Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace

The Exclaim! Questionnaire

Photo: Greg Gallinger

BY Greg PrattPublished Sep 14, 2016

Laura Jane Grace has not one but two big releases coming up this year: Against Me!, the punk band in which she sings and plays guitar, is releasing Shape Shift With Me, their seventh album, in September. Considering this is a band that started as a solo project playing rambunctious acoustic punk, then went through a wildly unexpected glossy-radio-rock phase before diving into abrasive punk, it's safe to say that half the fun of a new Against Me! album is having no idea what it's going to sound like.
Two months later, her book Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout hits shelves. While only one Canadian Against Me! date is confirmed — September 21 in Montreal — Grace will also be speaking in Victoria, BC at "festival of imagination" Thinklandia, which runs from September 8 to 14.

What are you up to?
This shit's going to sound made up. As for what I'm up to today, I'm going to do a photo shoot for Playboy magazine. My life is really weird and strange. I pick up my daughter after that. I'm not getting naked for Playboy; they stopped publishing naked photos. It's just to go along with an interview. Usually I can bring my daughter to photo shoots, and even though this one is going to be totally PG, I'm just like, "I can't bring her to this. I just can't."
What are your current fixations?
I've been really into drinking water… let me look at the bottle. It's like 9.5 pH or higher, and I'm drinking ionized alkaline water, with electrolytes. They're probably just filling up these bottles with tap water, but I just feel so good about myself because of all of this scientific shit (laughs). I've been drinking a lot of that, with organic lemon in it. And my love affair with ginger has been going strong too, with eating a lot of raw ginger. I don't know why; it comes and goes in spurts.
I read this book recently that blew my mind. It was called Bore Hole by Joe Mellon. It's a memoir; Joe Mellon was an early pioneer of psychedelics and wanted to figure out a way to get permanently high, so he started experimenting with self-trepanation, and after three attempts, not to give away the ending, he drilled a hole in his head. The theory is that when you're born there's more blood in your brain, so when you drill the hole it allows for that blood to come and attain a more child-like state (laughs). I mean, he managed to write the book, so he didn't do too much damage. That book is fascinating to me.
Movies, I rarely get a chance to see adult movies, I see kids' movies all the time with my daughter. I'd say Shopkins and Beanie Boos are my current fixations. I just like when my daughter gets really animated explaining the difference between a shopkins and a petkins (laughs). I don't know if you've ever watched the cartoon, but the cartoon is kinda fucked. The whole point of the cartoon is these items in a store continually checking themselves out at the register. It's just consume, consume, consume (laughs).
Why do you live where you do?
I live where I live because of my kid. Even specifically down to the neighbourhood — I moved into it, not because it was the most exciting neighbourhood, but because it seemed like it was the best place for my daughter. I have a library within walking distance, a nice park, a movie theatre, a bowling alley, a couple grocery stores and lots of restaurants. On a cold Chicago day, you want stuff that's within close distance to get to, because you don't want to drive around the city, especially on public transit.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
Not to self-promote, but one of the songs on the new record, "333," is inspired by a trip to the Guggenheim Bilbao when we were on tour in May 2015 in Spain. A couple of the exhibits there were just so mind-blowing. The Niki de Saint Phalle exhibit was just incredible, all the Andy Warhol stuff… one painting in particular, and the name of the artist is escaping me right now, but it's called The Renowned Orders of the Night [by Anselm Kiefer]; I'd never been affected by a painting like that before.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
The Damned in 1997 at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg, FL. When you first get into punk rock, you get into the classic bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash; the Damned kind of skipped me by for some reason, so I went to the show not really knowing the Damned at all. I'd never been that sold on a band just by seeing a show, where it's like I'm a fan for life because of that show. That's the first time that's ever happened.
As far as shows I've played, a couple shows along the way really marked the beginning or end of certain eras. Like, 2005, opening for Green Day at Giants Stadium. Green Day were the first band I ever saw play, Giants Stadium had like 50-some-odd-thousand people, and you look to the side and there are all the bands that influenced you standing on the side of the stage watching you, and all your friends and family, that was huge. Moments like the last show we played with Warren [Oakes, ex-drummer] or the last show we played with Andrew [Seward, ex-bassist], where it was like we felt off, we felt sadness, but also felt reflective of the time we had together.
What have been your career highs and lows?
I don't measure career highs by numbers, Billboard positions, records sold, anything like that. It's more like each record has been a career high; that was the accomplishment, that was the aim. Career lows, there's been so many of those along the way too. I'm thankful for both equally.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
During, I guess some of the things said between band members on stage… we broke up on stage one time, in Rhode Island in 2008 or something like that. Too much touring. But we played a show in Germany one time and I came off stage, and you had to go through the crowd to get to the backstage, and this fan stopped me and was like, "That was shit." I was like, "Okay…" and just tried to brush it off and move past him, and he was like, "No, no, no. That was total shit." I'm like, "Okay," and he said, "That was shit," and I just, like, snapped at that point. I was like, "What the fuck is wrong with you? I'm sorry you didn't like it, but that's not a question, you're not asking me a question. There's nothing I can say back to you."
You're also talking to someone who plays in a band who, you know, we had Maximumrockandroll publishing columns telling fans to sabotage our shows at all costs and pour bleach on our merch. I've had people physically try to stop me from playing guitar at shows, like other punks put their hands on my guitar or whatever, slash our tires, graffiti our van… One of my biggest deciding moments with punk rock was outside this show where there was this ridiculous fight happening, and I saw another punk pick up a brick. I was like, that punk has a brick, they're going to kill me over an argument over punk rock and my band and what it means to be punk. I was like, "Fuck this, and fuck you."
What should everyone shut up about?
I really get afraid with political theatre, especially when it comes to U.S. politics right now around this election. Everyone's very heated and everyone's got this thing they're pushing and I feel like it feeds into this collective energy and mania and is easily manipulated by the people who would serve to oppress everyone. The more people feed into that unaccountable arguing online, it just creates a zeitgeist that is sure to destroy.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I dislike when I'm inhibited. I like when I'm very uninhibited, and I'm usually very uninhibited, but sometimes I can be a little shy.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
A perfect Sunday would be being somewhere I don't live, travelling with people I love — either my daughter or my band — and playing a show.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
That's a good one. I regret not listening to my own gut, when I know something's right and I know I should go through with it, and I don't, and I hesitate. I hate hesitation.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
Obviously, any kind of intolerance, any kind of racism or bigotry or homophobia or anything like that would be a real deal-breaker. Self-destructive drug addiction, besides the coping walking alcoholism that most punks and musicians already deal with in a functioning way.
I have a thing on the bus where you don't eat in your bunk. Eat in the back lounge, eat in the front lounge, but don't bring food into your bunk. I just think it's unsanitary. Have you ever heard that old country song that says, "You can eat crackers in my bed any time you want"? Those are the lyrics. Maybe when it comes to bed that wouldn't be a deal-breaker.
We had a keyboard player, like an auxiliary musician who we brought on tour with us in 2010 in Canada, and he was getting blind blackout drunk and missing bus call. This one night in particular, we're out with Billy Talent and Alexisonfire, and we're all drinking in this bar, and it's time to go, so we're like, "Okay, where's homeboy?" We go back to the bus, and he's not there. We go back to the bar, and he's like, in the alley. We're like, "Hey!" and he tries to jump in behind the dumpster and hide from us (laughs).
We drag him back to the bus finally and we're all pissed off. I'd already said to him, "Don't eat in your bunk. There's bugs and shit, it smells, just eat in the front lounge." He's wasted, storms on to the bus, grabs two slices of a pizza that's sitting there and bumps past me to his bunk to lay down and eat pizza. I was sitting there and was like, "Did that really just happen? Fuck this." I turned around and we went back to his bunk and ripped the curtain open, and there he is, shirtless, one piece of pizza resting on his chest, so we ended up… we meowed at him for a good two or three hours, where we all just held him down and meowed as loudly as we could, like cats (laughs). Then we duct-taped his bunk completely sealed shut, just like completely.
In the morning, there was a hole like an animal had clawed out of the fucking thing. He'd get so drunk, like blackout drunk, where it just wasn't cool. Like, it's your first tour with a band, what the fuck are you doing, man? He was a sweet person but a bad drunk.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
I really think about memories like that tour; I have really fond memories of touring in Canada. We've done a lot of cool runs, whether it was early runs we did with Murder by Death or that tour with us, Billy Talent, Alexisonfire and Cancer Bats, which was just so much fun, like everything I'd ever wanted arena or stadium touring to be. And, I'm dating a Canadian right now so I have fond feelings for Canadians, obviously. I like Canada.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
First cassette was Def Leppard, Hysteria. The first CD was Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever, and the first LP was the Misfits' Die Die My Darling. It was an EP, but a twelve-inch — my first piece of vinyl.
What was your most memorable day job?
I used to work at a bar checking IDs. That was my favourite job I ever had, this place in Gainesville called the Top. It was when they were first starting out; they've since grown into a really successful bar, but at the time it was a bit like the wild wild west there, where I could have as many shit beers as I wanted, I could have whatever I wanted off the menu. It was great, because that was where everyone hung out at, so I'd get paid to hang out with all my friends and drink, and all I had to do was check IDs. The best part of it all was that I lied my way into the job and I was only 19 years old. So every birthday was tricky, I had to remember to add on years (laughs).
How do you spoil yourself?
A pedicure and a manicure and a facial. If I can get time for a back massage… tattooing, really, too, that's my hobby, my only other thing besides working or family.
If I wasn't playing music I would be…
What do you fear most?
Inactivity, and a lack of excitement. I fear boredom, in a way. I fear feeling dead by not feeling inspired by life. Feeling like a shell.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
It really has to be the right person, is what it comes down to. There's a magical combination that's hard to find, with the pheromones, and things that play off the way you are and things that complement things about yourself, or things that challenge things about yourself. Also mystery, and just that spark. There has to be fire.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
I ran into Newman from Seinfeld in a grocery store once in Burbank. I was checking in to my flight one time in LAX and I turned around and George Clinton was sitting there, and I was like, "Hi, George Clinton!" and I sat down and took a picture with George Clinton. I was getting into an elevator one time in New York City and Martha Stewart was getting into the elevator too, so I had a little conversation with Martha Stewart. I was just like, "Hi, Martha Stewart!" I'm really unashamed about this; I'll just go up to people and start a conversation. I just said, "My name is so-and-so, can I get a picture with you, would that be okay?" She was really engaged, her eyes were with mine, we were having a conversation. She was like, "What are you doing here? What's going on with your day?" I was like, "I'm doing this radio interview, what about you?" Or the best was, I did this thing around my True Trans series for AOL Originals where I played at their launch party, so I walk down their catwalk with my acoustic guitar, play a couple songs, and turn around to walk off stage. They didn't tell me what was coming up next; Sarah Jessica Parker was walking on stage. I'm just like, "Hi, Sarah Jessica Parker!" Just passing by (laughs).
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
My girlfriend, Beatrice. I can't cook for shit, so we would go out to a good restaurant and maybe have fish — salmon steaks would be really good — and tequila and soda.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
Visiting her more often.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
"The End" by the Doors (laughs). No, just kidding. I don't know. Let somebody else DJ; they gotta hire a good DJ.

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