Against All Odds: Laura Jane Grace’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Untitled DocumentBy Joey Odorisio & Josh T. Landow
The past two years of Laura Jane Grace’s life have been well-documented, but with the arrival this week of Against Me!’s 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 band’s 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 Grace’s 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, it’s been a long time in the works, and obviously a lot has happened leading up to this record. This is kind of a cliché question to start with, but would you say it’s your most autobiographical record? Probably, for sure, I think that it’s definitely the most personal record, I think there are a lot of politics still to the personal aspects that are being talked about, but it’s direct that it’s in the sense that it’s really about what I’ve lived.
JO: Would I be correct in saying that while some of the new songs are directly about what you’ve gone through in the last couple years, not all of them are about that topic.
In regards to that, maybe this record seems like it’s 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 don’t fit in, dealing with addictions and dealing with life changing…those are universal things that aren’t just exclusive to trans people. (Clip #1)
JO: You’ve 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 “Lau-ra! Lau-ra!,” 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 wasn’t our own tour. It wasn’t 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 would’ve been, so to have that many people come out and show that much support was just mind-blowing, night after night.
It’s not that I didn’t expect people to be open minded, I didn’t know what to expect but I wasn’t 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 doesn’t make or break a friendship, has been humbling. (Clip #2)
JO: “Black Me Out” is the new single and it’s my favorite new song I’ve heard in a while, let’s talk a little about that track.
It was one of the earlier songs that was written for the record, it’s an angry song and it’s about feeling like you just want to world to f***ing forget you…black 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 “I wanna piss on the walls of your house” 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 that’s where that line came from. (Clip #3)
JO: When I first heard the title of “F***MYLIFE666,” I thought it was almost a parody of what a teenager might use as a bad message board screen name, but then I read it’s something a friend of yours would say?
Another song on the record is about my friend Pope, who passed away, and “f*** my life” is something that he would say all the time. Whenever he got frustrated, he would say, “Ahh, f*** my life!” <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 isn’t about him, but the song “Dead Friend” is. (Clip #4)
JO: Let’s talk about the new rhythm section in Against Me! right now. Where did you find Inge Johansson?
Inge lives in Norway, but he’s Swedish. Inge used to play in The (International) Noise Consipracy, he was in The Refused. We’ve 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, he’d be down. He plays a Rickenbacker bass and looks like a Ramone, so I was immediately in.
JO: And there’s Atom Willard on drums, who’s played in about 21,140 Punk bands…
Yeah, I guess Atom’s probably best known for his work in Rocket From The Crypt, and he’s 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 wouldn’t feel comfortable going into a studio filled with strangers, like an engineer I didn’t know and a producer I didn’t 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, “Well I guess we’re going other places to finish this record.” 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?
It’s 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, ‘cause 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 didn’t understand is that he was one of the most genuine people that I’ve ever met. He really had the band’s back throughout the whole time we worked together, and went out of his way to be supportive of us in ways that I’ll forever remember. He’s 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 you’re 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 I’ll 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 I’m gonna have to make someone else’s songs, and someone else’s 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 that’s a good idea, to let me produce records for them. <laughs> I moved to Chicago in August, so I’ve 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.