Against Me! played an explosive set at the legendary Tavastia Club in Helsinki on August 11, 2015; the band’s fourth visit to Finland. Before the show I got to ask Laura Jane Grace some questions around the upcoming live album, “23 Live Sex Acts”, her Emmy nomination being a trans musician parent and more.
Check out the interview below.
Dying Scene (Minna Honkanen): Your upcoming live album, 23 Live Sex Acts; how many different venues has it been recorded at?
Laura: We recorded three months’ worth of shows, probably. And then at the end went back and just listened through to see which was the best show out of them all and picked one. It’s 23 songs. Kind of a dream set list, if you will.
When you’re doing a live recording, you don’t think about it consciously that you are doing it for the album, you just do a normal show?
Right. That was the idea behind recording for that long. So, it wasn’t all this pressure on one show, and getting it right that one night. ‘Cos that rarely ever happens, you know.
You did True Trans, the AOL original net series, which was nominated for an Emmy, congratulations…
How did it come about?
They asked me. AOL does the AOL original series. They have a number of shows that are all web series. They came to me and said that I could do a show if I’d like to and left it open-ended on what it would exactly be. I said basically that I just wanted to have a conversation about gender and different people’s experiences, as I was going on tour. So, I sent them a list of a bunch of people who I was hoping to talk to. And some of those people I was able to organize, and some of them, it didn’t work out. But, half way, it became what it became.
Have you decided what to wear for the Emmys?
No. [laughter] Yeah, no. I’ve been stressing about that. I never get a chance to shop. When you’re on tour, it’s always like, bring something that you can play a show in and that you don’t mind getting dirty, because everything gets dirty on tour. So, I don’t know. I’m stressing about that. But I’ve got a little bit of time.
Do you have designers offering you clothes?
Bands in general will tend to get complimentary gifts, sometimes from clothing companies, or shoes companies mainly, like Doc Martens. Stuff like that. Which is nice, because it helps. Especially festival touring during the summer, where you’re in mud all the time, you go through shoes quickly.
If you could go back in time when you first came out publicly as trans – what would your advice to yourself be? Or to someone who is doing it now?
I don’t know what my advice to myself would be, other than hold on for the ride. [laughter] It’s hard to think about advice for other people. Other than I really just recommend talking to people. Don’t isolate yourself. Just whoever you can find to talk to.
Do you ever feel that being an out trans person overshadows the music in the media?
Um, no. Yes and no. I don’t know. I don’t think about it just because at this point, having been a band for a while I realize that often times that the media never really focuses on the actual music. There’s always a narrative that’s created to go with every band, you know. That’s just kinda part of it. So, for me being out in public and being a trans musician or whatever, at least it’s visibility. It’s keeping our conversation going and helping to normalize that as an everyday part of the society.
What made you choose punk music over any other genre of music?
I guess when I was younger and I first got into punk, what attracted me to it was it seemed more about fighting back than taking it. I liked the political aspect of it. It seemed more intelligent than other forms of rock music, at least. But as I got older, I don’t just listen to punk now or whatever. Being labelled a punk band at this point is just kinda by default. It’s not like when we’re coming up with a song as a band we think “no, it’s not punk enough, gotta make it more punk”.
Can you name three of your all-time favorite bands and three new artists or bands that you like to listen to?
Three of my all-time favorite bands? I will go with The Clash. I will go with The Birthday Party. And I will go with Bob Dylan. And three new bands that I’ve been listening to? I’ve been listening to this one band called toyGuitar. They have a record out called In This Mess, that I really love. I’ve got this record by this band Generationals, called Alix, that I’ve been listening to a lot lately. Let’s see what else? I’ll say Worriers, who have a new record called Imaginary Life.
When you’re touring do you get to see anything besides the hotel and the venue?
You do get to see a lot when you tour. We’ve been lucky, you know. We tour so much that you come back to places. Each time you come back you get to see something different. You don’t have that much time. Usually you are limited to what ever’s around the venue, because you’re on foot and you have to walk where ever you are going. But again, we’ve been to places multiple times and gotten to see a little bit each time. So, very lucky.
How many hours did it take to get that black [sleeve] tattoo done?
It wasn’t all in one sitting. I’d probably say sixteen hours in total, maybe. It was broken up into three sittings, four sittings. Four sittings. Yeah.
The last question is from Patricia Wilson of [the band] Crackpuppy: “Now that the bloom is off the rose and it’s day to day living outside of the intense spotlight you were under, what has changed for you emotionally and mentally over the last year or so? Has your sense of self changed and what have you had to adjust to make things work and flow more true and easier for you?”
You know, I don’t know. It’s hard to have a real perspective on that stuff. It’s not necessarily something I sit around thinking about. At this point we’ve been on tour for about two years and that’s continually going and going. And tour is real life, because it’s part of my life. But at the same time there’re other aspects to my life, like not being on tour. You adjust as you’re in each different situation. I definitely feel happier and more confident as a person. Just better is a good way to put it. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean that I feel satisfied, I guess.
Why not satisfied?
You know, I guess it’s the natural need for self-improvement, or urge for self-improvement. It’s not like low self-esteem, you know. Like small stuff. Like, I haven’t had a cigarette in three days. And battling about smoking has been like a thing. So I’m feeling like, I gotta quit smoking, I gotta quit smoking. And then quitting smoking, feeling like God, that’s an accomplishment. Oh, I should drink less, I should do this more, exercise more, do that. Those are the type of things where I feel like as a person I’m constantly at war with myself. Trying to push myself, you know.
This [question] is from Patricia Wilson as well. “Following that train of thought has your energy had to be directed in more areas than before and has it affected your writing and your music… aka less time to write or more time to write? And have you had any writer’s block?”
I’m lucky that I have lot of time to write, just by default with being in a band where you’re like flying in the plane, to come here to Finland, or sitting in the bus, when you’re driving somewhere else, or flying overseas. There’s a lot of time to write. I’m definitely ambitious with the work I take on. I like to be occupied and I like to do new things. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had a lot of opportunities come up during the last couple of years. So, I am kinda a little bit of a workaholic. But I haven’t hit any blocks. [laughter] No.
That was the last question, but I’m gonna ask about being a trans parent, because I think there’s a lot of people out there who are in that situation.
Being a parent is tough. Being a trans parent is tough. You know, being a parent who is in a band is tough. Being away often is tough. I’m lucky that like the last tour we did in US I had my daughter out with me for the whole time. I really like that she gets to travel and she gets to see the world. But then I hate that sometimes I am not with her. I think that, she’s still young, so the trans thing isn’t really that much of an issue. And I worry that it’ll become an issue as I get older – or she gets older. But I hope not. It’s hard to say. It’s hard to predict the future with that stuff. Every parent worries naturally. That’s just part of being a parent, I think.
Wouldn’t you think, because she was so young when you transitioned that it’s easier for her, because she’s used to it and she’s grown up with that?
Yeah, there is that – it’s a little easier because she was younger. But knowing that she’s going to be going into an elementary school and as she gets older and becomes a teenager – I worry the way kids will treat her, or they’ll make fun of her or something like that. And, I mean, every kid goes through a phase when they don’t like their parents. [laughter] You know, that’s just part of it, I think. So, I worry about that.
Have you watched I Am Cait?
I haven’t yet. No. I haven’t actually. No, have you?
Yeah, I saw the first episode.
I like where the whole thing is going and what she’s been doing. Yeah, I like it.
I’ll check it out eventually. I usually watch a series once they’re totally finished. You know, so I can binge watch. I guess there’s that – I have time for writing but I don’t really have time for TV. That’s what it comes down to.
Okay, thank you. That was the last question.