Since the release of their first full-length album in 2002, Against Me! have become recognized—and praised—for their dedication to maintaining the sound and spirit of punk rock.
Throughout their nearly 15-year existence—more than 15 if you count the solo years, which started in 1997—Against Me! have established a booming voice in the overall monotonous music industry. This voice has been built and perfected by the personal experiences of lead singer and main lyricist Laura Jane Grace. Yet these anecdotes still always manage to seep with commentary on strong social and political issues that some listeners are either unaware of, or refuse to acknowledge on their own.
Tackling everything from drug abuse (“Thrash Unreal”), to political awareness and freedom (“Stop!”), commentary on the current punk scene (“I Was A Teenage Anarchist”) and personal identity (“The Ocean”), Against Me! have an undeniable knack for creating addictive melodies, pulsating rhythms, snarling vocals and epic guitar riffs that not only encourage you—but force you—to listen intently.
Now the band is back with a new rhythm section, featuring Atom Willard on drums and Inge Johansson on bass, and a new album that zeroes in on Grace’s most personal lyrics to date.
In 2012, Grace revealed that she suffered from gender dysphoria since childhood. Transgender Dysphoria Blues ventures through the emotional and psychological ups and downs of the transition process, providing a look into Grace’s innermost thoughts and perspectives that very few people have.
Although detailed analysis of the album’s lyrical content would be fitting for a discussion with Grace herself, The Aquarian Weekly had the opportunity to chat with Against Me! guitarist James Bowman. In this interview, Bowman shared his thoughts on the new album, the band’s upcoming tour, the new lineup and the overall evolution of Against Me!
Obviously the new album was a very personal creative venture for Laura, and she spearheaded a lot of the writing and production for the album. How did it feel for you, being a part of the process, seeing the entire work unfold?
It was a really tough record to get finished. With the multiple times of recording and re-recording, and a few lineup changes, it was a big personal goal. It was like, “There’s no way we’re going to let anything stop this from happening.” I think it’s a really important record, and it deals with a really crazy subject matter that a lot of people aren’t familiar with. I think it was very important to see it through and make sure it happened.
I’m definitely very excited that it’s finished, and I’m excited for us to go out with the new lineup and play every night. The tour starts in January, and it’s only the beginning.
To that end, what was it like getting acclimated to the new lineup and getting connected with each other?
It actually all clicked together surprisingly well, right from the start, which is pretty crazy. Atom is an amazing drummer—he’s been around forever and has been in a lot of great bands. He’s a real professional. And Inge is an amazing bassist. We really lucked out with having those people wanting to come along and play with us. The learning curve for rehearsals and having them learn songs was really nonexistent. It was kind of like we picked the songs we wanted to do—there’s about 30 of them—and we tackled them in chunks. And then we would get together and it was super painless and awesome. That’s so much more than you can really ask for. It’s definitely a pleasure playing with them. I think we sound really tight and overall, I think this is a really strong Against Me! lineup.
Can you provide a bit more context around how the relationships formed?
We needed a drummer and we were not actively searching, but putting the word out there. Atom actually replied to a tweet Laura sent out that said something along the lines of, “Know any good drummers?” (Laughs) He just replied, they started talking and that was that. Andrew [Seward] was still playing with us at that point, so Atom came down to Florida and we practiced for two or three days and he met us in Australia. We did a tour of Australia and before it was over he asked if he could do the drums on the new record. We were really excited about that.
After the tour, Atom and Laura went to the studio in L.A. and did all the drum tracks. He just kind of stayed in touch with everyone and then we asked if he wanted to do this full time. He had a few prior commitments to finish up, but after that he was on board.
With Inge, we met him a couple of years ago on a European tour. He lives in Oslo, Norway, which is really far away from us. But airplanes are great things (laughs). We met him through a friend who was our guitar tech and we just hit it off. We were big fans of his other band The International Noise Conspiracy, which he was in for a long time. After Andrew left, he sent Laura an email and put a feeler out, saying if we needed help with anything he’d be down to do it.
We didn’t have any other leads, so we had him come over, he rehearsed with us and it was totally awesome. It was great energy and had a really great feel to it. We were all getting along really well and it sounded really good, so we just decided to go with it.
I’m sure feeling that musical and personal cohesion is really important.
Oh, absolutely. It definitely feels good to have it pay off when you put your faith in something. It absolutely was a concern playing live with the new lineup. Just asking, “What are people going to think?” It’s a lot different, you know? But we’ve had nothing but positive comments, so it feels really good.
So you’re going through the rehearsal process and getting ready for tour. What tracks are you most excited to play?
We’ve been playing new songs off the new record for a while now, but there are a few tracks that we haven’t played yet, or haven’t played very much, that I’m very excited to do—“Paralytic States” and “Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ,” in particular. So it’s going to feel really good having them in steady rotation. As for older songs, man, they all have a different energy and feel to them. They’re still the same songs they originally were. But Atom and Inge definitely add their little elements to them, so they’re all really exciting and refreshing to play at this point.
Were there any songs you listened to—once the recording process was over—where you just felt like, “Wow, that’s a great song?”
I think the record, as a whole, is really awesome. What came out of the whole recording process is really fantastic. That’s a pretty tough question, actually (laughs). I think “Black Me Out” is an amazing song. I even remember Laura playing that song for the first time, hearing the lyrics, and playing along on acoustic guitar and thinking, “Wow, this is really powerful; this is a really good song.” Eventually hearing the final product of the song was pretty epic and awesome.
What do you hope this album will accomplish for Against Me!? What message do you hope will resonate with your fans, as well as people who are unfamiliar with your work?
I don’t know, really. I just hope people listen to the content of the record. I hope they take something away from it that’s positive, of course. But maybe it just makes them aware of something going on in this world that maybe they don’t really know about. So just opening people’s eyes and hoping they listen.
It seems like what really resonates about Laura’s work, and Against Me! as a whole, is that there’s a focus on personal experiences, but also political and social issues, as well. What has been your proudest moment being a part of Against Me!?
It’s not the journey it’s the destination (laughs). No, but really. It’s all been really great. I’ve known Laura since we were 14 years old—we were in high school. The whole time, whether it be playing, or being there as a friend for support, I’m really happy with the place we are at now. The whole experience of being a part of this band has been crazy and a whirlwind, but it’s all good. I’m just glad to still be doing it.
Against Me! play Rough Trade in Brooklyn on Jan. 9 and The Stone Pony in Asbury Park on Jan. 10. The new album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, will be released Jan. 21. For more information, go to againstme.net.