Laura Jane Grace: “Sometimes punk is sh*tty, because there are sh*tty punks. But at its best, punk is rad people doing radical things”

To make her new solo album Hole In My Head, Laura Jane Grace upped sticks and found herself in St Louis, asking some very big questions. She reflects on shedding skin, moving forward, rediscovering the power of punk, and when Against Me! could possibly power up again…

Laura Jane Grace: “Sometimes punk is sh*tty, because there are sh*tty punks. But at its best, punk is rad people doing radical things”
Sam Coare
Bella Peterson

Laura Jane Grace has one simple piece of advice for anyone making an album now or in the future.

“If you have the chance to yell ‘Punk is dead!’ on a record, you absolutely need to take that chance,” she laughs. “I got that chance, and y’know what? I took it!”

Before we begin, an important clarification: Laura Jane Grace does not necessarily subscribe to the sentiment behind those three words that boom out across the closing seconds of Punk Rock In Basements, the fifth track from her new solo album Hole In My Head, which the amiable Against Me! frontwoman joins Kerrang! to chew over today.

“Maybe subconsciously I'm suggesting that it's time we open up that debate again and talk about whether or not punk is dead. Maybe we need to ask ourselves again whether punk is still relevant," she says. "To me, it's always been what you make of it. Sometimes punk is shitty, because sometimes there are shitty punks. At its best, punk is rad people doing radical things, and that’s when punk can become a revolutionary force. It's self-determined. It’s a Choose Your Own Punk Rock Adventure!”

Laura’s attitude towards the genre for which she has been one of the 21st century’s most prominent voices is perhaps the only thing in her life that hasn’t been spun on its head these past few years. She speaks to K! today from a sun-bathed room in her new Chicago home that one might describe as having a tastefully minimal decor, were it not for the fact it’s merely only half-moved into. It is in this city that late last year Laura proposed to her now-wife, comedian Paris Campbell, following a whirlwind romance. The pair married in December, and this past month squeezed in a honeymoon of sorts in Greece, where the happy couple fit trips to the Acropolis and Parthenon around Laura’s live commitments in Athens.

It’s to the Windy City – the home of her daughter, Evelyn, whom Laura shares custody of with her previous partner – that she has returned following a dalliance with St Louis, three hours south, having endured a “pandemic freakout” that would eventually lead to the birthing of Hole In My Head in Missouri. Shorn of the touring life to which she’d become conditioned, she began asking big questions of herself.

“I went through the same period of wondering, ‘Who am I now?’ and, ‘How does this world work for me now?’ that I think everyone did,” Laura explains. “I found a building that was just sitting empty, and it was a studio that had recording history, and took a chance on it.

"St Louis is kind of a fucked-up place," she continues. "It’s a dangerous city, but I think that there's something really special about the city too. I ended up really connecting with a community of musicians and the art scene there. I was definitely out of my element, and maybe even a little scared, but I did what I’ve always done in life, and I wrote my way through it.”

Laura unsurprisingly labels Hole In My Head as “a document of a time and place”. Its songs were largely penned over that confusing period of time and honed as live works-in-progress during post-lockdown solo tours, before tracks were committed to tape at the top end of 2023. For all the confidence heard in a raw, back-to-basics sound (bassist Matt Patton stands as the record’s only outside contributor), lyrically it is awash with unanswered questions and naked insecurity.

Is this ship coming in? / Or is it slowly sailing away?’ asks Keep Your Wheels Straight. Cuffing Season, which yearns for the kind of love Laura would soon find, is a song about “being at a place where you're ready for vulnerability and honesty and openness”. ‘I wanna let myself feel the whole of you and maybe you’ll let yourself feel it too.’

But it is a record coloured with hope for the possibilities of the future, too. ‘I’m standing at the centre of the universe screaming at God / I’m not done,’ she bellows on acoustic closer Give Up The Ghost. The aforementioned Punk Rock In Basements, written following a time of shuttered concert venues, wistfully celebrates the power of live show communities and how, ‘The music gave us freedom / It was a reason to believe in.’

“It's strange [to reflect on the record now], because my life is in a very different place,” Laura says. “But it's reassuring when life lines up in a natural-shedding type of way. Now that these songs are coming out, I am moving on to what’s next, like I am in life. The future can then get your full focus. The timing makes me feel like I’m on the right path.”

For that path to once again involve Against Me! Is something Laura is clearly hopeful for, too. January saw the 10-year anniversary of Transgender Dysphoria Blues – “a record that fucking saved me”, she says, following “the hardest year of my life” dealing with her gender transition – and she acknowledges regrets over such an important landmark arriving at a time of confusion around the band. It’s been four years since the group Laura formed at the age of 17 in Florida were seen onstage, after all, and approaching double that since they were heard on record.

“We didn't break up, you know,” she stresses. “There was no, ‘Fuck you, let's never talk again.’ If I had to put a name to what happened, it would just be reaching the point of burnout after 25 years. The world stops and that brings everything to a stop.

“I want to leave it open to be able to do it again when it feels good to do it again. But I'm not the only person in the band, and it's hard to be the spokesperson for that sometimes, because I'm totally willing and I want it. I'm not up there onstage by myself because I'm choosing to be, you know – I wish there were people up there with me playing. But that's the circumstances. I'm not going to stay at home and not play because no-one wants to play with me.”

She smiles a knowing smile. “I'm gonna talk to everyone else as to where their heads are at and when they want to do it again. Whenever that happens, I'll definitely be there.”

Until then, Laura will continue to do what she’s always done: write another chapter in her Choose Your Own Punk Rock Adventure.

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