AGAINST ME! are punkers from Florida who united in a band twenty years ago. It seems like they are now stronger than ever, even though the media kept a close eye on them because of their rebellious lyrics about transsexualism. Atom Willard, the band’s drummer talked about how Laura Jane Grace accepts the given attention, how it is to come as a new member of the band and what punk is to him.
How was the tour?
Atom: Really good. We had several shows by ourselves, several shows with The Bronx and then several festival settings, so it was good. It was a mixture of different kind of shows, which is good.
Was this European tour different from the previous ones?
Atom: I think that everybody hates Americans maybe a little bit more, but not us in particular! (laugh)
No, of course not. In that, you had a lot of attention from the media in the past few years because of Laura’s transition. Sometimes it seemed like your music wasn’t so much in focus because of that. How do you feel about that?
Atom: Well, I think it’s all connected. I think that Laura as the principal lyricist and the person who is writing all the lyrics and everything, it’s important to know what’s going on with her just as much as it is important to know what’s going on with that cool drum beat… You can’t really have quality lyrics and things without a realistic approach. She is so real, and she is so honest and everything. People would like to know about what it is that she’s thinking or what is going on with her. So that’s the reason. Just to get behind the lyrics even more.
So, you don’t think the music is in the shadow because of all of that?
Atom: You know, I think that certain things get talked about more than others but it doesn’t bother me.
Does it bother her?
Atom: I think that at some point she gets tired of talking about those things. Especially after “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” came out, it was very biographical. Then the book is just a much deeper extension into that land. I think she’s just tired of people asking questions about her. I mean that’s normal.
Yes, that’s natural. Your new album “Shapeshift with me” came out last year. The response was very good. Do you have any favorite songs?
Atom: I really like playing some of the songs more than the lyrics mean something to me… Does that make sense? Laura and I wrote the song “Boyfriend” together and it was a really fun thing to write. I just had a good time creating that, so that will always be a real fun song for me to play. I love playing “Norse Truth”, I think that song is a different thing for the band and it was fun making it as well.
You became a very important band member since you joined the band…
Atom: I might just send you a check for that. Thank you very much! (laugh)
Well, I don’t know, but it really seems to me that you’re very important!
Atom: Just make sure everyone hears you saying that! Thank you!
How was the transition into the band?
Atom: It was easy. They’ve been making music that I’m a fan now for a long time. James and Laura have made some of my favorite records, so it was easy to come in and just be excited to play music and to learn that they are, Laura especially, so open to cooperation. It’s been real fun.
How would you present Against me To someone who never heard of you?
Atom: I think that would not talk about the individual members so much. I would probably just say this is a punk band that is still doing things that kick the norm, and then let that somebody figure out what it is that that means to them. As soon as you color something, they’ll never have their own impression of it. I always want somebody to get to their own place of it, and not me making decisions for them.
What is your opinion about punk rock nowadays? Has it changed?
Atom: I think that the only thing that’s changed is how people perceive punk rock. I think that a lot of people thinks that it’s about playing fast and having a mohawk or tattoos. But for me, it hasn’t changed at all. It’s still about standing up for what you believe in, even if it’s not something that is widely accepted the view, you know. It’s standing up for an even unpopular thing, ultimately that’s something that punk rock is – something not widely accepted. Singing in rebellion to politics or whatever it is that you’re angry about. I think that that’s genesis of punk rock. That’s still what it means to me. I think if you’re doing stuff that is not easy and you’re not taking the safe road, I think you’re being punk. I don’t necessarily think it has to do with music, I think it comes out in music. People tend to write songs and music with feelings in them, that turns into punk rock, regardless of the genre.
Are you personally rebellious?
Atom: I maybe have a problem with authority figures… (laugh)
What has been the biggest challenge for you in the band?
Atom: I think the hardest thing is being away so much. We travel a lot. We’ve been touring very regularly for the whole time I’ve been in the band. It’s more frequent touring that I’ve been doing. It’s a little bit hard for my wife. But like you say, it’s a challenge, not a complete obstacle.
What are the plans for the future?
Atom: After the European tour we go home, and we have a month off. We might not talk to each other at all. (laugh) In the beginning of September, we have a two-month-tour in the United States. There are some rumblings and talking about something in Europe in December but I don’t know exactly if that’s a real thing. We’re still trying to find out if that’s the case, and that’s where we’re at right now.
How long you think Against me will be together and play together for?
Atom: that’s a hard thing to say. It seems like the band will go on forever. Ultimately, I think that as long as Laura has something to say, and she is inspired and we’re working well together, I think that band will continue on. I think that she’ll make music forever. She will always write songs and release them and perform them. And I will always play music myself. If those things will happen together it’s hard to say, but now it seems like it will go on forever. (laugh) I’m a realistic person, you know, I’m not going to…
Atom: And optimistic as well. I’m a…
A rebellious optimist?
Atom: (laugh) Wow. I like that! A rebellious optimist, I’ll take it.