Against Me! Interview - Andrew Seward | ThePunkSite.com
Rexall Place - Edmonton, Alberta
Monday, March 15th, 2010
Against Me! are no strangers to hard work. Over the course of their career they've tour tirelessly, released countless albums and been the focus of hatred and protest shows - put on by their own fans. Suffice to say, the Floridian band are a very polarizing one - you either love them or hate them. With a new drummer behind their kit, the band just finished recording their fifth studio full length - White Crosses - are are in the midst of touring on it. This tour brought them up to Canada as opening act for Billy Talent and Alexisonfire's cross-country arena tour and I was able to catch up with bassist Andrew Seward again before they took the stage at Rexall Place in Edmonton and completely stole the show from the headliners.
Speaking to me just two days after the album leaked, and months before White Crosses is even scheduled to be released, we discussed the lineup change, the leak, the tour and learned about the progression of certain songs from the album. Read on to see what Andrew has to say about White Crosses, b-sides, fucking with people and more.
Bobby: Well, I guess we’ll start with the basics. You guys are two weeks into this Canadian tour with Billy Talent, Alexisonfire and Cancer Bats. How’s that going so far? Any memorable moments from it?
Andrew: Oh, lots of memorable moments; lots of just hanging out with all the bands. Everyone hangs out and it’s very relaxed and fun. There’s no certain rules that are happening, everything is open to everyone.
We’re starting a Misfits cover band with Wade from Alexisonfire. It’s Tom, James, myself and Wade; and we’re going to play in Thunder Bay on our next day off opening for Alexisonfire. We’re called Horror Business. We’re great. We know three songs so far, but after today I think we’ll know five Misfits songs.
Bobby: This is Tom’s first tour away from his new born girl. How is he handling it?
Andrew: I don’t know; you’d have to ask him… I don’t know. He seems fine to me.
Bobby: This is also your first full fledge tour with George playing on drums I believe. I know he did a few scattered shows before recording…
Andrew: Yeah, I guess it depends on the definition of full fledged… I mean, thinking about it, this is probably George’s thirtieth show. In December we did a week in California, six or seven shows. Then we did a week in Florida and then flew and played Seattle, Vancouver and then started the Billy Talent tour. On most of our off days, we’re trying to play a show. Like we played Whistler and we’re going to play Kingston near the end of this tour.
Bobby: What’s it like having George on the road with you guys now?
Andrew: Oh, it’s great. What I really love about George… We’ve known George for a long time. It’s not like he’s a stranger that joined the band. He’s from Gainesville, we’ve all known him, we toured with his old band.
All he wants to do is play drums; and if you want a good drummer, that’s a good thing. All he does is smokes, sleeps and plays drums; and that’s great. He’s way more rock and roll than I am.
Bobby: When Warren decided to leave to start his Mexican restaurant, Bocca Fiesta, how did you know that George would be the right fit to replace him?
Andrew: Well, he was kind of the only person… we had some other names that we were thinking about but George literally lived a quarter of a mile away from our practice space. I don’t know; it just made sense. We’ve always known George. George is an excellent drummer and we’ve always known that and we also knew our personalities would work. We were like “he’s really good, but is he like too good?” But it worked out perfectly. After the second practice we had with George we didn’t even try anybody else out. We knew that was it. It was extremely painless.
Bobby: Once George did join the band, you wasted no time getting into the recording studio where you recorded with Butch Vig from August to October of last year. What was it like having George in the studio with you guys?
Andrew: Great. George and Butch got along really well because Butch is a really good drummer as well and George is a good drummer. They’re very much on the same level, the same plane. If George was like “I’m gonna try this eighth note to sixteenth” – I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m not a drummer – Butch would be like “yeah, try that.” The rest of us would be like “I don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.”
But going back to the previous answer, it’s just really easy. Him being in the band is super easy, and everything’s going really smoothly and the dynamic’s good.
Bobby: Like I said, I saw you guys play at least five new songs live last April at Common Grounds in Florida with Warren on drums. Were a lot of the drums already written without George or did George come in and kind of re-write the drum parts?
Andrew: Kind of a mixture. I’ll just give you an example. You’ve heard the record?
Andrew: There’s that song Spanish Moss. It starts out with a really kind of… I heard people say that it sounds like The Who but it sounds like The Cult to me – and The Cult’s a great band by the way. That song, when we were playing it with Warren, was the most quirky, short song. It was probably like a minute and fifteen seconds. It was just short and quirky. And when George came in and we started re-evaluating everything that became a full blown anthem in a way. That’s just one example of how things changed.
When we did the April tour that you saw – that was ‘09 right?
Andrew: Yeah, Spring ’09. Whenever I think songs are good and good to go, there’s always something better that can be done to them.
Bobby: So you just have to find out what can make it better then I guess.
Andrew: Yeah, it’s a constant exploration.
Bobby: Well, White Crosses is supposed to be released in early June. It already leaked, as you said, two days ago; but do you have an official release date set for it yet?
Andrew: No, I think they might be in a meeting right now about that. He [referring to Andrew, the Warner Music rep that set up the interview and was sitting across the table] might be able to tell you. Texting right now “uhh.. do you guys know the record leaked?” Do they know? In Canada?
Andrew Carnell (Warner Rep): I’m not sure, because it happened on the weekend; so I’m sure the word is slowly seeping through now.
Andrew: See, that’s the weirdest thing about rock and roll. I’m not talking about you, but bands don’t take weekends off, that’s when the really good shows are.
It’s like wildfires. It’s an avalanche. No matter who you hire to go look for shit on mediafire, it’s done man, it’s done.
Bobby: The album, like we said, was recorded with Butch Vig who did New Wave. What made you decide to work with him again on White Crosses?
Andrew: Well, A, we absolutely love Butch. B, we respect Butch and C, he’s our friend. So pretty much if Butch would always want to make records with us, we would always make records with him. It’s really relaxing.
Bobby: When you guys first announced that you had finished recording the CD, Tom said that it was twelve songs and just over forty minutes long. It has since been cut back down to ten songs. Why did you decide to cut it back to ten songs and which two got the axe?
Andrew: The two that got the axe were One By One and Bitter Divisions; and they will see the light of day one day. You know, once again, I’m not a good authority on this because I’m an idiot and I’d be like “put all fucking twenty songs on there;” but that’s too long. People’s attention spans aren’t that good. At least mine isn’t, I don’t want to offend anyone out there. But I think the decision was made just to make a very concise, ten song album, bam.
Bobby: Get it in, get it out.
Andrew: Yeah. We’re gonna have a shit ton of b-sides though.
Bobby: Yeah, I’ve already read of at least eight that you guys have
Andrew: Yeah we have… okay, let me count them… [he starts to try and think of the b-sides]
Bobby: I have written down here Southwest Florida Sunset, Hot Shots, David Johansen's Soul, Bob Dylan Dream #123, Lehigh Acres, One By One, Sympathy for Acting like a Child, Bitter Divisions.
Andrew: I have no idea what Sympathy for Acting like a Child [he starts to think about it]…. Sympathy for Acting like a Child…. Wait, that’s a lyric. That’s not the name of the song. We always get weird names. People are like “hey, play Ed Is Sexy.” “What the fuck is Ed Is Sexy? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” But I do figure it out. I think it’s a song that we always called “SLSR.” I’m just going to confuse even more people with this.
We have, in the studio… god, my memory is shit right now. I think we have four b-sides with… no, I’m sorry. We’ll have six b-sides with Butch and then we just went and recorded a bunch of acoustic versions of songs. Like Southwest Florida Sunset… wait, is that even the name of the song? No it’s not. That song’s called Strip Mall Parking Lot.
Bobby: Okay, so at least we have one name confirmed.
Andrew: Seriously, so many names get thrown around that I start to confuse myself. And usually on set lists, we don’t even put the full name of the song and we put some abbreviation that only we call it.
Bobby: And then somebody gets the set list and assumes it is the name of the song.
Andrew: So basically we’re confusing people. Sorry. [laughs]
Bobby: Do you have any idea what you’re going to do with all those b-sides?
Andrew: I don’t know yet, but everything came out really good. So it will see the light of day. I don’t know when, maybe they’ll leak next weekend.
Bobby: New Wave was, in a lot of ways, an attack on the current music scene - like New Wave, Stop, Up The Cuts and White People for Peace. Listening to White Crosses, it seems a lot more personal and kind of introspective with songs like Bamboo Bones, Spanish Moss, Ache With Me, We’re Breaking Up. Was that kind of intentional? Why was this record so much more introspective and personal than your other stuff?
Andrew: I don’t know. I mean, Tom writes all the lyrics so I can never speak one hundred percent for him. One thing, I’ll just tell is what I personally really like about the record, is that there’s so much imagery in it and so much kind of Florida imagery in it. Even if you’re not from Florida, you can still kind of get it.
Bobby: Like Spanish Moss.
Andrew: Yeah, like Spanish Moss. Riding your bike around Florida streets and stuff like that. I can picture myself riding around my neighbourhood with Spanish Moss on the canopy and all that. A song like White Crosses kind of gives you some St. Augustine landmarks and if you’ve ever been to St. Augustine you can kind of picture it in your head. I don’t know, I’ve always like songs like that. I like story telling songs. That totally didn’t answer your question. [laughs]
Bobby: It works, it works.
Andrew: I’m the bass player, come on.
Bobby: This may be a question you may be able to answer because I read that one of your favourite songs on the album is Ache With Me.
Andrew: Well, I think when I answered that question – yes; and once again, a lot of imagery in that song.
Bobby: For me, I’ll be honest, when I first heard it, I thought it was one of the weakest songs on the album; mainly because it is a lot mellower and slower than the rest of the album. Then it’s placement at track seven, for me, I thought it kind of disrupted the flow of the album instead of using it to cap the album off nicely. Why did you decide to place it at track seven?
Andrew: Well, we can’t end it with a slow song. Too cliché. We’ve done it many times, we need to break away from that. I don’t know, I like it because I think it accomplished it’s job: it totally threw you for a loop. [laughs]
Bobby: It did.
Andrew: That’s what it’s supposed to do. We’re born to fuck with people. Does it bust into Rapid Decompression after that? See, I don’t even have a physical copy of our own record. I never put it on my computer because I was afraid…
Bobby: That it would get out.
Andrew: [laughing] Doesn’t matter anymore, I’m going to put it straight on my computer right now. But I know Tom put a lot of thought into the sequencing. Stuff like that, I completely leave up to him because I’m way too impatient. I would probably end cap it with a slow song. Has the song grown on you at all?
Bobby: It has. I will admit it has grown on me.
Andrew: I think, my favourite records when I first heard them – I’ll give you one more example, I know I’m just totally going off on tangents here.
Bobby: Go off on as many tangents as you want.
Andrew: When I was fifteen or sixteen, I grew up in a little town, a little city called Huntsville, Alabama; and the band Avail, from Richmond, was playing in Birmingham at the Tuxedo Junction. This was right when Dixie came out and I remember I had the cassette. I was in tenth grade, so yes, I had the cassette. That’s dating myself, I guess, a little bit; and dating them – sorry guys. But I remember listening to it going down there with my friend just being like “this fucking sucks. This is horrible. The production just sounds like shit. What the fuck? It’s like weird hip-hop, hardcore.” Just total close minded, but you know, I had nothing to do – I lived in Alabama – so I went down to the show. Best show I’ve ever seen. My ears ringing, I put the cassette in for the two hour drive back north to Huntsville. I was listening to it and it was the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I don’t know what it is sometimes about albums; a lot of people will listen to something initially and go “fuck this, this is shit.” Then it starts creeping on you, like a virus or something.
Bobby: Or sometimes it can be what happened to you, where you don’t really like it but then you hear the songs live and it adds an extra element to it.
Andrew: Absolutely. I make a point, and I guess I just learned this over the years, that I always listen to records – even if I loathe it, absolutely loathe it at first – I always listen to it at least three or four times. Because guaranteed – well, not guaranteed – but about a seventy-five percent chance, on the second or third time I’ll be like “oh, I really like this.”
Bobby: Yeah, you get to pick up little intricacies that would normally go by unnoticed.
Andrew: And some music is so disposable these days that you don’t ever sit down and listen to a whole album. You hear like half of Ache With Me and hear “oh chick-uh ahh” [he makes a sound that he does on the song that is, unfortunately, impossible to recreate in writing] and you’re like “oh, what the fuck’s that? Fuck that.” It’s like just fucking give it a chance, give it chance.
Bobby: I want to talk a bit about the artwork for the album as well. To me, when I first saw it, I kind of got an image of a lot of old punk bands. Like Dead Kennedy’s…
Andrew: I can see that, yeah.
Bobby: … Black Flag, and the Dwarves. Was that intentional or…?
Andrew: I don’t know. That was Tom and our friend Steak Mountain doing that. It reminds me, and this is probably a lot of people as well, it kind of reminded me of Jane’s Addiction when I first saw it, of Nothing Shocking. Basically just a nude, black and white female photograph; but I haven’t heard that, what you said, but I like that. I mean, those are all great albums.
Bobby: To me, the way you wrote White Crosses looks a lot like the same pink handwriting of Plastic Surgery Disaster for Dead Kennedy’s, the Against Me! pixelated font kind of looks like the Black Flag pixelated font in a lot of their old records and then the Dwarves, just once again, the nude woman on the front, black and white type of thing.
Andrew: I love all those bands, so I take that as a compliment. The band says thank you.
Bobby: Like you said earlier, you guys went back into the studio to record a whole bunch of acoustic stuff and you had John Gaunt in the studio to record violin for Hot Shots.
Andrew: Yeah… well, Hot Shots isn’t, I guess, technically a b-side because that never made it past the demo stage. But we had Gaunt come in twice for the demos for Hot Shots and he also came in and played on Bob Dylan. That was the last time, just in February in Gainesville.
Bobby: Yeah, so what did you record all these acoustic tracks for? Why did you go back into the studio in February to record them?
Andrew: Just to do it. We were all in Gainesville. Our friend Darren has a good studio that we could all go just do it all. I mean, it’s always good to stay productive and keep doing things.
Bobby: That was another question I was going to ask. You guys had George using a rubber ducky and dog toy as percussion, Tom recording a whistle and you doing monkey sounds.
Andrew: Yes, orangutan [he does the orangutan sound].
Bobby: So were you just goofing around in the studio or are all those little sounds and gizmo going to actually make it on the recordings?
Andrew: No, no. They made it on there. That’s on High Pressure Low. I know Tom, when we were doing it, he wanted a Paul Simon, not Paul Simon, but like a vibe to it. Really busy in the background, lots of stuff going on that you don’t catch the first or even third time you listen to it. You have to keep going back and go “what the fuck?!?” Yes, that’s a doggy toy.
I mean, doing stuff like that is fun; and it actually sounds good. We weren’t just fucking around. If it sounded like garbage, we wouldn’t use it. I’m sure people would disagree with me on that one, but whatever.
Bobby: You also added a few other elements to it too; like you added a keyboard to Because of the Shame which I read you actually brought a keyboardist on tour too; or at least you did when you played in Florida.
Andrew: Yeah, he’s here.
Bobby: Is he always going to be a permanent addition to your touring band now?
Andrew: I’m pretty sure unless something happens. But Tom was taking piano lessons when he was living in St. Augustine and he would come in and be playing piano at practice and stuff like that. He definitely stepped up his game on the learning.
Bobby: Like I said, I saw the video of George using the rubber ducky and stuff in all the studio updates that Tom was constantly uploading. Of course, his studio updates were quite different than most studio updates and just had you guys playing video games and yelling at one another and watching TV. Why did you decide to post studio updates of that type?
Andrew: Well, I’ll let you in on a secret. I made all those. I make all those – it’s not a big secret.
Bobby: And Tom just takes the credit.
Andrew: No, no, I just use his YouTube account because I don’t have one. I’m not looking for credit.
Basically, in the studio, being the bass player, I would pretty much get done quicker than anyone. I’d just go in there, kind of nail it, pat myself on the back and be done quickly; and then be like “uh, I’m gonna make a stupid video that nobody’s going to understand and people are going to basically say ‘what the fuck are you doing?’” And that’s why I kept doing it.
Like all those videos of me playing video games – I almost don’t want you to put this in because I don’t want to give away the truth – were just to be like “wow, he’s a lazy mother fucker.” That’s the point of it. Yeah, we fuck with people too much I guess. But all those things, they’re fun. I never made a video until we were in the studio and I got a new laptop a little while ago and I was like “this thing’s fast as hell.” I would use it just to record songs.
Bobby: Now you have the ability to do it, why not do it?
Andrew: Now I have iMovie and it’s really easy.
Bobby: I also want to talk a bit about some specific songs on the album. One of my favourite songs on the album is I Was A Teenage Anarchist which, to me, automatically sounds like a follow-up to Baby, I’m An Anarchist from Reinventing Axl Rose. Are they related?
Andrew: I don’t know. I’ve heard Tom explain it and everyone has their personal thoughts. A lot of people, now that the record’s out, are just like “wow, that’s such a fuck you to all their fans.” I really don’t think it is. To me - and once again, I always have to say this since I didn’t write the lyrics, so I’m not going to…
Bobby: Speculate on what it means.
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, to me, the song is basically about growing up and about how the world isn’t black or white – it’s really gray. When you’re younger, you think it’s all “I’ll never do this, I’ll never do that, fuck you” and blah, blah, blah. You’re very straight and narrow, everything’s right or wrong. It’s not a giving up song, it’s just realizing that there’s a lot of gray areas.
Bobby: Well, before I even heard the song - just by seeing the title I Was A Teenage Anarchist - it automatically made me think of a conversation I had with Ben Weasel back in December. Basically he was saying that people always re-quote stuff that he said in the 1990s like “oh, you said this, you said this, you said this” and expect him to still live by those things he said twenty years ago.
Andrew: And those people don’t.
Bobby: Yeah, he said people’s ideals and opinions change over time but when you’re in a band, your opinions and ideals are preserved in either recordings or in interviews like this, so they can constantly be recalled and re-quoted. Do you think it’s fair that people are still holding Tom and Against Me! to stuff you said almost a decade ago?
Andrew: I’m not going to answer yes or no, because people can think whatever the hell they want to think – that’s their prerogative. But I do think it’s funny when I hear people say “how did a band that put out Reinventing Axl Rose come to this? To White Crosses?” My answer is “quite easily, actually.” If you look at the actual progression of the band. I didn’t even play on Reinventing Axl Rose, I joined the band a little bit after it came out when Dustin went back to college. So I can look at that with kind of an outside perspective; and that was eight years ago. That’s quite a long time. Things change and we never ever want to put out the same record, that doesn’t interest us at all.
Bobby: Except for when you put out As The Original Cowboy.
Andrew: Oh yes, well that was a re-release. You got me there. That was recorded back then. Re-releases don’t count – next argument [laughs]. I mean, I don’t think it’s selfish of us, but we want to keep it interesting and fresh for us. If people would like to come along for that ride, you’re more than welcome. If people just want to listen to old records, that’s fine too. People can do whatever the fuck they want. It’s just some people get so adamant and possessive about it. But, whatever; when in Rome.
Bobby: Just a few more questions. The CD was supposed to come out in June; it may come out earlier now that it’s leaked [editor’s note: I’ve seen a May release date being thrown around now].
Andrew: To be determined. You’ll probably have an update by the time you post this, maybe we’ll know.
Bobby: For the people who haven’t heard it yet, how would you describe White Crosses?
Andrew: I don’t know if this will come across correctly, but a complete thought. I mean, it sounds really vain to be in the band and play on the record and be “oh, it’s really fucking good.” I always say this whenever a new record comes out, but it’s my favourite record by far; but when you’re in a band, you should be more in to what you just put out. [laughs].
Bobby: Something’s wrong if you don’t like what you just created.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I think the process of these songs coming together and the recording of them; everything was just a very happy, happy event. Everything was a very positive event. We’ll put it that way, it sounds better than happy. Everything was just super positive putting this record together and I think it kind of comes across. I think the record’ s very upbeat.
Bobby: I guess that’s about it, thanks a lot. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to add?
Andrew: Nice talking to you again, see you next year.