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Lose Your Mind: Against Me! And The Road To '23 Live Sex Acts'

Friday, 04 September 2015 Written by Laura Johnson

When I was 21, I worked in a joke shop in one of Cardiff’s arcades. I was hungover and reliving the night before when Thrash Unreal began to bellow out of the shop’s stereo. The verse - “She’s going ‘til the house lights come up, or her stomach spills on to the floor.” - seemed to speak directly to me, and I was hooked. My mate told me I could have the CD as the band had “sold out” and “were shit now, anyway”. What the fuck did he know?

A couple of years went by, ‘White Crosses’ came and went and nothing new arrived. I despaired as the band seemed to fade. In 2012, though, Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender in an interview with Rolling Stone. Ever since, Against Me! have been in a perpetual state of motion.

‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ catapulted them into what seems to be a never dimming limelight, boasting some of their finest songs to date. Having seen them play club shows at home, concert halls in Europe and now the Main Stage at Reading Festival, it remains abundantly clear that Against Me! do not fuck around once plugged in.

They were determined not to waste any of their time on that gigantic stage, tearing through their set at Ramones pace and giving the crowd, who had managed to wake themselves from a three day hangover, their money’s worth. Their setlist for the day was career spanning and relentless.

Grace had little to say on stage, but sporting a vest emblazoned with the slogan ‘Gender is over’ and with her songs ringing out, what was left to add? Against Me! play shows, they play them hard and play them often. Another live album seems like an organic move for them to make at this stage and ‘23 Live Sex Acts’ captures every gritty, anthemic inch of the experience. We headed backstage at Reading to talk it through with Grace and sticksman Atom Willard.

Why did you decide to put out a live record?

Laura Jane Grace: There was a lot of reasoning. There was wanting to capture the band while we were on tour for ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ and have a snapshot of that period of time. There was a sense of wanting to give everyone in the band a sense of ownership of the older songs that they maybe didn’t play on with the studio recordings. Also, because the songs have evolved and changed so much, the way we play them, and wanting to capture that. The ultimate goal for most people with a live record, they tell you, is we want to capture what you do live and have it on a record, which I don’t ever think is truly attainable, but you get as close as you can.

Atom Willard: And we tried to stay true to that. We didn’t fix things, we didn’t go back and doctor it up. It’s a live show. So there are problems and issues.

Was it recorded at one show in particular or multiple?

LJG: We recorded like, 80 some odd shows.

AW: That’s eight zero!

LJG: We didn’t want the pressure of ‘you have to get it right tonight’, or whatever. And then once we were done recording, we went back and listened through all the shows and chose the one that was the best representation across the board.

Was it a bit like Sophie’s Choice deciding between all the songs?

LJG: A little less dramatic, but that’s a deep reference, I like that! It’s the setlist we were doing on the tour. Those songs are the songs the fans react to, so they’re the songs you end up playing in the show, so it’s the fans that are making the choice really. Those are the ones that they go off for, so those are the ones that are going on the record.

AW: One thing that was hard to choose was taking a group of songs put together from a certain night and going, ok this show had this element, it was technically perfect, but it was lacking some of this other thing that this has, so it was finding the happy medium. That we all felt comfortable enough with the musicianship and that we captured enough of that raw energy and things going off the rails.

What’s the plan for the new record? I hear you’re writing/recording this autumn?

LJG: I’m writing for the whole time that we’ve been touring the past two years, but we’re gonna start recording in October.

Do all your songs still start off being written on an acoustic guitar?

LJG: I still do that, starting off on an acoustic guitar and I always write words first. In general I feel a bit more limitless right now, if that makes sense. Fuck it, I can write about whatever I want, we can do whatever we want.

Is there more freedom in not having to veil as many references in your writing now?

LJG: Oh sure, just being able to be direct and not having something that you feel that you’re trying to express but having no other outlet to express it, is pretty freeing.

Do you have anything in mind for the subject matter of the new record?

LJG: I’ve never been the type of person that can say, ‘I want to write about this’ and then that happens. It’s just whatever I’m writing about is what I’m writing about and that’s what ends up being the songs.

Do you write collaboratively at all on the road?

LJG: I’ll come up with the structure of the song and the lyrics and I’ll bring it to soundcheck when we’re on the road and be like, ‘alright Adam, this is what I got!’, and then Adam will start playing something and Inge and James will come in and we’ll demo it.

You’re touring schedule is relentless. How long are you going to keep going? Break anytime soon?

LJG: End of September, end of September! That’s it, just until we get a new record out.

How do you cope with so much time on the road?

LJG: We’ve all lost our fucking minds.

AW: We find we do it at different times though. Everyone loses their own mind in their own way.

LJG: I lost Adam’s mind the other day.

AW: Which I was pissed about, I was like, ‘I trusted you!’.

We heard you don’t like to talk too much on stage. With playing a show on the main stage at Reading a certain amount of crowd interaction is expected. How did you find it?

LJG: Today I told people that one of the songs was about smoking whiskey and drinking cigarettes, so it didn’t go that well, but it was OK. It could have been worse. It just snaps you out of playing music and so much of playing music is muscle memory and not thinking about what you’re doing. Whereas talking you’re like, right, now I’ve got to think about what I’m about to say. But as long as it’s not rehearsed you know?

AW: Those are my favourite times. When you do interact with the crowd and something has prompted it. Like somebody has landed on the stage and they’re just laying there, so you’ll be like, ‘what’s up? Are you gonna get up? Or…?’, it becomes a thing. Or somebody’s busy texting and you call them out on it, ‘What you doing?’, ‘Oh I’m texting about the show’ and she’s like, ‘well let me read it!”’and we’ll kind of go back and forth like that. I feel like it’s so much better to have those whenever they happen, or if they don’t at all, fine. But don’t have something rehearsed and scripted, to say the same thing every night, it’s like, shoot me in the face!

Laura, you recently worked with Worriers on producing their album. Any other projects in the works?

LJG: I have a couple of other things that I’ll probably do in the next year production wise. I really like doing that. I like being outside of my own band element, so I can see it from a different point of view of how a band works. I feel it’s really helpful, like ‘ok don’t do that once I get back into my own band.’  I mean every band is the same in some respects. Everyone says stupid shit or is protective of their art or everyone goes crazy in the studio, but I love playing different angles in it.

'23 Live Sex Acts' is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings.

Against Me Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri September 25 2015 - SANTA ANA California - Observatory Santa Ana (USA)
Sat September 26 2015 - MESA Arizona - Nile Theater (USA)

Click here to compare & buy Against Me Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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