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Laura Jane Grace

Against Me!

“I love guitar playing. It's a passion for me....It's one of the few things I've been sure of in my entire life....It's the one thing consistently throughout my life that I've strived to get better at and...always felt challenged and engaged in.” Watch Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! dive into her early musical influences, her creative process, and why she’s played Ernie Ball strings since she was 12.

Transcript

Laura Grace:
I love guitar playing. It's a passion for me. I know that sounds way, maybe cliche, but it's one of the few things I've been sure of in my entire life. I knew just at the youngest age where it was like, that I want to do that. And it's the one thing, consistently, throughout my life that I've strived to get better at and have never fully felt complacent or always felt challenged and engaged in.

Laura Grace:
I have trouble sometimes understanding exactly what my parents' relationship to music was. Neither of them played anything or we're fanatical about a particular band or anything like that, but at the same time, they listened to music. And I really remember early on experiences with my dad's high fi. He had Marantz, reel to reel A track, cool set up. And I remember putting on headphones for the first time and realizing that it took you to a different place, especially when the headphones are on versus just listening on the speakers.

Laura Grace:
But my parents' influences were strange, and my dad liked The Beach Boys and Willie Nelson and a lot of what was then, in the early eighties, modern country music. And my mother liked The Supremes and Tracy Chapman. I remember she listened the hell out of that first Tracy Chapman record. So, it was always weird, just like, "Okay, my mom likes Gloria Estefan right now, so I'm hearing a lot of that." But I loved music, and there was never an initial that guitar player did it for me type of thing. But I stumbled into my own tastes just by looking at the covers records and being like, "Well, that one looks cool, so I'm going to listen to Def Leppard."

Laura Grace:
I remember really vividly being on the phone with one of my first bandmates, and I had gotten my first electric guitar. And it was a Traveling Wilburys model, electric guitar, and I was strumming it and they were like, "What chord is that?" And I was like, "Oh, it's just like, not even pressing it." It's just out of tune when it's whenever it's doing, is what it's doing. And I was like, "I have to learn fucking chords." And that was a lot of, it was classical guitar and those other styles of guitar, it wasn't chords, and I wanted to learn chords. So, once you learn a bar chord, you're just like, "The world is your fucking oyster." You can do anything with fucking bar chord.

Laura Grace:
The first band that I was in, we did Nirvana covers. My first three gigs were talent shows at my church. Right? The first one was, this is so fucking embarrassing, the first one was we did an a capella version of Bohemian Rhapsody, me and my cousin and all my church buddies. And then, the second one was fucking John Lennon's Imagine, and we all sat down for that and we were very serious. And then the third one, and I had gotten a Squier Telecaster by the third one, we played Heart-Shaped Box. And then, the church people were like, "You can't play in our talent show anymore." But we had, I don't know, we were off on our own then. Yeah.

Laura Grace:
I've always been really agenda-focused and knew that was an integral part of it from early on. Even before learning how to play, I would write my made up band names on my jean jacket, and people would be like, "Who are The Black Shadows?" It's like, "That's my band." "Who's in your band?" "No one. I don't know how to play the guitar." I remember the first real band that I had going, there was a band show in Naples, Florida that we discovered the electrical outlets were on, so we just went and fucking set up in this band show that was meant for outdoor concert festivals. So, we were immediately set up on a stage playing, and we knew one or two Nirvana and Pearl Jam covers and we'd jam on those.

Laura Grace:
And I remember second or third practice being like, "We need our own song. What do we write a song about?" And there was a little girl playing, she was at the park, and we were like, "What should we write a song about?" And she was like, "The Little Mermaid." So, we wrote a song about Ariel, the Little Mermaid, although it never mentions mermaids in the song, but it was, I don't know, I fucking still remember it. But I'm not doing it. But yeah, it was immediately I was like, "We need our own songs. We've got to do it." And we never played that song live or anything like that, but I knew it was important.

Laura Grace:
I was probably about 12 or 13 years old was when I first started playing Ernie Ball strings. And that was when I got my first real electric guitar and when I first discovered where the real music store was in the city I lived in. I remember being in the store and seeing all the strings, and because that's a daunting thing the first time you're like getting strings and you're like, "I don't fucking know what brand or what gauge or anything like that." But it's that, for me, it's always been that neon green fucking packaging, and the lists of the bands on it where I remember being like, "Well, these are the real strings. These are what you want to play." Even if sometimes I didn't have the money, where I'd have to get the really shitty strings or whatever just because, I always just knew that that's what I want to play. If I have an important show coming up and I got the cash to put a fresh set of strings on my guitar before the show, that's what I want to get, is Ernie Balls. If we're going into the studio to record, that's what we should put on our guitars before we start recording, early, early on. That was 100%. It was just there. I don't know.

Laura Grace:
There's two distinct facets to being in a band, as far as like you're on tour, and there's being on tour and the things that are fulfilling in a day when you're on tour. And then, there's the days when you're in a studio and you're working on writing a record or stuff like that and what's fulfilling in that context. On tour it's the show. When you're done or at the best part of the show, whatever the climax is, and you're like, "Fuck yeah, we're doing it." That was the point of the day. That's why you're there. That's what's so engaging about being on tour and what's addicting about it is that you have that purpose. This is our mission. We have to get to this place, we have to set up, we have to play the show, we've got to fucking rock it. Now, we've got to go on to the next place.

Laura Grace:
And when you do it, you're accomplished. Even if it was a shitty show, you accomplished it. You did the thing. For the songwriting part, it's just that. It's like, even before it's a finished song, even if it's just a demo, that I realize like, "Oh, that's going to work. That's a song, and it's fucking good." Like, "This is fun to play. This is fun to sing." And it's there. It's just a feeling that you can't describe in any other way. It's just either there or it's not. Sometimes that's really easy to get to, but sometimes it's so fucking hard. But for that split second when you do it, you're golden, and then two seconds later, you're back to like, "I'll never write again." I'm fucking like, "I don't know how to write a song. Fuck it. I don't have any talent." But it's just that window where you're like, "Yeah."

Laura Grace:
Live, I get being in the moment, and by no means, do I do flawless technical performances live. But that's the difference, but in the studio, I strive for that. I strive to have correct hand positionings. Tuning, for me, is holiness. I want it to be in tune, and fucking thank you Ernie Ball. Ernie Ball strings are in tune. That matters.

Laura Grace:
Coming from the DIY scene and stuff like that, there was that punk rock guilt, and that was separate from being a musician, is being punk and being a musician. I was a musician before I got into punk. I had the desire to play guitar before I knew what punk rock was. And getting to that point where you're like, "Well, this is always what I actually wanted to do. I don't feel like I'm selling out or doing anything against my morals or ethics. This is what I've wanted to do and it seems like it's happening. This is pretty cool. I wish other people didn't hate me for it." That was a struggle. And sticking with Fat Records the first time, it was like, "Let's stay in."

Laura Grace:
Right? Like, "Yeah, fuck that. Fuck contracts and all that stuff." So, we stuck with an indie for no contract, and we made a record and they didn't like it. And they were like, "Change the cover. Make the band name bigger on the cover." Like, "Your track, this thing sucks." And you realize like, "Okay, well, we don't have a contract with them, they're our friends." But if you're working with other people, inevitably they're going to have opinions, and unless you're an asshole, maybe you should take other people's opinions into consideration. And with that being said, it's like, "Well, what's the difference then?" Maybe it's actually nicer to have a contract that guarantees you artistic freedom. It says you can do whatever you want as opposed to having no contract where your friends are like, "Yeah, you can do whatever you want except change that." Then it was like, "Okay, well what's the fucking difference?" And just realizing it was all full of shit in that way. Whatever. It's growing up.

Laura Grace:
I guess what keeps me interested is that I think there's still songs to be written. When I hear a really good song, I'm like, "Damn, that's a really good song. Damn, I wish I would have written that song. I wish I would've come up with whatever that trick is that they did." And so, there's that drive to, not one up it, but it's a healthy competitive thing of, I want to play too. I want to show you an awesome thing as well where I don't think that the possibilities have run out, so that keeps me engaged in that way and of challenging yourself too because I'm not an artist who's ever had a number one hit. My career is not based on stuff like that, so there's that drive to keep pushing yourself to keep reaching more people with your music and keep growing that.

Laura Grace:
Part of the longterm vision of knowing` this is what I'm always going to do, knowing really young, "I want to play guitar. I'm going to play guitar. I'm going to start a band. I'm going to be in bands." I dropped out of high school when I was 16 years old because I knew this is what I want to do. The path to how to make that happen was tricky along the way, figuring out when you started playing people of like, "Okay, who's actually committed to doing this" or whatever. And my attitude was always like, "Oh, to survive, you need flexibility." And playing in punk bands and then starting against me, in particular, was in reaction to feeling like, "Okay, I'm doing all these things and these bands aren't going anywhere and no one has this real..." You just need a savage, "I'm going to take over the world" attitude, especially when you're starting out.

Laura Grace:
I remember it was our fourth tour, we came back, and I was like, "Holy shit, we've got a grand. We can split this up five ways. Because there was the fifth person that came with us, and we can each pay rent. Because our rent was like 150, $200 a month, and that was a revelation. And we were only selling seven inches and a T-shirt for $8 a pop. And then, we started working with Fat Records on our second record. We ended up getting a booking agent, and then it was all of a sudden fucking major labels came after us. And we went through this ridiculous round of getting courted by major labels back in 2003 and turned them all down, stayed with Fat Records, did another record, changed our minds, signed with a major label, took a lot of flack from people for that. It was all right. Learned a lot of things from it.

Laura Grace:
Came out the other end okay. Still a band. But I've always had that attitude of there is going to be highs, there's going to be lows. If you want to survive, people are going to come, people are going to go. You have to have a flexibility there, and you have to know what you want out of it, what you get out of it. What you're getting out of it can't be solely dependent on other people, and I've just been always singularly focused in that way. And I love doing what I do. I love traveling. I love playing music in front of people. I love the solitary act of coming to a room, to this room, and sitting here and just coming up with a song just out of nowhere, just creating something. It's fucking great.

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