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The Man From Fugazi

When Fugazi is on the bill, Ian MacKaye, a singer/guitarist and co-founder of Discord Records, is the name that seems to underline the marquee. Many people label Fugazi as “his” band, yet they overlook the fact that he is a part of an awe-inspiring unit that is one of the brightest, most talented bands in music today. According to my new friend John, Fugazi’s music transcend  thought — it is bluntly, physical intellectualism. Yes, Ian MacKaye is present, but he is just a piece of a non-stop hardcore machine whose message seeks to break free of everyday habits and cliched norms. The interview unfolded over the phone.

Flagpole: Does Dischord record only Washington, D.C. bands?

Ian: Yeah…A lot of bands send us tapes all the time. For years they’ve been singing to us, but we started the label to sort of document the community here, and we just continue to do that. We started 10 years ago, and I think it’s kind of cool ad the end of the day, like when this thing is all over, that the label will be known as the Washington D.C. label. I’m into that — I like the idea that any band that’s on here is from Washington. That sort of gives people a sense of the kind of historical perspective on the way the music scene here evolved. And it also means that someday the label will stop, and that’s a great feeling to know because I don’t want to do a label my whole life. I mean 10 years is ridiculous as it is, but imagine — who wants to run a label for the next 50 years? Not me.

FP: How about other labels? Are you getting a lot of pressure from major labels to sign?

Ian: Well, a lot of people from major labels have come to talk to Fugazi. “Pressure” is a weird word. Because when you say the word pressure, you sort of get the sense that we have to do this thing, or whatever, but we don’t have to do anything, and we know that, so it’s sort of like, for us –we’re just not interested in it. I mean we’re pretty civil to these people, they’re just doing their job, and it’s nice of them to come ask. What they do is fair, and for a lot of people, that’s exactly what they want, we just understand that what they can offer us, which is just basically wider distribution, for us that’s not really worth that sort of lack of control that would come with it. I know it’s not really the end-all. Part of it is that we’re trying to challenge the concept that it is the end-all to be on a major label. I think that there’s more to life than to be on a major label. But that’s our decision; it doesn’t mean that bands who want to be on major labels are bad or dumb, it just means that just what we want to do. You know, we’re weird!

FP: And also, I suppose, because you have your own label.

Ian: Yes. I’d like to point out one thing. A lot of people say that we’re lucky that we have our own label. The fact of the matter is, we’re not lucky we have our own label. We worked our asses off for it and that’s not a matter of luck, it’s a matter of work. It’s true that it puts us in a position where we’re able to get our music out on our own, but it’s not like we didn’t work on it for 10 years. I kind of take some offense to peoples’ insinuation about that. Ultimately, you know, if we didn’t have this label, we’d still try to work on independent labels, but that’s such a hypothetical question for me to ask myself that I don’t know why I bothered.

FP: Before Fugazi, things like Egg Hunt and Embrace, were they just meant to be short projects, or…

Ian: Embrace was a band. It just didn’t last. Egg Hunt was a studio project…felt like playing in the studio. We never played a show or anything.

FP: So Fugazi was another band, like Embrace, and it was meant to be… a band?

Ian: Well at the very beginning it was just meant to be playing in the basement and having fun, but after playing for awhile we decided just to go ahead and play live, but yeah, it was intended to be a band. It’s not my decision, it’s our decision. Just so you don’t think I decided Ok, I’ll put together a band now. It’s sort of like, my friends and I have worked together to form a band, just like the first band I was ever in. 

FP: When the band formed, did you ever think about becoming this big? I guess that’s a dumb question that a lot of people ask you, but..

Ian: (sounding kind of annoyed I think): Well no, we still don’t think about it, you know, I don’t know. We just took things as they came. We knew what we wanted to do in the beginning and how we wanted to play, so we just played that way. We just do it our own way and just because people like us, that’s nice. And if a lot of people come out, that’s nice too, but ultimately we just do our things the way we want to do them and it just means that we have a different set of circumstances to work in. It’s interesting. And it’s challenging, it’s hard to, you know, as “more popular” you get, you’re faced with a lot of new weird realities and decisions you have to make about how you handle your business. But we take that challenge because we’re into defeating these notions people have about how things should be done, because they’re wrong a lot of times, or they’re not wrong, but they’re not fully correct. There’s other ways of doing things. The alternative thing can exist in a bigger scope than people have given it credit to before.

FP: Do you think that the atmosphere is different at shows in like D.C. or Boston where there is a really strong scene, as opposed to say, Athens, where it seems to be more college-band oriented?

Ian: Well there is a real scene in Athens too, but it’s a very different kind of scene. I mean every city is different. Washington and Boston don’t really have that much in common except that there’s a lot of people that go see shows. You can’t compare them any more than you can compare Washington and Athens. When we play Athens, lots of people come out and they all know each other. A lot of people know each other. So don’t forget that there’s a lot of college kids in Washington, and there’s a hell of a lot of college kids in Boston. There’s way more college kids in Boston than there are in Athens, I could tell you that. I think what’s weird about Fugazi is that we appeal to so many different kinds of people and that’s what’s good about us. I like that — it makes life a lot more interesting. I like people and I like all kinds of people, and I don’t think that there’s a right way to be. Actually I guess the right way to be is to be honest with yourself, but that’s kind of vague…So I can’t really compare scenes. We’ve always had a good time in Athens. There’s other college towns where we’ve had not-so-good times, but then again, there’s been big rock towns where we haven’t had a good time either. There’s no rule, it’s all goes as it goes.

FP: Is it true, have you played on the Capitol steps?

Ian: Not quite. We play in front of the White House. We play at Lafayette Park, which is right in the front of the White House. You know we can’t play a show on the Capitol steps. I would love to play one if they would let us, but I don’t think that the authorities-that-be would permit us to play that close to the Capitol there. They’re very nervous about their Capitol here.

FP: What kind of reception do you get from the authorities when you play at the White House?

Ian: Well, when we played in front of the White House it was an anti-war protest, so there was already some tension. The war hadn’t started yet, but it was just three days before the war started. You’ve gotta remember that in Washington, D.C. on any given day, there is a protest going on. They’re pretty much used to protests so they just treated us like protesters. And I’ve got news for you — that’s what we were.

FP: To kind of change the subject, are there any mainstream bands that you listen to now?

Ian: To tell you the truth, there isn’t any mainstream stuff I listen to. I mean I do listen to it on occasion, probably some of the rap stuff and on occasion there’s probably some regular rock stuff that I think is reasonable, but I’m not overly impressed with it.

FP: Do you eat any breakfast cereals?

Ian: Yeah, actually we were eating Ken-Mei and Nutra-Grain. Ken-Mei is sort of glorified Rice Krispies or Corn Flakes or something, I don’t know what the hell that is. What is that stuff? Kind of like flaked-out Rice Krispies. And also Nutra-Grain. That’s OK. I like granola a lot actually, but that’s kind of expensive. It’s all expensive. But also you gotta remember that I eat it with soy milk, so — a new reality!

Ian MacKaye can’t wait to check out the new 40 Watt. Check out Ian and Fugazi, along with Porn Orchard, at the 40 Watt Saturday, May 11. This show should not be missed.