Photos By Amy Farina
Ian MacKaye is most widely known as the singer for Fugazi, Minor Threat, and a handful of other influential hardcore punk bands. Without a doubt he is a central figure in creating the notion of a ‘do it your self’ punk ethic and is credited with coining the term “straight-edge.” As well as fronting such bands, MacKaye has produced and released works by countless other artists and has dabbled in activism. Since their ‘indefinite hiatus’ in 2002, Fugazi has been dormant and rumors of reuniting, shows, or new records have abounded. But the latest rumor has become fact in the form of the Fugazi Live Series; an archive of over 800 shows which will be progressively released online for a ‘small fee’. We had the opportunity to pick Mr. MacKaye’s brain about these recordings and a few other things.
You’ve kept these recordings in your closet for years. Why release them now?
The medium didn’t exist before the Internet, so there was no viable way to make the music accessible to anybody. We did actually release about 30 of them on CD, but it was pointless. It would be impossible to think that you could do that with all of them. The problem with CDs is if you pressed 50 copies but no one wanted to buy them, then they become trash. That’s what I call a CD or a record. If you don’t listen to it is just a piece of trash. In this case, there are some shows that no one has downloaded at all, but it’s not taking up any more space. The idea was, ‘why have all these recordings?’ I’ve heard maybe 10 of them. I just work on the site. I’d like to listen to some of them eventually, but I don’t have time for it now. We have these tapes so let’s share them. We don’t edit anything or fix anything. It is what it is. It’s a way of sharing what exists. There are people around the world with mass recordings and none of us will ever hear. It just seems absurd to me. So why not make it available?
Are there any particular shows that you favor the most that you would suggest to Fugazi fans to download?
They’re all my children. People ask me all the time, “What’s your favorite show?”
I haven’t heard them all.
Well, you may not have heard them all, but you lived them.
There are some that are dramatic. A show in Peoria, IL with a really huge confrontation with some skinhead kids. They are playing a role with the recording. I find that more interesting than a really well recorded show. I’d rather hear something with a little more drama or something happening. I know that historically there is a show that Fugazi, the 4 of us, thought was a great show, I think in ‘92 in Berlin. We played in a giant circus tent. There’s another show we put up that was recorded in Copenhagen in ’92, I don’t remember. This guy came on stage and sang surf tunes with us. I love that recording. I don’t think a single person has downloaded that yet. [Laughs] I would hope that people would be compelled by the city, the state, the venue, or the era. I thought that is what would drive them to download something. Unfortunately, most people are going by sound quality rating. We put it on there [rating scale] as a guide, but it was not the intention, because they’re all good.
Say a fan wants to download an amazing show. Will there be a rating system by fans to give “stars” or comments for each particular show?
There’s the one guy, a German fellow who bought the All Access pass. He’s been going through every show chronologically posting comments about it. He’s pretty dedicated. I actually can’t believe that he’s doing this. He’s been going through posting notes about every show. His reviews are pretty good.
Your other band The Evens just recently put out a 7” this past November. Will there be a full length to follow?
Yeah, we’re working on it now. We haven’t gone in the studio yet, but we’re writing. Things seem to be going pretty slow on that front, but it’s just the way it is. We practiced this morning. We practice about 3 to 4 times a week if we can in the mornings. We are hoping in the next month or so to start really to getting to work on a full length.
I think my conclusion on that list is more a sign of support. I’m not a part of any organization. There is no newsletter. There is no communication. I think that protests are an eternal exercise, which seems to be an unchangeable structure in our society. I think that the Occupy Movement has at least brought up questions about whether if this is a sustainable society. In which, I would say it’s not. The unsustainability factor largely has to do with the imbalance and greed that exists in the way our economic system works.
As you know the Occupy Movement doesn’t have an agenda. It’s rather of a loud reminder that there is a problem. Having the problem highlighted has compelled people to either work directly on trying to address this problem or at least be more mindful about creating bigger problems. I’m very interested to see what’s going to happen in the upcoming year. Now that there is no one in the park in New York and they are actually talking about clearing out the [Occupy] people here in Washington, that it has sorta ran it’s course, I’m very interested to see what comes next.
Would you mind if I ask you what’s your stance on this election for 2012?
My rule of thumb in terms of voting for presidential elections always boils down to one thing. Who ever becomes the president of this country is what the people of this country deserve, because it was either they voted for that person or they allowed that election to be rigged, or they didn’t put enough of a fight about it. However, the rest of the world does not deserve whoever our president is. It shouldn’t be their problem at all. It’s our problem. Our country has an enormous impression on the rest of the world. In my opinion at least, the most visceral effect on the rest of the world is war, essentially murder. This country has excelled in murdering people in other places, certainly in the last 10 years. So my rule of thumb in terms for voting is voting for the person who is electable and is least likely to engage in war. And that is it. It’s a very simple equation. So historically, I’ve always voted for Democrats. I’m deeply disappointed in Obama’s persistence in waging war. I don’t believe in murder. I think that when we are dropping bombs and shooting people with guns that is murder. I assume running into Obama will be Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney. That’ll be a tough one. So yeah, that’s how I vote.
So with you being disappointed in Obama, do you feel at all there could be a glimmer of hope or do you feel that he’s reached his final disenchantment?
I think that Obama will probably be reelected. And I’m hopeful that if he is reelected that he will stop engaging in war. That’s my hope. He’s probably a reasonable human being, but the politics in this country are just so fucked. And if you’re in that kind of position, the President of the United States, you end up having to sleep with horrible people and horrible ideas. I would like to think that should he return to the White House that his reelection should no longer be an issue unless he can actually make a real “change” in terms of what this country should be doing. I don’t think a country should be blowing up other people, period.
I completely agree with you Ian, and for the last question. Free Press Summer Fest, which our independent newspaper produces with Pegstar.net, is the nation’s cheapest large-scale music festival. Seriously now, if we offered Fugazi $XXX,XXX and $XX,XXX to a charity of your choice would you come perform Free Press Summer Fest?
We’re not playing right now. There’s no money issue or is it the desire to play music. We are dear friends. We love each other. We love playing music with each other. However, the circumstances in our lives make it impossible for us to operate in a way that we feel is necessary for Fugazi to operate. We may play again or we may not, but money will never be the factor that decides that. We’ve been offered extremely lucrative deals. Many people have pushed us many times about charitables and think it’s such a good cause. No doubt, but it’s not going to happen until it happens. There is nothing that is going to compel us to doing other than the 4 of us finding circumstances that will make it possible to do it in a way that feels right. It’s never a question of desire or that we don’t want to play music. It’s not a question of that we’re waiting for the right number. We all saw each other over the fall. Joe [Lally, bassist] lives out of the country so we don’t get to see him that much. We spend some days together. It was great to have that time and I think that working on this live series is really great in terms of working on it collectively even though we’re not in the same place. First of all we’re not retired, but I think that we know when it’s time, we will know. But if there isn’t a time and we don’t then it’s all right. Not a problem.