Laura Jane Grace speaks on songwriting process ahead of Philly tour stop

Laura Jane Grace. (Photo: Travis Shinn)

A week from the release of her latest album, “Hole in my Head,” and with a week to go before heading out on tour, Laura Jane Grace was in the thick of moving into a new home in Chicago. The musician took a break to talk with PGN about her music and the tour that will bring her to Philadelphia’s Underground Arts on March 6.

This intense forward momentum seems appropriate when talking about “Hole in my Head,” an album written as the world returned to post-COVID-lockdown activity and Grace returned to touring. From 2021 to 2023, Grace’s live sets included brand new songs, many of which ended up on her latest album — a deviation from the expected writing and recording process, but one Grace thinks gets better results.

“I find that I really like to share stuff with people as I’m coming up with it,” Grace said. “If I feel uncomfortable about something when I’m sharing it with somebody, I can tell that it still needs work.”

Road-testing new songs makes for a better live experience, as well.

“Getting up on stage after you’ve written a song and immediately trying it out, it either works or it doesn’t,” Grace said. “It’s cool having that certainty going into the studio as opposed to doing it vice versa, where the first time you try to play a song live you’re like, ‘Oh, wait, this sucks, and it does not work live.’”

Grace speaks from more than two decades of experience. Her career began in the late ’90s with the formation of post-punk band Against Me!, for which she is the frontwoman. Although Against Me! is on hiatus, Grace and drummer Atom Willard joined up with sound engineer Marc Hudson to form Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers, putting out the 2018 album “Bought to Rot.”

Against Me!’s sixth studio album, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” celebrated its 10th anniversary in January. Grace, who publicly came out as transgender in 2012, had long been writing lyrics about her gender identity, but “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” was the first album where her meaning was undeniable — and she still hears from fans to whom that was important.

“It touches me and makes me feel like the work was valuable to know that it resonates with people, that people still want to talk about it and still want to hear the songs,” Grace said.

For Grace, writing and recording the album was an escape from the pressure and scrutiny of coming out in the public eye.

“It was the thing keeping me alive, keeping me going. You’re writing through loneliness and the songs become your companions, and the record becomes like your lifeline to reality,” she said. “It’s your hope for the future, knowing, ‘If I could just finish this, and then if we could just get it out, if we could just go on tour, maybe things will work out and maybe things will be better.’ And it was better.”

Nearly a decade later, Grace was using her work to process a different kind of upheaval, releasing the solo album “Stay Alive,” recorded at a studio in Chicago, in fall 2020 amid the uncertainty of the pandemic. In 2021, seeking a change of scenery, Grace began recording music — including a 2021 EP and “Hole in my Head” — in St. Louis, splitting time between a studio there and her home in Chicago.

“Around the time I was writing [the album], everyone was kind-of in the same place, coming out of a traumatic experience, bewildered and a little shaken up,” she said. “I put myself into a position where I was definitely out of my element and had to figure myself out. I didn’t really know anybody going into St. Louis and just had to figure it out as I was there. It was scary at times, but I think that the challenge of it was good for writing.”

Laura Jane Grace. (Photo: Bella Peterson)

Bassist Matt Patton of Drive-by Truckers joined Grace in the studio after she put a call out on social media. Without the same luck lining up a drummer, Grace and Patton worked with what they had to arrange the 11 tracks on “Hole in my Head.”

The album’s third song, “Dysphoria Hoodie,” is a tongue-in-cheek ode to a sweatshirt so baggy it makes the wearer’s gender unguessable to the outside world, and it has a Philly connection. One of Grace’s favorite hoodies came from Federal Donuts — along with a pre-show snack — on a local tour stop several years ago.

“Hole in my Head” covers a lot of ground, from the anti-authoritarian “I’m Not a Cop” to the spirited nostalgia of “Punk Rock in Basements.” On songs like “Cuffing Season” and “Keep Your Wheels Straight,” Grace writes about holding onto hope amid darkness — on the former track: “one day I’ll feel good again, until then I’ll just white-knuckle it.”

“If I’m going through a time where I feel really hopeless, then it feels good to write a song that feels hopeful and to lean into that,” Grace said. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily good if there’s an album full of hopeful songs, because it means I was going through a really hard time.”

But a year out from recording “Hole in my Head,” Grace is optimistic about future projects. 

After several years of taking the stage with just a guitar and sometimes a drum machine, Grace is looking forward to having bandmates again, to working as a team with Patton on bass and Mikey Erg – of The Ergs!, among other projects — on drums.

Grace and her wife, comedian Paris Campbell, got married at the end of 2023. Around the same time, they joined Erg and Patton at Patton’s recording studio to record an EP that they hope to release later in 2024.

Asked what it’s like to be newlyweds and creative collaborators, Grace grinned and passed the question off to Campbell.

“I’ve never had a relationship where I worked creatively with anyone before,” Campbell said. “I’ve been with people where we have similar professions, but a collaboration has never happened organically. It’s been great to have that happen.”

Grace said she looks forward to releasing the EP, as well as touring through the spring in support of “Hole in my Head.”

“Fingers crossed, we’ll be able to share the EP with people soon,” she said. “We’re going on tour March 2, and then again in May. And hopefully I’ll be playing a bunch more shows after that and writing more songs and doing more recording. Just continuing on.”

Laura Jane Grace will perform at 8 p.m. on March 6 at Underground Arts, 1200 Callowhill Street. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

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