By Matt Barton
Punk rockers Against Me! are set to release album number seven on September 16th. The album is titled Shape Shift With Me and is the second to feature Atom Willard on drums.
“You know, it was different,” Willard says in reply to the question about how recording this album differed to his first with the band. “I came into the Transgender Dysphoria Blues kinda late in the process. They had written ninety percent of the songs before I got involved so there wasn’t as much development with that one.”
“With this one it was kinda like each song, each part, each step of the way was a collaborative thing. For me, it was different in that way alone. This is a much more focused recording too. Transgender Dysphoria Blues took longer to record over lots of different places and different times and I wasn’t there for all of it. I had other commitments going on before I could even join the band one hundred percent full-time. This was like, I was here for every note, every minute and yeah, it felt really cohesive and it was really a group effort.”
The video for 333, the first single from the new album, features Natasha Lyonne of Orange Is The New Black and American Pie fame. Willard explains how that came to be:
“You know, it’s kinda a crazy thing. [Actress] Ione Skye wanted to do a video for us and wanted to direct something, and she just was really excited to do something, so she came up with this idea and she said, ‘I think we have these friends that can do it’. We had no idea that she was gonna get Natasha,” he laughs, “we were like ‘oh, my gosh.’ When we found out that’s what was going on, it was a trip.”
Willard has been in a bunch of different bands since Rocket From The Crypt in 1990. Everyone from The Offspring to Social Distortion to Angels & Airwaves.
“There’s so many similarities from band to band and then there’s so many differences, so it’s hard to even pinpoint what you would call a difference, or what you would call better or worse or anything. Every situation is unique and somehow the same – that’s probably the vaguest answer you’ll ever get,” he laughs. “I will say that I was a huge fan of Against Me! before I became their drummer, [and] it’s always nice to work with someone where you completely respect their history and their past and their songwriting, and to come into something with that kind of open arms and open ears and open eyes. So really, it’s always been fun for me. I really enjoy playing in this band. I really enjoy the people, I enjoy the environment and I enjoy the fans. It’s a really cool community. It’s not the biggest band in the world but it just feels really good.”
Against Me! clearly love Australia. The four-piece, having toured the country last year and in 2013, are “absolutely” planning on touring next year. “I wish I could you tell you exactly what day it is but I think it’s like March [or] April. Maybe a little bit of May. Right around then.”
Willard goes on to explain what he loves about Australia. “It’s gotta be the people,” he says. “The shows are so much fun and everybody’s just so stoked to have you there. It’s just an awesome show environment. We have a good time. It’s fun to fly every day, or every other day or whatever it is to get from city to city, [because] that’s totally unique to Australia. We don’t do that really anywhere else. There’s so many great cities and there’s so much good stuff to see. Everyone is just so awesome to be around,” he laughs.
Back in 2013 Against Me! frontwoman, Laura Jane Grace surprised many by coming out as transgender and changing her name from Thomas Gabel. She’s since admitted to dealing with gender dysphoria since childhood. I asked Willard what he thought when he found out and about the support she has received.
“When The Rolling Stone article came out I was like ‘Oh, wow. Okay. Well. . . I can see that,'” he laughs. “You kinda think back to the lyrics and all the songs leading up to this and you go, ‘I guess this isn’t that much of a surprise. This is just the natural evolution.’ It was strange because I thought about it… but then I didn’t think about it and mostly [what] I was wondering about was that Laura’s voice is maybe one of my favourite voices in music, and where’s that gonna be [after the transition]. Obviously now we’ve all come to know that she’s not changing her voice at all, and it sounds just as awesome as it always has.”
“Being around her,” he continues, “and seeing the incredible kind of movement that is happening around, not just her, but around the LGBTQ community in general… there’s so much more awareness now than there ever was, and it’s not that it’s ever going to be easy for anyone to come out as gay or trans or anything, but it’s definitely a more publicly known thing.”
“This isn’t the first time people are hearing about this kinda stuff, so it’s nice to be in that environment and be supportive of someone who is bringing that sort of visibility to this. She’s really shied away from [being a] role model. She doesn’t want to be considered that because she feels like she’s still a work in progress. She feels like she’s still trying to figure herself out every day and doesn’t want people looking up to that, but at the end of the day, they do because she’s displaying all this insane bravery and strength and focus and courage, and all this other stuff.”
“You kinda sit back and go ‘how can I help you do that?’ It’s been a really gratifying experience to be a part of it and to be meeting the fans that are there for the music, and that have never strayed or never left for any reason, and meeting the new fans that are there because they had no idea that you could be yourself and operate in this kind of environment.”