How Against Me! Began by ‘Reinventing Axl Rose’
By the time Against Me! recorded its debut album, the Florida punks had been a solo act, a duo, a quartet, a different duo and a full-on quartet once again. The band had put out three EPs, which ranged from guitar-and-drums affairs to a percussion-less acoustic release.
Not even a horrendous car wreck (which encouraged two members to leave the band, one of them permanently) could stop the forward momentum of Against Me! frontman Tom Gabel, who, in 2012, transitioned to become a woman named Laura Jane Grace.
“You get to an age where you get discouraged with dreams… and you’re told you’re never going to be able to do anything like that, and you start to feel like there’s a closed door,” Gabel said in a 2008 radio interview. “When I started to feel that way, I went ahead and started doing my own thing. We made our own way and that was kind of just what the title of the album and a lot of the album was about, really, was just doing it yourself and not taking ‘no’ for an answer, and reclaiming your dreams.”
That title was Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose, an album designed as both a tribute to one of Gabel’s childhood rock icons as well as a kind of “kill your idols” proclamation. "Guns N' Roses were my favorite band when I was a kid," Gabel explained to Songfacts. "The title was meant as a tribute in a way. It was also about destroying your heroes. I'm not sure if Axl has ever heard the record."
Against Me! – which had recently found stability with a lineup of singer-guitarist Gabel, returning guitarist James Bowman, bassist Dustin Fridkin and recently added drummer Warren Oakes – went into the studio with both new material and the idea of re-recording five songs from their previous EPs now that they were a four-piece group again. Rob McGregor produced the full-length release, which featured a drawing of Rose on its cover.
The activist-like passion of Gabel and the band came through in the album’s title track, “Reinventing Axl Rose,” which served as a sort of statement of purpose. The song begins, “We want a band that plays loud and hard every night / That doesn't care how many people are counted at the door / That would travel one million miles and ask for nothing more than a plate of food and a place to rest.” It was a declaration, not just for the band and its fans, but for the Gainesville punk scene.
“There was like that scene of bands in Gainesville, like Bitchin’, Gunmoll, Army of Ponch, a couple of others that were really quite happening,” Grace recalled in 2016’s Gainesville Punk: A History of Bands and Music. “That was when it felt like we were really starting to be accepted by other bands in town and it felt like we were becoming part of the scene.”
With members of many of those groups singing backup on the album, Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose was released in March 2002 on local indie label, No Idea Records. With hints of country-punk, a balance of personal/political lyrics and plenty of shout-along choruses, the album began the rise of Against Me! – no doubt aided in a major way by the group’s relentless touring schedule.
The band’s reputation, popularity and musical approach would only grow in the coming years. Although Against Me! would eventually face waves of backlash from fans for signing with a major label or softening its sound, the band’s primary creative force would attempt to stay true to the thoughts expressed on that debut album
“Well, it’s an ideal to strive for. ‘We want a band that plays loud and hard and every night,’ and I think we do that,” Gabel told The Inertia. “I mean, fuck, we’ve played 1,600 shows or so in the past 10 years. I physically don’t think it would have been possible for us to play more shows if we wanted to. We’re always trying to do better.”
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