Against Me!: “You’re only as good as the last song you wrote”
Laura Jane Grace is one of rock’s most well-loved figureheads. Against Me!’s new album sees her baring all once more.
Published: 9:14 am, September 14, 2016
Laura Jane Grace is one of the most important, enduring and vital voices in music and has been for close to twenty years now. Not that she spends any time thinking about it. “I’d be such an arsehole if I said ‘Yes, I’m aware. I sit around for a couple of hours every day thinking about how powerful my voice is.’ If I could really pontificate and have opinions on that, I’d be such a dick.”
Legacy isn’t a concern, either. “I really believe you’re only as good as the last song you wrote. You’re only as good as the last show you played, so it’s really only that far back for me. I want to do another. I want a chance to do it better than that last one.” And as for feeling the burden of expectations: “I can only be myself. I can’t live to be good for other people’s expectations or facilitate other people’s expectations or what they should think I should be like, because they’d just truly be disappointed.”
After all, Laura Jane Grace has better things to worry about. She’s too busy to keep looking back, and her book ‘Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout’ does the job for her. Instead she’s focused on the new Against Me! album, ‘Shape Shift With Me’, and for good reason. It’s brilliant.
There’s excitement for both but there’s more terror for the book, which is essentially her journal, shared with the world. “People asked me about being comfortable being that open with True Trans, the documentary series I did, but from my perspective I’ve already been getting up on stage and singing my deepest, darkest emotions in song lyrics for however many years which always felt the most terrifying thing, it’s just a matter of perspective.
“That period of time between when you finish a record and when you release a record, I think any single band person can attest to is the worst period of time. It’s where bad things happen. You go a little crazy. You’re just waiting to live, waiting to start running again. You doubt yourself. One second you never want to listen to it again, then you do listen to it.” It’s a record she has replayed so she can approve the vinyl test pressings, but there was a two-month gap where she wouldn’t go near it. “I was like, whatever, it’s done.”
Chasing the feeling of “This feels good, let’s write” as they toured the world, when Against Me! got home, “We realised that there was already the record and it was important to go ahead and record it as opposed to then waiting a period of time, to capture that feeling of momentum that we had.” Capturing lightning in a bottle, the record cracks with energy and forks with an absolute joy.
“I need the immediate, I need the impulsive, I need for it to feel right, and then to own that and go with it. Not for it to feel right and then stop, question it and think about it. I don’t want to second-guess it. That’s obviously a feeling you want in your everyday life, but when it comes to creativity, that’s what you need to protect. If you can get to that place where you can act on impulse and be quick with your emotions and instincts and trust it like that, then you’re making good art. You’re not making self-conscious art, you’re following your gut. People can fuck with you and you can fuck with that place and it ruins that. It’s really something you need to protect.”
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“I have a happy memory attached to each song,” she continues. “I think ‘Delicate, Petite and Other Things I’ll Never Be’ was one of my favourite experiences with the record, if I had to pick any. I remember that feeling of waking up, having the idea for the song and we just tracked it then and there.” Pairing a tiny little Rickenbacker amp with a brand new Fender guitar, it was a sound that Laura fell in love with. “It’s so great. It’s weird and floats around with being in time with where it should be, but I found the sound I wanted from that amp that I’ve been carrying around for however many years. We started playing and there was the song. Standing there in the studio, playing the song and looking out of the window at the snow, I’ll never forget that.”
None of the tracks were difficult with only ‘Dead Rats’’ many parts and directions causing any real headache in making them all work together, but the band did struggle when it came to figuring out which of the sixteen-odd songs to put on the record. “If we add in this song, we have to make it a three LP album and what’s that going to cost people. I hate to think in those terms but it is realistic too when you think how much it will physically cost people.” Against Me! aren’t a band who compromise, but ensuring they’re accessible is rule number one.
‘Shape Shift With Me’ is a record that hits hard. It’s immediate, instant and forward-facing. The past is over and it’s time to start living. “That really came along with the feeling of closure with writing a book. Doing a book and a record at the same time, they help and play off of each other even if I was trying to keep them very separate. It’s not like one is the soundtrack to another but with the book looking back, thinking and writing about the past the record had to be ‘I’m going to think about and write about exactly how I feel right now, in this moment on tour. Finishing them both at the end definitely feeling like I’m done thinking about the past. I’m just so done thinking about the past, I need something different now.”
It’s not that Laura finds it difficult to let things go, but “it takes me a while to process things. People get frustrated with me all the time if something monumental happens or is said, I can’t immediately fully understand or fully realise all the ways I understand it or there is to understand it or what it is. I need time on my own, alone, to sort through things. It depends what else is going on. Touring I find helps me process, if it’s a personal matter happening at home. Going on tour you either get the distance you need from something to give it a rest or you get the distance you need from it to look at it in a different way.”
A different outlook can be found throughout ‘Shape Shift With Me’. There’s a new-found joy to the way the band carry themselves and even the references to death and decay are less all-consuming. “That was part of recovering, I guess, from having a suicidal nervous breakdown. Feeling and realising where that edge is. Once you see that edge, being able to happily dance on it because it’s always there, you can always just lean over one way if you want to. But while you’re not on that edge, go ahead and enjoy it.”
Seven albums in and people still care about Against Me! While Laura isn’t spending time picking about the whys, she is “thankful people give a shit, if they give a shit. I give a shit, I put all of myself into this. I can’t answer why people care though. I’m thankful, I do honestly love what we do, every aspect of it. Travelling, playing and being in the studio writing, being part of a band, I’m driven to it. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to do it. It still makes me happy and it gives me all the reason I need. I’m very thankful to just be able to keep playing. For me personally, one of those achievements is longevity, being able to grow and change and develop. There are so many places we haven’t played to. I like going to new places, and feeling like there are places we haven’t gone.”
Against Me!’s album ‘Shape Shift With Me’ is out 16th September.