With the Evens, MacKaye Keeps It Simple

Ian MacKaye moved from the post-punk of Fugazi to the indie sound of the Evens with Amy Farina.
Ian MacKaye moved from the post-punk of Fugazi to the indie sound of the Evens with Amy Farina. (The Evens)
By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 29, 2007

Listen to an audio clip of the Evens

MacKayes and Fort Reno go together like . . . Ian MacKaye's baritone guitar and Amy Farina's drums in the Evens.

MacKaye, much to his annoyance, is a punk icon, a legend, and not just local. His shorthand CV: Teen Idles, Dischord Records, seminal bands Minor Threat and Fugazi and, since 2001, the Evens.

Fugazi, one of the most influential American post-punk/indie-rock bands, played its last U.S. concert in August 2002 -- at Fort Reno, in fact -- and is neither officially broken or bent, but on hiatus. That has left plenty of room for the Evens, in which MacKaye teams with Farina, formerly of the Warmers, a mid-'90s punk trio that recorded on Dischord and featured guitarist-singer Alec MacKaye, Ian's younger brother.

Did we mention that sister Amanda MacKaye, who organizes the free Fort Reno summer concert series, is in a band (the Routineers) on Dischord, the label started 27 years ago to release a posthumous single by Teen Idles, a punk band featuring Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson, classmates at Wilson Senior High School, which is adjacent to Fort Reno Park in Northwest Washington?

Yes, MacKayes and Fort Reno belong together, even as musical energy levels shift from Fugazi's brash, compulsive post-punk to the Evens' minimalist indie rock. A Washington Post review suggested the Evens' sound was "what happens when post-hardcore becomes post-post-hardcore." (Award here for most "posts" in a single sentence.)

Something sounds familiar to MacKaye: "I remember at the beginning of Fugazi, people were saying, 'You're a reggae band?' Because to their ears, the sound of Fugazi was so radically different than Minor Threat. When you're in the thick of it, the smallest incremental moves seem so insane to people."

Which may explain why the Evens have maintained a steady presence on the road, mostly favoring all-ages shows at nontraditional venues such as coffeehouses, galleries and churches. According to MacKaye, the Evens "have played four times as many shows as Minor Threat ever played. We tour pretty steadily, but we don't tour as much as Fugazi did in its heyday in the early '90s, when everybody was in their 20s and didn't have families or ailing parents. Toward the end of our touring time, we were not going away for very long."

As for the Evens, this year alone they've toured Australia and New Zealand as well as Argentina, Chile and Brazil. They've just returned from a month-long tour in eastern Canada, with western Canadian dates next month and a West Coast tour in October -- all organized, MacKaye says, in manageable increments.

"It's not a matter of sanity, but of running a record label," he says of Dischord. "We also have our lives to look after here in Washington." Farina, for instance, is a painter who does portraits and commissions. She used to be a decorative painter specializing in murals, but that was hard to sustain with so much road work.

"Both of us love to tour; we're quite comfortable on the road," MacKaye says. "And I can't tell you how much easier it is to tour with your partner and nobody else. Fugazi, it was the six of us, with a pretty big back line, and it was much more of a production. Amy and I are traveling in a minivan with our own P.A. [system] and our own lights. We don't play rock clubs, we don't even play with other bands, so everything is much more simple."

But simple things in MacKaye's life often get complex. Take Dischord, where that Teen Idles memento, an eight-song EP titled "Minor Disturbance," seeded one of the most respected American indie catalogues, almost all of its bands with strong D.C. roots. Also in 1980, MacKaye formed Minor Threat with Nelson, bassist Brian Baker (now in Bad Religion) and guitarist Lyle Preslar; in the early '80s, it would inspire the American hardcore and "straight edge" movements. Fugazi, with bassist Joe Lally, drummer Brendan Canty and guitarist Guy Picciotto, followed in 1987, becoming as influential for its politically conscious, melodic hardcore and anti-corporate esthetic.

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