"This past year feels like it could have been a week ago, or it could be a decade long," muses Laura Jane Grace. We all know the feeling; time seems to have lost all meaning. It only seems like five minutes since Laura released her solo record, 'Stay Alive,' last October. Now she's back with a surprise EP drop, 'At War Against the Silverfish', and ready to reflect on another year that lurched from whirlwind to stand-still and back again.
"I really ran myself into the ground last October doing a lot of press and trying to promote a record in a way I'd never done before, and then the first week of November leading up to the election here in the US was the most stressful ever," Laura explains. "The day it was announced that Biden won, I went out into the woods with a friend of mine and their kid, and we were just messing around doing dumb stuff, and I ended up breaking my foot! It was also the day before my 40th birthday, so my 40th was the most depressing day ever, all alone lying on my couch with a broken foot."
Finding herself isolated again and now unable to go on the daily runs that kept her sane during lockdown, Laura once again found solace in music, much like she had done the previous year in bringing 'Stay Alive' to life.
"Music and songwriting has consistently been a guiding force in a positive way throughout my life; I've always taken the attitude of 'I'm just going to keep writing and recording and do what feels good, and everything else will work itself out in due time'."
The situation may sound conducive to a good old amount of wallowing, but 'At War With The Silverfish' glows with warm intimacy. 'Lolo 13' is a tender reflection on a dream love that never was, while 'Electro Static Sweep' is a wandering waltz through an old friendship.
Though not as raw as 'Stay Alive', it's inevitable given that those songs were originally intended for an Against Me! record. What 'At War With The Silverfish' lacks in a sense of urgency, it more than makes up for in personal charm. While the EP displays the honesty and vulnerability we've come to know and love from Laura's work, it's deliberately light-hearted so as not to be some sort of grandiose statement.
"I didn't want these songs to feel like some kind of defining art piece going forward, coming out of the pandemic with this big statement of what these past twelve months were," states Laura. "Bo Burnham: Inside - now that's the pinnacle of bedroom art that you can make during a pandemic, and I'm not even going to try to compete with that shit!
"If anything, this EP is supposed to be a reset as far as wherever things go from here: I just wanted to open a door, to give myself permission to do that, to almost wipe the slate clean. They're just seven songs written in an abstract way, and it feels very freeing and easy to just share them and then move on."
In all the talk of poignancy that tends to surround Laura's work, it feels like her brilliantly wry sense of humour is sometimes overlooked, and it's on full display here as she confronts her questionable caffeine choices on 'Day Old Coffee' ("Day-old coffee microwaved to boiling, pour it on my eyeballs and boil my dumb shit brains out") or attempts to deflect the melancholy of a situation with some excellent swearing ("Hey you sitting there with your smug fuckface”). And as for the EP title? Those "slippery little fuckers” have been tormenting Laura all year.
"Silverfish eat books, they eat the paper in LP sleeves, and when you live in a hundred-year-old building in Chicago, they're everywhere. And when you're locked inside of that building for a year and a half, you become hyper-aware!" she laughs. "They kind of fascinate me as creatures; it feels in a way that they're eating your past, eating memories, like a form of decay where if you're stationary for too long, they start to take over. I spiralled in thinking about them in that way metaphorically; it's very representative of the feeling of the last year."
Speaking of Chicago, the city often finds its way into Laura's work as though it were a character and at this point seems to have melded itself to her psyche in an inescapable way. (If in doubt, listen to 'I Hate Chicago' by Laura and her band The Devouring Mothers which sarcastically takes down Chicago as part of coming to terms with a broken relationship). It creeps into the new EP again like an old friend on 'Long Dark Night' as a means of exploring how much a place can have an impact on a person's self-identity.
"As an artist, being from Florida defined me in many ways, so many Against Me! songs reference Florida - 'Sink, Florida, Sink', for example. I didn't necessarily plan on moving to Chicago, I just ended up here, and it's unavoidable that I'm then going to write about myself in the context of living in Chicago and existing here. Sometimes I run into a roadblock in my head where I feel like I don't belong, but fuck anyone who says I don't belong here; I belong here just as much as anyone else does.
"The neighbourhood I live in, it's not really hip or cool, it's primarily old in both age and existence, but there is also a high concentration of refugees. You get this mix of people who don't understand why their neighbourhood is turning a certain way, then people who are just so thankful to be somewhere that's not the place they were coming from. In a weird way, I feel like I've stumbled into a place where I feel more belonging than I have anywhere else in Chicago. It's strange searching for identity where you live when you don't necessarily feel welcome, but at the same time, you have just as much of a right to be there as anyone else."
Despite the trials and tribulations of the past year, in the last few months Laura has finally been able to get back out into the world and do some pretty awesome things, including playing some low-key alleyway and coffee shop shows, a regular DJ residence at House of Vans Chicago and of course, that show at Philadelphia's Four Seasons Total Landscaping, the now infamous location of Rudy Giuliani's bizarre post-election press conference.
"I definitely walked away from that with more questions than I had answers," laughs Laura. "As far as how Rudy ended up there giving a press conference, being there in person, it's not like it all suddenly makes sense, it was even more confusing - you were very much in the parking lot of a landscaping company! As one of my first shows back, it was an oddly perfect environment being outside in this big open lot: definitely less anxiety-inducing than being in a venue after a year and a half of not playing in a venue. It was odd, though, we have this thing we call a 'disco load-out', when you have to be out of a venue immediately because they've got a dance club night happening. This was 'landscaping load-out' - they immediately wanted us out because they had to go on running their landscaping business!"
Taken from the November issue of Upset. Laura Jane Grace's EP 'At War With The Silverfish' is out now.
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