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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Against Ignorance

Craig Silliphant
Published Thursday July 9, 06:46 pm
This iconic punk band just keeps getting cooler

 AGAINST ME!

Sunday 12

O’Brians

The last year and a half have been a whirlwind for American punk band Against Me! and their leader, Laura Jane Grace. They released a critically lauded album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, rooted in Grace’s experiences herself as a transgendered person.

When an album hits public consciousness like Transgender Dysphoria Blues did, artists can lean into the momentum of that wave as hard as they can. This leaves Against Me! as a well-oiled, battle-tested machine rolling through countries like a Sherman tank — kicking ass and taking names.

Oh, we’ve been going non-stop, yeah,” Grace tells me over the phone. “Like, since New Year’s Eve leading into 2014. That really kicked it off for us and we’ve been going steady since then. We’re on a short tour, coming up [to Canada], then we take a short break, then we go to Europe. Then a bunch of festivals and stuff in September. It’s been rad. Really great travelling, really great shows, really great experiences.”

Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a clear, brilliantly executed case of an artist following her muse. Grace remembers when she had to remain frustratingly vague writing lyrics about her dysphoria, but once she let herself be free, the full power of Against Me! was unleashed.

The title track on the album is both hard and crass, but also full of sadness and melancholy, all wrapped in an anthemic chorus. It’s a song that knocks you on your ass and punches through walls of understanding and empathy to show you what it feels like to be in Grace’s shoes.

I was in a situation that was dysphoria-inducing and really uncomfortable,” she says. “To be in a position where taking photos for magazines or being in videos and stuff, being pushed by labels or whoever to represent the male singer in a band, it was stifling. I didn’t know who I was then. I know who I am now. I know the experiences that I’ve lived, I know where I’ve been, and I’m not afraid to do what I feel like I know I should do as an artist, and pursue what makes sense to me.”

Laura Jane Grace now knows what it can be like to be a person of some fame who comes out in a highly public manner — which brings us around to Caitlyn Jenner. Grace, also a writer for places like Vice’s Noisey, has looked at Jenner’s situation from a lot of angles. While she supports Jenner as another trans person and human being, we also have a great conversation about how it has divided parts of the trans community in general, including the realm of attainability.

The amount of money behind all the plastic surgery [Jenner has had],” says Grace, “not to knock plastic surgery in any way, but just knowing that Caitlyn Jenner’s had a lot of surgery, she has a lot of money, and fantastic wardrobes, getting her photograph taken by Annie Leibovitz. To be on the cover of Vanity Fair, she looks fuckin’ beautiful, but for most trans people, they don’t have those kind of resources and it’s a real struggle just to get to a place where you feel like you aren’t going to be physically fucking attacked walking down the street for not fitting into a gender norm.

I don’t like the idea of creating pie-in-the-sky stuff that’s gonna create something for other trans people feeling like, ‘Oh shit, here’s another goal I can’t reach,’ this unattainable thing. And that being a further cause of depression or something. The beauty standards obviously that America has, Photoshopping models, the kind of mindfuck games people play, eating disorders and everything: It’s crazy.”

While she’s quick to be self-deprecating, Grace is funny, highly intelligent and most of all, remarkably open.

I try to see [answering questions about being transgender] as a positive thing,” she says, “and I try to focus in on it as being a part of the bigger movement of visibility that’s happening pretty much across the world — but in general really in North America. In the past [the interviews revolved around] this punk rock argument of whether or not my band were sellouts based on what label we were on, which was just asinine to talk about in interviews. So, at least this is relevant to the world.

If me answering questions truthfully and honestly can help someone out, or make a connection — and I’ve heard from people that there have been connections made — then that’s real to me. That’s valid. If you look at the statistics on suicides or violence towards transgendered people, job problems, things like that, it’s astounding. Trans people being able to be out with each other is a real life-saving thing.”

Brilliant band, brilliant woman: that’s all that needs to be said.

 

ROMI MAYES

Tuesday 14

Village Guitar

Romi Mayes is a well-known name on the Canadian music scene: She’s crafted several albums of bluesy roots-rock that have made fans out of serious players like Jim Cuddy, Martha Wainwright and Hayes Carll. But if it feels like a while since we’ve seen new material from her, you’re not imagining things; Mayes’ last album was 2011’s Lucky Tonight.

In the last few years, she’s spent time doing some touring and running a booking agency for blues/roots musicians, but she’s finally released a new album, Devil on Both Shoulders.

I just really didn’t feel like pushing a new album [until now],” says Mayes. “It’s kind of nice when you can make those decisions for yourself: You don’t have to adhere to any time limits or any rules. Especially with the model of the music industry completely falling apart right now, and no one really knows what the best plan is in the first place.

After Lucky Tonight I just felt like taking a break from writing and touring, so I just did, because I can — because there are no rules now. I waited until I was inspired and started getting that fire under my ass. It took four years for me to get excited again.”

Mayes started out when she was 15 years old and has grown and matured as a songwriter, experiencing life and the road and, over time, changing the scope of what her lyrics bring across.

Nice play, way to be careful and not say ‘getting older,’” she laughs. “The subject has changed, and instead of being a little more hopeful, it’s like... fuuuck. You know? At one point it was like, ‘It’s okay guys, it’s gonna be okay,’ to [then] like, ‘Ugh, people suck.’

“The themes are a little more fleshed-out in a negative way. I think I got a couple of angry demons out through some of these lyrics.”

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