Nightwatch - Live
t r a n s c r i p t
Hosted by Eric Brace
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 1999
This week, Post Nightwatch columnist Eric Brace's guest was Ian MacKaye, the singer and guitarist for Washington punk legends Fugazi and the founder of Dischord Records. What has Fugazi been up to since they last played in D.C.? Why hasn't the band's film "Instrument" been shown at local movie theaters? How come Dischord only charges $10 for a CD?
Ian and Eric were online on Friday, August 20 to listen and answer your comments and questions.
Eric Brace (By Mark Finkenstaedt/TWP)
From backstage at the annual Wammies (Washington's own Grammy Awards) to metal night at Phantasmagoria to waltz night at the Glen Echo Spanish Ballroom, every week
Post staff writer Eric Brace throws himself on the front lines of the bar-n'-music beat in the Washington, D.C. 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 Music & Nightlife Web page. He also plays rhythm guitar for the country rock band Last Train Home.Send in your questions and comments.
hello folks.. thanks for logging on.. we'll be yakking today with Ian macKaye, member of Washington's fine band Fugazi.. and co-founder of the Dischord record label, the indie company that has released some of the most important and influential punk recordings of the last 20 years..
The label's still going strong, as is Fugazi, 12 years into their musical existence..
so let's get to the questions..
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia:
What do you think of Australia's laws prohibiting all-ages shows and only allowing 18+ and Under 18 shows?
Any chance of another Australian tour in the near future?
Ian MacKaye: i was completely surprised and disappointed when i first discovered the australia has so few all-ages concerts. i spoke to 3 different promoters before i found someone willing to force the issue. what we discovered that while it is somewhat of a challenge, it's by no means impossible to pull off all-ages shows. we've managed to do 4 tours worth over the years. so the real question is why the bands down there don't put up more of a fight. no plans to come back to australia at the moment, but hopefully someday.
Any new Fugazi projects in the works? You've obviously been very busy with the whole "Instrument" package, but at least I like to think that you're always writing and trying new things. What's up?
Ian MacKaye: we're writing at the moment and preparing for a month's worth of dates in europe. i'm hoping that we'll be doing some recording later this year.
Is Dischord less prolific these days? If so, why?
Ian MacKaye: the label was started to document a certain musical community here in washington, and that has remained the focus for the nearly 20 years that we've existed. when there is a lot of activity within this community, we put out more records, and when things slow down so do our releases.
Ian. What are some of the top 5 things you need to start your own studio-record label??
Ian MacKaye: 1-5. love of music.
Silver Spring, MD:
What was your reaction when bands like Jawbox and ShudderTo Think left Dischord for major labels? When Jawbox got dropped, were you tempted to say 'I told you so'?
Ian MacKaye: the people in those bands are my friends, so of course i supported their decisions. i was worried about them, because i think the rock industry is fucked. i didn't tell them 'told you so'.
Is it possble to control the ticket prices when you tour for instance in Europe?
Ian MacKaye: we try to keep our concert prices in europe relatively cheap, it's difficult for us to actually keep track of each concert's budget, but we work with people that we trust and that we trust will look after our concerns.
Since Dischord is in and for the Washington area do you accept any demo recordings from any other states?
Ian MacKaye: we only work with dc area bands, so while we listen to demos people send, we don't consider them for releases.
Glen Burnie, MD:
How do you approach the guitar? Do you have a daily practice routine or do you just run across new techniques in the course of songwriting? Who are the guitarists that have most influenced you? And is there a side to your playing that hasn't appeared on Fugazi records? -I think you're a fabulous guitar player, by the way.-
Ian MacKaye: i consider the guitar a tool for the most part. i do pick up the acoustic now and then, i certainly don't have any routine. usually the only time i practice is when the band gets together. hendrix has always been one of my favorite players, but i was a sucker for nugent in the late 1970's. thank you for your kind words.
what have you been up to in the last nine months since the dc show? i cant remember going a through a period quite this long without a dc fugazi show! hope to see you are fort reno next week..
Ian MacKaye: we finished up work on the instrument movie/soundtrack, organized the premier here in town, did a 3 week tour out west, and went to iceland, ireland, scotland, and england. we've spent the summer writing and getting ready for a month long tour of europe set for sept. it's difficult for us to play alot of shows in dc because we always have the impression that there are many people who have seen us many times,and we don't want to bore their pants off.
You were a sucker for nugent and hendrix in the 70s - how do you go from wanky guitar solos and 10-minute drum solos to the punk brevity of the Teen Idles and a song like "Deadhead"?
Ian MacKaye: it's not necessarily the content, rather the attack that mattered. by the end of the 1970's who had time for solos? there was work to be done.
Is there any interest on the part of the band in putting out live material, i.e. a live album or something else?
Ian MacKaye: we actually have managed to archive a massive collection of live board tapes... probably something in the area of 800-900 tapes... but never have figured out a way to sort out what is interesting or good. eventually, i suspect we will find a way to make them all available to everyone... and this damn internet-thing may well be what made it possible. i await technology to decide.
Last summer, I read an article while I was in LA -in LA's alternative newspaper- that quoted you saying something to the effect of bands in the Washington, DC area will find it difficult to attract attention from the music industry. I got the impression that you thought there wasn't a whole lot going on in this area which was a bit disheartening. I am by no means attempting to put words in your mouth and hope that I am mistaken in my assessment of that article, but how do you feel about the music coming out of this area?
Thanks for your time.
What's up Eric. -CC
Ian MacKaye: i certainly did not mean to insinuate that i don't think that there is a lot of worthwhile music and musicians in this area, quite the contrary... my point was (and i'm not exactly sure of what the context was that i made the statement) that the industry is not necessarily about what is good, the industry is about what will sell. the two are rarely one and the same.
New York, N.Y.:
What is the origin of Brendan's bell?
Ian MacKaye: it was a birthday gift from guy back in 1987. it was a farm bell, something i suppose was rung to bring in the family for dinner, brendan stripped off the decorative hanger and put it to work on stage. we never use it in practice, so the sound has come to really represent our time in concert.
Guy has said that he goes to the National Zoo to relax - what's your preferred way to blow off steam?
Ian MacKaye: play cards with my mom.
For Eric and Ian: With the execeptions of Sleater-Kinney and Blonde Redhead, is seems like the only bands out there making aggressive, intelligent guitar music have all been around for many years -not that being experienced is bad-. Any good newer bands out there I'm missing?
Ian MacKaye: i think there are many, many smaller bands that are doing really interesting things with aggressive music. i haven't seen them all, and some of the music may not be to my taste, but i think there is plenty of activity on that front, but i don't want to make a list at the moment.
New York, N.Y.:
I was certainly intrigued by your piano piece on "Instrument" -- "I'm So Tired"... Was that a rarity or have you written more songs like that one? Might you ever record a studio version of the song? And how long have you been playing piano?
Ian MacKaye: i consider the piano my 'main' instrument and have been playing for as long as i can remember. it seems to me that i might have come up with something resembling a song as early as 4 or 5 years old. 'i'm so tired' was a song i wrote for possible use by the band and recorded it as demo. the band never used it, but it ended up in the movie and soundtrack because jem (the film director) shot a scene of us listening to it.
White Oak, MD:
I recall you saying somewhere that you're a fan of Go-Go. Why do you think Go-Go has not really caught on outside DC? And is the Go-Go scene as vibrant as it once was?
Ian MacKaye: i first heard gogo back in 1980. i was driving in my duster listening to the radio when troublefunk's 'pump me up' came rolling out of the speakers. i asked h.r. of the bad brains what was up with gogo and he told me that is was 'oldhat'... this was 1980! he also told me that troublefunk was too commercial and that if i wanted to check out the real deal i should see these kids from anacostia (a neighborhood in dc) playing on trashcans. i have been amazed by how long the music has continued to evolve and thrive here in dc. it is truly the indegious music of this town and has always struck me as some of the most original and visceral music. it never has managed to break into the national scene... at least not in the original form, and that may well be a blessing.
New York, N.Y.:
IS there a show that Fugazi regards as Guy's official first? How unexpected was it for you to see the way Guy's role within the band evolved and grew, given the fact that Fugazi really began as a trio?
Ian MacKaye: guy was present at our first show as a spectator (but keep in mind that he was an extremely close friend of ours), the second and third show as roadie, and i think by 4 or 5 show he was singing back up vocals. i think the first song he sang lead on, 'break in', we did at a club called dcspace in october 1987. he first played guitar with us in dec. 1988.
New York, N.Y.:
"Instrument" is fantastic... What happens when it is nominated for a "Best Documentary" Oscar? Fugazi in tuxes?
Ian MacKaye: i can't imagine that instrument will even make a ripple on the oscar pond. we don't exist in their world. lucky us.
Nobody ever interviews Brendan and Joe. Do the four of you usually agree on how to manage the band both musically and logistically, or do you have to compromise a lot? I'm guessing Brendan's fatherhood has changed things a bit.
Ian MacKaye: both of those guys are happy to do interviews if asked, but generally speaking guy and i are the mouthpieces. the fact that i do most of the business, puts me in a logical position to answer most of the questions. npr did an interview with brendan and me where he discussed his fatherhood at length, but for reasons beyond me they excised his comments entirely. too bad, because i thought it was really interesting.
What is your reaction to the statement "The DC music community is so inwardly focused, perhaps even elitist in some respects, that the vital spirit of the community is being choked out by a sort of Berkeley-esque, "more alternative than you" attitude?"
Ian MacKaye: who made the statement? people often hazard those sorts of theories when looking at something they don't understand. furthermore, i'm not sure if there is even a single 'dc music community' to receive such a critique. but my honest reaction is 'who cares?'
Do you always play a Gibson SG live?? If so what are some of the benefits to playing this brand of guitar with your style of music??
Ian you are definetly a role model of mine.
Ian MacKaye: i've only played two guitars my entire performing life... they both happen to be sg's. i have no idea what benefit this particular guitar has to offer, other than being the one that have.
In DC there basically is no radio station to listen to bands on independant labels, do you think this hurts the scene at all?
Ian MacKaye: washington has consistently managed to ignore aspects of it's own culture on the air and in print. i suspect that this has quite a bit to do with the transient nature of population, as well as having a newpaper that is attempting to present itself as more of a 'national' publication than a local one. this is not a criticism, rather it is an observation. i do think it is ironic that i have never heard my own band on the radio in this town, but than again i don't listen to commercial radio. wmuc, maryland university's station, has consistently supported local music, but only has 10 watts to offer. wpfw, the pacifica 'community' radio station has never shown any interest to put on a 'punk/underground' show. i don't know what to make of the situation at this point.
I have heard you are very adament about not doing a Minor Threat reunion of any type. Is this true if so why? It would really touch alot of people.
Ian MacKaye: i believe it would touch a lot of people in the wrong way. minor threat was an important band, believe me that it was important it in my life, but it belongs to an era that no longer exists. i'm not nostalgic. i think music today is much more important, because something can be done about it.
Are you guys able to make a living solely from your music even without the benefit of major label promotion? In some respects, being inpependent seems like it would be finacnially better, since the pie gets split into fewer slices.
Ian MacKaye: yes. but it's a lot of work.
What do you think about the local bands who obviously try to imitate Fugazi's sound? Is imitation truly flattery or do you think they should try for their own sound?
Ian MacKaye: when children start to speak they find their own voice by imitating the sounds around them. it would follow that bands do the same. bands will find their own voice at some point. i don't hear the fugazi influences as clearly as others, but to some degree i think it's only natural that people create music that sounds similar to what they listen to...
Hey Ian, the local cable interview that is exerpted in "instrument".. that young gal who's asking you and guy questions is quite a character. Does she know that that footage made it into "instrument"?
Ian MacKaye: yes. after much investigation, and i mean having a friend in the dept. of education contact teachers, we were able to get a message to her. she was at college in ny and was at first a bit embarassed about the clip, but after i convinced her that we all looked horrible and awkward, she agreed. i'm glad because i love that segment so much.
Ian, straight-up, no B.S.: are you still straight edge or not?
Ian MacKaye: i was never kidding around about ideas. and i stand behind all of my lyrics. people's fascination with the status of my sobriety is somewhat disturbing to me, i am 37 years old and i'm not clear how many times i need to pull down my pants to show that my underwear is clean. i am straight, but i'm not sure if that's really anybody else's concern.
Does the "Kaye" in MacKaye rhyme with "guy" or "way"?
Sorry, but I was pronouncing "Picciotto" incorrectly for a long time, and I don't want to be wrong about this, too.
Ian MacKaye: it rhymes with sky.
guy's first name rhymes with ski.
his last name is pronounced 'pee-cho-tow'
Is it true that Fugazi has recorded some material with Steve Albini, and if so would it ever be releashed?
Ian MacKaye: we recorded an entire album with steve in 1992, it was basically the 'in on the killtaker' album. it was one of the best recording experiences we ever had, but resulted in something that was utterly unreleasable in our opinion. so into the vault it goes.
Ian MacKaye: dear everyone.thanks very much for your questions. this is my first experience with this sort of 'interview' and i found it really interesting. i've done many, many interview over the years, but it's always just one or two people asking the questions that they find interesting, or even worse, the questions that they assume their readers would want to have answered. so it's rare for me to have the opportunity to communicate with people directly, so thanks to eric and washpost online thing, and to you for asking. i guess we should do this again someday, because i didn't even manage to answer half of the questions posted. so until then... i remain. ian
Big thanks to Mr. MacKaye for agreeing to come on line today...
I'll be keeping tabs on his work with Fugazi and Dischord and reporting on it in the Nightwatch column.. that appears every Friday in The Washington Post's Weekend section, for those of you who are loggin on from out of town... you can access it from this Web site...
I'll be back here in two weeks, perhaps with a guest, perhaps not..
If you sent in questions for me today (about Wash DC nightlife in general) sorry i didn't get to them.. we wanted to give Ian room to stretch out..
If you'd like to get ahold of me with quesitons or thoughts, feel free to send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org...
Thanks again.. talk to you all later...