When drummer Atom Willard first joined the punk band Against Me! a couple of years ago, he started listening to the music on what would become 2014’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues
, an album about singer Laura Jane Grace’s decision to change her gender and start living as a woman, to see what drum parts he could play.
“I don’t always hear the lyrics first,” he admits via phone from a Pittsburgh tour stop. “I heard the vocal melodies and where the placement and cadence of the vocals are. I write my parts around that and try not to get in the way of anything that [Grace] sings.”
But when he did listen to the lyrics on the album, he was thrown for a loop. The grinding opening track, for example, sounds like a typical punk tune with its staccato drumbeats and parched vocals. But the lyrics such as “You want them to see you/Like they see every other girl./They just see a faggot” suggest the personal struggles that Grace experienced as she made a physical transformation.
“When I could concentrate and listen to the words, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” says Willard. “It’s like another layer of the song opened up to me. It’s a heavy thing to be involved with and part of. It’s also something that makes feel good because you’re supporting someone is being so forthcoming and honest. It’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ll back that any fucking time.’”
Willard says the band has probably lost some fans along the way. But he thinks Grace’s personal approach has actually won over additional fans.
“There were some people who are close-minded about things like that or couldn’t get their heads around what that might mean [that Grace was now a woman],” he says. “But a lot of times when they heard the new record, it still sounded like the band they know and love. If they’re not small minded assholes, they should be able to get there and figure it out. There’s a whole new crop of people who have come to love the band and identify with the band on a level they didn’t before. They’re going back in the catalog and they realize a lot of it speaks to them. It is about standing up for what you believe in and protest music as a whole. You win some; you lose some.”
It helps that the younger generation of music fans tend to be more open-minded to issues regarding sexuality and gender.
“Older people get stuck in their ways and it’s harder to open your minds,” says Willard. “There is the intelligent based side and then the trivial based side of our society. I like to think we’re talking to the side that has more going on in the thoughtful department.”
While a new studio album is only in its nascent stages, the band has a live album due out this fall. Recorded over last year’s world tour and helmed by Marc Jacob Hudson (Taking Back Sunday, Saves The Day, Worriers), 23 Live Sex Acts
features songs that span the band's entire catalog. It will be available in stores and online on September 4. Pre-order for the album is now live on Amazon and iTunes, where the live version of "True Trans Soul Rebel" that you find on the album is now available for download with purchase.
“The live album is the culmination of everything we learned and everything we figured out by playing the songs live and developing them,” says Willard, who also plays with San Diego rockers Rocket from the Crypt. “I’m really excited about it. It’s the first live record I’ve ever done in my years and years of recording. The live record is what it is. It’s us playing the shows. It’s very raw. I wanted something that was a true representation of what we do on stage, which is big energy and a passionate performance. I think it comes across pretty well.”
Against Me!, Frank Iero, Annie Girl and the Flight, 7 p.m. Sunday, June 26, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $20, houseofblues.com.