You don’t have to be a hardcore punk fan to have followed Against Me!’s story these past few years. The Gainesville rockers’ lead singer, formerly Tom Gabel, came out as transgender in 2012, adopting the name Laura Jane Grace. What hasn’t changed is the gritty, galvanizing spirit that drives their music. We spoke with new drummer Atom Willard (formerly of The Offspring, Social Distortion and Angels & Airwaves), who joined the band to record their new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, in preview of their show at Royale on May 5.
I mean, I had and I hadn’t been following recent developments. You become a fan and it’s just that thing that’s part of your daily deal. The songs come up all the time on your iPod, or you actually put the records on, and it’s like, you just love the thing. And of course I had heard about Laura’s transition and all of that stuff, but I hadn’t really delved into the details of it or paid a lot of close attention. So going into it I was just like, “Well, you know, whatever. I love the music.” And that was kind of my main sticking point.
I mean, of course I had that question, because ultimately that’s one of the elements of the music that I do love. She addressed that early on and was like, “I will never do anything that will alter the sound of my voice.” And I was like, “Cool. I’m in.” That was kind of all that I needed to make me feel like it was a solid direction.
There’s an overwhelming theme of complete discontent that was maybe lacking a little bit in some of the White Crosses songs. New Wave is my favorite record, still, so I really didn’t have any of those major-label-stigma feelings. It’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life. When I was 19 I signed to a major label, and it was like the end was coming for my band. People were like, “Holy s—, what have you done? Why are you ruining our favorite band?” And I was like, “It’s not going to change who we are. We’re just trying to be able to do this and not live in a f—ing tent on the side of the road.” I think the new record has such a genuine mission statement. Not only for what Laura’s doing, but the way it was recorded and the production values. There’s no f—ing around. It’s very to the point. And I think that resonates with some of the, as you said, earlier fans, or the more hardcore, more punk rock section of the people who come to the shows.
Boy, you know, as much as I agree that there’s a real defined attitude about it, I don’t think that she ever denies who she was, and she’s very accepting of who she is. [But] I think that there is this level of uncertainty and realization. It’s also like, f— myself, f– off for trying to keep me from doing what I want to do.
Absolutely. It’s definitely like, stand up and shout for what you believe in. Which is why it’s so easy for me to get behind it. And it’s so easy to get behind her because she’s so passionate about what she’s doing, and who she is, and the ability to have a platform to stand on and talk about it. I just have so much respect and admiration… I’m really happy to be involved in something that stands for something bigger, you know?
It’s completely genuine, yeah. I guess I left that part out but that’s the major thing for me. There’s nothing contrived or put on about it, it’s just so from the heart, and so raw, that it’s undeniable.
I think I read that. He was like, “I used to love the band, and then I hated the band.” All right, dude. I’m so glad for you. Did you take a shower today too? That’s great. A lot of information.
I’ll say this: Me talking and hanging out with Laura is much easier and natural than conversations I ever had with Tom. She’s just a happier person. She’s at a point where she’s happier with herself. That extends and transfers to all different aspects of her daily life. It all happened very easily and naturally, and we don’t even think about it.
Yeah, and it is cool because she started to say some stuff on stage like, “Hey, you know, this is a song about the transgender lifestyle, something that can be accepted and agreed upon in society, that there are many different variations of sexual orientation.” And just getting the information out there, basically being a platform for education… We’re not exactly professors, we drink far too much for that, but… [laughs]
I have to say, I haven’t seen very much negative stuff. And I say that because, whenever you do read something negative, that tends to stick with you, even though you’ve just read 500 glowing, positive reviews. [laughs] It’s like, wow. Here’s all these people singing accolades, “This is the best record in years, oh my God, this that the other, love, love, love,” and then, for whatever reason, that one person who’s like “Yeah, you know, [whiny groaning noises],” and they’re all poopy pants about it, that sits with you longer, which is ridiculous and lame. You should always stay off the Internet. But, it’s been overwhelmingly positive. And the shows are just incredible. There’s this element of uncertainty and unhinged chaos, everything’s a powder keg that’s just about to go. It’s really a cool thing to be a part of and to witness.