Against Me! and Australia go together like millennials and crippling debt. The genre-defining punk band’s frontwoman, Laura Jane Grace, has long called our sandy shores her second home – we were one of the first countries outside the US to embrace the band's slinky rhythms and raw honesty, and with each subsequent tour since their first in '07, the venues have only grown bigger and sold out faster. In total, Grace and the Transgender Dysphoria Blues crew have made the trek over an impressive seven times in ten years.
And yet, Grace's return this week is arguably her most significant yet. It’ll mark the first tour with her new band, Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers – last year, the trio (fleshed out with Against Me! bandmate Atom Willard on drums and longtime collaborator Marc Hudson on bass and organ) released their stunning debut album Bought To Rot, an LP that was littered with tiny homages and hat-tips to the land Down Under.
Ahead of her journey over (where The Devouring Mothers be co-headlining six intimate shows with indie-folk icons Murder By Death), we caught up with Grace to riff on the dichotomy between her projects, the eminence of full-album shows, the excitement of new music and – because it wouldn’t be a proper Laura Jane Grace interview without a shoutout to them – The Mountain Goats.
So obviously, you’ve been over here a bunch throughout the years, but this tour is especially exciting because is the first time you’re here with The Devouring Mothers. Having the new project to show off, does it almost feel like you’re re-popping your Australian cherry with this tour?
I’m happy to approach Australia that way every single time, and happy to feel like we're meeting for the first time all over again. There's that sense of wonder and excitement, for sure. It feels like a different thing and there is a different mentality that goes along with it – even down to what I’m packing, y’know? It all feels a little lighter and a little easier to move around, and these shows just seem like they’ll be a lot of fun. There's no pressure, or anything like that. I was lucky enough, like ten years ago, to go over and do a solo tour with Chuck Ragan around when I put out an EP called Heart Burns, so it also kind of feels like a follow-up to that tour in a weird way.
I feel like every interview I’ve read about your touring with this project has included a quuestion along the lines of, “What makes this show different to an Against Me! show?” And obviously there’s going to be similarities and differences as a punter, but how does the vibe change for you as a musician? Are you in a different headspace when you're with Against Me!, and vice versa?
It all feels so connected to me. It makes sense when I look at it from where I’m standing, and I wish everyone could see it from there and understand the inner dynamics of how Against Me! works. But it’s connected to Against Me! – Marc, who plays bass in our band, recorded the last couple of Against Me! records, and because we’re all so spread out across the States, Michigan, where his studio is, kind of became our home base as a band.
There’s been so many instances where we've there at the studio when I had some kind of creative energy going, that wasn’t necessarily gelling with where the rest of the band was – whether that was just going, “Hey Marc, go ahead and record this real quick, I’ve got this idea,” or if everyone else was off making lunch or something. But it all fits in there, and it isn't a disruption to the Against Me! stuff. All this month, we’ve been doing Against Me! stuff, and now Marc and Atom and I are going to break off and do this tour – and play a couple other shows for this record – and then we’ll flow right back into doing Against Me! again after it. It doesn’t feel like a double life – it just feels like a larger life than often times led on.
I like that, because then neither project is forced. You don't have to push yourself to be in 'Against! Me mode' or 'TDM mode'.
Yeah. And I mean, there are literal differences that could be pointed out; Against Me! shows are very much modelled after The Ramones, where it’s like, "Bang, bang, bang, song, song, song!" But we let [The Devouring Mothers shows] breathe a little more in-between songs. It’s a little more laidback, y’know? We take a ‘whatever happens’ kind of approach to the set. And that’s just the nature of how we started doing it, touring for the spoken word stuff I was doing in advance of my book [Tranny: Confessions Of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout] coming out… By the way, I’m frying tofu as we speak, so this interview is vegan-friendly.
Oh, hell yeah! What are you making?
I’m making some beans, rice and tofu – just using up whatever’s left in the fridge before we leave for Australia.
I like as well that you’re playing a lot of smaller and more intimate venues on this run, like the Crowbar and the Northcote Social Club. Do you feel like those shows offer a bit of a different experience, compared to the bigger theatre shows you normally do?
For sure! It’s a more intimate thing. And that’s what we were doing with the US shows – a lot of that run in particular was me being like, “I want to go to these specific venues.” They were venues that Against Me! couldn’t go to anymore because we had gotten too big, or hadn't played in a while, or were venues where for some reason, I was the only one in the band who liked them. And we've been approaching it with a kind of humbleness, y'know? Originally, Murder By Death were like, “Oh, you should headline,” and we were like, “F*** no, you should headline! You’ve been a band for much longer – you will close the show." I’m so happy to be playing right before Murder By Death, and not having the pressure that comes with fully headlining – just kind of approaching it in a fresh way like that, and just being flexible. Whatever happens is what happens.
As far as the setlist goes, what can we expect there?
Well, on the North American run, because we were closing each night, we did reach the problem where we were like, “Shit, this record’s only 14 songs long. We need to play for longer, what do we do?” So we were mixing in a couple of Against Me! songs each night, and then a couple of covers just for fun – whatever we were kind of jamming on at the time. One of the ways Marc, Atom and I started playing together was two summers ago, we got together and we recorded a dozen covers of Mountain Goats songs. So we know a good amount of Mountain Goats covers, and we throw a few of those in as well. We also do a couple of songs from the Heart Burns EP.
It’s a cool feeling where, with Against Me! in particular, this fall we’re doing a bunch of shows where we’re like going back and revisiting all of the albums, and playing each one in full at a different show. And we’re just doing that with this record because it’s the only record the three of us have – so every show is an album show [laughs].
I'm insanely envious of everyone that gets to hit those Against Me! album shows up. What is it that draws you in about that experience of really giving one record its time to shine onstage?
The way it ended up falling into place like that was because of our touring for Bought To Rot – we’re doing the whole album out of necessity, but then when we're doing the Against Me! shows, we’re like, "Okay, well there isn’t new Against Me! material right now" – we’ve been working on stuff, but we don’t have, like, recorded new stuff. We’re going to start properly working on a new album after this [Devouring Mothers] tour, but in the meantime, we wanted to put a little more focus on making a big deal out of it ourselves, because it’s like, “Okay, album eight is around the corner, let’s do something special!” I don’t know… It refocuses you in an interesting way.
And then of course, there’s the covers – there always has to be at least one Mountain Goats song in the fold. What’s it been like being able to really let your influences come out in that way?
It’s fun! And that’s all I wanted with this tour – I just want it to be fun; I want to play some fun rock shows where we're able to be creative and spontaneous like that, and play songs that we want to play. And it’s something that I feel like I picked up in doing bigger tours, too, in a weird way. The last time we were in Australia was right around when we went out with Green Day, and each night, we'd see them play and I'd be like, “Okay, they do a couple covers in the set!” You're always searching for that common denominator with the crowd – a song that everyone will hear and be like, “Oh, that’s a jam!” And, like, that doesn’t have to be something you wrote all the time, y’know? You can celebrate other artists together, and I like that. It’s just another way to share what you’re into.
Are you ever going to put that Mountain Goats cover album out?
We’ll do something with the songs eventually. We’ll figure it out. They’re just sitting there!
The last time we spoke, we got hooked into the topic of the incredible ’64 Fender Jaguar you recorded the album with. Are you bringing that down with you for these shows?
No, I can’t. I wish I could, but I just can’t risk it with the travelling. It’s always such a gamble coming to Australia, because if you get a carnet, it costs you a bunch of money and then [customs] never ask for it. But if you don’t get a carnet, then they ask for it. But I don’t know... I did insure it and all that, I just… It's too special. I’m gonna bring my Jazzmaster and a Telecaster.
It’s going to be be weird seeing you up there onstage without that classic Rickenbacker 370. Have you been missing it on tour?
Y’know, I was at my studio space today, and there’s a problem with the bridge right now, so it’s just sitting there on the bench. I have been missing it! It needs a little bit of tender love and care, and then it’ll be out again. That was something I was actually thinking about with the next Against Me! record – I want to make a real heavy, full-on Rickenbacker record. So I think that’ll be the direction I head in there.
How are you coming along with that, by the way?
It’s been slow, but we’ve gotten together twice this year – everyone’s been coming here to Chicago and working on it for a couple days at a time, and then we'll go off and play a show. This past month, we've played shows every weekend, and it’s just about trying to get some momentum going, and figure it all out. We’ve got one or two songs that we’re kicking around – and those will attract more, and it’ll just come together.
Have you found switching between Against Me! and The Devouring Mothers good for your creative mind?
I’ll tell you what, it’s exhausting! [Laughs] it has been inspiring, but damn, is it tiring! Like, that North American tour was seven weeks long and seven weeks in a band is just… It was really good, but it was really brutal. We came back from that and immediately had to go out and start doing the Against Me! stuff, and I had squeeze in my parenting schedule during the week as well, so it was just, like… It’s a lot of work! But I like being challenged like that – I like having to go, “Okay, I’ve got all these missions to accomplish! I need to do this!” It’s a good place to be.
When was the last time you got a full eight hours of sleep!?
I got a full eight hours last night – and the night before that! I’ve been really focussed on getting good sleep. But that just means that I go to bed stupid early; nine o’clock is a late night for me, now. But I’m okay with that! I’m all about going to sleep and getting up really early, and getting a lot done during the first half of the day. I’m very into that lifestyle.
Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers
Friday June 14th - Crowbar, Brisbane QLD
Saturday June 15th - Crowbar, Sydney NSW
Sunday June 16th - Hamilton Station Hotel, Newcastle NSW
Tuesday June 18th - The Basement, Canberra ACT
Friday June 21st - Enigma Bar, Perth WA
Saturday June 22nd - Northcote Social Club, Melbourne VIC
All dates co-headlining with Murder By Death.
Tickets on sale via oztix.com.au