Drawing inspiration from Florida, fatherhood and a cross-country journey

Driving across the country allows plenty of time for contemplation, which is how Against Me! singer Tom Gabel spent the trip last year on his way from his native Florida to Los Angeles to start recording sessions for the band’s new album, White Crosses. Gabel converted those thoughtful hours on the road into song lyrics, resulting in a batch of vivid punk tunes drawn from his own experiences. “I took four or five days and just lost myself in the wilderness and wrote a bunch of lyrics on my way out there,” he says.

With his wife then pregnant with their daughter, it seemed to Gabel like a good time to settle accounts with his life to that point. “It’s a really introspective record in that sense,” he says. “I spent a lot of time thinking about people I used to know and places I used to hang out and Florida in general, which was the setting for all those years in my life.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Against Me! record without also including a healthy dose of the band’s trademark political and social commentary. Although Gabel tries not to steer in one direction or another when writing, “I think the political has to be personal,” he says. “I try not to approach songwriting as, ‘Now I’m going to write the political song.’ I just want to write about things I feel really strongly about.”

The trick, he says, lies in sharing ideas without being pedantic. “You don’t want to come across as someone who’s up there saying, ‘I have all the answers, I have it all figured out,’ or, ‘I’m in a band, so obviously I’m qualified to talk about this stuff,’” Gabel says. “I’m not a politician, I’m not a preacher and I really don’t have it all figured out. But I have a big mouth, and I have opinions on stuff.”

Although he was certainly aware of his impending fatherhood while the band worked on White Crosses (“We didn’t know when we were making the record which was going to be done first,” Gabel says with a laugh), he didn’t write with that in mind. “Anything like that was subconscious,” he says. “What it really did for me was make me focus, knowing that it’s going to be tricky to balance these two things. Leading up to it, I often felt like I was losing my mind.

But that was a good thing from a songwriting perspective, because it made me really unguarded.”

–Eric R. Danton

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