AGAINST ME! ARE SET TO TAKE THE READING & LEEDS MAIN STAGE BY STORM. IT’S SET TO BE ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT SETS THE FESTIVAL HAS SEEN IN YEARS. WHY? BECAUSE AGAINST ME! ARE BLOODY BRILLIANT.
WORDS: ALI SHUTLER.
“It does feel like there’s a future with the four of us,” starts Laura Jane Grace on the latest incarnation of Against Me!. “We’re going to at least do another record. It’s hard to explain because it’s existential and there’s not a real dividing line, but it does feel like there’s a definite chapter ending, and a new chapter beginning.”
Underlining this entry is ‘23 Live Sex Acts’. Recorded across the duration of the band’s 2014 tour, it captures the heart of an Against Me! show.
“The record was called ’32 Live Sex Acts’,” laughs Laura Jane before explaining that despite the wealth of material at their disposal, the band had to consider the end product. “Finding the right mix of songs to make it affordable for people to buy, and then also for it be representative of the show was tough.”
“There’s not the doubt over the songs being any good because they’re tried and tested,” she explains. Tomorrow she’ll play a tiny surprise show at London’s Lion Coffee & Records before heading out to Germany to start a run of European shows with the rest of Against Me! but for now, four hours after arriving on English soil, she’s sat in a hotel lobby.
“We were trying to get a snapshot of the band we were, while touring the last record and at the same time giving ownership of the songs to Inge [Johansson, bass] and Atom [Willard, drums] who are new to the band. A lot of the songs we play in the sets are older songs so when people come to a show and hear a song they like, they go back and buy a record but then they aren’t really hearing what they heard at the show. It’s almost a greatest hits but also a reintroduction for people.”
“Performing the songs, in their own way are interpretations of gender,” she continues, explaining the story behind the title. “In a lot of ways those interpretations have changed over the years for me, and people’s interpretations of seeing them played live has changed. A lot of touring this circuit has been me examining what those changes mean.”
“Going into punk rock, I thought it was meant to be a place that it was very open-minded but I realised it wasn’t as accepting as I thought. As my band got more successful, we were pushed into situations like photoshoots and you can tell people wanted you to be the archetype of the front singer. That created this real disconnect of being up on stage and feeling like, ‘I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who you think I am’, and it made performing not enjoyable,” reflects Laura. Fortunately, things have changed. “Playing with inhibition will never make a good show.”
“It’s our first time playing the main stage and that’s fucking awesome,” says Laura of her band’s upcoming slots at Reading & Leeds Festival. There’s excitement, a lack of nerves and a three point plan for what she hopes people take away from their set. “A good time, that feeling of acceptance and a release.” There might also be another collaboration with Frank Iero, “If he’s the same day, maybe we’ll make that happen.”
Eighteen years after Laura first started playing under the Against Me! banner, her endurance credited to “Determination and a bit of stubbornness,” she’s still finding new audiences. “That’s one of the amazing things in punk rock. There is that certain segment of your audience that always stays the same age because there’s always a new group coming up. There’s the people that age and stick with you but that constant representation of youth, new discovery and people getting into it for the first time keeps you energised and makes it fresh for you.”
“It always fascinated me when I first started travelling, you could go to a city as a complete stranger but see someone in a Jawbreaker t-shirt and think, ‘We could be friends’. You have that struggle in common. You both came up feeling like you didn’t fit in, in whatever circumstances you were in and you found music. That was the unifier that made it feel like you fit in. That’s something really relatable, and it’s always been the beautiful thing about punk rock.”