As the temperatures in Billings drop to negative double digits, Andrew Seward steps outside a San Francisco venue to delightful weather. Before that evening’s performance with his band Against Me!, Seward took a few minutes to chat about the group’s upcoming Billings show, to be held on Super Bowl Sunday.
Bassist for Against Me!, Seward said he’s ready for Montana’s frigid temperatures and is looking forward to returning to Big Sky Country. “I’m not a claustrophobic person, but I never could see myself living in New York. I like having wide openness, and you have plenty of that,” he said.
Touring in support of the newly released “White Crosses,” Against Me! began the 2011 tour in their hometown of Gainseville, Fla. From Billings they’re headed to the Midwest, winding their tour down in some of the country’s less-temperate zones.
Seward is used to a mild climate. “I love living in Florida,” he said. “The weather is super nice, it’s cheap to live there, great music scene, lots of great bars and restaurants, and you can pretty much ride your bike anywhere.”
Seward recalls the group’s last performance in Billings during the summer of 2007 on the heels of their major label debut, “New Wave.” He’s played with Against Me! since 2002, and said it’s tough to pinpoint the group’s evolutions in sound and ideology.
Immersed in the daily business of performing and maintaining a band, Seward said such changes are natural and progressive.
“You don’t see completely an evident change. You don’t wake up and go, ‘We’re different now.’” Seward describes the evolution as a progression of bettering their craft, including instrumentation, vocals, and taking their time recording. “It’s been completely natural, and it’s how we’ve grown as people.”
Against Me! has modest roots, started as an acoustic solo act by lead singer Tom Gabel, who at age 17 began playing shows around Gainesville.
A decade vested in the political punk scene, Against Me! gained increased attention when they left their long-time punk label Fat Wreck Chords to sign with major label Sire Records, discovering that even Against Me! loyalists can find fault in their formerly independent darlings.
“We always expect backlash, no matter what we do, but we also own our decisions,” Seward said. “I am nothing but grateful that people are so passionate about loving us or hating us. It’s more interesting than indifference.”
Though some have vilified the group, Seward said they are approachable and kind to their fans. “The best thing about us—we’re very honest people. If you come up to talk to us and you’re nice, we’re going to be nice back to you.”
The approachability of the members of Against Me! comes through in their music, as does their fervor. From their musical beginnings—a raw, edgy, unpolished sound—the group has evolved while always retaining a sense of urgency and excitement that attracted Seward to the band.
“I’ve heard a bunch of great bands,” Seward said. “There’s just this energy that this band possesses—this will to just fucking do this and to do it to the best of your ability that attracts me to it. There’s nothing half-assed.”
The band released “White Crosses,” their fifth studio album, in June 2010, again produced by Butch Vig. Alan Moulder (Smashing Pumpkins, NIN) did the album’s mixing.
“White Crosses” is ripe with catchy folk-inspired punk ballads and opens with the title track, establishing a common theme of skepticism, doubt and symbolism throughout.
The album single “I was a Teenage Anarchist” follows, featuring a sonic atmosphere fit for mainstream radio. Gabel’s distinct and engaging vocal style poses questions throughout the album. “Do you remember / when you were young / and you wanted to set the world on fire?” he sings in “I was a Teenage Anarchist.”
“We never want to make the same record; that’s boring to us,” Seward said. “We worked with Butch Vig again, but he switched up some of his stylings for this album. He pushed us more to think outside the box. This is different from all the other records. It’s good different. It needs to be different.”
The group has cycled through a few drummers of late, including George Rebelo (of Hot Water Music), who played on “White Crosses.” Currently the band is touring with drummer Jay Weinberg (Madball, The E Street Band). Seward insists it’s nothing like the plot of “This is Spinal Tap,” where drummers mysteriously die throughout.
“This whole tour, every song has been going over great, old or new. I think people can see how much we actually enjoy what we’re doing and that’s the best trade-off.”
Seward isn’t worried about the show being on Super Bowl Sunday. “(The game) will be over by then,” he said. “Everyone’s going to be passed out.” He’s rooting for the Packers because Vig is a “die-hard Packers fan. Vig, who was raised in Wisconsin, even has a song he composed called “Go Pack Go” that is played at Lambeau Field.
“So…go Pack, go!” Seward said.
Catch Against Me! in performance with opening support from Cheap Girls and Fences Sunday at the Railyard. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets for the all-ages performance are priced at $15 and available at Rimrock Mall, Ernie November, by phone at 800-514-3849 or online at www.1111presents.com.