It’s been a long, difficult road for Laura Jane Grace to keep Against Me! afloat at times. Yet, she’s managed to keep the band moving since they started in 1997.
“If you want to be an artist, you’ll have these ups and downs, but you can’t be motivated by other people, you have to accept fluidity — that some people will come and leave.”
Their latest success is a tour with Green Day, one that has the front-woman coming full circle on her band’s start.
“Green Day was both my first punk show and first show ever, when I was 14 years old in 1994,” said Grace. “That was a completely life-changing experience for me, I remember sitting on the street curb after with my friend and saying ‘Let’s start a punk band.'”
It’s a career-founding connection she hopes to pass on to her audience. “In a very real way I feel like I might not be here without them,” says Grace. “I say it every night, that there’s probably a kid from every night of this tour who goes home and starts their own band.”
She’s devoted not just to fans, but to her work as well, saying “I’ve played guitar since I was eight years old. I write songs, record songs, go out on tour, play shows, it’s what I live for.”
“I’ve never sat down before a record and thought ‘What do I want to say with this record?’ I make records because I’m an artist.” Although her passion for her craft makes it sound easy, most records come with immense pressure. but not this time.
Their latest release, Shape Shift With Me, was actually born out of procrastination. “For the first time, the pressure was off making a record, and I was writing my book, which was all about the past,” says Grace. “So the album became about what I was feeling right now, and it became this procrastination tool where I’d pick up my guitar instead of handing in a chapter.”
Like in her book, Grace stayed true to herself. “I knew coming out of the last record there was going to be a certain set of people saying ‘What? every song’s going to be about trans this trans that’ and there’s other fans who would love that, but I didn’t want to hear any of it,” she says. “I just wanted to say what I was thinking about, and that is inherently from a trans perspective.”
“It stemmed from the idea of prison being a place of rehabilitation, and it really not being the case…[W]hy wouldn’t prison be a time for education and betterment so that when they are reintroduced they have a better life and don’t follow the path that led them there?”
Grace has also supported Rock The Vote to directly encourage people to participate. “I saw the appeal of motivating young people to come out and vote, and it’s important to get young people involved,” says Grace. “You see the climate now with Donald Trump and it feels even more important.”
Through these actions, and her book Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, which chronicles her life-long struggle with gender dysphoria through journal entries, Grace has become an unintentional role model for a lot of lost young people. Choosing to detail the hard, gritty parts of her transition was something that she felt was necessary to push the message forward. “That’s the hope,” she says. “I want it to help people.”
Although she’s nervous to be taken as such a beacon while sorting her own life out, she does what she can. “If someone asks me to help them come out to their dad, I try and do the human thing and I do recognize I have a platform and I’d like to do things that matter,” says Grace. “Punk rock always taught me to break down barriers and be accessible to fans, plus it’s a two-way street, so I feel thankful to have them since I had few people to talk to when I came out.”
Her work has also been part of that catharsis, as she mentions in her book feeling like she was dying creatively because she didn’t even know who she was, but has been able to discover and express herself anew for the past few years. “That’s age, growing, and accepting yourself, and part of self-acceptance has been working through these issues, and being vocal about them,” says Grace. “Writing a book has been moving on from all of that.”
Between a book, a tour, a new album and even a TV show, it seems like Grace will continue to grow and express her deeper self. Despite a busy home-life, she’s constantly working on something new. “It’s great having all these means of expressing myself, I’m a workaholic, so when I’m not on tour I’m a full-time parent,” she says. “But when my daughter goes to sleep I think, ‘new project, what do I do?’ because I like doing things.”
[From the Archives: Against Me! sing the Blues… and it’s life-changing]