Against Me! Today: "No Sugar Dust or Fancy Tricks"

Every half-decade or so, a band becomes the epicenter of a punk-gone-popular zeitgeist. The Clash became hybrid sonic legends underpinned by a political conscience, Nirvana delivered the sludge-core ennui of the Pacific Northwest to the masses, Green Day brought tightly coiled power-trio fare to FM-radio daylight of FM radio and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs made Williamsburg art-punk a common experience. Most recently, Florida's Against Me! sailed beyond Southern brethren like Hot Water Music and agitprop peers like Anti-Flag.

First, they combined stripped-down, raucous sea-chanty punk with narrative finesse, then honed a forceful, deeply accessible and smartly barbed musicality, like Cheap Trick bred from Marxism. Fans grew like mushrooms after a pounding rain.

Then the world turned upside down. After years of battling his own self, singer Thomas Gabel transformed into Laura Jane Grace. Against Me!'s newest effort, the concept album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, is an honest, bracing and invigorating exploration of gender identity, as well as the band's fiercest album in years. A few weeks earlier, Rocks Off caught up with drummer Atom Willard during their current tour.

Rocks Off: Atom, as a veteran drummer for alt-music acts from Rocket From the Crypt and Offspring to stints in Alkaline Trio and Social Distortion, what are the common threads of the music -- vision, style, craft? Atom Willard: Well as similar as everything is, it's all very different. Every band you mentioned has its very specific "comfort zone" and you have to live within that. But it's always fun to bring what I do to a new situation -- to see how my style can fit with what's there.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues features invigorating short, sharp and smart songs by the band. Do you feel it represents a return to punk roots? It's definitely a punk record -- in Laura's approach and the way we made it. It's raw and natural with no sugar dust or fancy tricks. Very real...

Interview continues on the next page.

Has Laura Jane Grace's transsexual transformation re-shaped your own sense of gender or the politics of personal freedom? It's been an education for me for sure; I've never worked with anyone who is openly trans before. But it's all been pretty uneventful, to be honest. I guess I'm more aware of things happening in the world that I maybe wasn't paying attention to before.

Do you feel Against Me! is a vital, vivacious punk band now simply led by a female, or a novel part of punk gender-bending [trend] from NY Dolls and Jayne County to the Toilet Boys? I don't really see the band as similar to those mentioned. I think having Laura as our singer adds another dimension to the band, but after all is said and done we are still just a punk rock and roll band who can play our instruments and have a lot of fun doing it.

As a person who began in the era of CDs, albums and cassettes and thrives in the era of Spotify and shared files, what's the direction of the music business? Well, if I could predict where the music industry is headed, I would be giving a lot of interviews while driving Ferraris into my swimming pool full of gold bars. BUT If I had to say anything, it's that as the popularity of music in general continues to rise, new ways for musicians to actually survive and continue making music will emerge.

Either in a shift from the populations thinking about how they get music -- free download vs. buying albums -- or from another altogether different side that maybe doesn't exist yet. I dunno...I just play the drums.

Against Me! performs with Laura Stevenson, Cheap Girls and Dead to the World Sunday, March 16 at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak; doors open at 7:30 p.m. Stay tuned to hear from Stevenson herself soon.


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