Against Me!'s 2014's "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" was a coming out party for band founder Laura Jane Grace, who announced two years prior she was a transgender woman. The punk-rock outfit with roots in Gainesville, Florida has been on Lilyana Arielle Fey's radar since the early 2000's. The Peoria native is also a transgender woman, who says she has found solace and community through the music of Against Me!.
Ahead of the band's show at The Castle Theater in Bloomington April 2, we invited Fey, perhaps central Illinois most ardent Against Me! fan, into the GLT Studio's to talk with Grace about the band -- and about the impact Against Me! continues to have on her.
Lilyana Arielle Fey: In 2012 there was a lot going on. You write about it in your book, "TRANNY: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout." But what isn’t in the book is whether or not people were talking at all about the 10-year anniversary of "Reinventing Axl Rose." And I’m wondering through all of the press about your transition, was there any chatter about that?
Laura Jane Grace: Yeah you know, I do remember seeing somebody say something online, somewhere, being like, “oh whoa, crazy! Ten years!” It like, really kind of sneaks up on you sometimes. I don’t know, I’m a conflicted person oftentimes in that I don’t like nostalgia and I’m oftentimes very nostalgic. So like, I’ll get nostalgic about something and feel really gross about it for being nostalgic about it. I can’t help but always look fondly back at the time and place that record was made. And just like, a lot of happy memories around it and it’s a good record to keep things in perspective too. You know, as far as like, thinking, “okay, I recorded that record in a day, and it cost like $800 to make.” And it’s gone on and it was like, the highest selling record of No Idea Records entire catalog. Small things like that where it’s like, wow, you don’t have to have much to really do something that can continue to reverberate and reverberate.
LAF: "Walking Is Still Honest" was a song that hit me in 2002, I was 15 at the time. No other song that I had heard up until that point really made me feel like I could relate to an artist. I’m wondering what it’s like playing that for a crowd that sort of now understands the vibe of that, fully for themselves and for you, being able to be honest about what you were “walking” about. What’s it like now, vs. playing that song live in 2002?
LJG: You know, that’s one of the few songs that has always felt relevant to me. There’s never been a time when we’ve played it, and I've like, “ugh, hurry up let’s get to the next song,” you know?" Or felt out of touch with who I was when I wrote it. It’s a song that has continued to evolve and change if it’s going to have that kind of lasting power, and the meaning of it too. But I listen to that and I’m taken immediately back to the little, tiny, small shack that I lived in at the time when I wrote it. And I can feel everything about it.
LAF: So you’ve pretty much been on the road for like a third of your life. What kind of perspective do you have now.. what’s it mean for you to come home after a tour now? How has that changed since the "Reinventing Axl Rose" days?
LJG: I guess, you know, in the "Reinventing Axl Rose" days, there was still a real split as far as like wanting to make music my life, or our life as a band, but not necessarily have it be realistic yet, so you know coming right off the road and going back to work at whatever our day jobs were. At the time I was working as an auto mechanic and I was checking ID’s at a bar at night and I had this whole other kind of world I existed in, specifically around the bar I worked at. Where you go on tour now, and there’s the band, and there’s the crew, and that’s like your scene of people. Just the same as if you go to any other job and like the people you work with, except you live on a submarine with these people. Same kind of thing at the bar where this group of people, this like cast of characters I’d see every day when I came home. So you’d have this real split life and you’d come home and your friends at your day job didn’t really understand what you were doing when you were going out, going on tour and vice versa. And now it seems like there was a point, I often say, I’m pretty sure it was our first European tour which was two months long and I only changed my pants once right in the middle of the two month mark, it was a very smelly tour, we were very punk. But I remember feeling like that tour changed something inside of me, inside of us, you could never change back. I take what I do very seriously and now there is no separation between us coming home and going on tour.
LAF: I wanted to ask you about a couple of specific lines on "Shape Shift With Me," which is an amazing album. On "Delicate, Petite, & All The Things I’ll Never Be," the opening line:
I wanna be more real than all the others,/I wanna be more real than all the rest.
pops up again in "Norse Truth," sort of turned around on itself. What is the connection is between those two songs, if there is any, and what were those journal entries like that day you wrote that line?
LJG: I feel like that happening specifically with that line, there’s one or two other lines that repeat in songs on there and a lot of it was subconscious where I didn’t even realize until we were actually recording and it was kind of too late. Like “huh, that line kind of repeats.” But I kind of look at the songs "Norse Truth" and the song "Delicate, Petite" as connected, they’re almost kind of mirrors of each other. And I feel that the line was both coming from a place of examining the idea of passing and what it means to be a woman, specifically related to being transgender and transitioning, and the search for, whatever, and then also twisting it and being like, “I’m gonna be real with you right now.” And I found it super interesting how at first, before there was a lyric sheet for people to read, a lot of people misinterpreted that as “I wanna be so real that you can’t see the difference,” when the line is, “you can see the difference.” You know it was a subconscious thing and I can’t necessarily recall exactly where I was when i wrote that line but it was a line I kept coming back to.
LAF: So, I was deeply closeted in 2012, spending half my time with the song, "How Low" on repeat, ironically playing out that song's themes by myself in my room. In 2013, Queens of the Stone Age released "...Like Clockwork" which is all about letting go, death & rebirth. Perfect background music for completely destroying my male ego, to use your words. In the book you say you didn't hear the word transgender til you were 20, for me the first time was when "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" came out. I know I'm not the only person who found themselves and found the situational strength to come out after that release and after your very public transition. What it's like for you to know that you've made such an impact on so many people's lives in this really real way.
LJG: You know, it makes me happy. It touches me in the same way that I know what it meant to me when I would see any other report or whatever blurb on someone else transitioning or coming out. Obviously there were so many other people becoming visible too, and coming out kind of had a cumulative effect. If you want to refer to the cover of Time Magazine with Laverne Cox on the cover, I think the headline was, "The Transgender Tipping Point," or whatever. But I think that was kind of a real thing where you did have that cumulative effect and a lot of that was the visibility factor, because when I would see signs of it, I remember seeing a news article that Mina Caputo had come out and was transitioning and seeing so many other little blurbs along the way and I always thought they were like, placed there by universe for me to see, to encourage me and push me to accept myself. So if my story does that for anybody else, then that’s incredible. That’s the way it should be, just as the people who came before me were for me.
LAF: So I have one last question. Ezra Furman is a friend of mine, was actually my first roommate when I moved to Chicago in 2011. I know that you guys have sort of tweeted at each other and he mentioned in an article in Brooklyn Vegan about maybe you guys working on a straight up punk outfit. When is that happening?
LJG: Oh jeez, whenever I get like, get some time off the road. I really want to have friends in Chicago. I have no friends in Chicago just because I’m never there. And when I am there, I’m full on-time parent mode, you know? I just want to play bass, I just want four strings of responsibility.
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