Most of us can recall a time we purchased too much produce at the grocery store only to watch as it decayed on our kitchen tables. For Laura Jane Grace, the parallels between this everyday scenario and the latest batch of songs she’d written was simply too much to ignore.
“Sometimes, if you don’t eat those fruits and vegetables that you went and bought,” Grace explains, “then they’re going to fucking rot. Then your money is wasted, your time is wasted, and it was a wasted endeavor. If you just use them, there’s so much goodness in them.”
When Grace and her band — the Devouring Mothers — play Bottom of the Hill on March 24, it will represent the culmination of a project that began two summers ago. At that time, Grace was on tour with Against Me! opening for Green Day on an arena tour. As the supporting act, she found herself with copious amounts of downtime, so she decided to learn a new Mountain Goats song every day.
“I learned like 35 Mountain Goats covers,” she recalls, “and that led to us recording them over the summer. It was a really interesting artist study of breaking down John Darnielle‘s songs.”
Joining Grace in the recording studio was Against Me! drummer Atom Willard and Marc Jacob Hudson, who has served as a sound engineer and touring bassist for the band. Before that session, Grace had previously convened the trio for a tour of spoken word and acoustic performances tied to the release of her bestselling memoir, Tranny.
When it came time to give the project a name, Grace immediately recalled a book she’d purchased at a Niki de Saint Phalle exhibit she’d seen in Spain.
“Nikki put out this picture book called The Devouring Mothers that I picked up at the gift shop on the way out,” Grace says. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is the best fucking band name ever.’ ”
While the band’s album of Mountain Goats covers would ultimately remain unreleased, the experience led Grace to move forward with the group and record a batch of songs she’d written that she worried were also at risk of rotting if they were left to wait for the next Against Me! record. The result is Bought to Rot — an album free from the expectations of her main band’s sound and one that owes much of its existence to what can best be described as kismet.
In detailing the process that led to her new band’s creation, Grace continually points to how organically so many aspects of the project came together.
For one, Bought to Rot features Grace playing a 1960 Jaguar guitar that she purchased from onetime Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ drummer Stan Lynch. When Petty died in 2017, she retrieved the instrument from underneath her bed (where it had been sitting “for the better part of 15 years”).
“I was playing it as I learned some of Petty’s old records,” Grace explains. “I started thinking about the fact this was a guitar for the drummer for the Heartbreakers. A drummer’s guitar has to be the saddest thing ever because it never gets used. If you’re a guitar, and you get bought by a drummer, it’s like, ‘Fuck, I’m just going to sit in a case.’ So that guitar became my mascot in a way.”
The coincidences continued when Grace realized that Bloodshot Records—a label she respected—was headquartered only a few blocks from her home in Chicago. She recalls walking in one day and asking if they’d put out Bought to Rot. They agreed. The Tom Petty connections also run deep. Both Petty and Grace are from Gainesville, Florida. Petty’s Full Moon Fever was the first album Grace ever purchased. Petty was 37 when he made that record—the age Grace was when she began working on Bought to Rot.
With the evidence above, it’s easy to see why Grace doesn’t feel her newest album is any less personal than the last two Against Me! records or her memoir, which all touched more directly on her gender dysphoria and current identity as a transgender woman. She laughs when asked if her intent with Bought to Rot was to take a break from that particular spotlight.
“From what?” she asks. “From being really introspective and having your head up your own ass? I think there’s this talking point in the media where people want to point to something as being their ‘most personal album yet.’ It’s like it’s so personal you can smell their morning breath when you listen to this album. It’s so personal you wake up next to each other. How personal can you get? To me, writing songs and putting yourself into something—it’s impossible to separate those things.”
Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers, Sunday, Mar. 24, 7 p.m., at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. $20; 415-626-4455 or bottomofthehill.com