Against All Odds: Laura Jane Graceís Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Untitled DocumentBy Joey Odorisio & Josh T. Landow
The past two years of Laura Jane Graceís life have been well-documented, but with the arrival this week of Against Me!ís new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Grace can tell her tale the way she does best: in song. In 2012, Grace (formerly Tom Gabel) came out as transgender in a major Rolling Stone interview, and this shift in her life is
the primary thread throughout the Punk bandís sixth studio album. We recently had the opportunity to chat backstage with Grace to discuss the making of Transgender Dysphoria Blues, fan support for her decision and Graceís plans to work more as a producer. Included in the body of the interview are links to audio clips, which you are more than welcome to download and use for your shows when playing Against Me! tracks.
JO: Congratulations on finally releasing Transgender Dysphoria Blues, itís been a long time in the works, and obviously a lot has happened leading up to this record. This is kind of a clichť question to start with, but would you say itís your most autobiographical record? Probably, for sure, I think that itís definitely the most personal record, I think there are a lot of politics still to the personal aspects that are being talked about, but itís direct that itís in the sense that itís really about what Iíve lived.
JO: Would I be correct in saying that while some of the new songs are directly about what youíve gone through in the last couple years, not all of them are about that topic.
In regards to that, maybe this record seems like itís overtly trans-centric [and] focused on that, obviously calling the record Transgender Dysphoria Blues is going to give that implication, but I think the underlying sentiment of dealing with gender dysphoria is that there are many things that are relatable to everyone: feeling isolated, feeling like you donít fit in, dealing with addictions and dealing with life changingÖthose are universal things that arenít just exclusive to trans people. (Clip #1)
JO: Youíve said a lot of your older songs were dealing with your dysphoria in a different way, we just may not have realized it.
Yeah, or more like heavily veiled in metaphor.
JO: The last time Josh and I saw Against Me! in concert was when you opened for The Cult in 2012, which was your first tour right after you came out and changed your name. One of the things I remember about that show was after your set, the crowd was chanting ďLau-ra! Lau-ra!,Ē and it felt so positive and uplifting, and showed that the fans really had your back.
Completely, it was really humbling, especially considering that it wasnít our own tour. It wasnít a tour I expected our fans to come out to, being that we were supporting The Cult, the ticketswere a little more overpriced than our shows wouldíve been, so to have that many people come out and show that much support was just mind-blowing, night after night.
Itís not that I didnít expect people to be open minded, I didnít know what to expect but I wasnít going into it thinking the worst. But the amount of support I received, and the way that people have expressed it to me, has just been really humbling. And having people like CM Punk or Joan Jett reach out and really show their support and show that its not a big deal, and it doesnít make or break a friendship, has been humbling. (Clip #2)
JO: ďBlack Me OutĒ is the new single and itís my favorite new song Iíve heard in a while, letís talk a little about that track.
It was one of the earlier songs that was written for the record, itís an angry song and itís about feeling like you just want to world to f***ing forget youÖblack me out, forget about me, I no longer exist to you: that kind of anger. And definitely with the chorus, and the imagery of wanting to piss on the walls of your house and chop those brass rings off your fat f***ing fingers, I was just really trying to get across that feeling of anger and those were the two most illustrative things I could think of. The line ďI wanna piss on the walls of your houseĒ was inspired by my father actually. My mother told me that when I was too young to remember, my dad used to come home drunk and piss on the walls of the house, so thatís where that line came from. (Clip #3)
JO: When I first heard the title of ďF***MYLIFE666,Ē I thought it was almost a parody of what a teenager might use as a bad message board screen name, but then I read itís something a friend of yours would say?
Another song on the record is about my friend Pope, who passed away, and ďf*** my lifeĒ is something that he would say all the time. Whenever he got frustrated, he would say, ďAhh, f*** my life!Ē <laughs> And storm out of the room or whatever, so the title was very much a tribute to him. He was into stuff like 666 and all that, so that song in particular isnít about him, but the song ďDead FriendĒ is. (Clip #4)
JO: Letís talk about the new rhythm section in Against Me! right now. Where did you find Inge Johansson?
Inge lives in Norway, but heís Swedish. Inge used to play in The (International) Noise Consipracy, he was in The Refused. Weíve known Inge for a little while and we found ourselves needing a bass player, and he reached out and said that if we needed someone, heíd be down. He plays a Rickenbacker bass and looks like a Ramone, so I was immediately in.
JO: And thereís Atom Willard on drums, whoís played in about 21,140 Punk bandsÖ
Yeah, I guess Atomís probably best known for his work in Rocket From The Crypt, and heís in Angels & Airwaves, he was in Social Distortion, he was in The Offspring. Atom is one of the go-to drummers, one of the best out there, of maybe two or three drummers in the world that you go to when you need a fantastic drummer.
JO: You also produced the album yourself, in your own studio, put it out own your own label. How did that all affect the record?
I was definitely interested in having an experience different than the last two records we made, and the last two records were major label records. And at points with those records, it sometimes felt like there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen. So I really wanted full creative control and I wanted to own the masters for this record. Going into it too, even though the rest of my band might not have realized it, I knew that I was going to be working out the things I was working out in these songs, and that I wouldnít feel comfortable going into a studio filled with strangers, like an engineer I didnít know and a producer I didnít know, and working that out in front of them. So in a way, and as an act of self preservation, kinda cocooned myself and built my own studio and had my own space that I knew I would feel 100% comfortable in. So that was kind of the approach. (Clip #5)
Towards the end of it, we did end up having to go to other studios. There was a bad storm in Florida and a tree fell through the roof of the studio and destroyed the building, so at that point we realized, ďWell I guess weíre going other places to finish this record.Ē So we did do that, but as far as the writing process, and really formulating the songs and everything, it really came together in our own space.
JO: Is the studio dead now? So you built it for 2/3 of an album, essentially?
Itís dead now, the building was just destroyed. I recorded two other records there, I recorded a record for a band called Cheap Girls, called Giant Orange, and I recorded a record for a band called The Wild, so it made three records, even though it was an old post office.
JTL: Last year, Joey and I had the opportunity to interview Butch Vig from Garbage, and we wound up talking about Against Me! a lot, and how much we love the records of yours that he produced, and he had such nice things to say about you and AM!
Butch is one of my favorite people in the world. That was always one of the frustrating things, Ďcause we got a lot of flak from our fan base for signing to a major label and working with Butch Vig, but I think what most people didnít understand is that he was one of the most genuine people that Iíve ever met. He really had the bandís back throughout the whole time we worked together, and went out of his way to be supportive of us in ways that Iíll forever remember. Heís just been one of the most influential people in my life and if nothing else good came out of the major label period of Against Me!, just for that relationship alone it was worth it. (Clip #6)
JTL: You mentioned his influence, now youíre producing your own record and other bands. As a producer, how much did you learn from Butch?
Oh, everything, and that was very much on my mind with doing this record, viewing those 2 records as the closest Iíll get to going to college, I wanted to take what I had learned and try applying it on my own. The same with the Cheap Girls record, I wanted to put it into practice. I learned a lot and I was inspired a lot by it too, and realized that this is what I want to do. I want to tour too, but other than that, I want to be in the studio and I want to work constantly. I am not the type of writer who can write a new song everyday, so if I cant make my own songs, then Iím gonna have to make someone elseís songs, and someone elseís records.
JTL: So you see yourself in the future producing as much as doing your own thing?
I would love to, I have to convince other bands that thatís a good idea, to let me produce records for them. <laughs> I moved to Chicago in August, so Iíve got to get a studio up and running there.
An extended version of this interview previously aired on Y-Not Radio, and can be heard On Demand here.