Laura Jane Grace on Miley Cyrus, Joan Jett and The Replacements

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Earlier this year, Miley Cyrus invited a host of musicians to her Gainesville home to record songs to help spread awareness about the Happy Hippie Foundation – a non-profit organisation she founded to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBT youth and other vulnerable populations.

Two of their number included Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace and Atom Willard, who performed two songs with her band: True Trans Soul Rebel and a cover of The Replacements’ Androgynous, which also featured Joan Jett on vocals.

**First of all, tell us about the campaign. **Laura Jane Grace: “It’s called the Happy Hippie Foundation, and it’s Miley Cyrus’s deal – she started it. I was unaware of it until I was asked to be a part of it in the way that I was a part of it, but it’s amazing. Straight up. I think that it’s fairly new and the original focus was just on helping homeless youth in general, but it seems now she’s definitely putting an emphasis on helping LGBT homeless youth with the organisation, which is rad. But it’s funny because when I went out there and we recorded that stuff, when I was leaving she gave me this packet, and whether or not she realised it what she gave me was basically a zine – it was basically a fucking punk zine. She’d laid out the manifesto of the Happy Hippie Foundation point-by-point, and compared to some of the other political literature that I’ve read by dead Russian anarchists or whatever, it was the most concise list of direct goals of how to feed people and give them shelter and all that stuff. It was really incredible, and really endearing in a really weird way.”

Did you have any preconceptions of Miley Cyrus before you met her? “I was kind of a generation ahead, and it’s not like I grew up watching her TV show so I had no impression of that. And I don’t generally listen to pop radio or anything like that, so I’d never listened to one of her records. So I had no impression of her other than knowing that she was someone that the media talked about and who was famous. I knew of her, and that certain controversial things surrounded her or whatever, but really I went into it with an open mind thinking, ‘OK this is awesome; it’s for a good cause.’ I try to give anybody that I meet a clean slate because I would appreciate the same for myself. And she couldn’t have been more welcoming. She brought us out there and opened up her house to us, and we just jammed.”

What about Joan Jett? She’s been a friend and supporter of yours for a while now, right? “Yeah, incredibly so. We first toured with The Blackhearts and Joan in 2006 on the Warped Tour, and that was our first experience being out on the road on the Warped Tour for the full three months. It was mind-blowing to me just how down to earth she was. I would’ve expected – and forgiven her – to have been like a cut-off rock star who just went straight from the bus to the stage and didn’t speak to anybody in a smaller band. But she hung out. And she was really real – me and James (Bowman, guitar) even did an interview for her radio show on her bus. When I came out in 2012 she wrote me an email saying that she had my back and she expressed her support, and we ended up hanging out a couple of times after that. I ended up working on her last record too, on a song for that called Soul Mates To Strangers, and whenever our paths cross we always try to get together and make music or hang out, because she’s a really cool fun person to hang with. So she was the one who asked me to be a part of this campaign. Or at least I think she suggested that I be a part of it. I don’t know how her connection with Miley came about – I can’t speak to that – but as far as I’m aware when it was all happening Joan said, ‘Oh, we should invite Laura’, and Miley was into the idea.” Is it surreal, watching footage of you performing a Replacements song with Joan Jett and Miley Cyrus? “You have no idea! Yes. Totally. That whole week was just the most insane week ever. We actually shot it back in February, and it was at the start of the tour that was mainly a Florida run. So we started in Michigan, which is where we practice and rehearse, and then I went and flew to Austin to do this solo gig. Then I met the band back in Michigan and we flew to Mexico City, played a show, and flew back to Michigan. Then we played two shows in Louisville and Atlanta. Then me and Atom took a red eye [late-night flight] out to LA, did that, took a red eye out to Gainesville, recorded us playing those two songs in Gainesville, and at the end of that I just dropped dead. But it was very casual. I’ve never had an experience like that before. Miley’s band are rad too. Coming into it, it wasn’t like any of us had rehearsed, and the video they used was like the second take or something.”

And how have all the Miley Cyrus fans reacted to the videos? “I’m sure Miley Cyrus could invade a country with the amount of fans she’s got, ha ha. But yeah, everything that I’ve seen has been great. If my involvement with this can expose someone who’s younger to our music that’s fantastic, but for me personally the idea of introducing The Replacements to Miley Cyrus’s fans is like fucking cosmic high fives all around. I don’t care about me, but spreading the music of The Replacements that way meant a lot to me.” What does ‘Androgynous’ by The Replacements mean to you on a personal level? “I remember when I heard it when I was about 18 or 19 years old, and I thought for sure Paul Westerberg (Replacements lead singer, guitarist and songwriter) was trans. I just didn’t understand how anyone who wasn’t trans could so accurately relate the feelings that are relayed by that song. So I stumbled onto it when I was a teenager and I’ve had a love for The Replacements ever since. And again, that was a song that me and Joan (Jett) connected on because her band had already covered it. “

Can you tell us anything about any new Against Me! material you might be working on? “We’re going to start recording a new album in September, but before then we have a live record coming out this summer, which will be out before we get to Reading and Leeds festival. We just finished mastering it, and it’s 23 songs that we recorded over two months in the US and the whole of the UK tour last year. So it’s a mix of songs from all over, but there are definitely some UK songs in there. Sometimes when you solo the mics you can actually tell the difference between the American and the British crowds.”

We’re assuming the British crowds were better, right? “You were a little bit more rambunctious, indeed. We can’t wait to come back.”

For more information on The Happy Hippie Foundation, click here.