Laura Jane Grace on Against Me!'s Newfound Ambitions for '23 Live Sex Acts'

Laura Jane Grace on Against Me!'s Newfound Ambitions for '23 Live Sex Acts'
Photo: Greg Gallinger

It's been almost a decade since punk rockers Against Me! put out a live album, 2006's obnoxiously titled Americans Abroad!!! Against Me!!! Live in London!!!, and a lot has happened since then, including major lineup changes and several albums. So it makes sense that the band are releasing a new live disc on September 4 on Total Treble Records called 23 Live Sex Acts (which features some insanely NSFW cover art). Plus, vocalist/guitarist Laura Jane Grace isn't too fond of the last live album, as it turns out.

"To be honest, to get into it with the old live record, it always bummed me out," she tells Exclaim! "You put that record on and the first song on it, 'The Energizer,' it's so drag-ass slow. It made me so sad every time I heard it."

She's got a point: it was a peculiar way to kick off that album. When asked why it was so slow, Grace's answer comes quick and honest. 

"Warren [Oakes], who played drums with us then, had real tempo issues, and Atom [Willard, current drummer] is a better drummer. I'm not judging them morally as people, just saying musicianship-wise... that's part of wanting to do a live record now. Removing myself from the equation, I look at the people in my band and I'm like, 'Holy crap, these are incredible musicians.' It stokes me out to be playing with the people that I'm playing with, whether that's [guitarist] James [Bowman], who's been my best friend since I was 14, or Atom, being like, holy shit, the drummer from Rocket From the Crypt is in our band, Inge [Johansson, ex-the (International) Noise Conspiracy], you know... it's incredible to play with everyone; you feel like you're part of the Avengers or something."

Not to mention the fact that since the band released their last album, they went through a major growth in songwriting, releasing amazing slick-punk albums New Wave and White Crosses, then the considerably more gritty Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Although there are a fair number of songs that were on the first live album that also make an appearance on 23 Live Sex Acts, it's still a fun listen because two of the four band members weren't on the last one, another reason why it makes sense for the band to do another.

"It doesn't seem like that to us," says Grace. "It's a very different band, we did that live record like 10 years ago. With that much time in between, there've been like three or four records that have come out between then, so there's a ton of material that's now a staple of the set list that wasn't even written at that time. So this is meant to serve as a snapshot for us for posterity's sake, touring in support of Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and also a snapshot of the band as they are now, and almost the dream set list. The greatest-hits set list, if you will."

One of the album's more notable moments is a classic piece of punk rock when, during the tune "New Wave," a security guard starts to kick out an audience member, and Grace stops the show to berate him before chuckling that the song is a write-off and they should just cut their losses and move on to the next tune.

"That was what was important to me to capture," she says. "That's what the shows are like, there are bodies flying over the barricade, smashing into the monitor, knocking the mic stand down, people jumping up, throwing their arm around you, and screaming into the mic. And rarely do these people sing in tune. You want to capture that resist the urge to go back and use studio magic to fix the live record."

Of course, what the band need to realize is that fans will listen to this recorded version of the song for years now, hundreds of listens of "New Wave" getting cut off to the sound of Grace yelling at a security guard.

"Trust me, we hear that — we mouth those words to each other when we play the song now," Grace laughs.

23 Live Sex Acts also works as a curious, unexpected reminder that even though, on their studio albums, Against Me! have undergone an at times shocking transformation over the years musically, when you smash out all the songs together like this, same lineup, same raw production, there's actually a shocking cohesion to them.

"They all come from the same person," Grace says. "I like to think I've gotten better as a songwriter, and there are definitely things I know I've learned, and you like to think you're progressing and stuff like that. A lot of the time, what people don't realize with studio records is that it's not a band actively trying to sound different, but a studio record is the sum of the parts of your band being recorded through X microphones through X preamps through X board in X room on X day. They're two totally different things."