For one hour and 48 minutes, Laura Jane Grace will take listeners on a journey with the new Audible project Black Me Out. This transgender musician covers a great deal of territory in the session, from humble beginnings to the success of the punk band Against Me! There are tracks from her catalog played throughout the episode to accompany the engaging and thought-provoking stories.
For more background on Grace, there is her memoir Tranny: Confession of Punk Rock's Infamous Anarchist Sellout. The book dictates her history and coming-out story that inspired further activism for the LGBTQ+ community.
In 2018, she released a record under the name Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers on the Chicago-based label Bloodshot Records. Her music continues to evolve, and she has an upcoming live concert just on the horizon.
Windy City Times: I saw you perform at Riot Fest a few years ago.
Laura Jane Grace: Yes; that was 2019, which feels like it could be 10 years ago or yesterday! [Laughs]
WCT: Against Me! was the talk of the festival that year.
LJG: That festival lineup was great, with Patti Smith and Bikini Kill. It doesn't get much better than that!
WCT: What brought you to the Audible project?
LJG: I was asked to participate. I was familiar with Audible, such as the Patti Smith episode, which we just mentioned. The Billie Joe Armstrong episode hit me really hard because my life has had several intersections with his after seeing his band, Green Day, at many shows over the years.
The recording is not foreign to what I do, where the music is half of it and the other half is words. The words I have been exploring in the past few years, with a memoir in 2016 and the True Trans series I did with AOL. I did a tour with the book that was similar to this format with storytelling in between playing songs.
The music part comes more naturally to me, but the words part I have had to work at harder over the years. When you are young, you can play like the Ramones with song after song, but when you are older, it is nice to have a breath in between and even make time to tune your guitar.
The appeal of doing it at a time like right now was there. I don't think it would have turned out the same if the circumstances had been different. Thinking about old times during a global pandemic gives it a completely different context.
WCT: What is your goal for Black Me Out?
LJG: I want people to listen to it and connect to the music and words. I hope listeners can identify in some way, even if it is not their experience. They may possibly feel less alone in the world.
It can be educational. It is sharing a different perspective that some might not understand. It might connect with some that do understand but have different circumstances.
That is all art is, right? It is throwing a line out and hoping someone grabs the other end, then it is like a giant game of telephone.
WCT: What are your current thoughts on the discrimination that trans people face in the world?
LJG: I get that I now have a huge amount of privilege with the platform and band for over 20 years, but at the same time I am a transgender person. Transgender people's place in society is still what it is. Just because there are certain advancements in media recognition or visibility, when it comes to real-world experience, the rights that transgender people are fighting for [make up] a need that still exists.
We have to make sure there is no discrimination in housing or healthcare within society. Being welcome in public spaces is a constant battle for transgender people. Those things exist. Again, I am very lucky to do what I do. I love playing in a band and traveling the world, but there is still much work that needs to be done.
WCT: What will it take to have more transgender singers played on major radio stations?
LJG: I have been lucky to have some real success at radio, but we had some pre-existing success too, prior to when I came out. Radio is crazy the way it works in the way it is controlled. The way radio is formatted needs to change in general for it to just survive.
There does need to be more diversity and inclusion. I am thankful this year that I was asked to join the Recording Academy. Becoming part of that process is seeing change happening. The Grammys are trying to get with the times. They are trying to advance and grow, but radio is still coming out of worlds that pay to play or have major labels getting played more than indies or trans and queer people simply being not played.
I am a strong believer that good songs rise to the top. If you are an artist that is trans or queer then just focus on writing the best songs that you can. Make the best art you can and I believe it will find an audience, radio involvement or not. If you can push things forward and go out there to make waves, with radio coming to you, as opposed to you coming to them, then that is the way to do it.
There are so many ways right now where the playing field is level. That is the beauty of social media and the Internet, you can get the gatekeepers out of the way and have a direct connection with your audience.
That is something that punk rock has taught me over the years. If no one will book you at a club, play on a street corner, play in a garage, play in a basement, play anywhere that will have you. Never judge an audience. If no one will put out a record for you, then put out a record yourself. Go out and do it. Don't take no for an answer if that is what you want to do.
WCT: That is very inspiring. Do you hear from many fans [who] are inspired by you?
LJG: My fans are so gracious and connected. It is amazing to have a community that I can see around the world, in non-COVID times. Even connected through social media, I hear stories all the time. I make myself accessible before and after shows.
I put myself out there and tell a story; then it comes back to me. It all echoes back to me in so many unexpected ways.
Black Me Out is out on audible.com/pd/Black-Me-Out-Audiobook/B09CWL3QTQ
Grace plays Sleeping Village, 3734 W. Belmont Avenue, on Thursday, Sept. 23. Tickets can be found at Sleeping-Village.com .