Against Me!: More Real Than All The Others
“I want to be more real than all the others.”
“I want to be more real than all the rest.”
“I want to be so real, you can’t see the difference.”
The opening lines of “Delicate, Petite & Other Things” – the fifth track on Against Me!‘s seventh full-length, Shape Shift With Me – haunt. Laura Jane Grace sings them sullen, defeated and with audible pain muddying her otherwise sharp and scathing voice. It’s a track that, while powerful enough to bear the Against Me! title without dividing their fanbase, wears its power under a tattered, pitch black sweater. Themes of heartbreak, love and open personality run rampant on Shape Shift With Me, but what sets the opus apart from its generous peers is that, for the first time in the genre’s history, it’s a punk album that hones in on love from the POV of a transgender protagonist. And keeping in line with her established songwriting ethos, Grace’s POV is one that never shies away from all of the crushing, blood-red intricacies of what dating as a trans person can entail.
It’s not just topically where the LP strikes, either: Shape Shift With Me is a stunning and unforgiving work of musical finesse. Its scope is bigger, its sound more experimental and its structures more daring to tap into the reservations of genre that previous Against Me! albums haven’t. It’s impossible to take it all in with just one listen – the album begs for repeats, meticulous analysis and nights lied awake with bass pounding through headphones. To grab a better understanding of how it all came together, we hit founding guitarist James Bowman up.
Shape Shift With Me is such a huge sounding album, and it’s also one of the year’s most interesting releases, topically, as well. Where did the idea come from to do an album about love from a trans perspective?
It wasn’t really brought to us as a conceptual kind of thing, y’know? Those are just the songs that kind of came together during the process, and they just happened to have that general theme to them.
Against Me! always being expected to have these thick-skinned, scathing political punk songs, was there ever that worry of “Oh shit, what are people going to think about us putting out a relationship album!?”?
No, that never crossed my mind! I think the record speaks for itself, and I think we did a pretty good job!
For sure! It’s been said in other interviews that Shape Shift With Me is an album the four of you all came together and wrote as a full collaborative unit. What was that process like in comparison to how earlier albums would go down?
It wasn’t super different. Y’know, we had a little more time to work on parts and flesh out some more ideas, instead of kind of just having a general feel and part in mind. We were just working more on arrangements, and stuff like that – just trying to make the best songs possible!
So would you say that Shape Shift With Me allowed Against Me! to——
[Laughs] Shut up, Mark! Sorry, I keep pacing around trying to find a quiet place but EVERY ROOM IS FULL OF PEOPLE!
Where are you right now?
We’re at the studio where we actually recorded the album – it’s owned by our front-of-house / tour manager, Mark Hudson. He has this awesome kind of studio built as this giant extension onto his house; this is where we rehearse before tours, and this is where we recorded [Shape Shift With Me], so I’m in Michigan right now! The first show of this tour is tomorrow, so we’ve been here for the past couple of days, just kind of rehearsing and going over stuff – trying to get ready for a very long tour [laughs].
Oh, nice! So would you say that Shape Shift With Me allowed Against Me! to evolve, or grow creatively much as a band?
Yeah! I think, even as players, everyone stepped up and had really good ideas and parts. When you play an instrument for so long, hopefully you get better with age [laughs]! But y’know, even having Adam and Inge around for that whole process, and just seeing how that dynamic works into it – this was our first record with them, other than [23 Live Sex Acts], so there was definitely a different dynamic, and it was cool to see how that worked out.
One of the really cool things on the album is the repetition of lyrical themes between some of the tracks. Am I right in assuming that “Norse Truth” is sort of a follow-up to “Delicate, Petite and Other Things I’ll Never Be”?
Oh! …Man, that’s a good question! I can’t really answer that because I didn’t write the lyrics. I don’t know – that’s good though; I’ll have to ask Laura when I see her in a minute!
I saw a photo of you on the music video set for “333” with Natasha Lyonne. That has to be effortlessly one of the best clips Against Me! have put out – what was it like behind the scenes?
We weren’t really involved at all. We got sent a treatment for the video from Ione Skye [director]; she happened to be married to Ben Lee – who’s Australian, so there’s some common ground [laughs] – and he covered New Wave a while back. They were just fans of the band, and she heard the song and came up with this treatment. We gave her free reign to see what happened, and that’s what happened! I think it’s pretty amazing, y’know? We really lucked out there.
One of the things that really stood out about Transgender Dysphoria Blues was that it sounded very raw and stripped down; there are songs that maintain that on Shape Shift, but there’s also a lot of very layered sections, and some parts that are just massive in their breadth. What made you guys want to shoot for, I guess, a bigger sound on this record?
It wasn’t anything that we really talked about. We weren’t making a conscious effort to make any certain sound – it was just a process of starting, then layering, then developing the best parts and just putting a cohesive and good song together.
So of course, there are two B-sides to the album: “Stabitha Christie” and “First High Of The Morning”. Do you reckon those songs might ever make their way to the surface?
Yeah! I would imagine so. They’re just sitting there, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t be used for something. There’s no solid plans for them yet, but I’m sure well have something ready for them in the future!
It’s been way too long since we saw you guys Down Under! When is Against Me! coming back to Australia to blow us away with these new songs in person?
We are working on coming back in the beginning part of next year! I’m not sure about the dates just yet, but I would say… The first quarter, if you will.
Just before we let you head off, the world desperately needs to know: what is the best love song of all time, according to Jimmy James B of Against Me!?
Oh, shit! …In my opinion, I would say “Jersey Girl” by Tom Waits.