Laura Jane Grace | Behind The Lyrics

A musical force in the punk rock scene and beyond for almost three decades, Laura Jane Grace has long utilised music as a poignant means to delve into the complexities of humanity, authority, politics, and growth.

Photo: Bella Peterson

From her early days as the fervent, political leader of Against Me! to the raw, introspective musings of her solo work, she has stood as a passionate figure whose songwriting transcends the ordinary, maintaining an unwavering commitment to open and honest lyricism. Steeped in a uniquely personal perspective on the world, she has consistently crafted narratives that resonate with fans from all walks of life, encouraging rebellion, reflection, and perhaps most importantly – acceptance.

With a unique ability to weave together the fabric of her life, growth, and change through song, Laura Jane Grace’s artistic evolution has seen her wield songwriting as a powerful tool for connection and understanding. Always evolving yet remaining staunchly authentic, the punk rock icon’s latest album ‘Hole In My Head’ serves as the latest chapter in her sonic story, delivering a series of deep, thoughtful reflections on the life of a punk rocker.

A compelling and resonant songwriter with a penchant for unfiltered storytelling, as the release of her twelfth studio album looms, Laura Jane Grace talks Rock Sound through ten lyrics that have outlined her musical journey.

“We don’t stop until we are the people that we decided we should be // I wanna be the shot heard round the world // Fucking unstoppable”, ‘Untitled (Armageddon)’ – ‘The Acoustic EP’ (2001)

“That lyric is very much youthful idealism. I was either 19 or 20 years old when I wrote that song, and that was a strange age to be living in Gainesville, Florida. I wasn’t in college, but everyone else was in college. You could clearly see the paths available to you, and you could either go down the path of higher education, or you could become another drunk at the bar and do nothing with your life. Obviously, there were a variety of things in between though, and for me the alternative was music. That’s where I had my sights set, but at the time, I was working as an auto mechanic, and I was freshly married. I was very intimidated by the world, and I saw the flaws in my friends and I… but I also saw the beauty.”

“And everyone would leave with the memory // That there was no place else in the world // And this is where they always belonged”, ‘Reinventing Axl Rose’ – ‘Reinventing Axl Rose’ (2002)

“This mentality was one of the things that sustained Against Me! early on in our career. Even though there weren’t huge crowds of people at our shows, we wanted it to feel like that performance was the most important thing happening that night in your city, your state, and even the fucking world. Maybe it was just young egotism, but that was the approach that we took. Looking back, I still think it was the correct approach. It’s important to know that even when there was no one there, we were still giving it our all. It’s a great example of conscious living.”

“Do you remember when you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire?”, ‘I Was A Teenage Anarchist’ – ‘White Crosses’ (2010)

“I do videos on the app Cameo, and people will oftentimes write in requesting a birthday message. Sometimes people will be turning 40, and I always reflect on that because I felt younger turning 40 than I did turning 30. Turning 30 hit me hard, and I felt fucking old. It felt ridiculous to still be in a punk band, because in my mind I thought that I should be an adult and start my real life. That’s absurd because I never had any intention of doing anything except make music, but that’s how I felt. When I wrote this song, I was going through a hard time. The band had a lawsuit pending against us, and we were lost in the major label world where everyone was calling us sell-outs. On the one hand, I knew exactly what my roots were, and I knew exactly where I came from, but everyone was calling it into question. It was a point of self-examination because I had to ask if I did remember why I started doing this.”

“All dressed up and nowhere to go // Walkin’ the streets all alone”, ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’ – ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ (2014)

“That lyric is about the direct experience I had of being closeted, and I lived such a compartmentalised life for a long time. I was married and I had a band, but I would disappear to hotel rooms and express myself in feminine ways. I was going to these hotel rooms, and getting all dressed up, but I had nowhere to go. I wasn’t out then, and I wasn’t open, and I wasn’t being honest with the world.”

“Learn to trust yourself // No one else matters // Respect the source // And always welcome failure”, ‘China Beach’ – ‘Bought To Rot’ (2018)

“Ironically enough, this line is made up of quotes gleaned from Neil Young and Eminem. They’re talking about flow, how to be in the flow state, and how to write, and I just combined them together. Sometimes when you don’t know what to write, you write about not knowing what to write, how you should write, or the idealism of writing. That’s what I was doing with that song when it started, and it evolved into something else. Funnily enough, the “Don’t breathe // Don’t swallow” lyric of the chorus is also stolen from an MRI machine. That’s the warning that an MRI machine delivers to you as it’s swirling around you.”

“Throw me out like trash when it’s over // Chew me up and spit me out dry”, ‘Mountain Song’ – ‘Stay Alive’ (2020)

“This line is essentially a descriptor of the way you feel at the end of a relationship. I’ve been there, and it feels like you’ve been chewed up and spat out. The imagery of drying out is especially important because it’s a song about sobering up and quitting drinking. You come out of the other end of two decades of hard drinking and have to sort your life out. That makes you feel very chewed up.”

“Doеs a mirror have two sides? // Are you waking up in your rеal life // Too much fun to have in this life // Will you find me on the other side?” ‘Lolo 13’ – ‘At War With The Silverfish EP’ (2021)

“It sounds so pretentious, but I literally wrote this song in a dream. I dreamed of the lyrics, woke up, and wrote them down. When I woke up and began writing, I was trying to stay true to the dream. I was reading a lot about lucid dreaming, and I was trying to learn how to be aware of my dreams and have control of them to some extent. I was fascinated by the idea that maybe you can have real interactions with people on the astral plane, and the possibility that it’s not just fantasy.”

“You can try to outrun // All the pain you come from // That would be a real mistake // You could learn to feel less // That would be a real bore // Baby, dream your dream”, ‘Hole In My Head’ – ‘Hole In My Head’ (2024)

“Sometimes I feel too much, and the way that I express my feelings often turns people away from me. I feel like sometimes it’s too much, but you can compromise yourself and try to change to fit other people, or you can just be yourself. I am at a point in my life where I just have to be myself unapologetically. I have to accept that there are some things about me that not everyone will like, but they’re a part of me. It’s always more important to be true to myself than to compromise myself for the sake of others.”

“I think I got this whole city wrong // Any redemption for a stupid old punk? // You can run from where you’re going but not who you love”, ‘I’m Not A Cop’ – ‘Hole In My Head’ (2024)

“On the album ‘Bought To Rot’, I have a song called ‘I Hate Chicago’. This line is a specific acquiesce to the fact that maybe I don’t hate Chicago. It’s an acknowledgement that Chicago is an okay place, and maybe I was just spouting off at the mouth a little bit with that song. I think I got the whole city wrong, and I hope to redeem myself for having some dumb song about hating Chicago. Hating Chicago is a Chicago thing though. One of my favourite authors of all-time is Nelson Algren, who wrote ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’ and ‘Walk On The Wild Side’. He was the quintessential Chicago writer and has nothing nice to say about it. He talks endless shit about Chicago, and his version of Chicago is the Chicago I truly love and romanticise. You can buck against what you love and try to run away from it, but it’ll always bring you back.” 

“I’m standing at the centre of the universe screaming at god // I’m not done”, ‘Give Up The Ghost’ – ‘Hole In My Head’ (2024)

“I played two shows in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the beginning of 2022. One was at the Woody Guthrie Center, and one was at a cool dive bar called the Mercury Lounge. We were staying at a hotel downtown, and there’s this natural phenomenon there which you can look up on Atlas Obscura. It’s called the centre of the universe, and it’s basically just a concrete footpath over a train railway. Given the way that they built it though, if you stand in the centre of it and yell, all the sound reverberates back to you. Only you can hear it when you’re standing in this very sweet spot. It wasn’t built like that on purpose, and the phenomenon is a complete accident, but now it’s a tourist attraction. After one of those shows, I went there late at night. I was standing there in the centre of the universe yelling my head off and screaming out to the universe. I was angry at some things and going through some emotions, but it was a profound experience.”

Laura Jane Grace’s new album ‘Hole In My Head’ is out on February 16.

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