Osheaga Festival 2014 graced its audience in 2014 with a well-seasoned lineup, incorporating several genres of music served up to a brewing audience of over 40,000. The punk scene was on site amongst the medley, with Florida’s Against Me! playing main stage Saturday. Laura Jane Grace, then known as Tom Gabel, started the band as a solo project in 1997 in Gainesville, FL. Since then Against Me! has released six studio albums, including their most recent album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, last January. Guardian Liberty Voice met up with Laura Jane Grace, drummer Atom Willard, and bassist Inge Johansson, after their high-energy performance at Parc Jean-Drapeau in Montréal, Quebec.
Under going a sex change directly in the spotlight is something never before attempting by a musician, especially in the macho prone political punk scene Against Me! surfs. Transgender Dysphoria Blues tells the story of a young mans transition into womanhood, gender dysphoria, and the struggles of changing your life, while Laura Jane Grace battles process head on having come out to the public two years ago. The album landed with high rating, and made Rolling Stones list of 45 Best Albums of 2014. Transgender Dysphoria Blues has become an anthem for the transgender community in the US, with Grace quickly becoming a figurehead for being yourself no matter who you are – which is more punk than anything I can think of.
When GLV caught up with Laura Jane Grace, it was in the middle of Against Me!’s year long tour, ending in December. Long curly brown hair is still in tangles from the head banging that occurred on stage just hours earlier. When I joked about how life on tour has change now that Grace is confronted with girlish concerns that plagues most women, she states: “Just having long hair while touring is a nightmare (laughs). For a while there we were playing a bunch of shows and things were really hectic. I actually started developing a couple dreadlocks and just let it go. It ended up getting terrible, and I had to go to a specialist to get them out (laughs)… It just feels good though. I got to a point where I just didn’t know what I was doing out there anymore. To be able to just be happy, and play shows, and have fun with my dudes is rad.”
The change has opened a lot of new doors for Laura Jane Grace, including an upcoming AOL reality show about her travels meeting trans people across the country, learning their stories, and connecting on a personal and relatable level. “We finished up shooting it pretty recently, and it comes out on September 8th” Says Grace. It will be her first time appearing in anything besides music videos.”It’s going to be much different than people may expect it to be, cause when you think reality show, people think it will be scripted drama like The Real World… But it’s really more of a documentary series on gender. It was a chance for me to go around and interview people who I’ve either met online, or people I’ve admired from afar (musicians, artists), and talk with them about their views on gender and the path they took to get to where they are now.” The AOL series will be part of a number of reality show online series soon to be hitting the public. Against Me! announced the news back in April, filming while continuing their consistent schedule of shows. “The band being on tour has been sort of a backdrop to that.” Grace adds. “It was an incredible opportunity for me, as someone who is used to being interviewed all the time, to get to turn that around and interview other people. It was really a life changing experienced.”
Despite the adjustment, and losing band mates Andrew Seward and Jay Weinberg, Against Me! and Laura Jane Grace sound the same, and have not lost their penchant for the upbeat and pro pride music they’ve carried through-out their career. Atom Willard and Inge Johansson recently joined the band, but already they’re looking towards the future of Against Me! with confidence. When asked what it’s been like coming into the band at such a major part in its career Johansson stated… “For me it’s a fantastic thing. I used to be a big fan of Against Me!, and used to listen to their records. I went to a couple shows and our paths crossed. They actually supported my old band!” Johansson was formerly in political punk band Noise Conspiracy from Sweden. “I’m still getting used to it (laughs)” Johansson admits, “but its been great!”
“I’m definitely having a good time.” Atom Willard tunes in with a smile. “It really feels like a natural easy situation. We all work well together, laugh at the same things, listen to the same kinds of music. You can still call it the honeymoon phase, since we’re still within two years of starting working with each other. Being in and recording the record, touring in different environments, experiencing new things… and really seeing how Laura and James are and how they work. Everything is still coming up.”
Speaking of coming up, Willard adds: “There is a little bit of (new material) starting to flush up… and we’re in the process of recording a live record.” Against Me!’s first live record, Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live in London!!! was released in 2006. “We’ve been spending our time during sound check is working on slightly different arrangements of older songs, and making sure we have all the songs we want on the record… Hopefully it will be out this year.” The live record will be independently produced, as did the last studio album, by Laura Jane Grace and producer and sound engineer Billy Bush. Against Me! will be swinging through the states again, and then back up to Canada before finishing their tour off in Europe this winter.
Interview by Morgan Louchen