Interview: James Bowman of Against Me!
When James Bowman was 14, he met Tom Gabel, the founder of the Gainsville, Florida, punk rock band Against Me!. Bowman, a developing guitarist at the time, wanted a piece of the action and made a deal with Gabel.
“I kind of weaseled my way into the band,” Bowman said. “He was getting ready to go on tour, and I told him I would buy all the guitar strings if he'd let me come on tour and play guitar. We went on tour and we've been going at it ever since.”
Even after lineup changes and surviving big-label politics, which resulted in the band leaving Sire/Warner, Against Me! is determined to move forward. The band, which consists of Gabel, Bowman, bassist Andrew Seward and new drummer Jay Weinberg, announced the May 24 release of Total Clarity, a collection of demos and previously unreleased songs recorded in 2005, plus a 7-inch on Sabot Productions with two new songs, "Russian Spies" and "Occult Enemies," due out June 14.
Bowman took time out of his schedule to talk with Guitar World about his love of guitars and recording the 7-inch in the Wisconsin's legendary Smart Studios, where Nirvana, Garbage, Everclear and Hawthorne Heights recorded some of their seminal tracks.
Why did you want to play the guitar?
When I was growing up, my grandmother was a huge Elvis Presley fan. Just seeing that man with the guitar and the way it made my grandmother happy made me want to do the same thing.
Did she prefer the younger or older Elvis?
She loved Elvis, old and young, but the one I remembered was the leather-clad Elvis with the big black Gibson strapped on his shoulders.
In addition to "The King," did you have other guitar influences?
Yes, and they are all over the place. I love Slash. I love The Ramones, Tom Petty, The Cure, The Smiths and ELO, just a big mishmash of everything.
As your efficiency on guitar progressed, did you develop goals for your music?
I just wanted to get better, and that's something I'm still striving to do every day. I'm all about learning new techniques, trying out new gear and trying to progress every day.
Do you have a go-to guitar?
Indeed I do. I have a '57 reissue Gibson Gold Top that I've had for almost 10 years. I have quite a few guitars, but if I could have it my way in the studio, that's the one I'd like to play on every song; but, you know, some songs require different pickup configurations, so I can't play it all the time.
Why is it your No. 1 instrument?
When I first got it, I was blown away by the BurstBucker pickups that were in it. From there, I discovered the Seymour Duncan Antiquity pickups. I'm not saying that the BurstBuckers are bad in any way, but I prefer the Antiquity HumBuckers. I don't know what it is, but it's a great-sounding combination.
I have several other Les Pauls and Gold Tops, but there is something about that guitar that is absolutely perfect. It's like it was made just for me to play. I also have a favorite acoustic guitar. In fact, the one I play the most, I got from Tom. I can't remember what I traded and gave him for it, but it's a Gibson J160 with a P90 pickup in the neck. That's my favorite acoustic guitar.
How did the recording of the 7-inch come about?
We recorded two songs during a break between two tours in May last year. First song is called “Russian Spies” and the other song is called “Occult Enemies.” Tom wrote the songs, which were pretty much ready because they were worked out during sound checks. We made arrangements to get into Smart before they officially shut the doors. We spent a week there and everything came together pretty quickly and it worked out.
Other than your headlining slot on the Van's Warped Tour, what's next for Against Me!?
If there ever was a goal for the band, it is to keep growing and moving forward and always going up and never be stagnant. I never thought or believed playing the guitar would become a full-time profession for me. I've been fortunate to tour around the world several times and meet a lot of awesome and interesting people. It's been pretty fucking amazing.