Against Me!'s Atom Willard on Laura Jane Grace's Gender Transition: "It's My Journey as Well"
In 2012, Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace took the world by storm when she publicly revealed herself to be transgender. Though had we been paying attention, we would have noticed the not-so-subtle cues in the band's lyrics, like these from "The Ocean": "If I could have chosen / I would have been born a woman / My mother once told me she would have named me Laura."
The past two years have been good for the band. Against Me! recently released its seventh studio album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which at times reads like Laura Jane Grace's diary. The songs are raw and have a strong sense of urgency, as the singer reveals her desires, fears, and secrets.
We recently caught up with Against Me!'s new drummer, Atom Willard, to discuss where the band is now and how Laura Jane Grace is doing.
Up on the Sun: You've been a touring member of quite a few bands. How did you get on board with Against Me!?
Atom Willard: Everything came about when they had a drummer emergency in January of 2013. They had a plan to tour Australia, and it was like "Oh shit, the drummer quit, would you do this, would you be available?" I was like, "Holy shit, I'm available for this month." I went to Florida and we practiced a few times in late December, and we went to Australia and played a bunch of shows and it went really well. We really hit it off and it seemed like an easy, natural fit. Laura asked me while I was there, "hey, would you be interested in recording a record with us," and I was like, "Yeah! That would be great." Right after that Australia trip, we took a little bit of time in Los Angeles, and just went in and did it. From there it was just like "Well shit, that went really, really well." I had a good time, I like these songs, I like these people, and I joined the band.
You've performed with a variety of bands. I'm sure they're all pretty different, but how is performing in Against Me! different than say, Rocket From the Crypt or The Offspring?
Those are two very different references. Rocket From the Crypt is a band I was in from the beginning, when I was, like, 18 years old. That was technically my band, and being in the Offspring, I was technically an employee. I played with and for them, but I wasn't a member of the band. Against Me! is much more like the Rocket situation. I'm here and able to contribute and be involved on all different levels of the band. That's a lot more appealing to me than working for the Offspring or Social Distortion, where it's fun and great to play that music, but you're not in the band.
When you recorded the new Against Me! album, was drumming on it more your creative vision, or did you follow the band's idea of what they were looking for with drums?
I definitely made my mark on that record. You can tell that it's me and it's my style of playing. There were a couple of things, in "Transgender Dysphoria Blues" for instance, where she's like I really want this kind of beat, and I'm like, okay. Kind of like this? She's like well, kind of like that, but more like this and she plays me this Crass song and it's like okay, and she definitely had something very specific in mind.
One of the things that made me feel so comfortable and confident in joining the band was the way that we worked together in the studio. She wasn't opposed to any new ideas or fresh ideas about things, and she also had a good idea of what she wanted. It's very hard to work with somebody that says "Well, I don't like what you're doing, but I can't tell you what I want." That doesn't get us any closer to a solution. So, it was nice to work with her in that way, because Laura has a very clear idea of what she likes and why she likes it, and that's the kind of thing that I can work with all day long. I don't care if the trumpet player has the best idea for a beat, as long as it's the best idea that we use.