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Alexa Viscious Laura Jane Grace
In the latest installment of the Audible Original Words + Music special, Laura Jane Grace gets up close and personal wit as she shares tales of growing up in a military family, being a young punk in South Florida, rising to fame with her band Against Me!, struggling with gender dysphoria and addiction, being a public figure during her transition and surviving as an artist in the 21st century.
These intimate and beautiful stories are paired with re-recorded songs spanning the whole library of Laura and Against Me!'s library and are a perfect accompaniment to the spoken word on Black Me Out. In between a few of her current shows, including a performance at the infamous Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia, we caught up with Laura, 40, to chat about her new project.
PEOPLE: How did you get involved with Audible and the Words + Music specials?
LJG: They asked me to be a part of it and I'll be honest, I wasn't familiar with the words and music series, but they pointed me in the direction of a couple of episodes. I went and listened to the Billie Joe Armstrong one, the Patti Smith, that Yo-Yo Ma one, and then saw who else they were doing stories with. There's this Sleater Kinney one that's cool.
The Billie Joe Armstrong, one in particular, just resonated with me deeply in ways where I felt like I could have actually even done a companion piece to it to show the parallels where my life intersected with his. They were my first show ever — Green Day. Seeing that, the approach to that and understanding the way they did it, I was like, oh, this is really cool. I want to try it.
PEOPLE: What went into your editing process of what stories to tell and what to really push out there?
LJG: I always have that same problem of 'I have too much.' The words part of my episode was taken out of eight-plus hours of interviews with my friend Brenna from Rolling Stone. Really this is like a two-hour episode with music in it. There was just so much that was left out. Honestly, for the editing process, I can give some opinions and I can give some guidance, but I get a little lost in the woods because it's hard for me to know which of my darlings to kill, per se.
I'm like, oh, every detail is just as important and integral to the story. It helps to have someone else be like, we'll focus here, we'll focus this, or save that for another time. It was really cool approaching the song aspect of it and just thinking about what would be worthwhile to explore doing a different version of now and, and just to mess around with. That was fun and it felt good.
PEOPLE: With all of that content, how do you manage the recall? Do you journal a lot?
LJG: I do journal extensively. I released a memoir in 2016 that drew extensively from journals, but then burned my journals immediately after finishing the memoir, but then kept on journaling. In a way, I wanted this thing to be almost like a final word on that chapter. Even the original title of it — it ended up being Black Me Out — but I wanted it to be 'The Last Interview' or something grandiose like that. Just because in ways, it is healthy to go back and remember the past and to talk about it and to digest it and to examine it.
But then there does have to be a time where you're like, okay, I'm done with this. I'm ready to move on. I'm wanting to say everything I got to say right now and then that's it. In ways, this felt like that, just in the way even the world's lining up — there's a natural now, there's a before time and then there's going to be an after time — hopefully, sooner rather than later with the pandemic. To do this specifically, even during a pandemic hit harder than other times.
Everyone's already experiencing that kind of exile and that isolation and introspection because you don't have a choice, but to think back on the past, because the future is at a standstill in ways. That was an interesting experience in that way and shaped it.
PEOPLE: In Black Me Out, you speak about moments as an early musician wanting to change the world and your message really having an impact. Do you think this kind of storytelling is a good vehicle for that kind of message?
LJG: I believe so. Yes. That's what's amazing about storytelling in general or what books do for me or songwriters too, or is looking at my heroes or people who came before me and relating to them by the stories they've shared. That pushes you forward because it affirms you when you identify with certain things or you realize, oh, this struggle is not necessarily unique to me. Someone else has done it before, even if it's different circumstances or even if there's a gulf of time, like a hundred years difference even.
To relate in those ways where it's much more personal than someone directly talking to you. You're digesting in your own space. No matter who you are if you share your story, it resonates and echos in ways that you can't imagine.
Derek Call Laura Jane Grace
PEOPLE: So over the last 20 years of the Against Me! career, were you aware of the impact you were having on your fans and the community?
LJG: No, because those are things that you really have to have demonstrated and to learn over time. That's something that when you're starting out, and coming from where we came from in South Florida, no real scene that we were fostered in.
We kind of had to invent it ourselves. Coming from the DIY punk scene where you start booking your own tours and no one's going to put out records for you so you put out your own records. You're proud of it at the time and you believe in it at the time, but also, there's the part of you that feels like, oh, this isn't going anywhere.
We just spent a year working on a demo tape and no one really cares. Then you flash forward 20 years later and you're like, whoa, that demo tape I recorded when I was 18 years old sells for like $2,000 on eBay. Who would have imagined that? Looking back then, you couldn't have even foretold that future would come from it. You have to have faith in that way of you put yourself out there and as long as it's with the best intentions and no harm intended it'll come back to you in really great ways. I think back to those first tours and the unexpected meetups or friendships that were made. I never thought that they would be things that would echo for 20 plus years, but they have been.
PEOPLE: You also talked a lot about getting to meet some of your heroes and different people along your path. Is there anyone that you haven't had a chance to meet in real life?
LJG: Aside from those heroes that have sadly passed on, there are two that automatically come to mind because they had mythological impressions on me when I was a kid. The first would be Madonna — some of my first musical memories totally associated with Madonna. The second would be Axl Rose. The first Against Me! record is called Reinventing Axl Rose. When I was 8 years old, Guns N' Roses was my favorite band in the world — I was just so sold on them. I've crossed paths inadvertently with Slash and Duff and Matt Sorum but never had any kind of interaction with Axl — I don't know what I would do. I don't even know if I want it to happen but that's the answer, like it or not.
Black Me Out is out Thursday on the Audible Originals Words + Music site.