longer songs, stronger arrangements and more varied guitar sounds. Friends and business associates alike have described the new album with terms like “grown-up” and “mature.” Historically speaking, when bands throw around terms like those-let’s add “sophisticated” and “progressive” while we’re at it-they’re trying to rationalize the dumbing-down of their art to move more units. But to their credit, Against Me! haven’t traded in their ruminations on culture, art and politics for pop-punk cash-ins. Instead, Clarity delivers everything from furious velocity to minimalist introspection, with topics ranging from a dead soldier’s grieving family being denied access to his e-mail (“Justin”) to the specter of disease interfering with love (“Pretty Girls [The Mover]”), to a series of songs about the intersection of punk culture and business, wherein the band point the psychic saber at themselves before their haters can even get a chance.

“I was thinking about [the new album] a few days ago when we were listening to it,” begins Gabel. “I noticed that we kinda took the good parts from everything else we’d done-though not on purpose-and combined it all together. And I’m all right with that. I feel like this record is completely representative of what we sound like when we play live.”

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