Music News & Reviews

Against Me! embraces lead singer’s transition

The title track of Against Me!’s sixth studio album, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” addresses a certain concern that fans of the politically charged band might have.

Its opening lines, belted by frontwoman Laura Jane Grace and set to potent percussion and driving guitars, show that her powerful vocals haven’t been altered by her gender transition.

“Your tells are so obvious,” she sings defiantly. “Shoulders too broad for a girl.”

“I love the way the album starts,” drummer Adam Willard, 40, said in a phone interview with The Bee. “It’s such an announcement of, ‘Here we are, here’s the new album.’ All of your questions are answered right there.”

Fans of the band, which formed in Gainesville, Fla., more than a decade ago, can anticipate a rousing performance Friday at midtown’s Ace of Spades.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a really high-energy fun night,” Willard said.

The quartet plan to bring punk-powered fan favorites such as “Teenage Anarchist” and “Don’t Lose Touch” as well as songs from their latest release, the first album recorded with Willard.

Willard, former drummer for Angels and Airwaves and Social Distortion, is now part of the band’s regular lineup. He joined Against Me! in December 2012 when the group came close to hitting the road for a tour of Australia without a drummer, he said. Willard had previously filled in for bands on tour such as the Offspring and Alkaline Trio.

Being a fan of Against Me! “made it easy,” he said. “There’s been times when I’ve done substitution things in the past, and I didn’t know anything about the group. This was really something so much more exciting for me because I got to play with a band that I actively listen to. They were a part of my day musically.”

Willard is the fifth drummer in a band that continues to evolve its sounds and message. “I’m just a part of the next step of the evolution,” he said.

Willard’s compatibility – both musically and personally – when touring led to Grace inviting him to record “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” in Los Angeles, he said.

Most of the album’s songs already were composed by Grace before Willard came along.

“Laura comes to the band with a very solid idea of what the verse and chorus should be,” Willard said. “We get the opportunity to form the song around that, with all that stuff already there. It’s nice to work with somebody who really knows what they want.”

Against Me! is recording a live record compiled from the best moments from this tour, Willard said. The goal is to release the album of more than 30 songs by the end of this year.

The group started in 1997 as a solo act featuring Grace (then known as Tom Gabel) and a guitar. A fully formed band pumped up that sound by 2001.

In 2012, Grace revealed that she had been living with gender dysphoria – or gender identity disorder – since she was a child.

She explores it in “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” an angry paean of self-discovery that reveals a shifting identity and ideology while confronting stereotypes, stigmas, shame and misogyny – even within punk culture.

Grace recently wrapped up filming a documentary series called “So Much More” by AOL, Willard said. The series shows Grace interviewing the band, Against Me! fans and others about gender issues.

“She was able to interview different people in different cities that have very interesting and touching stories to tell,” he said. ‘It’s a really great thing. Some of these stories are really inspiring and heart-wrenching to tell.”

The band has been embracing inquiries about Grace’s transition because it’s bringing awareness to the transgender and queer community, Willard said.

“Basically, whenever you release a record, you’re going to have a question that’s asked time and time again,” he said. “For me, if that group of questions is going to be about … (gender) dysphoria. It’s fine by me to talk about something that really needs to be talked about. It’s cool to be opening up this hole of information and knowledge that a lot of people haven’t been aware of.”

Willard is “really proud” that Against Me! has provided a voice in the punk scene for the transgender community, he said.

The drummer said being a part of Against Me! has given him “the golden ticket” to inspire others to live the life they want to live, like Grace is doing.

“To stand next to Laura on stage and support her in her journey and everything else, and have people be moved and motivated to make a change in their own life – it’s like I couldn’t be happier,“ he said.