The story line has recurred ever since the alternative rock genre emerged 20 years ago. An underground punk band is signed to a major label. Their hardcore fans accuse them of selling out. The label steers the band toward a more melodic sound. The label connects the band to a producer with a track record of making this formula work.
The producer is arguably Madison's most legendary rock music personality. His name is Butch Vig.
Against Me! are the Gainesville, Fla.-based alt-rock quartet that formed in 1997. They signed to Sire Records in 2005. Since then, they've released two albums, both produced by Vig. The band perform at the Majestic Theatre on Feb. 12.
"We got lucky," guitarist and lead vocalist Tom Gabel told me by phone last week when I asked him how the band first connected with Vig. "When we started doing our first record for Sire, we were given a list of producers we could work with."
Vig was one of them. "Butch challenged us and brought out the best in us," says Gabel. "He was really easy to work with."
The evolution in Gabel's songwriting and social perspective has helped ease the transition to a more accessible sound. On the band's 2007 release, New Wave, he considered his own role in promoting social injustice. "Americans Abroad" ranted against "profit-driven expansion into foreign markets." But it also reflected, "While I hope I'm not like them, I'm not so sure."
The first single off Against Me!'s 2010 album, White Crosses, shines a critical light on punk culture itself. "I was a teenage anarchist," sings Gabel. "But then the scene got too rigid/Narrow visions of autonomy/You want me to surrender my identity."
Last November, Gabel announced that Against Me! had cut their ties to Sire. "We have nothing but gratitude toward all the people we worked with at the label," wrote Gabel on the band's blog.
Gabel says Against Me! won't have trouble transitioning back to being an indie. "The days of depending on record sales are gone anyway," he said. "We've always been a touring band, and that's what we're going to do."