WATCH: Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! Performs in the PEOPLE Studio
Against Me! released Shape Shift with Me on Sept. 23, and Grace's autobiography Tranny will come out in November.
You’d be hard-pressed to name a more impactful figure in rock music right now than Laura Jane Grace. The Against Me! frontwoman doesn’t just helm one of the most adored rock bands to come roaring up from the underground in the past 10 years, but she’s also one of the most visible faces of transgender individuals. Grace publicly came out as transgender in 2012 and addressed the topic over the course of the albumTransgender Dysphoria Blues and her upcoming autobiography, Tranny: Confessions Of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout.
Against Me! released their seventh full-length studio album, Shape Shift with Me, on Sept. 16, and Grace stopped by the PEOPLE studio to perform some of the tracks (and one old-time Against Me! favorite) for us. (And you.)
“This is the weirdest gig I’ve ever played,” Grace said at one point in the studio, and it’s easy to see why she felt that way. Against Me! started as a folk-punk band, with Grace hollering over acoustic guitar and drums that were occasionally just buckets. Grace had dropped out of school at 17, and made ends meet by dumpster diving, selling plasma, and occasionally being homeless, at which point she wrote Against Me!’s most-played song, “Walking Is Still Honest.” (It contains profanity.)
Gradually, Against Me! coalesced around Grace, guitarist and vocalist James Bowman, bassist Dustin Firkin and drummer Warren Oakes. This lineup would record the group’s debut, Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose — a name that purportedly irked the Guns ‘N’ Roses frontman so much, he considered voodoo as a means of retaliation (at least according to an anecdote relayed by another musician in a documentary about Against Me!, We’re Never Going Home). Fridkin was replaced by Andrew Seward and the group signed to Fat Wreck Chords, releasing Against Me! as the Eternal Cowboy and 2005’s Searching for a Former Clarity, all the while maintaining a hectic touring pace.
2007’s New Wave contained the most direct lyrical reference to Grace’s gender dysphoria in a line from “The Ocean:” “If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman / My mother once told me she would have named me Laura.” The album was the band’s first taste of mainstream success, though internally, Grace’s personal struggle was consuming her. A solo EP, the birth of her daughter and the band’s most successful album, White Crosses, all occurred during the intervening five years before Grace publicly came out as transgender.
Since then, she’s become one of the most prominent figures of the transgender movement. 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues explored Grace’s feelings over the course of a full album and was one of the year’s most heralded records. Since then, the group has experienced some lineup shakeups, but they’ve returned with Shape Shift with Me, and the end of the year will see Grace’s autobiography released.
So when Grace says she never imagined being in a place like this, you can take her word for it.