by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
THE SHOWBOX MARKET
In 2012, Laura Jane Grace shocked fans of the punk rock outfit Against Me! with unexpected news that she was Transgender. But the shock quickly turned to support, as followers of the Gainesville, Florida-based group and many fellow musicians expressed their approval rather than their disappointment. Five years later, the band wrapped up separate tours with punk legends Bad Religion and Green Day, embarked on its own headlining tour and will close out a large alternative music festival with a hometown performance in October. In other words, things couldn't be better for Against Me!, who last year released its seventh studio album titled Shape Shift with Me, a record that landed on many critics' year-end lists.
The first time I saw Against Me!, at the Capitol Hill Block Party several years ago, I was blown away by the intensity and energy of the group. The second time, at Neumos about a year later, it was the same incredible experience. If you have yet to see them live, Against Me! is performing at The Showbox Market this weekend, September 9; for tickets go to www.showboxpresents.com. I spoke recently with Grace by phone as she was sitting on her tour bus and this is what she had to share with me inside The Music Lounge.
Albert Rodriguez: What's different about being, or playing, in Seattle that's different than other cities?
Grace Laura Jane: Well, there's an undeniable feel of when you get to that area of the country. The air feels different, so you know where you are, which I love; it's beautiful. I'm one who likes rainy weather, so gray skies I'm fine with that. We have a lot of happy memories associated with Seattle, going back to when we toured with The Blood Brothers; there have been so many good shows and so many good times hanging out. Seattle's awesome!
Rodriguez: Are you playing a lot of songs from Shape Shift with Me on this tour?
Grace: It's kind of weird right now, as far as we haven't done a North American headlining tour yet for this record and the record has been out now for almost a year. But at the same time, we've been touring. We did a Bad Religion tour, we played with Green Day and now we're doing a headlining tour, but because the record has been out for like a year, the songs blend in the same like any old song; all songs are not new songs at this point. We always try to do a real mix. This tour ends at 'The Fest' in Gainesville, Florida and we're playing Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose, our first album, so I hate nostalgia, but at the same time I was born with a couple of nostalgic bones in my body. The way this all ended up, it feels right in the way that we're taking the moment to reflect back and ultimately be thankful. It's the last show of this two-month tour and it feels like the end to a specific era for the band again, in that it's coming to an end and it's time to do a new record. It just feels like a good moment to take a look back and be thankful.
Rodriguez: There has been a lot of news surrounding the Transgender community the past couple of years, from the military ban to the North Carolina bathroom law to Caitlyn Jenner publicly coming out. Do you think all of this has helped make strides in accepting the Transgender community into society, or are we still having problems understanding it?
Grace: I think there's been amazing strides towards gaining visibility. Whether or not that visibility translates into actually changing the way that the Transgender community is treated in society, I'm not necessarily so sure about that. But I think there has been progress made. That progress, in some ways, was an acquist from the Trump Administration, from everything that's happened since Trump took office. We're forced to recognize that the pendulum swinging that far to the right is in response to the progress that's been made. Reading headlines like 'Transgender people want equal rights,' that scares people; they don't want progress, they don't want other people to have equal rights.
Rodriguez: Before you came out publicly, had you been experimenting with being Transgender - were you already wearing women's clothes, putting on makeup, or identifying as a woman to close friends and family?
Grace: I've been Transgender my whole life. It's funny, there were a couple of moments after I came out where I'd be someplace and wearing makeup, and someone really condescending would be like 'Oh, your makeup looks nice, did you do that yourself?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, motherfucker! I've been putting on makeup since I was 11 years old! I just wanted for you to see publicly that I know how to do it.' (laughs)
Rodriguez: We recently lost Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, who both took their own lives. Did this impact you personally, and how do you think it affected the rock music community?
Grace: I didn't want to say this at the beginning of the interview, but obviously this is related to Seattle. In my younger years I was very much into bands that came from Seattle. I loved Pearl Jam. I loved Soundgarden. So, on a personal level, as far as being a fan of Chris Cornell and being a fan of Soundgarden, it affected me. But on a human level, reading about anybody, or hearing about anyone, taking their own life affects me because I relate really strongly to those feelings. But I never want to be someone trying to exploit someone else's death, like talking about it, especially when it's someone that I didn't know. I met Chester a couple of times, but I didn't know Chester. Anytime I hear about somebody coming to that kind of end, taking their own life, or even just being in that dark of a place, my heart goes out to them and I understand it. I just want them to stay alive, I want them to be okay.
Rodriguez: I asked Melissa Etheridge a similar question recently because I wonder if maybe as a fan I'm missing something. Maybe fan adoration and the pressure to please your fans has something to do with it, and she said that as a rock star there is a role you agree to play that puts you on a pedestal, but eventually you realize that it's hard to sustain this other personality 24 hours a day.
Grace: Sure. Your perception of what you do when you're in a band is way different than other people's perception. On a small level of that, for example, I'm on my tour bus right now. I'm so thankful and I think it's so awesome that we're able to afford a tour bus and travel on a tour bus, and it makes things so much easier. People on the outside are like, 'Ooh, that's so nice, that's so fancy'. But when you're inside a tour bus, you realize 'I'm living in a submarine and it smells like farts in the hallway' (laughs). It's kind of gross. It's nice, but there's the reality of it. It's different than what the outside perception is of it. People think that being backstage is all nice and cool to hang out, but after you've been backstage for a couple of years with your band it's all smelly and gross and everyone's just sitting around looking at their fucking iPhones; there's no big parties happening, there's no magic happening behind the curtain. A lot of those things you realize are so different than the perception people have, and what it's like to actually live that life and the sacrifices you have to make with your family. I know that both Chris and Chester were parents and people don't realize the sacrifices that are made to make a living, to do what you do. Those are the choices you choose to make, but at the same time they're hard choices to make.
Rodriguez: When you're on tour and have a few hours of personal time to explore, what do you like doing?
Grace: I like walking. I like walking because it's good exercise, I always feel good if I walk a long distance during the day, but that's dependent on where you are on tour. If we're playing like where the show is at in Seattle - we'll be in downtown - you can walk to tons of stuff, so it's awesome. I like to explore, I want to see a little bit of where we're at. The last tour we did this summer was in Europe and we were there for like 5 and a half or 6 weeks, and every day it was wake up, eat breakfast, go for a walk, find an old church and sit in an old church for a while; just being a part of where we're at.
Rodriguez: For anyone that hasn't been to an Against Me! show, can you describe the live experience?
Grace: For anyone that hasn't been to an Against Me! show, I very much aspire to be like The Ramones. I'm not a politician, I don't have anything to sell you other than if someone picks up a hoodie or a record, but I just want to fucking play music. That's what it's about, it's about playing music. We just came to rock, and we're going to try and cram as many songs as we can into our set.
Rodriguez: When something like Charlottesville, or the recent flooding in Houston, or last year's shooting in Orlando happens, do you ever take the weight of that on stage?
Grace: Of course, of course, so much of it! You're kind of putting together things that are sort of different, like Houston is no one's fault, a natural disaster is a natural disaster. Our friends who print our tee-shirts are based in Houston. I know people everywhere I go, I don't live a life where all of my friends are back home. So when something happens anywhere in the world, I can reference it. Like what happened in Orlando. I grew up in Florida and hung out in Orlando all the time. I know where Pulse nightclub is. My heart goes out to anybody who's involved in a tragedy like that. But it does make it real, it does affect you when it's also what you do, like when people going to someplace to listen to music who are then the victims of something terrible that happened, like the Bataclan shooting in Paris. We played the Bataclan, I know the Bataclan, it's hard because you have those thoughts in your head and they go with you where you go, even on stage.
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