Against Me! are currently back in Australia, touring for the Groovin the Moo festival and with this in mind, we were stoked to catch up with guitarist, James Bowman.
It seems you’ve gone through a few line up changes over the years, though you’ve been a fairly consistent presence since 2001, is it?
Pretty close; I don’t know the exact technical start date, but I think it was around 1999. 2001 is pretty close!
How much does a personnel change affect the direction of the band? Is it less noticeable as Laura is responsible for the lyrics?
I don’t really think it affects the direction of the band; everyone kind of adds their own feel and energy, I guess, be it live or in a studio, but I think we’re all still trudging ahead, working towards the same goal. Laura writes all the lyrics so I think the music definitely changes having different drummers and different bass players, in as much as their individual styles affect how different songs end up turning out, but overall it ends up going the same direction that it would be.
How heavily involved creatively are you personally?
It depends on each song. It’s a song-by-song basis and depends on where it’s written. Some of the songs on this new record were fleshed-out at soundcheck, and some of them Laura worked on with our friend, Cody Votolato, and some of them Laura worked on by herself and came in with the fully fleshed-out idea and it was just a matter of putting the pieces together. It’s definitely a song-by-song basis.
I’ve not yet seen you live…
Well you’re really missing out! (Laughs)
Do you think your live shows are close to the tone of the albums, or is playing live an entirely different beast?
You always want to have a pretty accurate representation of the song as it’s recorded, but sometimes they’ll just change – older songs especially, well, even newer songs – you’ll play it for a while and you’ll think, “Maybe this drum solo could have been a little bit different”, or, “This lyric could have been a little different”, or the phrasing of something…but everything is performed trying to be as close to the record as possible but there’s that live element. Anything can happen!
That’s what live music’s all about, surely?
What’s the hardest part of your job, would you say?
I would say leaving my family. The travel is nice, and I feel very fortunate to be able to do what we do, but the travel is a little taxing sometimes. We have breaks, and my family comes out and visits and stuff like that so it’s not even a complaint, really, but if I had to pick one thing to single out as the hardest, that would be it.
Are there any misconceptions about being a touring musician that you’d like to challenge?
Probably the most common misconception is that it’s always like a raging party. (Laughs) If you go to any backstage of any band, no matter the size or popularity, everyone’s just probably sitting around on a couch or chair, looking at their iPhone. (Laughs) Any time there’s any lull in conversation everyone picks up their phones. It’s like being at an airport, basically, 24 hours a day.
Do you have a favourite gig you’ve played?
Oh…not so much a favourite show, there’s always really good shows on every tour, so it’s hard after 17 or 18 years of touring – it’s hard to pinpoint a few that stick out. We’ve been lucky to tour with some pretty crazy bands; we just got done with a Green Day tour through the US and Canada and there were some amazing shows on that and we were lucky enough to play the Wembley Stadium show with the Foo Fighters ten years ago and that was crazy. As far as places that stick out for shows, Australia is definitely top two for touring. We love Australia.
What is it about Australia that ranks it that highly?
Everyone’s just super friendly, it’s a beautiful place with good food, good beer, and we have a lot of good friends there. It’s always a fun place to visit and get to catch up with some old friends and play some great shows. It’s always been amazing. You know, enjoy a late night Lord of the Fries, that kind of thing. (Laughs)
You punch out some killer backing vocals and harmonies – have you ever done lead vocals?
No, I haven’t actually. Writing lyrics is not a strong suit of mine. I stick to the back-ups.(Laughs)
Do you have a favourite song of yours?
Right now my favourite song that we’re playing is a song off the new record called “Delicate, Petite, and Other Things I’ll Never Be”. That song’s just dynamically different from a lot of other things we’ve done before and it’s a really fun song to play live.
Which bands or artists do you love to watch live?
You know, when I’m at home and not touring I usually don’t go out very much. That Green Day tour we just did was awesome, the production of their shows was really amazing to watch every night. We also have some shows coming up with The Bronx, I’m a huge fan of them and I’m really looking forward to seeing their shows for two weeks straight.
Are there any you’ve not yet seen that you’d particularly like to see?
Hmmm. No, though it would have been great to see The Clash,but wrong time and place for that. (Laughs) I’ve been lucky enough to catch Nick Cave once, and I’m actually kind of mad because three days after I leave my wife is going up to New York with my sister and they get to see them twice in two days. Kind of mad about that. It always seems to work out that every time I leave Nick Cave is around, and every time that we’ve played at a festival together we play a separate day.
We played a festival in Quebec, it was huge, and we were playing the same day as Nick Cave and I was so excited, then we booked a second show that day at a club so we couldn’t stick around. We packed everything up, we drove across town, and the band that we were on tour with, we were sound checking and after sound check their drummer came up to us and he was like, “Oh my God! We just pulled up and Nick Cave was walking out of this bar across the street…check out this picture I got with him!”. I was like, “You’re fucking kidding me! I can’t watch the show, I miss him walking out of a restaurant, this is just twisted. Come on, man!”. It was pretty cruel. (Laughs)
Against Me! are in Australia for Groovin’ The Moo, and you can still get tickets to some of their sideshows:
May 3rd | The Triffid, BRISBANE | www.thetriffid.com.au
May 4th | Brisbane Hotel, HOBART | www.oztix.com.au
May 5th | Max Watts, MELBOURNE | www.maxwatts.com.au/melbourne
May 8th | Max Watts, MELBOURNE | www.maxwatts.com.au/melbourne
May 10th | Uni Bar, WOLLONGONG | www.moshtix.com.au
May 11th | Manning Bar, SYDNEY | www.manningbar.com
May 12th | The Rosemount, PERTH | www.rosemounthotel.com.au
GROOVIN THE MOO TOUR DATES
May 6th | BENDIGO
May 7th | CANBERRA
May 13th | BUNBURY
Photo by Casey Curry.