True Trans Soul Rebel: An interview with Laura Jane Grace of Against Me

Against Me to play Louis’ in Saskatoon, March 31

After roughly 17 years of making music, Against Me! has just released their most important album to date. At the beginning of 2014, the Florida-based punk band dropped Transgender Dysphoria Blues, their sixth full-length LP. The release is also the first by the group since lead singer Laura Jane Grace went public with her decision to transition from a man to a woman.

Suffice to say, Against Me has come a long way since the first time the group played in Saskatoon in 2005, when they played in front of 180 overly-stoked people at the Bassment.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a concept album that addresses misogyny, bigotry and homophobia. Musically, it’s about the most triumphant thing the band has ever done — which is saying a lot, considering that Against Me! has built their career upon hoary audience sing-alongs and roaring guitar hooks. Lyrically, the album is a raw portrait of Grace’s exceptional life, both on and off the stage. “There’s a brave new world that’s raging inside of me,” sings Grace on “FuckMyLife666”.

Ominocity recently caught up with Laura Jane Grace of Against Me for a chat on playing the hits, playing the new stuff and playing in Saskatoon.

Ominocity: Thanks much for adding a show to Saskatoon – sorry for hounding you on Twitter when you posted about that.

Laura Jane Grace: To be honest there was only like four or five people who said Regina and everyone was strongly in favour of Saskatoon. It wasn’t a joke via Twitter – we needed to make a decision and I’m happy it worked out.

OM: I actually booked Against Me’s first show at the Bassment in 2005 and since then I’ve seen you play with the Foo Fighters in an arena – it will be interesting to see you play in a smaller venue again. What’s it been like headlining these types of places again?

LJG: You can’t compare playing with the Foo Fighters to our own shows because it’s not our own show – it’s not our crowd. It’s not like we were headlining arenas and then playing smaller clubs. Whenever we headline it’s always been smaller venues. But throughout our history we’ve been a band that has been fortunate enough to play a variety of shows, which keeps it fresh for us. We don’t want to play the exact same type of place every night. We’ve had some amazing chances to play in arenas and then we’ve been able to play a punk rock squat in Eastern Europe and then we come to the States to play a dive bar in Kansas. It keeps it fresh.

OM: Do you have a preference at this point in your career for where you like playing?

LJG: I want to play in the venue that will hold the most amount of people that will see us in any given town. If 500 people want to see us then that’s where we will play so everyone who wants to can make it.

OM: Transgender Dysphoria Blues seems to have really hit a mark, or touched a nerve, with audiences in a way that you haven’t in a while. Has the album reconnected the band with your older fans or are you seeing a whole new generation of people out with this one?

LJG: It’s really hard to say. We’ve only really done the one tour since the album has come out. I guess that’s one of the things about punk rock is that the audience to a point always seems to be the same age. So I think there will be a certain amount of people in the audience and this will be the only album that they’ve heard from us. And then there are always those people who have been with us since the beginning. It’s always been a mix. I mean there is always a really broad audience when we get to go out with bands with the Foo Fighters or Billy Talent, which I like.

OM: When you were writing this album, when you were recording it, were you aware that you were creating something that was going to have this level of connection with your audience?

LJG: That was the furthest thought in my mind. I was completely unconcerned with anything like that?

OM: Was it surprising for you then how much buzz and positivity was generated with the new album?

LJG: It’s a different record in the sense that in the past we had a plan for recording and it all went according to that plan. So you record and everything goes well and then you mix and master and you make a plan for it to come out and everything happens in a very orderly manner. And with this record it was like being a runner at the end of the race and me saying ‘take this fucking thing away from me.’ At that I point I was hoping that there would still be a band to tour because it didn’t seem like there would be a band when we were finished. So instead of thinking about if people liked it, the only concern was to go out on tour and to keep it together and to live one day at a time. Everything else seemed really superficial. If people are going to like one album that you put out and then not like the next one you have to disregard it and take it with a grain of salt. I mean you want people to like what you do and hear it, but I don’t want to think about stuff like that anymore.

OM: Have you thought about what your next album is going to sound like at all?

LJG: Not really. When we go in to make a record we don’t plot it all out – it just happens. Whatever has been influencing me over the past few years, or whatever I’ve been listening it, it seeps into my subconscious. At this point I would hope that Against Me! has a sound of its own and it would just sound like the band.

OM: The last time we spoke you mentioned how the band has wanted to take over more responsibility in terms of management – how has that affected the release of this album and any of your subsequent tours?

LJG: It’s been an interesting couple of years in that respect. We tried a few scenarios but there comes a point where you realize ‘hey, I can’t fucking do everything.’ You have to work with other people in order to not fuck it up. And you want to make sure you are working with the right people. So the set up we have now seems okay. We’ll see how it goes.

sxsw pictures against me 2

OM: In terms of the recent line-up changes, how has that affected your performances?

LJG: Playing live is what I live for and it’s what I enjoy the most. If I didn’t feel like we are a better band, or just as good – and egotistically I think better – then I probably wouldn’t want to do it. We’ve been fortunate with drummers in that every time we have a line-up change we get a drummer who is more skilled than the previous drummer. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could argue that we have one of the top-five drummers in the world. He’s fucking incredible. It’s insane.

OM: Do you still get people coming to shows hoping to hear the old stuff, like Baby, I’m an Anarchist?

LJG: We still play multiple songs off of [Reinventing Axl Rose] every night. At this point we have six records and we usually do a 25-song setlist. So we play songs from every record whenever we play. I’ve played ‘Walking Is Still Honest’ and ‘Pints of Guinness Make You Strong’ at every single show I’ve played since I was fucking 18-years-old. And now I’m 33. So there are a lot of songs that haven’t lost their relevance. There are some songs that we try to play with the line-up changes that just don’t lock in or groove. So it was probably a time and a place and we will retire it. But some songs can find a new life. Like we haven’t played ‘I Still Love You Julie’ for a long time, and we started playing it on this last tour and ended up being really fun. As for ‘Baby, I’m an Anarchist’ people always sing along to it when we play it. But sometimes the people you are on tour with will roll their eyes at you.

If I play ‘Baby, I’m an Anarchist’ I expect to see you onstage singing along with me.

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– Portions of this interview were previously published in Planet S Magazine.