In 1997, a singer-songwriter and lover of punk music named Thomas James Gabel formed Against Me! What started as a solo act that became a band that gained a loyal following and critical acclaim for some of its releases — most notably, its album New Wave. In 2012 Gabel came out as a trans woman in a powerful Rolling Stone interview.
Two years after that interview Laura Jane Grace and her band Against Me released Transgender Gender Dysphoria Blues. It was a deeply personal album that Grace once said was recorded without audience in mind.
For the past six years Laura Jane Grace has called Chicago home. Her new album, under the name Laura Jane Grace and The Devouring Mothers, is called Bought to Rot, on Chicago’s Bloodshot label. While it may not be as aggressive in its sound as past Against Me releases, it’s still packed with lots of energy and a great dose of sarcasm.
Laura and the band play a show next Thursday, November 29, at Lincoln Hall. She stopped by the Morning Shift to talk about the new album, life as a Chicagoan and what life in rock and roll has been like since that 2012 Rolling Stone interview.
On growing up transgender in the 80s and 90s
Laura Jane Grace: I’ve always felt different, you know. My earliest memories [are] attached to that feeling of not quite being in alignment with the outside world’s perception of who I am and who I should be. It always differed from my inside perspective of who I am. And being younger there were no words for that, no resources; there were no transgender role models to look up to or people that I could point to as, like, “Oh, that person transitioned.” So it was something that was nameless, you know, when I was younger... the only points of reference I had were negative ones. Either the tabloid headlines you’d see in, like, the National Enquirer waiting in line at the grocery store with your parents, or negative representation in movies or TV shows, like Silence of the Lambs or Ace Ventura or whatever.
So it was immediately a shame-filled thing of, like, this is a bad thing and not something you should talk about, certainly not with teachers or people at your church or anything like that, and definitely not with your parents. So you compartmentalize that existence. And when you live a compartmentalized existence, you’re fragmented, and it’s impossible to be happy like that. And you go through periods of successful denial, if you want to put it like that, or maybe you can generate something that’s distracting enough that you aren’t really focused on the way that you feel inside. But inevitably the way you feel inside comes back, and it comes back with a vengeance.
On her new album, Bought to Rot
Grace: In 2003, I bought a 1964 Fender Jaguar off of Stan Lynch, and Stan Lynch played drums in the Heartbreakers. And so it’s this beautiful, pristine 1964 Jaguar that had never been played, that’s just been sitting in its case — not a scratch on it. And I got it, and I immediately put it under my bed because I was terrified of scratching it myself. So I’ve been holding onto this guitar for almost fifteen years. And Bought to Rot is really a record about wasted potential. So here’s this beautiful guitar that’s never been played — and if you’re a guitar, you’re just dying to be played, dying to be played live, dying to be on a record. So I thought that this was this guitar’s moment. This record.
Tony Sarabia: So that title is directly referencing that — if you buy it and don’t do anything with it, it’s just gonna rot, but you take that idea further.
Grace: Yeah, you know, wasted potential, and that’s, on the smallest scale, fruits and veggies you buy at the market and don’t eat, and that goes to waste, and on the larger scale, American rot, American decay. You know, a rotting K-Mart — you have all this space that could be used for something — housing the homeless, anything, you know. But it’s just rotting. It’s just gonna be torn down. All that hard work just to tear it down.
On being an openly trans musician
Grace: I could come into every interview and be like, “Don’t mention that I’m trans. Don’t ask me any questions about that.” And inevitably an interviewer would ask anyways, and then I could get upset about it. Or I could just embrace [talking about being trans]. And the more helpful thing to the world is to embrace that, to talk about those experiences, knowing that when I was younger, I didn’t have those role models to look up to, and I didn’t see anyone talking about these things. I think it’s so important to talk about it, and I know from people I meet at shows that that does have a positive influence, and that it makes you a part of a community, and I need that just as much as other people need that connection. And when it comes down to it, it’s easy to talk about because it’s real, and it’s not like I have to think up some made-up answer to a question in regards to my identity. In the past, when I was trying to deflect, and when I was not being honest with myself, it was hard doing interviews then, because I wasn’t being truthful. But now, it’s like, there’s no wrong answer because I just say what’s real.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was adapted for the web by Char Daston.
GUEST: Laura Jane Grace
LEARN MORE: Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers on Bloodshot Records
Bought to Rot on Bloodshot Records