FeaturesWritten by David James Young on June 18, 2019
She’s prone to writing bare, confessional songs about everything from divorce to dysphoria. She’s been the subject of countless in-depth interviews, documentaries and even webseries. She even wrote her life story in a revealing memoir, Tranny, back in 2016. Even still, it feels like we still don’t know Laura Jane Grace – at least, not entirely.
With the release of Bought to Rot, her debut solo album, Grace opened up a new side to her – one outside of the immediate framework of Against Me!, which has housed nearly all of her musical efforts for over 20 years. It’s a direct, no bullshit record – not that she’s ever made records otherwise, but the explicit autobiographical nature of some of these songs drives the point home just a little more. Bought to Rot is the sound of a woman that’s been invigorated and revitalised – someone who was going through hell and kept going.
This month Grace is in Australia, bringing her backing band The Devouring Mothers along for the ride on a co-headlining run with folk-punk veterans Murder By Death. Ahead of that, the true trans soul rebel spoke with Music Feeds about everything from Wayne’s World to “Old Town Road” and back again.
Music Feeds: Where are you calling from today?
Laura Jane Grace: I’m at home, here in Chicago right now. I got back from tour about three days ago, so I’m just settling back in for a period of time before we go out and do it all again.
MF: Great to be speaking to you from your favourite place in the world.
LJG: [laughs] Right on, man.
MF: We have to start by talking about the video for “I Hate Chicago.” That has to be the best music video any of your songs have ever gotten.
LJG: Oh, thank you very much! There’s a couple of scenes in there, and I don’t know if people caught them, but we’re sitting in the studio audience. Andrew [Seward, Against Me!’s bassist] and James [Bowman, Against Me!’s guitarist] were in there, too. There was actually a scene that didn’t make it into the video, where we recreate the Alice Cooper scene from Wayne’s World, with me in the Alice role. It was gonna be the “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!” bit. Every time that Abby [Pierce] and Christine [Vrem-Ydstie] came up to me, though, I just could not keep a straight face. I couldn’t stop laughing – we looked so ridiculous. Even though we didn’t end up using it, everyone who worked on that video did such an amazing job. I absolutely loved it.
MF: You would have been a kid when the first Wayne’s World came out. Was it a big part of your childhood?
LJG: Of course! I vividly remember going to the theatre multiple times to see it with my friends, again and again. Those two movies have served as the source for endless quotes in just about every van I’ve been in for every tour I’ve done for the last 20 years. [laughs]
MF: You’ve been in the van quite a bit in support of Bought to Rot. How have you found transitioning from an established band with an extensive back catalogue to essentially going out with a fresh band and only one album?
LJG: Y’know, it’s really satisfying. We just did a tour where it was 40 shows in 49 days across North America. We have been busy, and we have a lot of plans on the horizon, but at the same times it almost feels on a smaller scale in comparison to Against Me! It’s been a nice juxtaposition in that way. It’s a really cool feeling to be able to go out and play your whole record. We’ve been going out every night, all the shows have been great and we’ve been playing the entire fucking record – all 14 songs. I can’t say Against Me! has done anything like that in years. We also threw in a couple of more deep-cut Against Me! songs, a few songs from my solo Heart Burns EP and some covers as well.
MF: One of those covers was “Dilaudid” by the Mountain Goats. Funnily enough, the last time you were in Australia with Against Me!, you covered them as well, doing “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.”
LJG: Australia’s deeply tied to this record, because I started writing a lot of the songs on that very tour. I was trying to be really productive in the downtime – not just scrolling through my phone or whatever. I ended up just learning a bunch of Mountain Goats covers. [laughs] I was asked to cover ‘Death Metal Band’ for a Night Vale podcast, I Only Listen to The Mountain Goats, but I just kept learning more and more songs after that. They’re one of my favourite bands, and they have such a prolific catalogue. When you start learning the songs, they become so much more interesting. John [Darnielle] has this thing where he’ll repeat the same chord pattern, but he’ll play it in a way that makes it feel like a completely different song. It’s kind of inspiring to come across something like that as a songwriter. That’s when I started writing songs for the album. ‘The Airplane Song’ was written between dates at Groovin’ the Moo. ‘Apocalypse Now (or Later)’ was written in Perth. It was all starting to happen around that particular time.
MF: One of the key differences between Against Me! and The Devouring Mothers is the fact the latter is a power trio. Do you feel you have to up your game as a guitar player somewhat when you’re the only one playing on-stage?
LJG: If there’s a mistake, you fear it. [laughs] It definitely changes your approach, and the way you write your guitar parts. It’s up to you, and only you, to replicate it live. With this band, we practised live. We wanted to just be a band playing in the studio. We did 14 songs in seven days, just busting them out. That totally influenced the way we played. Vocally, too, I had to think about the fact that I normally have at least two backing vocalists in Against Me!, but none in this band. It would really influence the way I thought about my vocal lines. I had to make sure it was strong enough to carry the song. Really, it was all about what the three of us could do.
MF: Are you already thinking ahead as to what the next album you’ll make will be?
LJG: We already started the next Against Me! record. We’re getting back together next week to work on it, and we were writing for it before I went out on this most recent tour as well. When the last Against Me! tour wrapped up back in October, I feel like we all just needed a second. Especially with Andrew returning to the band – in a lot of ways, it felt like hitting the reset button. After the Devouring Mothers wrap up, this is the year Against Me! gets back to it.
The only reason we haven’t already knocked on out is that I just really needed a break from the expectations that come with that band. I was feeling the weight of it, y’know? Like, this is album eight. How do you mix it up as a band? I didn’t want to think about it in those terms – it was getting too heavy for me. Bought to Rot was a chance to wipe the slate clean. I knew these were good songs – and I had them in the then and the now. If I sat on them for too long, I knew they were going to spoil. I was thinking, “they probably won’t even end up being Against Me! songs if I don’t act now.” Making that record was the right thing to do, right then and there.
MF: This month sees you return to Australia for a co-headlining tour with Murder By Death. How far back do you go with that crew?
LJG: Against Me! and Murder By Death have a long history together. We did a tour all through the UK together back in 2005, when we put out Searching for a Former Clarity. I think we did Canada as well that year, too, for like a month. They’re all old friends – we played a show together last year, and it almost felt like a high-school reunion getting to see everyone again. I’ll always be a huge fan of theirs. It was funny with this run in Australia, though – I was emailing with Graham Nixon from Resist Records, who books us out there. At the same time, unbeknownst to me, was emailing with Murder By Death. He suggested we go out together, and I was more than happy to make that happen for the both of us.
MF: Lastly, you’ve had plenty of brushes with fame over the years – you’ve met Joan Jett, Miley Cyrus, Larry King, David Letterman, Amanda Palmer, Marc Maron and Cyndi Lauper, to name but a few. What was it like to get retweeted and replied to by Lil Nas X?
LJG: [laughs] Oh my God! My mind was blown! I freaked out so hard! We were sitting in the van that morning when he saw his reply, and all of us just died laughing. We’d been obsessively listening to “Old Town Road,” basically every night after the shows. Someone would always come through and put it on. To have him write back to the tweet like that… it was just so funny. What a rad thing to happen. [laughs]
Murder By Death & Laura Jane Grace and The Devouring Mothers are currently touring Australia. See remaining dates below.
Murder By Death + Laura Jane Grace and The Devouring Mothers 2019 Australian Tour
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