Against Me! Drummer Ditches Fame For Burritos

'It felt really natural and it was a great run,' Warren Oakes tells Bigger Than the Sound.

Dudes leave bands all the time, for reasons that are exotic and distinctly "Behind the Music"-ian (drugs, money, women, jealousy, religion, solo careers, etc.), which is to say that the average person cannot relate to any of them. Warren Oakes is different. He left Florida agit-punks [artist id="1240711"]Against Me![/artist] for a reason that is understandable and completely proletarian: He wanted to sell burritos.

Therefore, Warren Oakes is a hero — the "Working Class" kind John Lennon keened about all those years ago. This has less to do with the burritos as it does with the principles of the whole thing. Here, let me explain.

Oakes played drums in Against Me! for something like eight years, toured prodigiously hard (200 shows a year, mostly in a van), recorded four fantastic, hard-charging albums (2002's Reinventing Axl Rose, 2003's As the Eternal Cowboy, 2005's Searching for a Former Clarity and 2007's major-label bow, New Wave) and always looked like he was having an absolute blast. He was the bearded, blissed-out yin to frontman Tom Gabel's gruff, gravelly yang ... the kind of guy every band needs, especially when the going got tough and the crowds got hostile. And both happened quite frequently during his time in Against Me! (for reasons I documented in a column back in 2007).

If Oakes looked eternally pumped, this is basically because he was living the rock-and-roll dream. Make no bones about it, AM! will probably never be a successful rock outfit. They're probably never going to sell out arenas or move millions of units. But that wasn't the point: Oakes scratched out a living playing drums in a band, he toured the world with his best friends, and he did it all as hard as he could for as long as he possibly could. (That's why kids join bands in the first place, isn't it?)

Of course, this couldn't last forever. Economics and savings accounts and adulthood and the like are most certainly not very rock-and-roll, yet they are rather huge aspects of reality (who knew?). So in April, half out of necessity and half out of sheer exhaustion, Oakes decided to bring the rock chapter of his life to a close. He left Against Me! to sell burritos in Gainesville, Florida.

Or at least, that's what he told me on Tuesday.

See, I am an Against Me! fan. So when I first heard that Oakes was out of the band (and subsequently read Gabel's rather matter-of-fact blog post about the situation), I figured he had been fired, which bummed me out. So I called down to Boca Fiesta, the burrito joint Oakes had just opened, hoping to speak with him. I left a message with a manager named Jeff, but never expected Oakes to call back. But he did.

We talked about the AM! situation, and Oakes wanted it to be known that he wasn't fired, but rather, his leaving the band "was really a mutual decision ... it was really amicable." He said he still considers the guys in the band to be "more than friends — they're family," and added that Boca is already carrying Against Me! guitarist James Bowman's homemade hot sauce on the menu.

I asked him about his decision to leave the band — whether he thinks it was courageous or heroic or even a little bit sad. He laughed and said he didn't, that he just couldn't continue to put his life on hold and dedicate all his time and energy to Against Me!

"I was feeling a little burnt-out on traveling all the time. It's a full commitment being in Against Me! I mean, it's 365 days a year, touring and working on new songs, and I always wanted to give 110 percent. Being in the band was a full-time job," he said. "But it came to the point where I did have to face facts and realize I was starting to express interest in having some other things going on, and trying to split my time and energy just wasn't going to cut it. So that was it. It was really sad — I was really bummed at first — but then the peace came. It felt really natural and it was a great run."

And then Oakes had to go, as the dinner rush at Boca was beginning. He told me that Against Me! fans can always find him behind the counter at the joint ("I've done everything so far — washed dishes, tended bar, made guacamole!" he laughed) and said that if I'm ever in Gainesville, I should stop in for a bite. We ended our conversation — Oakes hoped I wouldn't make everything sound too negative — and I started writing this column.

Originally, I had intended to canonize Oakes, to make his plight seem tragic and his decision heroic. But really, this situation happens every day, to people not just in bands but on assembly lines or insurance offices. Dreams are put on hold, or chucked aside forever, because reality comes calling. That Oakes did it does not make him a hero, it makes him like the rest of us. And perhaps that's his lasting legacy ... the everyman former drummer who ditched the dream and walked headlong into the rest of his life with grace and joy. Like I said, the burritos aren't the main point — it's the principle of it all.

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