A combination of sunshine and hard liquor fuels Gainesville’s punk rock scene. Florida’s biggest student town is not only the home to No Idea Records – a label known for it’s eclectic mix of all things loud and creative – but it’s also the birthplace of celebrated bands like Hot Water Music and Less Than Jake.
Other local heroes include Against Me!, whose debut album Reinventing Axl Rose was released through that very label in 2002. From its city’s diver bars to a headlining act across the world, Against Me! have reinvented punk and challenged attitudes with every step.
Against Me! began in 1997 as a solo project for singer-songwriter Laura Jane Grace – then known as Tom Gabel – but Reinventing Axl Rose was the first release to feature a full band in the studio. This line-up included James Bowman on guitar, Dustin Fridkin on bass and Warren Oakes on drums. Previously, guest musicians were involved in the project, but the permanent addition of these three extra players injected even more gusto to Grace’s exuberant act.
Reinventing Axl Rose is more than just another punk release from the No Idea stable; it’s an album that draws influences from the very roots of American music, folk and blues. Even the record’s first 18 seconds before the vocals kick in, bring to mind the USA’s tradition of country and western music. That’s not to say Against Me! were trapped in the past. Their whiskey-soaked vocals and urgent playing style made them instantly recognisable as part of the growing Gainesville punk scene. But rather than overwork their songs, they kept them clean and simple.
With straightforward instrumentation and basic song structures, Grace’s vocal performance is at the forefront of Against Me!’s sound. The verses reveal plenty of soul while the choruses are often fired home with the weight of an army. This is helped in part by backing vocals provided by the band, Against Me!’s manager Jordan Kleeman and Sam Jones (who would later marry Hot Water Music frontman Chuck Ragan). On the rowdy We Laugh at Danger (and Break All the Rules) the band and their friends sound a gang who’ve got each other’s backs. The vocal hooks are so infectious and guitars so memorable, there’s a sense of familiarity permeating through each track.
This album is purposefully rough round the edges as well. You can almost hear the beer and sweat in every chord. I’ve always considered Reinventing Axl Rose as the soundtrack to a night in your favourite bar. Pints of Guinness Make You Strong is a sip of that first drink, We Laugh at Danger… is the moment your friends show up, Baby, I’m an Anarchist is the stagger home and 8 Full Hours of Sleep is that feeling when your head finally hits the pillow. To put it bluntly, Against Me!’s debut has all the benefits of a drunken party with your mates – minus the hangover.
For more information on Against Me!, visit their official website.