Laura Jane Grace

Writing the songs on “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” was terrifying
Laura Jane Grace on the Rockefeller stage in Oslo, Norway. April 2015.

Laura Jane Grace on the Rockefeller stage in Oslo, Norway. April 2015.

The American punk rockers in Against Me! have been through some radical changes- especially vocalist Laura Jane Grace - but also the band's lineup. A couple of hours prior to the Oslo gig, we met Laura for a little chat about everything that's happened.

It's only just over a year since the band's latest - and extremely personal - album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, was released, and Laura explains that 2014 will always be remembered as one of the best years of her life. However, before the album was released, not everything seemed as promising:

- It was so bleak. We didn't know if the album would ever be finished. So when it was recorded and we knew it was gonna be released, it was just awesome, she grins. - Everything beyond that has been a bonus; gigs we've played etc, because we had no idea if it was actually going to happen.

Some of Laura's doubts about the destiny of Transgender Dysphoria Blues stems from the theme of the album. Laura, previously known as Tom Gabel, had just come out as transgender, and started the long and difficult road to becoming her real self: Laura Jane Grace. This is reflected in the songs on the album, which all talk about different aspects of growing up, the problems, despair and dreams of a transgender person. But despite Laura's doubts about how it would all be received, both the album, and the message that Tom would soon be Laura, was instantly accepted and respected world wide.

When the news about Laura Jane Grace broke, there were also a couple of puzzle pieces falling into place for the Against Me! fans; also songs on the bands previous albums had dealt with this, but no one realised until now, years later. Laura says she, up until Transgender Dysphoria Blues, always felt she had to censor herself, so even though the songs had the same topic and theme, it was always hidden. No one could know what she was really writing about. 

Even songs such as The Ocean (from 2007's New Wave), where she sings "If I could have chosen, I would have become a woman, my mother always told me she would have named me Laura", people would interpret it completely differently. They thought it was about something or someone completely different:

- Writing the songs on Transgender Dysphoria Blues was terrifying, because I wrote what I wrote, and I knew I would have to explain myself and be public about it. But I didn't want to censor myself any longer. I knew that if it was going to be ok, I had to be honest.

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Coming out as transgender at the age of 31, has a much wider effect than you'd ever imagine. Laura says she spent most of her life copying and adopting moves, expressions and behaviour from men around her, in order to be one of them. Now, she has to get to know herself, almost from scratch:

- Especially when you're in a band and you're signed to a major label. In that world, you're pushed into a mould with a label telling you you're the vocalist in a band, you have to look like this, sing these songs on stage and say these things in interviews. It became more and more limiting and I got more and more dysphoric. Eventually I was on stage thinking: «I have no idea who I am anymore. I've no idea if the audience would like me if they knew who I really am».

A couple of years later, she's finally got the chance to peel back the layers of masks, habits and features. Which, Laura says, has been a pretty intense journey. She laughs:

- It definitely makes you feel alive. There's never a dull moment.

Laura's honesty and openness has astonished the world of music, and she says that being so candid about it (she first went public in Rolling Stone magazine) was a conscious choice right from the beginning. She was already a public person, and if there was one thing she knew how to do, it was to do interviews:

- I wanted to much to keep being and artist, but I realised right away that this would become a focus during interviews. So, I had the choice of withdrawing and isolating myself, or to go public.
 

As a result, Laura has become a big role model for transgender kids and adults world wide, but explains that that was never her intention or focus coming out:

- Of course, if this can reach ONE person and help them, then that's awesome. But this goes both ways. If I travel to a different country and meet transgender people there, I look up to them just as much as they look up to me.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues seems to be "the album that had to be". There was no other way, both musically and lyrically, the album HAD to come into existence. So, with the weight of that album, where does the band go from here? Laura is quiet for a second:

- That's a good question... it's something I haven't been wanting to think too much about. It's challenging to... We're not gonna release a new album and go; "And this record is EVEN MORE personal!", she laughs.

- I don't know. I just want to play in a band and make music that makes me happy. 


Against Me! hopes to go back into studio to record their new album in September. There will also be a new live album coming out this year

(This interview was first posted at Musikknyheter.no in april 2015. All photos: Alyssa Nilsen)