Against Me!: A Woman’s Worth
The sixth album from Against Me! feels just like starting over. On the eve of their most important release to date, BLUNT spoke to Laura Jane Grace about fear, family and the future.
”You want them to notice the ragged ends on your summer dress/You want them to see you just like they see every other girl.” It’s an understandable and common issue among women and girls – a want to feel appreciated and acknowledged. The quote takes somewhat of a turn, then, when it comes from the perspective of a woman who has spent nearly her entire life in the body of a man. Welcome to Transgender Dysphoria Blues, album number six for Against Me! and their first since lead singer Tom Gabel publicly came out as transgender, becoming Laura Jane Grace. Only Grace and lead guitarist James Bowman remain from line-up leading up to Grace’s coming out: drummer Jay Weinberg left the fold at the end of 2012, with bassist Andrew Seward following suit around six months later.
“In a lot of ways, it is like going back to square one,” says Grace. “I started doing this band on a whim when I was 17 years old. I played in a bunch of other local punk bands that never really went anywhere, and I kind of got frustrated by all of that. I recorded a demo tape in my mum’s house on a four-track, made some copies and gave them out to my friends. I never really had any intention of forming it into a band. As it started to form, though, the idea behind it was that everyone who was available to play at the time can be in the band.” The band held the same line-up for seven years and four albums – Grace, Seward, Bowman and drummer Warren Oakes. It was after Oakes’ departure in 2009, however, that the line-up once again swung a revolving door.
“Having Andrew leave, in particular, was a really big shake-up,” Grace continues. Transgender Dysphoria Blues marks their first album without bassist Andrew Seward since their 2003 LP As The Eternal Cowboy. Seward left the band last year to spend more time with his family in Gainesville, as well as start a new band called Human Parts.
“After he left, there was definitely a moment where I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to continue on. Playing now with Atom [Willard] on drums and Inge [Johansson] on bass, though… I know this will probably sound full of shit, but I really feel that we are the best version of Against Me! that has ever been, musically. Everyone who is playing is an incredible player, whether it’s a show or it’s just at practice – the first chord we hit as the four of us, I could feel it in my gut. If I felt like it was anything less than what we have been before, especially as a live band, then I wouldn’t have wanted to tarnish the name and embarrass myself. But I feel like we’ve only gotten better.”
Grace, Bowman and Willard – along with fill-in bassist Fat Mike of NOFX – finished the final touches on Transgender Dysphoria Blues at an LA studio in June; wrapping up two years and half a dozen studio sessions’ worth of work. The finished product is a half-hour of power that captures the spirit and the energy of the band’s earlier material without being a complete throwback – if anything, it points to a bright, prosperous future. It draws inspiration everywhere from prostitution to Paul Simon (Grace notes the title track’s drumming to be inspired by “The Obvious Child”). Lyrically, it’s unquestionably the band’s most personal album to date – while the aforementioned gender dysphoria was alluded to in songs like 2005’s “Searching For A Former Clarity” and 2007’s “The Ocean”, it is all very much laid out in the open this time around. “All of the songs have a very liberating feel to them,” says Grace. “It’s very much an embrace of identity, writing the way that you’ve always wanted to write from the perspective you’ve always wanted to write from.”
One of the more moving tracks on the album is “Two Coffins”, a mostly-acoustic affair that Grace wrote for her now four-year-old daughter, Evelyn. Their bond during Grace’s transitioning period has only grown stronger, and Laura herself is truly amazed at how accepting and understanding she has been.
“Kids are easy in some ways,” says Laura. “They ask a lot of questions, but as long as you respond directly then they’re usually pretty satisfied with the answers that you give them. Evelyn understands now – she uses female pronouns when talking about me. She says ‘she’, she says ‘her’. She still calls me Daddy, which I don’t mind at all. She can call me Daddy as long as she wants. The only thing that matters is that I am there – the rest is inconsequential to her.”
2014 will see the new-look Against Me! gear up for a solid year of touring in support of Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Although no dates are set in stone, Grace assures us that an Australian return is an absolute certainty. She recalls the band’s previous visit as part of the 2013 Big Day Out as a truly unique experience.
“The Sydney show was the hottest fucking show I have ever played!” she exclaims with a laugh. “It was nothing short of brutal! If I’m going to remember anything about that tour for the rest of my days, that will be it. I must admit that I was a little nervous going into it. There’s a difference between playing your own show with your own crowd who knows who you are and what you’re doing and a festival crowd, who will have a lot of people that don’t know who you are and haven’t heard your band. You don’t know how they’re going to react. People were really cool, though; and the organisers were extremely supportive and welcoming. Australia is my favourite place to play, and I cannot wait to come back.”