Interview: Ian MacKaye (Fugazi, Minor Threat, The Evens, Embrace, The Teen Idles)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: October 2011. We had the great luck to talk with a legendary musician and a great person: Ian MacKaye. Ian currently is being involved with The Evens duo with his wife, Amy Farina in drums. His previous bands were Fugazi, Minor Threat, The Teen Idles and Embrace. He is also very active with his label Dischord Records. His music, ethics and mind has influences many people during the last 30 years. I think I learned more as a person, from the thoughtful things he told me. Read below the great answers he gave us:


Which are the current music projects you’re involved in? How close is a new The Evens album?

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We have just done a 7 inch with two songs. Amy and I, we are recording for the next couple of months for the new album.


The two Evens albums you have already done show a more organic and “singer/songwriter” approach. I think Evens are closer to The Beatles and to Syd Barrett’s music than to Fugazi. Do you agree with this?

Uuuh… No. I was in Fugazi and I have nothing to do with The Beatles and with Syd Barrett.  So, for me I don’t really compare things with this manner. Each musical project I have, is the people, the relationship which is created with the people in that group: Minor Threat is one relationship, The Teen Idles is another relationship, Embrace is another relationship, Fugazi is another relationship and The Evens is another relationship. Of course this makes sense because Evens is a two piece and Amy is the drummer, so it makes sense that there is a more singular  sound. But also that happened in the first early songs of Fugazi, songs like “Waiting Room”, “Bad Mouth”, “Merchandise” are songs that I wrote apparently on my own.


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 Is “Minding Ones Business” one of the most avant-garde songs you have ever written? I love that song!

Yeah, I think it’s quite beautiful song. I love that song! I’d like to hear songs that are for me, like a sonic illusion. The idea is that the sounds you create with your instrument through the other tools you have, at some point trick your brain and create another thing. There is also guitar, drums, bass, you know that, in a logical level, in an intellectual level, you know which are the instruments, but there is another part of your brain where you hear it as a song and this is the illusion of it all, this is what is interesting for me. Especially when you’re in a two piece, I love playing with this idea, when you try this to make sense, my brain is idle to catch the song and this is a very spare presentation of this particular instrument.


Which is the least apparent influence of The Evens’ debut album? Maybe The Doors?

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I don’t think about influences, I don’t know. I didn’t listened to The Doors, I wouldn’t say that I like The Doors..


Ouch! I mean that your debut album has some more psychedelic moments.

You know, I don’t study psychedelia, I don’t think about this. For me there are sounds, Amy and I, we’re making music together, music is made by all of us, maybe this happens subconsciously, reaching what it reminds to be something that we likes. I don’t think about psychedelic songs, I don’t think about punk songs, I don’t think about these types of songs. It is the sound, it is the song. I wasn’t think about achieving something, I was thinking about singing something.


Do Evens fulfill all your musical ideas?

I don’t know how to answer that question. For me musical journeys have always been in relations I’ve been with other people. I’m inspired by other people to who I’m with. In some moments, I can’t say that there are other people I’d like to play music. But also with Brendan, Joe and Guy (ed: the other Fugazi members) I always wanted to play music anytime because we are very close and we have a very deep connection. With Fugazi people of course anytime it happens to play as four, or in projects you have to do that. But I don’t think about other project because I don’t know the people who I’d go to project with. People come first for me. As for Evens, I don’t think any band in the world could fulfill my musical desires. I don’t know how to achieve my musical desires because if you understand them, you have to proceed them. These are the things that I customly hover over my grass. This is why I’m in with these. This is why I write the songs.


Which are the latest news from Dischord label?

During the next weeks we are putting out the reissue of these early Void, from early 80s, we did a completely new sessions release. This is a record which is heavily bootlegged, with the original sound, with a new sound… We are doing releases from archives. We have treasures of early recordings and we are trying the do proper historical reissues. But also we have a new record from a band called Office of Future Plans. In this band is a member J. Robbins, which was a member in many bands from the past. This album is coming out in November, the same time as The Evens. So, I’ve very busy this Fall with releases. We’re also dealing with our back catalogue, because part of our mission is to be able to pass the music which was trusted to us by other musicians for the last 30 years. As long as there is an interest, is interesting getting out vinyls and CDs of that music. We feel we have responsibility to facilitate that, to create records and CDs and distribute them. Nothing sells extremely well, but things move along as people getting interested, and it’s our responsibility and I’m quite happy to do that.


Where do you think the future in music is heading, as people don’t buy CDs?

I don’t think about the future, I think about the day. I can tell you right now we sell a fair amount of vinyl records, obviously download is a lot more popular at the moment. There are benefits of download in terms that getting the music in all over the world, which is amazing and I support, but I guess there are other people who will continue to buy vinyl albums, CDs and cassettes or they won’t. So, it doesn’t make the difference. You asked me about music, and music lasted for thousands and thousands of years, much more than there is the record or download. So, music will always be fine. If you would ask me about the music business, I feel the music business, the industry, has enjoyed 100 years of monopoly. They kept the music available to that form and keep people to sell their plastic, they made a fair amount of money and they made arrangements to make the formats: the records and vinyls formats.


Should today’s bands focus more in doing gigs?

If there is a band that can do gigs, sure. For me playing the music in a live setting is always the point. Fugazi used to say “the record is the menu, the show is the meal”. This is the way The Evens and Fugazi always say “Ok, let people to have an idea of the songs and now let’s make a show together”. You always hear bands saying they tour to support the record. The idea is to tour to support the record. For me that was completely fucking backwards: You put out a record to support the tour. Playing is the most important thing, not the record.


Does social networking (facebook, myspace, twitter etc) help the bands to promote their music?

No, I don’t know. I’m not engaged with these things. You know, you have a hammer you can work with it or you can break something. So, I think social networks are tools. And I think some people publicly has used these tools to do something good and I think there are some negative things coming out from that networking. I think there are people that are so busy with networking that they forget to be alive. They don’t come out of the Internet. I don’t know, I think especially Facebook, I call it “gated community”. I’m sure in your town, there is a rich neighbourhood that has gates. There is a gatehouse there that keeps people out. There is a neightbourhood that have a fench around it.


Yes, yes! Like a prison.

But for rich people. They keep poor people out of the neighbourhood. They have a guard tower to keep people out. That’s what we call it “gated community”. An exclusive place to live and I find Facebook a little bit like a gated community. I mean, anyone can join it, but actually to access a lot of the features you have to turn over a lot of information and you have to submit yourself to the protocol that keeps you safe. This is came out recently because they ‘ve been some events here that are promoted only on Facebook, and because they are on Facebook I didn’t hear about them. Specifically, as a protest and I find it very interesting. I don’t know if you have heard about this protest, but I’m a member of this particular network. The protest in shows which is about corporate greed and having wealth for the corporation but Facebook is a fucking gated corporation. So, this I find it a little bit problematic. It doesn’t mean that I think people that use Facebook, are bad. But, I want people to think about the fact that all are confined to this particular gated community. You see in an open field is raining a thunderstorm, you’re down the road, but when you ‘ll hear the lightning strike, you ‘ve already being hit.


You’re an iconic figure for the whole hardcore/post-hardcore/punk movement. Have you ever felt a “weight” because of the high expectations everyone has from you?

I don’t think so, I just do my work. I understand if you have this idea about me. Probably, the biggest problem I have is get attending by people who have this perception about me. Usually, pretty inaccurate. Not true. People are thinking of me as a very fundamentalist, very aggressive. I’m very outspoken, I don’t think I’m a fundamentalist, I think I’m very tolerant. I think my work, what I do is utterly for love. I think people have the idea that I’m full of anger and hate, that I’m not. At all. I’m angry that I think life is such a good thing and so much of our world is undermined by business and that very frustrate me. This doesn’t mean to be right for me.


Why do you wish to have a better voice? I think it’s great!!

Because when I’m working in songs, I hear melodies that I cannot attend with my voice and that drives me crazy. I don’t think my voice is a bad voice, I do like my voice, fine. But I hear melodies that I can’t reach them and that drives me crazy.


Who wrote the lyrics of “Target” song from “Red Medicine”? You or Guy? They are timeless!

I should think, yes. Guy did.


Did he have Nirvana in his mind?

I don’t think it was very about Nirvana. It was an era about..


(I interrupted him) He wrote about “A thousand grudging young millionaires”..

Yeah, everyone made so much easy money but previously you know, they were very…


Yes, one day they were underground and the other day they were mainstream!

Yeah, it’s not limited to that era, it continued. Guy is brilliant lyricist and a great thinker.


You produced John Frusciante’s “DC EP”. What memories do you have from these sessions? How helpful was that John is a huge admirer of yours? (I had the luck to talk with John Frusciante in July 2010).

You should ask John for that, why is he an admirer of mine. He’s a great guy, he’s a friend of mine. Probably, he ‘s one of the greatest guitar players I’ve actually witnessed. I mean, he’s a phenomenon. Working in the studio was really nice. He recorded here in D.C and I’ve a different approach of recording, much fast. I have the vocal booth next to the desk, he always had it in the next room. Different ideas, yes. But it was a good session. I really like that EP.


How much impact has Washington D.C to you? Do you think you would be a different person if you ‘d live elsewhere?

I don’t know. I mean, how much impact has to you being a Greek? If I’d live in Korea, I’d be a different person.


I mean, is Washington D.C in your veins?

Yes, I’m a fifth generation Washingtonian, and my son is sixth generation Washingtonian, but I don’t think this is the best place in the world to live, that I have the best type of watch etc. This is the place I fucking grew up. This is where my family is from. I have an issue when people hear a band, a punk band and think that I live in New York. Fuck that! I don’t live in New York. When you have creativity, passion, ideas isn’t about geography. Why I can’t be creative or passionate or to have ideas when I’m from Washington D.C or somewhere else? Because what people is talking about is business. That happens in New York, not in Washington. I don’t know where you.were born. If you were born in Athens. But if you wanted to play music you had to go to Athens. That’s the right place for businesses. That’s very typical. For me, I didn’t want to move to New York. There I couldn’t have my own team, my own label, I’d be alone. I ‘m not interested in doing business. I’m interested in music and I’m doing that.


How possible is a future Fugazi reunion? You ‘re still friends with the other guys..

We’re more than friends. I use to say that all of us like the idea to play music with each other. I’m sure the four of us, will play music together again. Maybe not for a live setting, but I know we will play music, I’m sure. Now, they have evolve their lives, there are more people involved, I don’t know. Joe (ed: Lally, bassist) is living in Rome which is very far away, Guy is in New York which is not very far, but it’s far away. I know that we actually will play, but If I move to Greece I couldn’t play together, but it doesn’t mean that we broke up. You know, it’s a possibility but also it’s a possibility never play a concert again. Whatever it happens, it happens.


I was surprised to learn that you’re a big Wino fan (The Obsessed)! Had you ever thought of doing an album with him?

He has actually recorded with Joe. I’ve recorded them for a solo record. Wino is some other musical genious. The first time I saw him was in ’80 or ’81. He lives in L.A so I don’t see him.


As you’ve said, you’re not listening to new music. Do you like the music of bands like Swans?,  I didn’t really believe them. I saw the Swans many, many years ago. I’m listening to the music that people who make that music have no choice doing something else.


Do you think that some bands’ music is premeditated and less spontaneous?

It doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s just a different idea. It’s different idea from playing free, it’s a performance. It’s a different idea. I think you would be surprised, I don’t know what do you think I’m listening to .  I’m listening to The Obsessed, to Nina Simone and to Curtis Mayfield.


Which was the last great book that you read? I know you like reading books.

Yeah, I read a lot of books.


How much life has changed since you became a father? I guess less sleep.

I don’t know about that. You brought a people and you learn from that. I keep listening people in society that say “your life would change”. That is a fucking idea! Life is always changing and evolving and progressing but yeah there are some changes. People in society say that in a negative way. That you ought to do a kid. I  liked to be a father and that was an incredible experience for me to be part of making a person and to get know that person. But I don’t think everybody should be a parent, that this is necessary. I think people can choose the way they want to live.


Do you support the protest that currently are happening in USA?

Of course.


Have you ever been to Greece?

This is a sad part of me. I’ve never been. Fugazi tried to come in Greece once and Evens tried to come, but we cannot make it works.


You have many listeners here, people who respect your work and your lifestyle.

Send my regards to them.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Ian MacKaye.


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