WORDS: GEORGIA RAWSON
Two amazingly simple words that hold the emotional weight of an entire global population, and for activist and punk musician, Laura Jane Grace, a message that is so much more than the title of her solo record.
“I’ve found myself looking on Airbnb and other places for long lets.” She laughs through the screen. If you were to listen to her solo record, Stay Alive, on the first listen the record seems like an open letter to the places she’s been, to the awes of travel, but the reality is, it’s a testament to the basic momentary journeys made when living well.
“You know on the one hand I think it’s totally acceptable and awesome that people are getting more creative right now.” She muses. “On the other hand I think that if you found yourself in a place where it’s hard to roll out bed in the morning, that even that little journey to get to the kitchen and pour yourself a cup of coffee, that’s a victory. That’s staying alive.”
“even that little journey to get to the kitchen and pour yourself a cup of coffee, that’s a victory. That’s staying alive.”
If you’ve not been a stranger to Laura’s twitter the last few months, her 280 character statements thrown out to the greater world have been coated in humour, honesty, and an openness about the state of her mental wellbeing during the pandemic. Between tweets of a ‘faked’ leaked series of singles, contemplating living in a bubble bath, and her own brand of sarcasm, between the lines are very open snippets of the musician’s mental health, of which only last month a series surfaced that would change her own perspective.
Invited by NOFX vocalist Fat Mike to play a show in his back garden, for a lot of us itching to get back to live shows it would seem a dream. But in just those few statements Laura opened up about a lot of the fears we still all hold. Would it be safe to play a show, to be in a crowd during a pandemic?
“When he asked me to come, I genuinely wanted to go, I even boarded the flight to California.” Remembers Laura. “That sounded fantastic, you know, like, but I wasn’t realistic with myself. And I did not know what it would like to be around people. And as the size of the group of people grew it just felt more unsafe.”
Laura is quick to point out that the show even had Covid specialists in attendance, but the time she’d spent in isolation made her aware that going back to ‘normal’ wasn’t as simply achievable as she both wanted, and thought it would be. “All of that stimulus, all of that going on suddenly, I felt overwhelmed. I just lost it you know. I couldn’t hang and I felt unsafe.”
Rather than just a formal apology statement being put out by either party what was to follow was humbling and reflected on a newfound perspective for Laura as she openly discussed her fears via social media. “It has made me realise there’s something I’ve got to be working on.” She reflects. “I just need to stop for a second, and I really need to ask myself, what do I feel right now?”
“I just need to stop for a second, and I really need to ask myself, what do I feel right now?”
There will be no denying that the months of isolation will have shifted the human psyche. But for Laura the silver lining of this moment of panic has been a lifelong lesson, one she has reflected on in a time where the internet is now writhe as a platform for demoralising other’s beliefs.
“”I posted a picture of a Black Lives Matter poster board from a protest that my daughter and I went to, and when I posted it on Instagram in the back of my head I was like, ‘this is kind of lame, what good is posting a picture gonna do? I should be doing so much more. But then to see the amount of people who dissented against that and had a problem with it. I realized, like, oh wait, no, this actually does matter.”
For a lot of us living in an ever-advancing digital world means we’re no strangers to online relationships, forged by consistent social interaction, and discovering connections through similar beliefs and interests. But in a time where digital is becoming less of an option and more of a must it allows an outward reflection. “I now have a completely group of friends that I chat with, and I don’t know why that is. It’s noticeable, and this pandemic in so many ways changed relationships.” Continues Laura. “There’s been a couple of social situations since the NOFX show where I’ve been around people and realize, oh wait, you’re not taking this seriously?”
The new solo record, Stay Alive is a culmination of this newfound perspicacious perspective being coupled with Laura’s thoughts and views even pre-pandemic. Whilst she insists that a vast amount of the record was ‘a lot of leftover tracks from an upcoming Against! Me record’, the result of recording during this new isolation created the final sound of a record that Laura hopes is a ‘time stamp of the world we live in.’
“All of the decisions were suddenly on me, kind of like when you’re in isolation...”
With only producer Steve Albini in the Chicago studio, and at all times socially distanced n masks, to say the record would be a product of it’s environment would be an understatement. “It put immense pressure on things.” Reflects Laura. “All of the decisions were suddenly on me, kind of like when you’re in isolation. I wasn’t going to him for opinions of like, ‘oh will this chorus work?’ He took away the chance of a second chance, so it’s like that getting up in the morning to get a coffee, doing your best. It’s just the way it is, that’s the way I played it. That’s the way it is. It feels like this record is the best that I can do.”
It’s this simple statement of simply staying alive that rings through time and time again within the record, and it’s inspiring. In a time that is nothing short of confusing, of being told what we need to do to survive, with governments in power with extreme views of right and wrong, and a consistent ‘Coronacoaster’ of emotions of hope and hopelessness the short but sweet record is a time stamp of what it’s like to just take a moment to think amongst all of the noise. It’s a preparation for colossal change that is inevitable.
“You know in the next 10 years the last two remaining Beatles are gonna die. Bob Dylan is gonna die, Dolly Parton is gonna die. Like all these culture icons that in some respect held a place in culture, some things that were almost too good are going to disappear and all of our bearings are going to be lost.” Laura smiles as she realises the enormity of the statement. “But in so many ways we’re going to be able to steady ourselves, and you’ll realise it’s about being present now. Trying to hold onto the past is going to be wrong.”
STAY ALIVE IS OUT NOW VIA POLYVINYL RECORDS