So, How Was Your Decade is a series in which the decade’s most innovative musicians answer our questionnaire about the music, culture and memorable moments that shaped their decade. We’ll be rolling these pieces out throughout December.
Laura Jane Grace is parked outside her daughter’s school after a parent-teacher meeting when Rolling Stone calls to talk about her decade. She’s just announced a 2020 tour and teased a new Against Me! album and she’s hopped up on enthusiasm, coffee and hope for the future of her band — although she admits that releasing a new album during an election year is going to be a challenge.
It’s been a bittersweet decade for Grace. The longstanding frontwoman of Naples, Florida, punk band Against Me!, Grace came out as transgender in 2012 and began an artistic renaissance in subsequent years. In 2014, Against Me! released the stellar Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and Grace served as the Music Director of MTV’s Rebel Music series focusing on global social change alongside releasing a 10-episode, Emmy-nominated docuseries on AOL called True Trans With Laura Jane Grace.
Over the next five years, Grace dropped an autobiography, 2016’s Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, another incredible Against Me! album (2016’s Shape Shift With Me), a new project (The Devouring Mothers), and had her share of adventures with the likes of Miley Cyrus and Rivers Cuomo. All this while fighting to become a healthier version of herself — and to get through six seasons of teen drama The 100 with her 10-year-old daughter.
Heading into a new decade in the midst of impeachment hearings and a looming presidential election, Grace reflects on the last 10 years.
My favorite album of the 2010s was: I have to go with Blackstar, David Bowie’s final album. Maybe saying “favorite” is wrong, but I feel like it’s the most important album of the decade — right in the middle of the decade, too, so a good amount of perspective. It’s so unique being able to see the arc of a career in that way and where a career ends and the sheer brilliance of the album — knowing that you’re dying and working on an album and wrapping things up is incredible.
Then there’s the Rapture’s In the Grace of Your Love, [an] album I was listening to at the beginning of the decade that I still regularly listen to.
My favorite song of the 2010s was: Prince’s “Screwdriver.” It’s a perfect rock & roll gem that, had it been released in the Eighties, would have most assuredly been a huge hit. So impressive to me as a song on one of his final releases. As if he hadn’t already exuded enough greatness, he just shakes that song out of a sleeve and makes it all seem effortless.
The artist who had the best decade was: Mitski. How incredible is it to basically become [a star] in a decade and retire, pretty much, in a decade? That’s some fucking boss shit right there.
The craziest thing that happened to me in the 2010s was: Being nominated for an Emmy [for True Trans With Laura Jane Grace in 2015], because that’s not even in my wheelhouse, you know? I never would have expected to be nominated for an Emmy in my life.
The TV show I couldn’t stop streaming in the 2010s was: The 100. I love The 100. It’s a post-apocalyptic teen drama and I’m sucker for anything post-apocalyptic. It’s a teen drama, but it’s so realistic; everyone in the show takes turns being the bad guy, if you will. There are so many twists — in a Game of Thrones way. That’s the only TV show of this decade that I became obsessed with. I watched it twice with my daughter.
The best new slang term of the decade was: I started saying “stoked” a lot more than I did the last decade. For better or worse. I don’t know how that came into my vernacular. I know it’s not exclusive to the 2010s. One of the moments where I was made to feel old this decade was having my daughter explain to me what “flossing” means. She can do it. I cannot.
The best live show I saw in the 2010s was: Hands down, Grace Jones at Primavera Sound in 2017. That show was absolutely mind-blowing. She was wearing this blonde pony mane wig, and, at one point, rode her security guard’s shoulders through the crowd of 10,000 people and then hula-hooped for at least a song straight. It was unreal. I’ve never seen a performance like that. Confetti everywhere. An overwhelming amount of confetti.
The most surprising encounter I had with a fellow artist this decade was: I have a three-way tie. At one point in this decade I wound up in Miley Cyrus’ backyard hanging out, smoking weed and petting her pig [as part of Miley’s Backyard Sessions in support of her Happy Hippie Foundation]. I’m forever in Miley’s debt — it was a cool experience and for a great cause, too.
In addition to that, we were playing in Barcelona, Spain, in 2015 and about 45 minutes before we went onstage I got a call from my manager saying that John Cameron Mitchell was going to come to the show and wanted to meet up afterward. Hedwig and the Angry Inch was life-changing for me. I first saw a production of it when I was 20 years old in Gainesville, Florida. John came to the show and afterwards I immediately ran up to him and gave him a hug and started gushing about what he meant to me. Then he asked me to go hang out. So, we ended up hanging out on the streets of Barcelona drinking beer. It was the fucking coolest, more surreal thing.
The third was having the chance to write a song with Rivers Cuomo. Rivers one day tweeted, “Will someone write lyrics for me?” And I responded, “OK, I will.” And then he DM’d me. It was so fucking wild and such a cool experience. I will forever be in Rivers’ debt. It was a song called “Byzantine” off of the Black Album. I find his songwriting process really interesting and to be let into that in a scientific way was really cool to see from the inside.
The misstep I learned the most from in the 2010s was: Letting my guard down. The lesson from that is that you need to remain constantly vigilant. This brought me to the question of…
The most 2010s moment of 2010s: The election of Donald Trump. I was lulled into an odd sense of security with eight years of Obama. Feeling like things were heading in a more positive direction — that there was so much increased visibility for transgender people. And feeling like, as a society, things were maybe progressing.
To be totally blindsided by that and end up ending the decade in such a state of “What the fuck?” [was terrible]. The impeachment proceedings being announced and this great existential crisis of American democracy happening, when, at the beginning of the decade, it was such a historical thing — the first African American president. The lesson is you have to remain vigilant. You can’t let your guard down.
The best book I read this decade was: I’ve been working my way through The Diaries of Anaïs Nin, they are completely fascinating. I’ve been taking such solace and finding such great insight in reading personal accounts from artists working a hundred years ago — before, during and after World War II — and seeing how something as all-encompassing as World War II affected the working process of artists. I find it inspiring in these times.
In addition to that, I would say [Haruki] Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It’s totally about running and I, myself, am an avid runner. That book totally reenergized and refocused me.
Something cool I did this decade that nobody noticed was: Some of the monumental runs that I’ve gone on. Earlier this year I ran to the top of Arthur’s Seat in Scotland and it was just such an incredible morning. I’ve been lucky with traveling as much as I do to be in some incredible places and to experience them in that way. It’s a personal act. It’s not something I’m doing for anyone else.
The best outfit I wore this decade was: In an almost Steve Jobs way, I always wear black. If I had to pick a T-shirt to sum up the decade — or a tank top — [it would be my “Gender Is Over If You Want It” shirt]. It went on to be worn by many other people and, in the process, raised money for great causes. Also, I had never worn a basketball jersey before and when I started wearing it, playing shows, I was like, “Oh, this is why athletes wear this material!”
My biggest hope for the 2020s is: I hope there’s an awakening of self-responsibility. Of people taking the initiative to enact change in their own community and their own world and their own life. Not relying on other people to lead that change. Be the change you want to see. I know that’s a cliché, but that’s what I hope.