There are a number of pre-pandemic luxuries that Laura Jane Grace misses during these precarious times. But the glaring absence of live shows – and the resulting human connection – has left a particularly large hole in her bleeding singer-songwriter heart.
“I miss it a lot,” the Against Me! singer tells SPIN from her snowy Chicago apartment. “I miss so many different aspects of it. I just miss being part of a team…I miss the group spirit of my band, whether that’s all of us on a bus or all of us in an airport waiting for a plane, or loading in in the morning or loading out – the group experience.”
The story of Against Me! is a dramatic and inspiring one, perfectly summed up by the crowds of their memorable live shows, where you can rub shoulders with both punks and rock listeners who fell in love with “Thrash Unreal” on local radio — including fans who identify as trans or somewhere along the vast non-binary gender spectrum.
This tale continues with Grace’s excellent solo LP Stay Alive, swiftly recorded in early July with Steve Albini at his Chicago studio. Written over two years and recorded over two days, this album holds a very simple yet powerful theme.
“There is no metaphor, and there’s no hidden message in the title…it’s completely meant to be taken at face value,” she says of the bare-bones record, which highlights her songwriting skill and underrated voice. “A lot of making this record was about simplicity and of doing the least complicated thing.”
“I asked myself, ‘What is going to be the least stressful and least complicated approach to making this record?’ Because there’s really no ability to go beyond that right now. So that simplicity extended to even the title — I wanted to create the most straightforward title that can get the message across. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and the message I would like people to hear is to stay alive.”
That message may be simple, but Grace’s schedule has stayed busy. In addition to releasing a 14-track album, she’s been writing, working on the soundtrack for HBO docuseries Equal, laying down a new cedar floor and sound-proofing one of her rooms for a makeshift writing studio. She’s also been regularly running the Windy City’s streets to clear her mental cobwebs and train for the now-delayed Chicago Marathon, which she planned to conquer for charity.
“I was so disappointed. I was really looking forward to the experience. But even though it was canceled, I’m just like, ‘Fuck it…I’m still going to go running and keep going,’” she says. “I’ve just been trying to stay busy, help my daughter with her school work, playing music…and staring into the abyss. To call it strange times is an understatement.”
Grace is writing with a clearer head, having rid her life of anything mind-altering to focus on parenthood and music. (The cover of her new album showcases what remained from her last bag of weed.) But with this clarity, Grace has not lost her endearing candor, particularly when she describes growing up as an idealistic “teenage anarchist” in Naples, Florida — including her fond memories of discovering SPIN. She says some of those SPIN covers, including one with Marilyn Manson, “were impactful and helped inspire what I do today.”
“I was a big fan of [SPIN],” she remembers. “South Florida was so isolated and the only glimpse of outside culture that you could get was MTV or magazines like SPIN at fucking Barnes and Noble or whatever book store you had. I remember specifically when Rancid was on the cover, and that blew my mind when the worlds collided.”
A pivotal Against Me! release was 2007’s New Wave, which we named our Album of the Year. That record anchors the band’s discography as a bold political, social and personal statement — accessible, riling protest music that resonates the novel energy of earlier bands like the Clash. Since then, they’ve released three memorable albums, including 2016’s Shape Shift With Me.
Some fans within the punk community criticized the band around New Wave for signing with a major label. But Grace says she “honestly [doesn’t] fucking care anymore” about that criticism — recording a new album during a pandemic has gifted her with valuable perspective.
“I just hope there’s a scene left when we come out of this,” she says. “I’m just hoping there’s a venue left after this pandemic. It puts everything in a way where you realize how fragile everything is — and that everything we had, in terms of a touring scene or a music scene, was built on the backs of each other.”