Scene and Heard: Against Me

Florida punk quartet Against Me! formed in the late ’90s by trading rough demo cassettes and playing tiny shows in Naples and Gainesville. Now, the Billboard-charters will return to their Florida roots in a show this month.

The band will perform at WSUN 97X’s Next Big Thing at Tampa’s 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre at 10 a.m. Sunday – along with gloomy rock headliners My Chemical Romance, alt-blues duo The Black Keys and nine other groups.

Their fifth album “White Crosses” earned them their largest audience yet, charting No. 34 on the Billboard 200 on its June 8 release.

Yet, the autumn proved more tumultuous as the band canceled all its fall dates for undisclosed reasons, and singer Tom Gabel announced Nov. 28 that the group was leaving its label Sire Records.

Despite a few speed bumps, the band is back on the road again with fill-in drummer Jay Weinberg – the son of Conan O’Brien’s former bandleader, Max Weinberg.

Gabel talked with The Oracle about developing as a band, moving on from Sire Records and being called “one of the best punk bands ever” by Jay Leno.

The Oracle: Recently, your show lineups have been varying – with different drummers and Franz Nicolay playing keyboards for a while. Who can fans expect at your Next Big Thing set?

Tom Gabel: It’s going to be me, Andrew (Seward, bassist), and then James (Bowman, guitarist), and our friend Jay Weinberg sitting behind the drum kit.

O: You started gaining a name for yourselves while playing in Gainesville, so you must know Florida pretty well. Do you plan on stopping anywhere in between your Florida tour dates?

TG: Well, the band actually started in Naples, but we definitely came up in Gainesville at the same time, too. Yeah, I’m not sure. I imagine – unfortunately, a lot of the times with these (shows) it’s just the drive to the place you’re playing, and you just hang out around the venue and then at the hotel afterwards. But I know Florida very well.

O: You’ve played with Andrew and James for eight years now as you’ve gotten bigger over the years. Has anything in the band’s dynamic changed since then?

TG: I’m sure it has. It’s hard to really have a grasp on it though from an inside perspective. I’ve been friends with James since I was 14 years old, and I’m 30 now. Relationships change over the years for sure, but it’s hard to have perspective in your own relationships.

We’ve definitely been a band that’s grown over the years. We’ve had growth when it comes to fans. We feel fortunate as a band where everything that we’ve ever done feels really organic, and that’s always been the approach to not only the way we play music with each other, but also the approach to putting out records and playing shows. It’s not supposed to be something’s that supposed to be confining or anything like that, where the band has to become this one way and has to be these four people. It’s not like there’s a secret magic that’s lost if it’s not there.

When it comes to records too, it’s the same viewpoint. If someone wants to play music together, then they should play music together. If they no longer want to play music together, then don’t play music together and don’t force it. If someone wants to put out a record, that sounds great, let’s do that. If we no longer want to do records together, let’s not do records together. It’s just trying to have the most natural relationships possible and not force anything.

O: What was the reasoning behind your recent split with Sire Records?

TG: Well, there are multiple reasons behind that. Our contract was up, and then also Sire – which is owned by Warner, so it essentially is Warner – they’re kind of undergoing a massive restructuring and right now, unfortunately, a lot of people there are losing their jobs. It’s the kind of thing that won’t be settled quickly and it’s going to be months, if not years, until the company has really got its focus back on it. So it wasn’t really the place for us to work with anymore that we felt we could be productive.

O: In 2008, you released a solo EP called “Heart Burns” in between your last two records. Do you have any interesting in making another solo album?

TG: For sure, for sure. It’s always just kind of been an issue of time and for the past couple of months since our record came out, things have been really busy for the band. On a personal front, I just had a kid and I’ve been really busy there, too. It’s just a matter of finding the time, but I definitely have the interest.

O: You’re supposedly a huge movie buff. Have you been able to catch any movies in between touring?

TG: I haven’t been to an actual theater in probably like a year now, but I’ve really been using the instant queue on Netflix pretty often. I watched that movie “Peaceful Warrior” with Nick Nolte the other night. It was OK.

O: Was it surreal being introduced as “one of the best punk bands ever” by Jay Leno?

TG: Well, Jay’s an authority, you know? He grew up in the punk scene, he used to play in Bad Religion … I don’t know. It is what it is.

You know, I will say what’s kind of funny is we played on Jay Leno when “New Wave” came out two years earlier, and I remember him being kind of colder and not as friendly. I know that he’s kind of taken a beating in the press for the whole Conan O’Brien thing, and this time around, everyone there seemed a lot friendlier.

O: What’s in the future for Against Me! next year?

TG: Well, in January we’re doing a tour of the U.S. with the bands Cheap Girls and Fences, and after that, we’re going out to play some dates with the Dropkick Murphys. After that, we’re looking to do some more touring and hopefully finalizing the plans for that pretty soon.

O: Do you have any new material planned or plans to release old unreleased material?

TG: We’re currently working on new material, but I’m not sure when we’ll get around to recording that, just whenever it’s ready. There’s always older stuff we’ve had long-term plans to re-release – or release that’s never been released – in the works, but it’s again an issue of finding the time.

We did a demo collection for our record “As the Eternal Cowboy” about a year ago. We’re working on the demos collection for the record “Searching for a Former Clarity,” which is really a bunch of unreleased songs. There was a collection of demos around the time that we were working on that record that was leaked to the Internet and a lot of those songs never made it onto the record. So those songs will maybe find a proper release, and there’s a lot of older material out of print we’re working on as well.