When a record gets released, the driving force behind it is usually easy to guess. A long-player full of spiteful songs about the breakdown of a relationship, a debut album a band have been working on their whole life, a political message calling listeners to get the fuck up off their couch and fight for justice. But when we ask Laura Jane Grace why she would choose to release a record in this god-forsaken year of 2020, her answer is not one of the above, instead: “What if I get sick and I fucking die?”
Of course, there were other motivations for Grace to release Stay Alive, a solo record that dropped abruptly at the end of September. Among them was the realisation that we all had when it hit the second half of the year that the pandemic wasn’t going to end anytime soon. Grace recalls her thought process that she could wait to record the songs for when she was able to tour, until touring became a distant dream, with an end date for our little apocalypse becoming more and more elusive. On the other side of the coin, history doesn’t look kindly upon the lazy.
“What about looking back at this period of time as, well, what did you do during the plague?” she asks. “I sat on my couch and I played PlayStation for fucking a year? No, that’s unacceptable. I want to say I worked my ass off and I made a record. In 10 years, will it matter what those individual songs are even about? Not a fucking bit. It’ll just matter that you made an effort and you put something out and you put your heart into it.”
Circling back to the original point, our mortality seems to be on our minds now more than ever. There’s the matter of this pesky virus, but equally the way that it’s broken our rhythm of living life. As the great John Steinbeck once said, “A sad soul can kill you quicker – far quicker – than a germ.” In that vein, Grace used the album to keep herself breathing one day to the next.
“It keeps me alive having these landmarks within my calendar of, ‘Okay, here’s the recording date coming up. Here’s the release date coming up.’ I’ve got to stay focused, stay alive until the release date. ‘I’ve got this live stream I want to do.’ Stay focused, stay alive. As opposed to just drifting into this endless abyss of every day is the same and nothing is different. And I’ve been wearing the same hoodie and sweat pants for fucking seven months.”
“As opposed to just drifting into this endless abyss of every day is the same and nothing is different.”
It isn’t only the pandemic that makes our context bleak but the cannibalisation of what was originally intended to be democracy over in the States, where having power appears to have turned into some kind of reality television show. Though it has been building for a long time, the tension in the States appears to be coming to a head at this time of the election.
“Going to the grocery store or going to Target or something,” Grace explains, “you’ll feel animosity coming off of people when you’re standing in line to pay. And it’s just unsettling and it feels just to uneasy. I cannot wait for the election to be over, but at the same time, I’m not sure that it’s going to just disappear overnight with that, no matter what the results are.” She adds that divisions have become even more palpable with some wearing masks and some not, a clear and visual indication of two sides against each other.
As Grace mentions, the solution isn’t exactly simple. There’s currently no vaccine, but even if there was, there’s no guarantee around timely and equal distribution. At the same time, it’s clear to many that Biden isn’t the hero that we were after. Sure, he’s fighting against the Trump administration, but it’s a little more hazy than good versus evil.
“Right before the pandemic hit, I opened up for Bernie Sanders at a rally in Michigan,” Grace points out. “I would’ve much rather seen Bernie Sanders leading the ticket. I can rationalise in my head and be like, ‘Okay, I guess I understand what they’re trying to do.’ And that they’re hoping that Biden appeals to this middle ground and pulls some of the Trump support.” She adds that, being only a couple of weeks out from the election, there are unfortunately two choices left. “I’m going to vote for fucking Biden regardless of if I agree with him or not. At least he seems fucking not insane and he’s not a white supremacist and he’s not this crazy, detached, greedy motherfucker.”
Even if Biden does get voted in, there is no magical solution to how corrupted our version of fair ruling has become. We don’t live in an equal society by the design of capitalism, but it seems like a low standard to expect that the basic human rights of individuals are upheld as a minimum function of government. Grace recognises that we can only control ourselves and our actions, trying to avoid but eventually submitting to the cliché of “thinking globally and acting locally.”
“Where do you fucking start? How do you dismantle capitalism?” she laughs. “It’s an overwhelming task…And really when it comes down to it, all I control is the way I am, the way I act in the world, what I put into the world and the way I exist. So it’s on me to act accordingly and make changes within my life that are for the better for everyone. And that’s me doing my part. You have to do your part.”