Day Old Coffee: A lunch interview with Laura Jane Grace
Against Me! singer coming to Sioux Falls
As a full-time, high school English teacher, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing numerous, memorable moments. I’ve gotten to watch students walk across the graduation stage and receive their diploma after putting in years of hard work. I’ve had the honor of being one of the judges for the Sioux Falls School District 8th Grade Poetry Slam. And now, I can add the distinction of using my lunch break to interview one of Punk Rock’s most distinguished musicians.
I had the pleasure of talking to Laura Jane Grace as she made her way through Canada for her recent tour, which she’s bringing to Icon in Sioux Falls on Friday, Sept. 30. For those whose musical roots are grounded in Punk, Laura Jane Grace is most likely a household name.
However, for those unfamiliar with the genre and this musical powerhouse, here’s a quick rundown.
Grace gained notoriety as the lead singer and guitarist for the Floridian Punk band Against Me!. Originally starting as a solo acoustic act in 1997, Grace performed her original songs under the Against Me! name. By 2001, and after releasing several demos and EPs, Against Me! had coalesced into a full band, making their debut in 2002 with the album Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose. The band went on to release six more studio albums, gaining a significant amount of traction with their 2007 release, New Wave.
In 2012, after enduring years of gender dysphoria, Grace came out as transgender, and tapping into her personal experiences for lyrical inspiration, wrote the band’s 2014 album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which went on to earn critical acclaim from numerous fans and music critics. Against Me! released one more album, 2016’s Shape Shift With Me, and has now gone on an indefinite hiatus. However, that hasn’t stopped Grace from continuing to write and record new music.
Since then, Grace has released two full length albums, 2018’s Bought to Rot, which she recorded with her band Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers, and her solo album, Stay Alive, which she recorded during the early stages of the pandemic, and surprise released in October of 2020. When asked about her experience recording that album during that time, Grace said, “That record is definitely of a time and place, and that’s what was even kind of attractive about doing it, like, just in creating a document, because I hope none of us have to live through something like that again.”
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Like many of us when the pandemic hit, Grace was left feeling shaken. However, she found recording an album to be a way in which she could cope with the uncertainty the world was facing. “It was almost comparable to a manic episode, you know?...I spent, like, the first three months sitting on my couch in shell-shock trying to figure out what was going on, and then eventually realized that I needed to do something or else I was going to lose my mind, so I started figuring out how it would be possible to make a record during the pandemic.”
Although the songs on Stay Alive were originally intended to be used for a new Against Me! album, the stripped down nature of the tracks, paired with Grace’s poetically candid lyrics, resulted in a collection of songs that reflected the emotional urgency in the air.
“It feels weird talking about it because, in my head I was thinking, ‘I wanna record these songs because there’s an equal chance that me, just like everyone else, could be dead,’ which seems like you’re being hyper-reactive, but you’re not because it’s a global pandemic.”
After the success of Stay Alive, Grace went on to record her most recent EP, At War With The Silverfish, released in 2021. On her website, she describes the songs as “...songs of late night madness and loneliness, orphan songs that came wandering in looking to feed like insects.”
Like Stay Alive, Grace managed to create another set of songs that uniquely capture many of the universal emotions we all experience. Stand out tracks on the EP include Three of Hearts, Lolo 13, and my personal favorite, Day Old Coffee.
Having looked online at past setlists for this tour, attendees at her Sioux Falls stop can expect to hear classic Against Me! favorites as well as songs from Stay Alive and At War With The Silverfish. Additionally, concert goers will be serenaded by two popular bands from our very own state: Stem Cells and Red Light Drive. As a local musician myself, I was incredibly excited to see some local/regional bands opening for such a well-known artist like Grace. In some cases, larger touring artists don’t necessarily play a role in selecting opening acts, but Grace is very active in the planning process. “Yeah, it’s all up to me.” Grace said. “I don’t have overlords who work over me or anything; I don’t have a manager, so whenever a show is happening, I’m the one who approves the people I play with and picks out the bands.”
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Her hands-on approach and attitude not only showcase her strong work ethic, but they also reflect her thoughts about advocacy. To wrap up our interview, I talked to Grace about recent legislation across the country that has been negatively impacting members of the LGBTQIA community.
When asked what she hopes to bring to each tour stop, Grace said, “You go out there and you hope you’re raising awareness. For me personally it’s important to connect with community, and to meet people and, if it matters to someone else to be meeting me, it matters to me meeting them. It just continues the conversation.” She continued, “I realize a lot of the times that people coming to the shows are people who already know me and know my story, but there are always people who don’t, and it’s their first time coming to a show, or their first time hearing about me, or their first experience with a transgender person, and I don’t take that for granted, and you know, that can have a real effect on someone and can go a long way.”
Laura Jane Grace, and openers Stem Cells and Red Light Drive, will perform at Icon in Sioux Falls on Friday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. The show is all ages and tickets are $27.50 in advance and $30 at the door. Physical tickets can be purchased at Westside Glass Emporium and both Last Stop locations. Online tickets can be purchased through her website, www.laurajanegrace.com, and the Collective Efforts Union website, www.collectiveeffortsunion.com.