Laura Jane Grace isn’t sure how she and her bandmates made it to the roof of The Phoenix Theater after Against Me!’s set back in 2014. She doesn’t remember if someone let them up or if they found their own way to the top of the second-story building, but it’s a vivid flashback of a town she fondly describes as picturesque.
“It was a cool memory of hanging with friends,” Grace said over the phone from her home in Chicago. It’s been four years since Against Me! played in the North Bay to celebrate the release of “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” the first album for Grace (born Thomas James Gabel), as the band’s frontwoman.
A lot has changed for Grace since Against Me!’s inception more than 20 years ago, yet one thing has stayed the same throughout the years— Laura Jane Grace takes risks and inspires others to do the same, even if she doesn’t mean to.
Now they’re back for another show in Petaluma, this time at the Mystic Theatre, with an album titled “Shape Shift With Me,” published on the band’s own record label, Total Treble Music. Against Me! has built enough punk-rock credit to erupt mosh-pits yet still pen and croon lyrics profound enough to bring listeners to tears.
For Grace, writing has been not only a creative outlet, but a way to deal with challenges she faces even when they’ve been difficult to share.
“My band has a definitive ‘before and after’ line drawn in the history of it, ” Grace said. “For half the time I was in this band, I wasn’t open with people about the fact that I was trans.”
Her method of candor led to little snippets of frustration with gender dysphoria (defined as a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which they identify) that bled through lyric booklets and were shared long before she released a bold memoir titled “Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout,” in 2016.
Testaments to self-reflective writing are easy to spot now, looking back on earlier songs like “The Ocean” on 2007’s “New Wave,” where Grace shared the origin of her name.
“If I could have chosen I would have been born a woman / My mother once told me she would have named me Laura / I would grow up to be strong and beautiful like her.”
The singer recognized that the best lyrics can be terrifying to share at first, but for her, it’s been important to write for herself, not an audience.
“With some of the lyrics in that song, there is no metaphor. It’s blunt, straight up, this is how I feel,” she said.
“I don’t want to change anything about those songs or those moments because I feel like you’ll ruin the next moment and it won’t come to you if you betray that moment. You gotta stick with it but, you know, that’s art.”
Over the past few years, Grace has become a role model for many, with message boards and webpages full of praises but it’s not a part she necessarily feels comfortable in.