Nightwatch -- Live This week, Eric Brace's guest is Ian MacKaye, the singer and guitarist for Washington punk legends Fugazi and the founder of Dischord Records. He's here to talk about the new "Twenty Years of Dischord" box set, his bands over the years, why Dischord only charges $10 for a CD, and anything else you want to talk about. Ian was Eric's online guest three years ago. Read the transcript.
Hosted by Eric Brace
Washington Post Nightwatch columnist
With Fugazi's Ian MacKaye
Friday, Oct. 4, 2002; 1 p.m. EDT
From backstage at the annual Wammies (Washington's own Grammy Awards) to karaoke at Renzo's to salsa dancing at Cecilia's, every week Post staff writer Eric Brace throws himself on the front lines of the bar-n'-music beat in the Washington area. A Washington resident for nearly 30 years, Brace started with the Style section in 1990, where he wrote live music reviews and filed longer feature stories on the likes of Fugazi, Jawbox, Pearl Jam, Stephane Grappelli and many others. Then he created the Nightwatch column, which appears every week in The Post's Weekend section and on washingtonpost.com's Bars and Clubs page. He also sings and plays guitar for the country-rock band Last Train Home.
The transcript follows.
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Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Ian MacKaye: Hey gang, eric here.. thanks so much for loggin on.. it's been a couple of years since Ian was over here chatting with you folks on Wash. Post.com... there are lots of questions awaiting, but let me just give Mr. MacKaye, Jeff Nelson and everyone else at dischord records a big round of applause and a big bucket of props for keeping it going for 202 years, for releasing the 3 CD set "20 years of Dischord" and for being such swell folks. They've helped make Washington a much better place ...
I'll be stepping aside to let Ian answer all the questions today, so let's get to it..
Huntington, W.Va.: Hello. Fugazi played my town (Huntington, W.Va.) earlier this year and that show was messed up by local politics to a degree (change of venue at the last minute). I figure stuff like this don't happen too much to Fugazi anymore. Was it discouraging to you or the band? And what did you think of Huntington, W.Va.?
Ian MacKaye: it's not unusual for weirdness along the lines of that show to occur from time to time, particularly in smaller towns. the fact that we (meaning the band and the people working on the show) were able to persevere and pull it off made it a memorable evening. huntington pulled it out that night.
Arlington, Va.: Can you recommend a go go album for someone just starting out on an exploration of that style of music? Also, any ideas about how a young, solo white female can go hear some live go go music?
Ian MacKaye: there are a number of gogo compilations put out by different dj's (flexx and celo) that i think are really good. also, check out WPGC 95.5 every evening at 9:30, and WKYS 93.9 on sunday nights.
Arlington, Va.: Can you tell the energy of a crowd the minute you walk on stage?
Ian MacKaye: i usually get a sense of the crowd before i go on, but it's not unusual for my senses to proved wrong.
Washington, D.C.: What's the toughest thing about touring?
Ian MacKaye: in the beginning i think it was leaving home, but later it was coming home. touring can become a separate reality, and addictive.
Richmond, Va.: What draws you to a band so that you want to sign them to Dischord Records? Energy? Originality? Dedication?
Ian MacKaye: something about the band has to attract me, and it could be any of the things that you mentioned or it could just be the music, but it's really in getting to know them as friends that leads me to want to work with them
New York, N.Y.: What do you admire most about each of your band mates?
Ian MacKaye: the fact that we have remained close friends for so many years, and that we have been able to navigate the many twists and turns that life has presented.
Hamilton, New Zealand: Is there any possible chance that you guys may be touring down here to New Zealand, as it is very seldom that New Zealand receives "indie" touring artists?
Ian MacKaye: we've played in new zealand a number of times, but it's been 5 years since we last travelled down that way. all of us would love to come back to play, but our touring schedule has really been tightened up by family stuff here at home. we are hoping that we make it down one of these days.
Philadelphia, Pa.: The Dischord boxset's release day was repeatedly pushed back. Now we all know James Brown is the hardest-working man in show business, what is it like being the laziest?
Ian MacKaye: funny
Vancouver, Was.: Ian, will Fugazi ever come to Portland, Ore., or Ventura, Calif., some time in the future? I would love to see your band perform again. I seen Fugazi play at the Ventura Majestic Theater about three or four years ago and you guys were so awesome! I would like my 16-year-old daughter to hear you play. My 25-year-old son got me started on listening to you. His nickname is Gazi. That's how much he loves the way Fugazi plays. Thank you for listening to what I had to say. Your #1 fan. Take care. Juanida Castro.
Ian MacKaye: we're trying to make it back to the west coast at some point in the near future, but now that we have young children in the mix it's just taking us much longer to arrange tours. hopefully we'll be coming your way in the beginning of next year. hello to gazi.
Columbia, Md.: I know "The Argument" is only about a year old, but when can we expect new Fugazi material? Is Fugazi working on new songs right now?
Ian MacKaye: we are working on new songs, but it's going slow. who knows when we'll be ready to start recording again.
Tucson, Ariz.: People have a certain perception that Fugazi is incapable of levity, and the band has tried to dispel this in the movie and other venues. In light of this, what has been the funniest moment in Fugazi tour history?
Ian MacKaye: probably the kangaroo incident in australia 1991, but it's too long a story to get into here. i don't think we were necessarily trying to dispel the notion that we were humorless in the movie as much as we were trying to dispel the notion that we weren't human beings.
Chicago, Ill.: Is the "20 Years of Dischord" box set going to be released on vinyl?
Ian MacKaye: we haven't figured out a way to release it on vinyl without it being prohibitively expensive. it would require probably 5 lps to fit the music and the packaging would cost a fortune. so at the moment we're just going to release it on cd.
Vienna, Va.: Ian, I have been a fan of Fugazi since 1987, when I was a student at GW. I have grown and aged with the band and still find your music vital and important. Now, like two of your bandmates, I am also a devoted father. Besides altering your touring schedule, has the introduction of children into the mix influenced the band in any way? R.
Ian MacKaye: i think the fact that both brendan and joe are now fathers has impacted the band massively. certainly it introduced whole new areas of concerns and realities that we hadn't dealt with before, and i think the new challenges have made us realize even more how important the music has been in our lives.
Worcester, U.K.: I noticed that the new '20 years..' release has some Government Issue tracks on. I thought GI were from Connecticut area rather than Washington. What sort of catchment area do you work on when deciding what bands you release? Did you used to play in GI at one time? What did you do to piss Poison Idea off so much?
Can't wait until Fugazi tour the UK later this month.
Ian MacKaye: g.i. (government issue) were definitely a d.c. band. i'm not sure what you mean by 'catchment area'. i wasn't in g.i., but brian baker, the bass player in minor threat, did for a few months in 1981. i have no idea why the poison idea people had a problem with me, i don't believe i've ever met them, and i certainly didn't write any songs about them.
Richmond Va.: Is Dischord going to be involved with a new GO-GO label?
Ian MacKaye: no. what gogo label are you referring to?
Washington, D.C.: I know you aren’t in it for the money, but how financially solvent is Dischord?
Ian MacKaye: we've never really been in debt, and we are able to employ 4 or 5 people fulltime with healthcare and other benefits. we usually have enough money in the bank to work on new projects, and we pay our bills on time. but i wouldn't say that we are 'rich'.
Alexandria, Va.: Hi Ian. Thanks for doing this chat.
Have there been any bands that you have passed up over the past 22 years that you wish you hadn’t in retrospect?
Ian MacKaye: no. there are a number of bands that i thought were great, but broke up before they really came in to their own. so i guess i'm disappointed that we weren't able to put out their music. so it goes.
College Park, Md.: Dischord has been the only reliable punk rock/ independent label in the DC area for the past 20 years and also the biggest one. In that time, a lot of other good labels sprung up that seemed like they will stick around but never did (Simple Machines, Desoto, Slowdime) How has Dischord been able to keep things going and these others have not been able to? Do you personally think another DC label will eventually fill the role Dischord has now and stay around for a while?
Ian MacKaye: i think all of the labels you mentioned were great and accomplished what they set out to do. the only difference between us and them really has to do with our stubborness in terms of sticking to the mission. i never had any idea of how long dischord would be around, but figured that the music scene would dictate whether or not there was any reason for us to continue (meaning no bands=no label). D.C. continues to produce really interested bands in my opinion, so i'm inclined to continue releasing records.
Kutztown, Pa.: You, sir, have influenced me in playing guitar. What are your thoughts on this war that "we" are fighting and what were you doing on 9-11?
Ian MacKaye: i was home when the planes started crashing. i turned off the t.v. and answered the mail. clearly it was a situation that was out of my hands, and i figured writing letters was at least a vote for the future (meaning that a letter sent one day will arrive and be read on a later one). i don't think the word 'war' should have been used as quickly and as irresponsibly as it was, and i don't think this country in engaged in a 'war'... though this may be a matter of semantics. in any event, i am opposed to all war and i am certainly opposed to what is being 'proposed' (quotation marks added to underscore how little any of our permission or blessing counts in this particular debate). i don't think that i am alone, or even a part of a minority in this opinion, rather that the powers that be have made it very difficult for people to express their thoughts. check it out: two broken windows=600 arrests. this is madness.
Washington, D.C.: Ian, I look forward to hearing the box set. Thanks for putting it together. My question is a bit of a weird one, but I'll ask it anyway. Do you and your bandmates (Fugazi, I mean) ever get wary of the fact that almost 20 years after starting as a band you're still the most idolized in town? I mean, obviously it's great that you guys still put out great stuff, but I for one have to admit that I'm a bit sick of people from elsewhere finding out I live in DC and immediately asking me about Fugazi. I mean, there are so many good bands in this town, including several that are on your label, that it bugs me. It's kind of like mentioning Baltimore and immediately hearing "John Waters" as if he's the only filmmaker that came out of that town.
Ian MacKaye: the john waters reference is an interesting one, because i had never really thought about fugazi being linked to d.c. in the same way. it's true that waters invokes baltimore, though i'm not sure if that as much the case now as it used to be. i don't really think about this sort of stuff very often because i can't really think of a way to deal with it. should we break up or move away? that seems a bit ridiculous, so i guess that we'll just have to join up with the 'crack smoking mayor' and '10,000 shootings' as part of the mythology.
Bethesda, Md.: What was Henry Rollins like as a kid?
Ian MacKaye: when i first met hank i was 11 years old. other kids in our neighborhood (glover park, dc) told us about a kid with snakes and bb gun living on 'w' st. sure enough henry had a couple of snakes and a couple of bb guns. he was a brainy kid and cool to hang out with. we've been best friends ever since.
Arlington, Va.: With exception of Fort Reno, I haven't seen Fugazi do a show in DC since May of 2001. DC is a transient town, I'm sure lots of people haven't seen in or haven't see you often. Are you planning to play in DC after the European tour?
PS - The Argument is a great, great album.
Ian MacKaye: hopefully we'll set up something for late november or december.
Arlington, Va.: Ian, looking at the tracklist for the box set got me thinking back about the Dischord bands I grew up listening to - Shudder, Jawbox, the NOU, Slant 6. (Yes, I'm that young.) Anyway, it also brought back the memories of how male-dominated and macho the bands on Dischord have been. There was a time in the 90s when there were several Dischord bands with women: the Warmers, Jawbox, Autoclave, Slant 6, even Desidrata, but it seems like there haven't been any bands women recording on the label for a while. (Was Smart Went Crazy the last?) Any ideas why? Are women just not as involved in the scene as they once were? Are they not doing anything that fits the Dischord vision? Your comments?
Ian MacKaye: i've been thinking about this recently as well. i don't think it's necessarily a matter of dischord's vision/tastes or a diminished number of bands with women players in d.c. at the moment, but i suppose it could be a combination of the two. we'll see what happens.
Ian MacKaye: hello everybody. I'm clearly too slow a typer, and I'm a bit uncomfortable with the "ergonomic" keyboard here at the Post online headquarters, to get to every question (112!). Sorry to those people whose questions that i wasn't able to answer. i have to head off to band practice now. fugazi is going to do a short tour of the united kingdom in late october and we're trying to get some new songs sorted out, as well as get the older material tightened up. if any of you have really pressing questions you can reach me at:
for fugazi and other dischord info go to:
i must warn you that i already have 350plus e-mails waiting to be answered. it will be a while before i get back to you, but i will do my best.
thanks for your questions and for your patience.
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