Laura Jane Grace wasn't planning on making a solo record this year. In fact, she was planning on making a record with Against Me!, the band she's fronted for the past 23 years. But clearly, nothing went according to plan this year. "We came home from the Against Me! tour we were on in March, and right before we left, we had been in the studio working on songs, and I had been working on them for months prior," says Grace. As she sat at home, all of her tours canceled, and the members of Against Me! – as well as her other band Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers – spread across the country, she was left with a batch of songs and no band to record them with.
So, Grace got to work. She picked up the phone and called Electrical Audio, the iconic studio in her adopted hometown of Chicago, Illinois, to ask if she could make a record with famed engineer Steve Albini. The goal was to go in and document these songs exactly as she'd been playing them in her home, straight to analog tape. When she hung up the phone, she had four days booked. The result of the session at Electrical Audio is Stay Alive, a record that doesn't just embody that title, it serves as the guiding principle behind its creations. But it also put life back into an industry that's been ravaged by venue closures, cancelled tours, and delayed records.
Across the 14 songs that comprise Stay Alive, Grace takes all her pent-up fears, anger, and anxiety and releases it, like an olive branch to the weary listeners who are feeling those exact same ways. As she says in "Blood & Thunder," a love song to Chicago – or perhaps a mea culpa for "I Hate Chicago" on The Devouring Mothers album Bought to Rot – the album's thematic premise is all but spelled out: "When you give in and quit / There's a power to be found in it." It's an idea that may sound odd on its face, but it displays Grace's commitment to no longer resisting the changes in front of her. On a record that sees her traversing the globe – from Marbella, Spain to Glasgow, Scotland to London, England to the Land of Oz – "Blood & Thunder" is a begrudging embrace of what can't be changed; Instead of resisting the city she once loathed, she finds the beauty in the little things, like the moon rising over Indian Boundary Park, or the wind rolling up Western Avenue. And in the case of "Shelter In Place," a song about her own isolation and introspection, the pandemic finally gave words to a feeling she'd long had but was never able to accurately describe.
The songs that make up Stay Alive are documents of a time and a songwriter who experienced enough to find levity in the simple act of doing the work. Recorded with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, an occasional drum machine, and her own powerful voice, Grace's distinct songwriting signature is front and center.