By Johnny Papan
VANCOUVER – Against Me! is a group whose open-minded and broad influence has drawn them a widely mixed fanbase over the years. Their expansive and evolving punk rock sound has kept them from being pigeon-holed into a particular niche and the group have found themselves able to fit on the same bill with anything from poppy radio-rock artists to street punks and hardcore bands.
Touching on themes such as her personal life and political views, frontwoman Laura Jane Grace has used her lyrics and songwriting to express her bare soul, connecting with audiences from varying walks of life.
“I think it’s really important to recognize the connectivity between the personal and the political,” Grace states. “The politics I most connect to are the politics of my life. The way I live, the person I am. When you’re younger it’s a lot easier to think of terms like bigger broader brushstrokes, commenting like you’re an expert on things that you often times don’t know anything about. You gotta live shit. That’s lesson one for any writer. Write what you know, write what you lived.”
Following Against Me!’s two most recent records Transgender Dysphoria Blues and Shape Shift With Me, Grace has also penned and published her first book: Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout in 2016. The book covers Grace’s journey with the band as she fought with internal struggles of gender identity. Grace composed her book from journal entries dating back as far as childhood. Born Tom Gabel, Grace began transitioning into a woman in 2012.
“For unfortunate reasons, being a transgendered person is a political thing, often times because of the way the transgender community has been marginalized and treated,” Grace explains. “Beyond that there are many troubles in the world and a lot of the time I feel really fuckin’ overwhelmed by everything that’s happening. I’m doing my part by trying to be a good human being and affect change where I can affect change, but that’s always gonna stem from who you are and where you actually are in life.”
In 2002, Against Me! solidified their potential to be one of our generation’s biggest punk bands with the debut record Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose, an aggresive underground record that features the band’s first hit: “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong.”
On the title of the debut record, Grace says: “I’ve loved Guns n’ Roses since I was like eight years old. You get a little older and you realize that Axl Rose is kind of a fucked up person and it’s not as cool as I thought it was. There was an element of wanting to reclaim that: Take back your childhood heroes, redefine them, kill your idols.”
Though Grace has not yet met Axl Rose, she recalls a time meeting Slash and Duff McKagan, who she claims radiated a special “you’re a fucking rockstar” energy. She’s also toured with personal heroes Rancid and remembers a time she played bass with Lars Frederiksen backstage while frontman Tim Armstrong watched, an experience that drew heavy emotion.
“That’s what’s fucking cool about punk. For years bands were telling you there’s no difference between the audience and who is on stage. Anyone can do it. It’s true, anyone can. My first show ever was Green Day and I was thinking: ‘Wow, I wanna be on stage one day like them.’ Then years later you’re like: ‘Fuck, I’m up on stage. I’m playing with Green Day. It’s all attainable and real. It’s not just some pie in the sky shit.”
Against Me! recorded parts of Transgender Dysphoria Blues on the legendary Neve console featured in Dave Grohl’s documentary: Sound City. The console currently resides in Grohl’s studio and has been used to record many legendary albums by artists including: Fleetwood Mac, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine and Nirvana, to name a select few.
“You’re watching that documentary and it seems so mythical and far out of reach but it’s right there. You just gotta work hard and be dedicated to your craft. I know it’s a cliche and it’s a joke but how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. You have to fucking practice. You have to work at your shit.”
Grace concludes with advice for young musicians: “If you really want to do it, do it. You gotta be willing to play for anyone, anywhere, anytime and never judge an audience. Whether you’re standing on a street corner busking for change or playing a shitty rock club or some stadium, it’s all the same. Give it your all every time. You need to be disciplined. I know that goes against the whole punk rock nature originally but then you realize most of the people that you’ve always loved and listened to in punk rock did have that work ethic. They did devoted their lives to what they did.”
Against Me! performs alongside Bleached and the Dirty Nil at Union Hall (Edmonton) on September 5, the Marquee Room (Calgary) on September 6, and the Vogue Theatre (Vancouver) on September 8.Against Me!, anarcho punk, laura jane grace, LGBTQ, punk, shape shift with me, transgender, transgender dysphoria blues, Vancouver, Vogue Theatre