RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The new album from punk band Against Me! is titled "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" - and that is not just a metaphor. It's the first album the band has released since lead singer Laura Jane Grace went public with her transition from man to woman. Now, instead of hinting at feelings of gender dysphoria in her lyrics, they're all right there, front and center:
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MARTIN: The band, Against Me!, has been around for more than 15 years, and built significant success on the back of those growling, assertive vocals, formerly attributed to Tom Gabel, now Laura Jane Grace. She and band mate James Bowman join me now from ETV Radio, our member station in Columbia, South Carolina. Laura and James, welcome to the program.
LAURA JANE GRACE: Thank you so much for having us.
JAMES BOWMAN: Yes, thank you.
MARTIN: Laura, I'd like to start with you. This has been a long time coming. What does it mean for you to be able to do your first album as a woman?
GRACE: It's freeing. It's liberating.
MARTIN: What about your persona? Because a lot of being the front person of a band, it's about you, this personality and what you project. That has changed.
GRACE: But that's where the disconnect was happening for me in a lot of way and where I was feeling a good majority of the dysphoria was being on stage. And being featured in magazines where, you know, rock and roll or punk rock, it's a boy's club in a lot of ways. And you're out there with your photo side by side with these other people that you're supposed to measure up to and didn't. I didn't feel that way. I wasn't one of those dudes or whatever I like. So, it was really felt more and more pressure to be someone I wasn't. and so to be able to be true to myself and authentic when I'm on stage, you know, I don't have to think. I can just be and exist.
MARTIN: So, James, what was it like for you and the rest of the band when Laura first sat down and kind of came clean about where she was and what she wanted and her transition?
BOWMAN: I remember I wasn't surprised or shocked, really. And I guess maybe I was just expecting it somehow, I don't know. But I remember the drive back. We were at the studio that we had in St. Augustine at the time. And I remember driving back and the car ride was really quiet. And I was just thinking. And it was actually just all the moments of, like, little snippets of lyrics and stuff like flashing back. And I was like, ah. It all kind of makes sense now.
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MARTIN: And what has been the reaction from your fans, James? How's the tour going so far?
BOWMAN: Yeah, everything's been great. Everyone's really supportive and crowd interaction and reaction has been really supportive and really overwhelming. It's been really great.
MARTIN: Were you surprised by that at all, Laura? Were you kind of girding yourself for a different response?
GRACE: I really didn't know what to expect, but the support I've received from people has been definitely overwhelming and humbling.
MARTIN: And these feelings that you were in the wrong body, this started a long time ago when you were very young, right?
GRACE: I vividly remember - I was probably about 4 years old and lived in Texas at the time - and there was a Madonna concert being broadcast on TV. And I just remember feeling self-recognition, you know, of, like, that's me and that's what I that's what I want to do. And, at the same time, realizing that there was a misalignment between, like, recognizing yourself in someone and realizing, like, but I'm a little boy. And there were just many moments like that, you know, throughout growing up. But immediately, when you have those feelings, you feel shame.
MARTIN: So, this goes on for years, you kind of pushing down these feelings and setting them aside. Ultimately, you met the woman who would become your wife, Heather, and you had a daughter. How has your transition affected your family life?
GRACE: Well, it's something that's in transition, too. It's scary. You know, I'm not going to lie, like, it's really frightening feeling like that there's so much uncertainty, and that you've made a decision, even though it wasn't really a decision, because it was something that was based on, like, either I'm going to kill myself or I need to address this. And I know that it's something that is going to potentially, like, destroy everything in my life in a lot of ways, and, like, that is going to cause a lot of uncertainty for things that I don't want to change.
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MARTIN: James, did you have any hesitations when Laura came to you and said, OK, I have an idea for our next album, it's going to be all about me and what's going on in my life?
BOWMAN: Egomaniac. No, not at all. I think, you know, there's a good story behind the record that is really important for people to hear.
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MARTIN: Has any of this changed the way you make music as a band at all?
GRACE: No. Not at all. You know, and that's something that I think is hard to stress to people too is that there's like, you know, there was the initial moment where, like, I came out to everyone in the band or whatever. But then it was like the next day there was, like, business as usual.
BOWMAN: Yeah. The only thing that changed, honestly, was pronouns. You know, that's it.
MARTIN: And performing is better for you then now?
GRACE: Of course, yeah. I mean, it's what it was when it started out as far as being a joyful experience and what I live for.
MARTIN: Laura Jane Grace and James Bowman from the Against Me! The band's new album is called "Transgender Dysphoria Blues." It is out Tuesday. And for a few more days, you can hear it at our website, npr.org. Laura and James, thanks so much for talking with us.
GRACE: Thank you so much for having us.
BOWMAN: Thank you.
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MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
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