When she recorded a song with Miley Cyrus and Joan Jett to promote pride and tolerance among teens, Laura Jane Grace was clearly delighted to represent transgender people in the campaign, as she has proudly done since coming out in a high-profile Rolling Stone article in 2012. But it sounds as if she was even happier to stick up for another group of social misfits: Minneapolis rock heroes the Replacements.
“There are Miley Cyrus fans worldwide who are into the Replacements now because of that video,” Grace excitedly reported.
Due back in Minneapolis on Saturday for a special July 4th party with her firebrand Florida punk band Against Me!, Grace suggested the Replacements’ gender-bending 1985 ballad “Androgynous” as a perfect anthem for her, Jett and Cyrus to sing in a promotional video for Cyrus’ Happy Hippie campaign. The end result has amassed nearly 1 million YouTube views in two months, and the attention didn’t stop there.
“I’ve been a Replacements fan for such a long time, and that song was always a special one for me,” Grace added. “Seeing so many Miley Cyrus fans react to it so positively was really just mind-blowing.”
The “Androgynous” remake is the latest of many signs that transitioning from a man to a woman didn’t kill Grace’s rock career, as even Grace herself speculated could happen.
Against Me! re-emerged last year with one of the year’s most acclaimed rock albums, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues.” The record addressed Grace’s personal transitioning and broader gender issues with the blunt force and candid lyricism the band has always employed. Her quartet went on to earn raves on tour, playing to a lot of the same fans from before Grace’s transformation as well as many new fans showing their support.
“I learned not to judge books by their cover anymore,” she said by phone Tuesday before a gig in Columbus, Ohio.
She was referring to the fact that Against Me! came up in a very brawny corner of punk where the audiences are made up of sweaty men bouncing their shirtless bodies off each other — seemingly not the most welcoming place for a transgender performer.
“The shows are still sweaty,” she pointed out with a laugh. More seriously, she added, “I’ve seen and met some of the most macho or redneck-looking men in our audience who treat me with total respect.
“Not all of them are OK with it, of course. Some guys have been like, ‘Enough with this trans [stuff].’ But mostly people have really surprised me with how much of a nonissue this can be to them.”
For Grace herself, though, it’s an issue she lives with every day now. Becoming a spokesperson of sorts on the topic was one of the more difficult adjustments she had to make over the past couple of years.
“I’m still very much figuring things out myself. Transitioning can really [mess] with your head. So every once in a while, I just want to give it a rest and not have to say anything. But the reality is this is what I do: I make records and I speak my mind, and I love getting to do it for a living. So I’ll take whatever responsibility comes with that.”
Here’s more of what Grace said in our interview:
On the lineup change and whirlwind year Against Me! endured last year, which became the basis for the band’s new live album, “23 Live Sex Acts,” due Sept. 4:
“The band held up really well under the circumstances. There was no guarantee we’d click, but we definitely did. It’s nice to have fun on tour again.
“We recorded three months worth of touring, but ultimately the best way seemed to be going with just one show. We found the gnarliest dive bar we could find and recorded it there, this amazing place. We didn’t go back in and touch anything up. It’s a raw recording. You can hear audience members jumping up and grabbing the mic to sing off-key and all the ugly, fun stuff that happened.”
On Caitlyn Jenner and the vast media coverage over the Olympian’s transition into a woman:
“My main attitude was, ‘Just leave her alone for a while.’ She’s had way more attention than anyone should have to endure. I can’t imagine the pressure she feels. I wish her all the luck. But the impact has certainly been enormous. It became such a major talking point because of her.”
On Dillinger Four, the Minneapolis punk band that invited Against Me! to headline its D4th of July block party Saturday outside the Triple Rock:
“We were signed by Fat Wreck Chords [record label] around the same time and did some tours together, so I’ve known them for quite a while. They’re really great guys. I’ve spent a lot of time at the Triple Rock, too, since it’s [D4 guitarist] Erik Funk’s place. It’s ridiculous that they asked us to headline their show, though. It’s their party, they should go on last.”
[When it was suggested perhaps D4 wants to get their set over with so they can start partying earlier, Grace shot back, “Oh, I don’t think they’ll wait on that anyway,” proof she does know them well.]
On Venus de Mars, Minnesota’s transgender rocker from the band All the Pretty Horses, who opened a leg of Against Me!’s tour last year and got Grace to guest on her new acoustic album:
“She’s an incredible performer and artist. I didn’t know about her until after I came out, and people told me about her. I realized how much of a real pioneer she’s been. It was very much a different era when she was transitioning [20 years ago]. People still have a long way to go in understanding it today, so I can only imagine what she had to put up with.”