FOR many of us, the last few months have been tough on our mental health, and everyone has had their own coping mechanisms. For Laura Jane Grace, she headed into the studio and surprised everybody with a brand new solo album, Stay Alive.
And in the early hours of Sunday, the punk rocker will be performing a full-band live stream of the songs from Chicago’s Lincoln Hall. ‘I was trying to do something to make people happy right now,’ she says.
‘It makes me happy to play music, that’s what I live for. To be able to share that with people is the purpose of a musician. You’re travelling around the world, sharing music, and to have that taken away is so bleak, so arresting, you’re missing a huge part of you.’
Recording an album was the next best thing to performing. ‘It feels really special, something productive and good to be able to look back on years later, once we’re all through this, like, what did you do during the pandemic? I made a record.’
What could have proven to be a massive hurdle has actually turned into a positive for Laura, who also fronts the band Against Me! ‘It’s so strange to me, because in my past, I’ve had struggles with substance abuse or with drinking. Instead of this being something that tripped me up and made me fall into old habits, it has actually reinforced me and brought me to such a good place where I’m waking up in the morning and I run five miles,’ she grins.
‘Or I’m like, oh 8pm, time for bed! I may have done the most cocaine in all of Gainesville in my early 20s, but I ran the most miles during the pandemic,’ she says with a smile.
Making the record was definitely a helpful experience. ‘I think it was both a catharsis and a reassurance. The songs were ones that I’ve been working on for the past two years or so, right? It wasn’t like the pandemic hit, and then I was like, “Oh, I better write 14 songs, record these.” I have the philosophy of as long as I got a couple songs in my pocket, I’m in a pretty good position.’
Laura wasn’t sure about doing a live stream: ‘I so wish that I was playing a proper show with an actual audience there,’ she says.
‘It was impressive after the pandemic really hit, how quickly people started streaming, whether it was on YouTube, or on their Insta live. I found it really overwhelming at first because I didn’t know how I wanted to approach it. I was hesitant to do anything.
‘So if there’s one show that I play this year, having it be in an empty venue seems very fitting. It’s completely safe, you know? Plus the idea anyone in the world can buy a ticket for it, it’s cool in that respect — there can be so many people from so many different places sharing in something.’
We’ve all had far too many Zoom calls this year, and Laura was keen to get as far away from them as possible. ‘Another part of this record is that I wanted it to be the antithesis of a Zoom call, all analogue recording, no computers involved with it. I wanted to create a real document, a real snapshot of something lasting during this period of time,’ she enthuses.
‘If we can’t have live music, at least we can have actual recordings made by human beings that aren’t edited, you know, fabrications made by a computer. I hope that translates and I hope people enjoy it.’
■ Sunday 2am, audiotree.veeps.com/stream/schedule