Classic 1999 Interview w Ian MacKaye
Did This back in 99 when I was doing my first online zine. Of all the interviews I did, this was my favorite. It may now be a bit dated, but it was a fun interview with a great guy. I cannot say enough good things about this man.
Ian MacKaye- Vocalist and Guitarist of Fugazi/Co owner of Dischord Records
Ian MacKaye has been a mainstay in Independant Rock for almost the last 20 years. He and Jeff Nelson(played drums in Minor Threat with Ian) started their own record label, Dischord Records. He was lead vocalist of the legendary DC punk rock band, Minor Threat. He is currently playing with Fugazi. (While this was true at the time of the interview Fugazi have since been on an indefinite hiatus since 2002.) Ian Mackaye currently sings and plays guitar with Amy Farina as The Evens. He has produced many albums and guest appeared on many as well.
1. I am curious where you got the band name, what exactly does fugazi mean?
i found it in a book called 'nam' by mark baker. it's a series of recollections of viet nam vets. in the glossary the word fugazi is defined as military slang for 'a fucked-up situation'. (Of Note: I actually owned this book at one time, after this interview. It has since disappeared)
2. Secondly, do you still consider yourself straight edge?
i am still straight, but have never really considered myself 'straight edge'. from my point 's.e.' was a song that i wrote for minor threat... an expression of my frustration with the sense that people around me didn't respect the choices that i made in regards to doing drugs or drinking. the song later became the template for the movement of the same name, but i've never felt connected to that aspect of the idea. it was always about the right of an individual to live their life they want to. obviously the more fundamental elements of the 'straight edge' movement don't respect other people's choices in that area. i stand behind all of my lyrics, it was never a joke... but i think that people have a skewed idea of who i am and what i believe in.
3. Since the very beginning during the Teen Idles days you were always into the D.I.Y. thing. I am pretty sure I know the answer to this but in your own words what do you have against major labels?
in the beginning they had absolutely no interest in what the underground was up to, and when they did i had absolutely no interest in them. i don't necessarily have anything 'against' major labels, i'm just not involved with them. nor do i feel like it's necessary to be involved with them. the underground is a parallel community in my eyes, not a training camp.
4. Another thing which is a constant in your career is never ripping the fans off, most bands a good bit of their money off of merchandise. Fugazi, doesn't sell shirts, hats, etc..... your tickets are always $5.00, and if ordered through Dischord your records are extremely cheap. How do you make the whole thing work?
the whole operation of dischord and fugazi is hinged on doing the work ourselves. we don't have managers, booking agents, lawyers to pay, so we are able to extend the lower operating cost to the people who buy our records or come to our concerts. most people don't realize how little of a $20 ticket the artist actually sees.
5. Do you still talk to your ex-band mates Minor Threat and if yes what are they up to?
jeff(Nelson), the drummer, is co-owner of dischord and lives just around the corner. brian(Baker), the bass player, is playing guitar in bad religion and lives here in d.c. i ran into him the other night. lyle(Preslar), the guitar player, is working for sire records in nyc. we speak now and then. steve(Hansgen), bass player for a few months when brian wanted to play second guitar, lives here in dc and i bump into him every few months. i'm not sure what he's doing for a living. i think we are all on friendly terms, and i'm happy for that.
6. What is fugazi up to these days?
our feature length movie, 'instrument' has just been released on video (dischord #80) and will have occasional screenings. if people want to organize screenings they should contact us through firstname.lastname@example.org. a soundtrack to the film will be released in late april. we're touring iceland, england, ireland, and scotland in may. we've been working on writing and trying to figure the rest of 1999 tour-wise.
7. You've been in the music industry for almost 20 years now, what advice would you give bands who are just starting and want to make music their living?
if you play music because you love it, you won't be too disappointed if can't make a living off of it. be prepared to work hard.
8. What are you listening to these days?
right now i'm listening to the holy rollers (a late 80's dc band), earlier it was the ramones and lungfish. i've played the spirit caravan 'jug fulla sun' cd many times, and love the new hendrix 'band of gypsys' release.
9. Lastly is there anything you would like to add I didn't touch on?
conviction above content.
This short interview was originally 10 questions long, the missing one was asking specifically how Dischord records got it's start. The label has a comp' out called 1981- A Year In 7 Inches, which has a fairly great description of how exactly the label came to be in the liner notes. Essentially what he told me was he couldn't explain it any better than that would and he made me a copy of the entire liners and sent them to my house with a short note. How nice is that? Now I had a copy of A year in 7 Inches on cd already but he didn't know of course. So he basically gave me permission to plagiarize his comments in the cd!
I really need to try and re-contact Ian, and try to set up a more up to date interview.