Against Me! Guitarist James Bowman Is All About the Stouts and Hard SeltzerSeptember 23, 2019
James Bowman has earned his hard seltzer. The Against Me! guitarist just finished playing not one, but two entire albums for a frenzied crowd of thousands who sang along at Riot Fest. Next month, the veteran punk band will embark on a tour featuring performances of two of their records from front-to-back each night. The “2 Nights / 4 Records / 48 Songs” tour includes their albums Searching for a Former Clarity (2005), New Wave (2007), White Crosses (2010), and Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014). Relaxing backstage with a Bon & Viv spiked seltzer and a Goose Island 312, Bowman chatted about Against Me!’s beer collaboration, having beer pen pals, and relearning how to play all their albums.
How did Against Me! get involved with brewing a beer?
We had a collaboration with Champion Brewery in Charlottesville, Virginia. I found Hunter [Smith], the head brewer, and cold called him. I was like, ‘Hey, I saw that you want to work with bands. You should make a beer for us.’ He was actually a fan of the band.
It was right around the time that Transgender Dysphoria Blues was coming out, and there’s a song on there called ‘Black Me Out.’ I really like stouts and someone suggested, ‘Why don’t you make Black Me (St)out?’ I was into imperial stouts at the time, but they’re super high in alcohol. So, we wanted to make a hybrid of an imperial stout and an American-style stout. [Hunter] came up with the recipe. It was lower in alcohol, so you could drink a couple of them and not be gross. It was really good.
We also did a special bourbon barrel-aged version of it and played a show at the brewery. If I’m not mistaken, it was a Pappy barrel. It was really good but it was super boozy. I also did a tap house release with them which was a radler style. It was a dual collaboration with a soda company in Charlottesville. They came up with this grapefruit seltzer, and it was blended into a wheat-style beer. It was on tap and there were only a few kegs of it. It was delicious.
So you’re the one in the band who is instrumental to the beer collaborations. Have you always been into beer?
Yeah, I’m not particularly into any certain style or craft breweries. I just enjoy a good beer every once in a while.
Do you have any down time while you’re touring to check out local beers?
I do, actually. I recently, not on tour but on vacation, got to go to the Russian River Brewing Company in Windsor, California. They’re famous for Pliny the Elder. My wife and I were on vacation with some friends near Santa Rosa and I stopped at the draft house there to fill up a growler and posted a picture on Instagram. Someone who worked at the actual facility was like, ‘Hey, if you wanna come by for a tour we’re like ten miles down the street.’ We were heading home, but I asked to come back tomorrow and bring my buddy. We got to taste all kinds of crazy beers in their sour beer room, where all the casks are. It’s a really impressive facility.
That was really cool, and then I’m fortunate to find beers like Pliny that are hard to get. Like Heady Topper, I stumbled into that brewery [Alchemist] on tour after a movie in Vermont. I walked up like, ‘I’ll have one of these,’ and they didn’t know if they had them. I was like, ‘Oh is it like, a thing?’ and they were like, ‘Yeah.’ So I was like, ‘Can I have one?'
They didn’t have any Heady Topper when I went there.
We play the venue there pretty often, and when we come through they usually have a couple of four packs stashed away. So I get to come home with some good treats to share with my friends.
Do you have any favorite beers from your home state of Florida?
There are a couple really good breweries in Gainesville. Swamp Head is really good. In Tampa, there’s Cigar City and Jai Alai is my go-to. It’s so, so good. They do that Maduro brown ale as well, which is really good.
I haven’t had the Maduro.
I’ll have to send you some stuff. I’m serious. I have, like, beer pen pals with a few people.
How does that work?
It’s mainly my friend Britton, who builds guitars. He likes a good beer, and was like, ‘Why don’t we do a beer pen pal thing?’ So, he’ll send, like, 12 random beers and I’ll ship 12 random Florida-specific beers back. People on the West Coast are dying for Two Hearted and Bell’s stuff. In Florida, it’s no problem. It’s everywhere. So I have to ship a lot of Two Hearted. I think it might be illegal.
What’s your go-to beer before a show?
I don’t drink anything before the show. I used to drink a lot before the show. Now it’s like, ‘I can’t really do this. I’m old. This is not gonna be good.’ If we’re having a particularly good, good set, and we’ve got some time, I might try to get our guitar tech to go snag me a drink from backstage. In a festival situation, that’s not gonna happen. It’s too far away.
It has to be a good feeling to crush a set and then crush a beer after.
Yeah, you feel like you’ve earned it. Like mowing the lawn. You get done and you’re dirty and hot, and you’re like, ‘I just want a super watery, cold domestic beer.’ It’s a similar feeling. I did learn that one of the members of GWAR only drinks White Claw—the big guy, Balsac the Jaws of Death. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
How did the band get the idea to play full albums on this tour?
We’re kind of in-between album cycles and it just seemed like a fun idea. We did it a few years back in Denver, as just a one-off kind of thing for two nights. It was really, really fun, so we decided to expand on it and do some more albums.
Do you have a favorite album to play all the way through?
I don’t know. We did two different records last night at the Metro. We did As the Eternal Cowboy and New Wave last night and then Reinventing Axl Rose and Transgender Dysphoria Blues today. It’s interesting to go back and play older songs, because you have to relearn that stuff. Like, ‘What was I playing here and why would I play that?’ It’s educational as well.
Do you remember your first beer?
I do, I must have been nine. It was the Fourth of July in South Florida with my family. Everyone was drinking Busch Light. Someone opened one and set it down and went to go use the restroom or something. I remember eyeballing it, and I just grabbed it and took a big swig. It was terrible. I was like, ‘This is so gross! Why do people drink this stuff?’
What beer would you pair with an Against Me! Show?
They don’t make Black Me (St)out anymore. We do have a song called ‘Pints of Guinness Make You Strong.’ A stout might feel like drinking a loaf of bread, but I do love a Guinness.