Q&A: Laura Jane Grace on Prince, Punk and HB2
Before performing at AU, the lead singer of Against Me! talked with The Eagle
Laura Jane Grace, the lead singer of Against Me!, sat down with The Eagle before her punk band’s show in the Tavern on Saturday to talk about music, politics and more. Next month, Against Me! Will play a show in North Carolina, where legislators recently passed the HB2 bill, which has received enormous backlash from opponents who claim it is not only transphobic, but also discriminatory towards many marginalized groups.
While several big name musicians have announced they are boycotting North Carolina, as a trans artist, Grace has made headlines for using its show as an opportunity to increase visibility for the trans community and protest the new law.
The Eagle: What experiences have you had playing in D.C.?
Laura Jane Grace: We’ve played in D.C. tons of times, whether that’s 9:30 Club or Black Cat or just recently I was doing a solo tour, and I played at the historic Sixth and I Synagogue. Lot’s of experiences here, even some house shows. I’ve been playing here for the past 15 years.
D.C. is known for its proud punk history; do you have any sonic influences from the D.C. hardcore scene?
LJG: It’s pretty hard if you’re into punk rock to not have been influenced by Minor Threat or Fugazi, or just in general Dischord Records bands across the board. There are so many that have been influential to me growing up. Our third record we actually recorded with Jay Robbins, who was in Government Issue as well as a bunch of other D.C. bands. It’s definitely an influential place for all of us.
Then moving out beyond D.C., what would you say have been your biggest influences for your music and creating in general?
LJG: I have a really big appetite for new music. I always need to be listening to new music. Of course there are those bands that have been building blocks for me. I’m 35-years-old, so I was just a young teenager when Nirvana came out and they blew my mind and were hugely influential to me. When I was in elementary school, Guns N’ Roses were like my band. Punk bands like The Clash or The Ramones or Crass or Poison Girls were all groups that I grew up listening to.
After the success of Transgender Dysphoria Blues, what’s next for Against Me!?
LJG: Well actually, this gig right here, right now is kind of our warm up gig for the year, because we finished a record that’s being mastered right now and took us the last five or six months to record. So, we have a record coming out, and then I actually just finished writing a book that’s coming out in the fall. I feel like a book and a record is a good amount of stuff to have happening in a year. I don’t feel like I’m necessarily slacking.
This is just a one-off show for us. I mean, we definitely hope we come back, but we’re just thankful to be here and be able to play. All of us really enjoy playing music and we look forward to any opportunity to do so, especially places you’ve never played before.
When can your fans expect new music?
LJG: Early fall.
There have been a slew of articles recently about your decision to not cancel your show in North Carolina. Can you tell me a little about what went into your choice?
LJG: The show itself had been booked months in advance of the whole HB2 thing. The work had already been put in and there were already tickets on sale for the show. When HB2 broke, my manager called me and said that he saw Bruce Springsteen had decided to boycott, and he asked me if I wanted to boycott. I didn’t even hesitate, I said, “Fuck no. I want to play a show, and I’m not going to let some asshole stop me from playing a show.”
I respect the hell out of someone like Bruce Springsteen or Bryan Adams or Ringo Starr or all the other bands who have joined the boycott of North Carolina. I think it’s important to realize that the thing with these artists is that they are not trans, so them boycotting to me feels like a really good act of an ally being like, “solidarity, we’re not going to go there.”
For me, being trans and going there, I’ve toured through North Carolina at least once a year for the past 20 years and that’s my reality when I go there. Even before the HB2 bill, the reality of most trans people is being scared in that way or feeling like you’re a target. Going there now, it’s more important to be visible and to turn the show into something like we did where we are donating all of the money to an organization called Time Out Youth, which is a queer youth drop in center. To do the show like this is to bring attention to it just like those who are boycotting.
What are your thoughts on HB2 in general and more specifically, what would you say to someone who believes that without HB2, sex offenders would take advantage of the situation?
LJG: To me, HB2 is just blatant fear mongering and hatemongering. First off, there are no statistics or cases that you can point to of trans people attacking people in bathrooms. It’s just a myth. If you really look into it, then maybe we shouldn’t allow Catholic priests into public restrooms. When it comes down to it, public restrooms can be dangerous places, but not because of trans people. You have been using public restrooms with trans people your entire life. Chances are you just haven’t realized it.
I was just talking about this the other day with someone, and we were thinking that if you go into any Flying J truck stop restroom in the country you can find a swastika or KKK written on the wall. So there are these dangerous racists in the public restrooms of America every day. People who want to kill the president, people who don’t think that he’s American. These people are in your restrooms and that’s scary.
What you’re talking about with HB2 is an unenforceable law. Are you going to check inside people’s pants every time they go into a bathroom? There are so many double standards with it too where you’re saying that “you can’t use this restroom unless you have your birth certificate amended,” but at the same time they’re making it impossible to do that, to take the steps to get it amended. And if my birth certificate says M on it then I have to use the men’s restroom, but if I’ve been taking hormones and have f---- tits and show my chest in public or post a pic on Instagram I would be removed or arrested even though it says M on my birth certificate.
Can you tell me about how your current position has allowed you to speak out against transphobia, and do you have any long-term ambitions advocating for trans-rights?
LJG: I do this for a living. I’m a musician and I was a musician before I came out as trans, I’ve been doing this since I was 17-years-old. I learned at a certain point that when you do interviews, rarely are they about what you as a musician geek out on, like what guitar pedal I’m really stoked on right now or like, what kind of strings are you using?
Oftentimes, people put a frame or a narrative around these things, and to talk about being trans is real. It’s not talking about “What is punk rock?” or some bullshit like that, it’s a real issue affecting real people and it’s really prevalent today. To use any platform that I have to lend a voice to people who don’t have a voice is a totally valid thing to do with my time. Something that I think is so important in the trans movement right now is visibility and speaking out is the least I can do with the opportunities that I have.
Just last Thursday, the controversial conservative journalist Milo Yiannopoulos came to our campus to speak. He has openly wrote about how people in the LGBT community need to drop the T, “Transgender,” in the LGBT name. During his visit, Black Lives Matter, feminists and transgender activists protested in and outside the event. Is there anything you would like to say about taking the T out of LGBT, him saying feminism is cancer or any of the students who were protesting?
LJG: I’m not familiar with this person, so I can’t comment on their politics. But just by hearing “feminism is cancer” I know I don’t agree with that, 100 percent. I don’t know this person’s argument to drop the T from LGBT, but I have heard from some trans people and people from the queer community that it can be confusing when you’re trying to explain to people that gender doesn’t have anything to do with sexuality. By including the T in Gay or Bi is kind of saying that it has something to do with sexuality, but at the same time I feel that as allies or as a solidarity front, there is definitely more strength in numbers so I don’t really see much of a negative in that.
His argument for dropping the T is not along the lines of making a distinction between gender and sexuality, it’s more of him saying trans-activists are giving the queer community a bad name.
LJG: Well then yeah I definitely don’t agree with him on any of that.
As a musician, what do you ultimately want to share with the world?
LJG: I just love playing. Since I was eight, I’ve now that’s what I wanted to do. Where I’m at now is crazy. I’ve obviously been thinking a lot about Prince lately and this year in general so many other musicians have passed away; David Bowie of course.
Looking at Prince’s career, Prince released 39 studio albums in his career, and he died when he was 57. David Bowie released 27 studio albums, and he died at 69. I look at numbers like that I’m like, damn. The dedication to craft and the dedication to artistry and just doing music and focusing on being a good musician is just humbling and makes me want to do the same for no other reason than for a love of playing.
At it’s best, music for me is just trying to take negative emotions and turn them into something positive, whether that’s something for people to dance to or listen to by themselves for solace, and so they don’t feel like they’re alone. It’s always been like that for me and I just hope I can share that with other people.
Why should people care about Against Me!?
LJG: We care. I don’t know if that’s reason enough, but we definitely care. If you care about music, and I think it’s pretty good music, it’s a good time, it’s a good show and we definitely put our all into it. I don’t know what more there is.