Not many bands in recent memory have made quite as unique an imprint on Punk Rock as the current incarnation of Against Me!. Led by frontwoman Laura Jane Grace they’ve spent the last two years touring relentlessly and educating fans against gender prejudices, homophobia and a wide range of other issues along the way. Laura and drummer Atom Willard took some time out of their busy schedules to chat with AH at Leeds Festival about their plans for a new album, using writing to help survive tough times, the importance of self-empowerment and much more.
AH: You tore it up on the main stage just a couple of hours ago, was it as much fun as it looked from the crowd?
Laura: It was, no Joke!
AH: You’re a band that have played an awful lot of shows this year already, how did that one compare?
Atom: It was just shorter, we usually do that and have that much fun only for more time.
Laura: I was sweating it at first as it just started raining in the change over time, literally as we started playing it stopped. It was perfect timing.
AH: The next few weeks see’s you release music for the first time in ages with the ’23 Live Sex Acts’ live album, how excited are you to have new stuff out for the first time in quite a while?
Laura: It’s been a long time in the process and the making.
Atom: You could say it’s been the life of the band, to get to the point where we could make this live record.
Laura: You could say that
Atom: Because you’ve really been working on this record for how long, two decades?
Laura: (laughs) yeah two decades.
AH: Was there anything behind the decision to put out a live record rather than start work on another studio one?
Laura: The record is a real snapshot of what we were doing while touring for ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’. That’s the set list we were doing and we wanted to really capture the band at this time as we are now.
AH: Was it a case of carefully planning what songs you wanted to include, or simply using the exact set list you play every night?
Laura: It’s just a complete representation of the set’s we’ve been doing.
Atom: As she said it’s just a snapshot. We recorded a whole bunch of shows, but this one was one where everything came together and it was the kind of thing where we thought this is the pinnacle, warts and all, this is what we want to show people that haven’t made it to a show.
Laura: We recorded it that way so there wasn’t all the pressure on one show, where if it didn’t capture magic we’d get a shitty record.
Atom: We gave ourselves 80 opportunities to pick the right show, and it was a lot of work to narrow it down. But we were like “we’re using this one”.
Laura: In fairness Atom did a lot of that work too, or most of it.
AH: Looking at your schedule over the last 18 months or so, that is a crazy touring schedule you’ve been able to keep up.
Atom: That does kind of answer that other question about why we did a live record. Because we’ve been touring ever since the album came out.
Laura: At the same time too, we’ve been writing songs as we’ve been going. Then in between the tours demoing them. So we are ready once this touring stops to go right into the studio.
AH: How liberating has it been to be on the road so much?
Laura: I thrive on it. I mean I even kind of like it when you’re out of your fucking mind at breaking point.
Atom: Which is great.
Laura: I forget which magazine it was, but they calculated what bands had travelled what miles.
Atom: And they ranked everybody in terms of who travelled the most miles and who played the most shows. And we did pretty well.
Laura: I think we were third for miles. When you see something like that it’s like dammit I wanted to be first. Next year we’ve got to do more. This year we almost killed ourselves.
AH: From a point of being almost a completely new band to now, it seems like all that touring has really bonded you guys like a family.
Laura: It’s really a testament to beyond the band too. You know, a band aren’t the only people on a tour bus, there’s our crew too. So to luck out and have the right crew around us to give a family vibe for touring is fantastic.
AH: Also you went from it being just you and a guitarist to then having one of the best rhythm sections in punk rock. How exactly did you manage that?
Laura: (laughs) I got lucky, very lucky. But yeah I’d agree with that.
AH: Did it take much persuasion to get them on board?
Laura: (points to Atom) I blew him!
Atom: And then it was all downhill after that.
AH: At the moment your band is probably as prominent and in demand as it’s ever been, how have you dealt with that?
Laura: Well it’s like that other question, I don’t think it would be as do-able if it wasn’t for the people I have around me. Having that feeling of family and us all being in it together makes all the difference.
AH: ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ was a huge statement about where you were personally and as a band, how do you go about following it?
Laura: It’ll really just be the same way that ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ happened. I didn’t sit down when I was writing it and be like “I want to write a record that’ll out myself as I’m coming out”. That was just what I felt the need to write about. And it’s the same now. Whatever the muse is that pushes you, you have to follow it. You learn when you’ve been doing it for a while when that feeling is there, and not to think about it just do it.
AH: How close are you thinking about heading back into the studio, or are you focused enjoying life on the road?
Laura: No, we’ll be jumping right into the studio.
Atom: We’re starting officially October the 1st as the beginning of recording of the next record.
Laura: It’s the 5th we’re starting, you have a wedding on the 3rd. October 5th is officially the start of the next record. (laughs)
Atom: Fifth or first, they sound similar. I’m a drummer numbers aren’t my thing. I count to four and then I start over again. Anyway, yeah we’re starting, it’s happening.
AH: Have you planned much of what you’ll write about, or will it be a case of getting in there and seeing what starts to come out?
Laura: I think it’ll be one of those things where we have to take a step back and look at it once it’s finished. But the record has been written on the road and it’s really like a travelling record with songs about movement, different places and different experiences.
AH: When you travel so much do a lot of the places blur into one and make it hard to keep track of where you are?
Laura: I’ve had to ask three times today whether this is Reading or Leeds before we went on stage.
Atom: That happens basically every day.
Laura: Days of the week are out of the picture too, no idea about those.
Atom: A lot of the time I don’t even know what time it is or what time zone I’m in. There’s an element of groundhog day, that is welcomed as well. Because we get to do this and then at the end of each day there’s the show. That’s the reason why we’re here. So all the other stuff never seems that important.
AH: Are there any points from your recent travels that really stand out?
Laura: The last European tour playing in Budapest on a boat. That was pretty fucking crazy. We were literally in the belly of a boat playing. That was wild.
Atom: The other day we had a really beautiful day off in Bruges, and we really needed that. It was a day off in a beautiful city and it was perfect. That was really memorable. And it was in the last week so I totally remember it.
AH: At any point during the creation of the last record did you have any idea at the size of the release it would become?
Laura: It was just writing to survive. It was writing because that’s what I needed. I remember not even wanting to go the band with the songs because I felt embarrassed. I felt like I was eventually going to have to confront the things I was taking about. It was really complicated in that sense. I don’t think the next record will be complicated like that as it feels a lot more easy. I’m fine with the fact that the last record was difficult to make, but not every record has to be difficult to make for it to be good.
AH: How much easier has how supportive the punk community has been of you and the messages you’re trying to spread made everything?
Laura: It’s refreshing. I mean I want punk rock to be about that. I want punk rock to be open minded. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
AH: As a genre or even just as a way of thinking, what is punk rock to you?
Laura: It’s thinking for yourself.
Atom: And standing up for something you believe in even if that’s not the popular view. That ultimately is the most punk thing you can do, is to go against the grain of what everybody else is doing and what everybody else is thinking. You don’t do it just to be different. That’s not the thing. It’s something that you’re passionate about and something you believe in.
AH: There are lots of messages that you’ve been able to spread as a band, but if there was just one thing you would want fans to take from your music what would it be?
Laura: Self-empowerment. I want somebody to walk away from one of our shows and think “fuck I want to start a band, I want to do that”. I want them to feel that kind of excitement. I want to translate that.
’23 Live Setx Acts’ by Against Me! is out now Xtra Mile Recordings/Total Treble Music.
View more of Already Heard’s coverage from Leeds Festival 2015 here.
Words by Dane Wright (@MrDaneWright)