Laura Jane GraceTotal Treble Music
By Bobby Gorman on July 3rd, 2015 at Phone
It’s surprising to think that this is our eighth interview with Against Me!. Over the decade since we interviewed former-former-former drummer Warren Oakes back in 2005, Against Me! has been in a constant state of evolution. Line-up changes, record label swaps, arrests, coming out as transgender, several albums and so much more.
For our latest conversation with the polarizing and popular punk band, we called up front-woman Laura Jane Grace in the middle of their tour with Frank Iero & The Celebration and Annie Girl and the Flight and talked to her about what she’s been up to lately. We cover a wide range of topics including everything from their new live album, 23 Live Sex Acts (scheduled to come out September 4th), to whether or not they consider themselves a Florida band to playing with Miley Cyrus for her Happy Hippie Foundation and the importance of educating people about transgender issues.
As always, Grace gave honest and open answers with a level of detail many overlook and gave an eye-opening look into the inner workings of Against Me! – a band made up of four friends from around the globe.
Unfortunately, before we could get into the some anticipated questions about their new album that Grace hinted at, her upcoming book and some long last recordings, we got disconnected. Instead of dragging the interview out for too much longer and trying to reconnect, we figured we’ll save the questions for interview number nine with Against Me!.
Don’t forget to catch the band on their current tour.
All photos by Kaitlyn Laurel McGann.
Bobby: I guess we’ll start with the basics, you’re in the middle of the tour with Frank Iero and the Celebration and Annie Girl and The Flight – how’s that been?
Laura: It’s been awesome. Really good shows and just a really good vibe between everybody. For me, I really wanted these bands all to be on tour together. I met Annie in San Francisco. I played this solo show in December and she just popped back stage and said hi; she said she played in a band and I checked it out and fell in love with the record and had been listening to it all year. I was like “hey, I want to do this tour” and connected her with Frank. We have this kind of weird history between us and the bands, so I was like I want to do this tour and I want to go out with Annie Girl and the Flight and it would be awesome if we all did it. It really kind of came together on a real friendship level in that way and it’s just been a cool summer vibe.
Bobby: I know over your world tour in 2014 you recorded your live album that’s going to be released in September, 23 Live Sex Acts. This is going to be your second live album after Americans Abroad!!! – what made you decide to do a second one?
Laura: Multiple reasons really. On the one hand, it’s a totally different band now than the band that recorded Live In London. That record was recorded like a decade ago. So there are the songs that were written after that live record and also there are the songs that were on that live record which sound really radically different. It was wanting to show case that and really capture the band that it is now. And also wanting to kind of capture that year of touring too – the set list is really representative of the songs that were being played on that tour. We kind of approached it as wanting to do an almost greatest hits of the set list. Those are all the songs that when we play, we get a reaction from and people go off on for. Just trying to build a dream show.
Bobby: And it is representative of the entire year because unlike the London album, this one wasn’t recorded all in one night. You picked and choose songs from the entire tour right?
Laura: Well no, we recorded like three months worth of touring but then we ended up just settling on the one show because that was just a good show that really captured what everyone was looking for from it. But we have all these other shows – I mean we have like a hard drive worth of stuff that maybe sometime we’ll end up doing stuff with. There were definitely songs that were on the shows that aren’t on the record. So we’ll see what happens.
Bobby: Ok, so it is all from one show not from the entire three months of touring?
Laura: Yeah, it was recorded in Kiev, Indiana at a club called the Dirty Clit and it was just this total dive bar shit hole and it was just a really rockus show with lots of bodies flying and beer being spit into the air. A messy scene. (Editor’s Note: Despite research, I can’t find anything about this venue or city online).
Bobby: For the album art, when I saw it, I was instantly reminded of H.R. Geiger’s Penis Landscape from the Dead Kennedy’s Frankenchrist album. Although taken to a bit more of a new extreme, it also has a nice connection to Transgender Dysphoria’s dismembered breast artwork. Who’s idea was the art for this?
Laura: All credit there goes to Chris Norris – Steak Mtn. I told him the title and told him what it was and he came back with that and I just loved it. It was immediate, like “Oh my god.” And obviously it ties into the fact that the tour this was recorded on was in support of Transgender Dysphoria Blues – so there’s that link to it and it’s a snapshot of that period of time. But then it’s also just pretty classic artwork and it really reminded me of GNR Live too and definitely your point of reference as well. I’m a huge Chris Norris fan, I think he’s the best.
Bobby: Now Against Me! has always been a Gainesville band, connected to the city and the scene. But now you’re spread out all over. You’re in Chicago, James is in Jersey, Atom’s in LA, Inge is in Norway and you practice in Chicago. With members from all over, do you still consider Against Me! a Florida band?
Laura: I don’t. You know, it’s weird when people say that too because I haven’t lived in Gainesville – I think the last time I rented a house there was 2007 or 2008. I hadn’t really been in Gainesville since 2002 when we really started touring full on. I mean from 2002 to 2008, we were on tour 200 plus days a year and really were never in Gainesville. So I’ve long felt a sense of detachment from Gainesville. I mean I have nothing but love but I don’t feel the band is related to that anymore.
Even being there, it wasn’t a band that started in Gainesville. The band started in Naples, Florida and then I moved to Gainesville and continued it there. So I always felt kind of detached from the scene in that way too. Gainesville bands are always so incestuous. People have always played in other bands with other people and we were always just kind of apart from that. We weren’t a band that was full of people from Gainesville.
Bobby: Do you think it’s weird when people do connect a band so intrinsically to a city? Something that is so fleeting in the long run?
Laura: Well, we really played into that early on. In like 2003 we made a shirt that had the cowboy on the horse and the shield and it said “Gainesville, FL” on it. That was just what the dude who made the shirt did and we were all like “yeah, sure. We all live in Gainesville now, we’ll put that on the shirt.” But it was just kind of stupid bits of where you live pride, not really expecting forever to be defined by the city. *laughs*
Bobby: Also, ultimately a city shouldn’t really have too much impact on someone’s music. It’s kind of weird how you supplant these ideals based on different scenes.
Laura: And there was a real scene and there’s still a scene there now in Gainesville, but it’s not the same scene. I’m not a part of that scene anymore – and I don’t really know that scene. But I was when I lived in Gainesville, there was a period of time where I was very much a part of the Gainesville scene and it was a special period of time. It was really fun. Those periods of times definitely define bands and create sounds.
That was one of the cool things about being a band in Gainesville is that you had peers who were also playing in bands. So there was this competition to be a good band. Like “oh, they’re a good band, we want to be a good band. Let’s practice. They’re touring. We wanna tour. Let’s tour. They’re putting out records, let’s put out records too.” That fuels you. That’s a creative environment. And the rent’s cheap too.
Bobby: One more question about Gainesville: any chance you’ll be playing The Fest this year?
Laura: I don’t think so, no.
Bobby: Ah damn. Now going back in history a bit, in 2013 when Andrew left the band you said “it may look pretty ridiculous to carry on playing under the name Against Me! If I didn’t feel like I had something that I really needed to say” with the new album. Was it hard continuing under the Against Me! moniker after such a big lineup change?
Laura: You know, I really made that statement at the time missing Andrew and being sad that he wasn’t playing with us anymore. But I don’t know. The name Against Me! – I’ve played under Against Me! since I was seventeen years old. Andrew didn’t join the band until I was twenty three. There’s a long history preceding him. There’s a long history just between me and James. I met James on the first day of high school and we’ve been playing in bands together since we were fourteen.
There is still relevance to it, to the band for me. There’s still things that I want to say and have to say and want to do with it. And most importantly we all feel like we’re having a good time. It’s crazy and it’s never something that I thought I’d feel again where there were periods of time playing when it was me, James, Warren and Andrew and it felt like we had hit a peak of what we could do musically. That that was the extent of our musical ability as a group together. So changing that, even bringing George into the band changed a lot. Even playing now with Atom and Inge who – on their own, without any bands – are names to me. And the bands that they played with – Inge with International Noise Conspiracy and Atom with Rocket From The Crypt and so many bands – I really feel like as a musical unit, there’s still so much cool shit we can do together and it’s still worthwhile pursuing considering how much fun it is and how good the live shows are.
To feel that, it’s not like it’s a cash grab because the cash ain’t that good *laughs*. I don’t know, it’s just fun. This is what we all do. All of us are committed musicians. Nobody has this side ambition of “I eventually want to become a history teacher or open a restaurant or do something else other than be in a band that tours.” That’s not to say it’ll last forever. Who knows.
Bobby: But right now it’s what you guys want to do. It seems right and its working very well together.
Laura: Yeah, totally.
Bobby: Do you think it’s weird having these pre and post member change fans? Like I only like Scott Raynor Blink 182, not Travis Barker Blink 182 or Wade McNeil versus Frank Carter with Gallows or Pennywise with Jim versus Zoli. Or does it all come down to a mind set at the end of the time – Against Me! will always be Against Me! Blink 182 always Blink 182 and Pennywise always Pennywise.
Laura: I don’t know. I think it depends. Each band is its own thing. To me it was never about an original moment where four people got into a room and each picked up an instrument and this magic happened and a sound was born. To me, it was always something that was born in my bedroom when I still lived with my mother on an acoustic guitar and a four track tape recorder with no intentions of doing anything with it. So anything that has happened since has just been this crazy surprise of “wow, I can’t believe it’s changed into this. I can’t believe it evolved into this. I can’t believe I can do this with it now” just because I decided to do that when I was bored and I was seventeen. I was sick of playing in bands with people and I wanted to have something that I could control.
But, like, I get it at the same time too when people get into a band at a very specific period of time and they also aren’t just listening to records. They’re coming to shows and multiple shows and they develop relationships with that band because they hang out in the parking lot after and they talk to you. That there are personal connections to lineups and periods of time, because those were periods of times. Those were eras in the band and I get it if it’s not the same thing for some people anymore. It doesn’t have to be.
Bobby: People in everyday life are always evolving and changing. You can’t always expect your favourite band to always stay the same because then they’re not being true to themselves. People have to change.There’s a lot of reasons why something isn’t the same for people anymore too, it’s something that I feel like I have a little bit of insight on having been doing it for a while. Seeing people move on just from the music scene in general, of hanging out and going to shows, of buying records in record stores and going off into whatever other life adventures. To people coming new to that, seeing people after shows and them being like “this is my first show I’ve ever been to.” There’s that regeneration that’s just continually happening with music that’s a part of it.
Laura: Right, and often times if a line up change happens, it’s often because someone wasn’t happy playing in a band or playing with each other for whatever reason. But nonetheless, if they continued on doing that – getting up on stage and pretending to like each other, pretending they were enjoying playing in a band. That’ll be shitty for the band and it wouldn’t be good – it wouldn’t be a good live experience.
Bobby: The fans would be able to tell if they’re just going through the motions and not into it.
Bobby: Now your studio, Total Treble Studios that was set up in Elkton, Florida. I think it was 2014 a tree fell on it and damaged a lot of the studio. What happened there?
Laura: It destroyed it. It’s gone. The building wasn’t salvageable and I didn’t own the building so I just put all the gear into storage. You mentioned earlier that the band has been based kind out of Chicago now which isn’t even true anymore, we’ve really been kind of basing out of Michigan where our front of house and tour manager and engineer who we’ve been working with recording and who we’re going to be doing our next record with – I moved all my gear into his studio there. It’s just a fucking rad setup where we can all meet there, rehearse and record. It’s really in the middle of nowhere in the woods and there’s really no distractions. It’s nice.
Bobby: So now the studio is set up in Michigan you said?
Bobby: You’ve obviously been getting into the producing world. You started with Cheap Girls’ Giant Orange, you also did the amazing These Maps Are Dreams by The Wild and you just finished Lauren Measure’s new band, Worriers, for their album Imaginary Life. How do you pick which bands you want to work with? That you want to produce with?
Laura: I don’t know. I guess I’m trying to figure out how to pick what I want to do. Right now I’ve just usually been flattered when someone asks me and I really want to do it and I want to gain that experience and that knowledge. With Worriers, the real connection was that my friend Justin Sullivan started out playing with Lauren and Worriers so I knew that was something that I’d be into. I checked it out and I fell in love with one song in particularly – Precarity Rules – where I just realized there’s that spark there. That thing that’s kind of intangible where someone can create something that’s rad and I thought “this will be cool, I want to do it.”
Bobby: Nice. You also self-produced Transgender Dysphoria Blues. What’s the difference you feel about self-producing an album and producing for others?
Laura: Well, it’s a lot less work producing for others. It’s just different. You have more of an attachment, that’s the hard thing: recognizing how to not be precious with stuff. It’s just a different experience. When you self produce, it’s a little more loose in that you’re just doing it yourself. You’re just doing what you want to do with it and that’s it.
I think with this new record that we’re going to start working on in the fall that it’s just going to be more of a group effort to produce. We’ll all weigh in with what we want to happen with the record, continuing with the momentum that we’ve had touring together and working together as we are now having developed a way to do it. I think it’ll be kind of easy comparared to the last record – maybe a little bit more light and fun.
Bobby: With the last record, you had said that since it was an extremely personal record that you wanted to isolate yourself and have full control of the album as you developed the songs.
Laura: A lot of that just had to do with what I was going through then with accepting myself and coming out and just needing that kind of guard up. Where I could have full control over that no matter what else was about to start happening around me. I needed full control over that. It was really therapeutic and what I needed at the time. Now feeling like I’m part of a family and part of a team again and feeling like we can all work together and that it’s something that we can do awesome on stage live, then it’s surely something we can do together in the studio. I want that. I want to be a part of that, that’s a good feeling. There are times in life when you just really feel like you need to do something and when you’re an artist, sometimes there’s times where you feel like you’re trying to prove something to yourself. I feel like I did that for myself. I finished that record and I’m still standing and now I want to do something different.
Bobby: You’ve said before that seventy percent of Transgender Dysphoria Blues was written before you came out and began your transitioning. Did writing these songs kind of help you come to the conclusion that you did want to come out and start the process?
Laura: I mean it was definitely something that pushed me along as I was pushing it along myself.
Bobby: Do you find there’s a contrast between the seven songs you wrote before you started transitioning and the three songs you wrote after you started transitioning? Like a difference between the first song you wrote, Paralytic States, and the last which was FUCKMYLIFE666?
Laura: I don’t know. It’s hard to see it now. I see it now as just all a part of each other, all a part of that period of time just because there is a distance now between then, when I was really in it, and now. At the time it was really like dealing with whatever I was dealing with when I was writing the songs or recording the songs. It was very much a real time. Now having travelled around and seeing people embrace those songs and what it means to other people, having people sing back lyrics and having joyful, joyful experiences behind it – changes your perspective on things and you’re able to look at it in a different way.
Bobby: You have one song that you recorded, mixed and mastered that Fat Mike played on that didn’t make the album. Any plans for that song?
Laura: I don’t know. We’ll do something with it eventually. I have a couple hard drives full of things like random songs that we finished when making records that we decided not to put them on the record. There’s a couple from the New Wave sessions, there’s a couple from White Crosses that just never happened. Maybe eventually we’ll do a rarities thing or something – who knows.
Bobby: You mentioned before that you had several friends over the years that helped give you the courage to start the transitioning process, January Hunt was one recent example I saw you talk about. With coming out in Rolling Stone, you made this very personal decision very public – did you hope doing that would help show others suffering through Transgender Dysphoria that they’re not alone there?
Laura: Totally. Just being visible and being out and saying fuck it and accepting something and also connect me with other trans people and connect me with that kind of community which I really needed at the time. It was a big SOS flag in a lot of ways.
Bobby: Over the past few years, there’s been a large amount of public visibility concerning transgender transitioning. You with Rolling Stone, Laverne Cox on the cover of Time and just recently Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair. However, in your conversation with Stephanie McCarthy about her assault at your show in Australia, you mentioned that you were skeptical about how much of that visibility translates into the general public’s actual education and understanding concerning transgender issues. How can someone balance the act of simply being visible while still educating about the needs?
Laura: You know, I don’t know. All you can really do is do your best. Be the best version of yourself that you can be and be as honest as you can. Being open and being willing to answer questions is all I can offer to do. Give my perspective. People can listen to that, people can take something from that from or they cannot.
I think that there was a piece that John Oliver did recently on his show that really nailed it. He was talking about the way that people have been accepting of that but at the same time not really supportive. Like there was this one where it was a military officer who was transgender who is being given a medal but at the same time being discharged because they’re trans. Or one with this person giving an impassioned speech about some bathroom bill and everyone on the council patting them on the back and telling them how brave they are, but then passing the bill anyway. It’s just that kind of bull shit.
I think a lot of it still stems from people still viewing it as a mental illness, they have developed this ability to be empathetic but then not respectful. That’s really what needs to happen in a lot of ways. Because the reality is that most transgender don’t have any rights or protection for their jobs, their healthcare, for anything like that. Suicide rates are still 41% of transgender people will attempt suicide. It’s crazy when you look at the statistics. It’s more than a magazine cover. People are still getting attacked, killed, it’s a real thing. That’s what needs to change. But hopefully it all lends itself to educating and pushing it forward. Things have pushed forward. It’s just that things need to push further.
Bobby: You mentioned John Oliver, I always saw a great segment that Jon Stewart on Caitlyn Jenner transitioning and how many news channels were very supportive of her transition but then instantly began focusing on how beautiful she looks, sexy, stunning, hot, amazing and comparing her to other women. “Does she have a better body than Kim Kardashian” or the dress looks like a playboy bunny dress. Instantly it became all focused on her sex appeal and discounted any of her past successes. Do you feel that’s a sad display of sexism in the media along with a way to instantly ignore the real points of the story?
Laura: I think it’s dangerous in a way because then there is the idea of being then pressured when you transition to then fit into a gender role. It’s part of the problem. I’ve tried to take a real step back from formulating a proper opinion on the whole Caitlyn Jenner thing because ultimately I have nothing but love and support and I have a shared bond because I’ve gone through kind of a similar experience – coming out publically too but just in general most trans people will have that bond of a transgender experience. So of course I wish them the best and everything like that. Awesome, it’s good for you. You’re fucking on the cover of Vanity Fair, that’s rad.
I do understand other transgender people’s opinion of it not being a full representative of them. But that’s always going to be the case. You can only ever represent yourself. I think like moments like that are definitely pushing the envelope forward and is making an impact of being a part of the everyday conversation. You just need to continue to steer that conversation in the right way. And sexism isn’t alright just like transphobia isn’t alright. Unrealistic expectations of beauty standards placed on young girls or young boys or whoever – that’s not right either. If you choose to not transition into something that’s the idea of “passing” well that’s fine too. Fuck passing. I don’t know, there’s so many angles to it.
Bobby: I know you’ve mentioned many times that you don’t like the idea of people needing to go from Box A to Box B that there’s a whole bunch of different scenarios. Everybody’s different.
Laura: Totally. But at the same time, if you want to go from Box A to Box B – go from Box A to B. But that shouldn’t be forced upon people and that shouldn’t be another standard for people to reach for or try to achieve that further causes depression or suicide or violence.
It’s weird because I think often times that’s why more often than not attacks on transgender people are on transwomen as opposed to transgender men. I think a lot of that kind of stems from the fact that men are fucking sexist pigs most of the time and that you see a woman walk by and men check out the woman and then if they feel like they’ve somehow been tricked or something and all of a sudden they’re like “wait, this is a transgender person” and then that somehow offends their sexuality or their perception of manliness or whatever. That’s when the violent reaction happens.
Bobby: Trying to defend their own ego or something.
Laura: I don’t know, it’s so fucked up.
Bobby: One celebrity figure that has been working hard to educate and help homeless youth and LGTB youth is Miley Cyrus with her Happy Hippie foundation – in May you performed two songs with her and Joan Jett – how’d that come together?
Laura: They asked me to be a part of it. I was on a flight, landed and got a call and they were like “hey, we’re doing this – come and hang out and play music.” I was like “okay, awesome – that sounds amazing.” So they had me come out to California and we went to Miley’s house and played some songs in her backyard with her band. It was all for a good cause, for charity. I’ve known Joan for a while and played with her a couple times before and worked a little bit on her last record, so any chance to hang out with her I’m up for. I had never met Miley before but she was really cool and really welcoming and it was really fun playing music with her. I don’t know. A surreal experience.
Bobby: That’s awesome, do you think it’s important to have a figure with such a younger fan base introducing these problems to kids so they are more aware of what’s happening? Do you feel that’s a good form of the needed education you were talking about?
Laura: I think that, Miley with what she’s doing with InstaPride and her Happy Hippie Foundation is great. Her fan base is younger and they’re being introduced to those ideas and those concepts as a normal thing and a thing you should support at a very young age. She has an army of fans and if you can use that to educate people or do something good, then more power [to her].