By Morgan Y. Evans
Ever since downloading erupted (and often frequently before that “back in the day’) Ian Mackaye has been the seemingly “go to guy” for solutions to people’s insecurity about the music industry. Art over vapidity. Caring can be commerce. The world can be changed. It’s almost 30 years since Revolution Summer and Dischord still matters.
Like Patti Smith had an album called, simply, Dream of Life. Sam Black Church had one called Let In Life. Bad Brains had Rock For Light. The message is simple. Embrace the real world. Whether it be Blind Melon or Circle Takes The Square or Nadja or your neighbor’s kid learning to make dub step glitch beats, follow your passion but don’t be a sheep. The type of world where Mischa Barton wouldn’t have to have body issues. The type of place where people can exchange ideas and work to improve.
It was a pleasure to talk to Ian Mackaye after a few months of emails (and years of being a fan). The Evens had come to play a community center show in my old town of Rosendale, NY (a comfortable nook of The Catskills), bringing their songs to non traditional venues for all ages. I even got to let him know a friend of mine heard Fugazi play during the ACLS.
Sustainability is so vital nowadays. Community and individual empowerment is more important than ever, especially during our Government Shutdown/gridlock. I work at a lot of farmer’s markets that are spreading the culture of organic produce or businesses that are really doing it from the ground up. Field Apothecary. Small publishers. Orchards. It’s great to see that culture growing for local businesses and regional health and it reminded me of what you have done over the years, in a way. What you do is more important than ever. Dischord is a bastion of sufficiency, regionalism and quality.
We’re so distracted with options these days. How do you spread these organic values of community and make a difference these days?
How do I or how does one?
Huh…I have to say that…like, I grew up in Washington D.C. The government has always been obviously in the picture. It’s all around me. The big business in town. But my work has always been not to spite the government but despite the government. Not to spite but despite. People can live how they want to live. The way they operate is what’s going on but, well… that’s down the street, man. It has nothing to do with me. Basically. It’s still the case. Even more so, in many ways. I realized, if I am gonna do this I have to do it on my own. That also means we can’t respect the rewards. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t do it yourself and expect to get hit records. I’m not gonna be Miley Cyrus or something like that, but that’s part of the deal. It’s part of the equation, ultimately. I think that for me, today, I don’t do anything really different than I’ve ever done it. Obviously technology changes and I have to adapt to that, but that’s just the same old same old. That’s nothing new. I just do the work. everyday I just do whatever’s in front of me. So I don’t think in terms of “now what”. Now that the government is doing this or digital this or that, I think ,”well, what needs to get done?” And if, for instance, the government shutdown, which they have, and let’s just say everything tanks…well, I’ll figure it out. I went to D.C. public schools and that was the ultimate lesson I got. We’ll figure it out as we go. Get me the setting and I’ll figure out how to navigate. Life is much broader and wider than any government anyway. it’s not convenient. I had a friend who was coming to town next week and was excited. Specifically because he’s become a history buff and wanted to see the museums and now had to change plans. That’s a bummer. The zoo was closed for however many days. Friends of mine with government jobs are starting to get nervous wondering how they are going to pay for their lives. Beyond that, it’s just Wednesday, right?
I read this Think Progress article today about a guy who works for the army corp of engineers on a public works dam and how he has to go to work with no pay anyway. Wow.
What’s really intense is all the people not going to work who are going to get paid. Chances are many who didn’t go to work are going to get back pay, so this big shutdown means the American tax payer is going to pay all these people for doing nothing. I hope the whole world can see, but especially the American people can see just how insane this arrangement is.
For sure. It ties into…I always liked your old song “5 Corporations” in Fugazi about corporate homogenization. I was talking to a friend from D.C. about the Fort Reno concert series and then my partner was saying it would be awesome if Fort Reno did some internships where people could learn these skillets to create unique cultural happenings in their own communities. Parts of Baltimore, or some such. Where they could use the empowerment on a roots level.
I see. Yeah. I guess the thing is, I think the people who do this stuff…they just do it. They never went to school for it. You just figure it out. Like, if you have questions people would be happy to answer them. If you wanted to put on a Fort reno like event, fuckin’ go do it. Figure out and you’ll find out, like we did, that this place is interested or this place is not interested. Mostly, what people want to know is do they have to pay anything and that there’s no weird liability issues. So if you can get around that, you can get around pretty much anything. Fugazi played, we played Lorton Prison at one point. People ask how you play a prison. Someone just called and asked how we played there. How do you get in there? They said, “huh? What do want to play? You can play but we’re not going to pay you.” And that was it. Nobody ever asked because the Prison won’t pay you. That was the only reason. Obviously they wanted to vet. They want to know you aren’t calling for a prison riot, or what have you. That’s what we did. We just went and did it.
Go figure. Interesting.
The time economy has been severely shifted by computers. Not in the way that I think people had imagined it would. people don’t have time for anything anymore because we spend all our time interfacing with computers. Not all computers, I guess. I spent the last…what time is it? 1:30. For two hours now, my Dad needs a computer and I came across an old PC. And I don’t know anything about PC’s. I’ve only ever really used Macintosh. We’ve been, like, scrubbing…it’s an old computer and has somebody else’s information on it. I’m trying to get the stuff off so I can give it to my dad and it takes forever. it takes fucking forever. And that doesn’t even count email or even worse, the internet. the amount of time we can spend reading about torsos being found or whatever the fuck. Car crashes or photos or videos. Endless, endless, endless amount of stuff. It’s a rabbit hole. No question. People feel frustrated, partially because we are just staring at a box all the time. I’m aware of it in my own life, for sure. It’s not that things take longer, it’s just the way I deal with my time has changed. It’s almost this invasive thing. And I’m GOOD, compared to most people
People with smart phones on average check them 165 times a day.
That’s every six minutes. It’s crazy.
Go look at a tree.
That’s just totally crazy. I’ve said that in the moment our society is stoned on technology. It’ll pass. In the seventies people were stoned on pot. Everyone was pot parephenelia. People spent all their time trying to get high. Now they spend all their time trying to get on line or be on line. It concerns me that our relationship to technology is not a healthy one. But it’s alright. We are a young people.
A friend of mine wanted me to ask you if you were starting fresh today, do you think you’d be able to maintain your same standards with album dirsto and pricing and concerts, with the groundwork you put in.
People always ask me this question. It’s just such…first off, it’s hypothetical to a degree of pointlessness. I can’t imagine myself doing anything differently than who I am. Using a sports metaphor. if I really loved throwing a football and fourteen years later I loved basketball, I’d fuckin’ play basketball. Whatever. I’d bring to the equation whatever I would bring. The circumstances would change and frankly, they have changed. I am alive today and I am engaging with the modern world. So I feel like my work is consistent. I have to think if I was starting today that I would find a way to navigate that felt right to me. if it feels right, what is the right thing to do? I can’t think of doing anything any differently, except it would be a different set of circumstances. Correct?
I mean it, I guess, in terms of people had thought downloading would make people more aware of their music but now are finding it is harder to make money for touring bands, so to speak.
If I was a young businessman, I guess I’d have to figure it out. Minor Threat, for instance…when we toured, did people actually think we were making money on tour? We were making seriously $50 a night or something. A question like that is, again, I’m not trying to say ,”Oh, we struggled.” We struggled. We did the work. It never occurred to me. I never thought of music as, well, a way of makin’ a living. Ever. For me, music was something I had to do. I worked jobs so I could go out and play music. I didn’t want my dependencies to ever interfere with my music. I had three different jobs. And even today, the last time I was playing guitar was two weeks ago. I’m not doing music right now. I;’m talking to you. This is my job. I work all the time. I’m not playing music, so it’s not music I’m living off of. I live off my work. And my work is, at the moment, i run a company. Most of my work has to do with assisting the people who are running it and communicating with them. Like this, for instance. I am communicating with you right now. By talking to people and making connections with people in countries around the world. having open dialogue. That’s how , for instance, where’d you see us? Up in Rosendale, NY. That was, for instance, people who at some point in my life I talked to. We set that up. I talked to them and they said ,” yeah! Let’s do a show in Rosendale.” That’s how I work.
I’m interested in people. Even by today’s standards, Rosendale’s not buying me a house. It was a gig. An interesting thing with the Evens. The shows feel like when we’re on, we’re really on. When you’re there it feels like something is occurring that’s really nice but once we’re not there it’s almost as if it didn’t happen. That has, maybe to do with the technology and how fast people just move on now. I hope for people it resonates with them. I hope people understand and think ,” Huh. That’s an interesting way to approach things.” Impart to people that there’s always another way. But really, those experiences…I love playing but when I’m not playing it’s almost as if I don’t exist, or something. I just do my work, all the time.
It’s like you said. It comes down to what people’s life style emphasis is. if you wanna try to be a “rock star” or something, you try to make compromises. But if not, you’re gonna find a way to make it work with what you are comfortable with.
Yeah. Fugazi was a really popular band. It could have been a whole lot more popular. with standards, had we taken certain offers that were on offer. But, we didn’t. I’ve had experiences like that and to me, the shows like Rosendale aren’t less significant than < I don’t know, Fugazi at the Palladium. It’s a moment. It’s a gig.
While we’re on the subject of The Evens. The sound has “alternative rock” elements but it’s real slippery. You have a lot of groove and …because people are more worried about selling records lately, not that they haven’t always been…there’s such an appeal to boil things down to genres. I feel like bands I love growing up like Bad Brains or your bands over the years…you’ve always let whatever influences come in. Even Minor Threat covering “Steppin’ Stone”. Your music seems to allow more people to be drawn in because the music is itself more open…to life.
Every band I’ve ever been in, I always have written songs hoping and thinking people would sing along with them. It’s a communal effort. It’s sad that at Evens shows people don’t sing more often. I want to write songs where people will sing with me. We try to get people past their shy phase or write songs that are better, that make people want to sing. Also, it’s hard. At a club you’ve got the room all lit up. At rock clubs people would be a lot more ready to get involved in that more traditional way. It’s never easy. Hold on…the mailman’s coming up. I’m gonna pick up the mail from him.
…Ok, that’s why I invite people to sing. And when they do sing it’s great. Super nice.
I love that you have been doing the non traditional venues. There’s this guy Listener Project and he’s a rapper but he kind of does spoken poetry over Explosions In The Sky type stuff. He did a tour of homes and he brought a washing machine he’d bang on. And I thought it was so inventive. And you have been teeing The Evens to places that make people think in a different way. I don’t want to use the world “novelty” because it’s not diminished in importance, but it is cool to take people out of their element. They think ,”what do I do”. This interesting place.
Music to me should be in all places. That’s sort of the idea. I think the clubs are actually the enemy of music in many ways. The club system, I should say. I have a lot of friends who work in clubs and they’re my friends. I love them. I support them. But the club system however, keeps getting more and more organized around the marketplace. You need an agent if you’re a band. You can’t get a show unless you have an agent. The agent will have to call and the way they get a better night is wager other bands against you. If you don’t book this band I won’t give you this band. A really sick situation.
It’s dog eat dog, for sure.
Raising the ladder higher and higher so people can’t get to the ladder, much less climb it. You have to actually hire someone to get you to the ladder. Fuck that. We’re a band. You want to play the Rosendale Community Center? Anyone can do that. Just rent a fuckin’ room. So that’s all. Show people music can exist in other ways. That’s the thing.
I know you’re super busy but I wanted to ask…The Fugazi Live series. How have you managed to archive all the stuff. There’s so much stuff still. It’s so great you’ve listed openers and been so through with iut. I think people are really thrilled. (when I initially wrote Ian and had mentioned I saw them In Poughkeepsie at Vassar with Unwound and at The Chance with .mearth and Blonde Redhead, Mackaye fired me back an email with links to both shows in the Live Series).
I’ve been doing them for five years now. I have one of them to do, actually, today. One project after another project. It’s ridiculous. But I just kept notes. I booked the band, so I kept notes. We kept recordings. What was the point of it? You do it so you share it. What’s the point of having all the stuff if you can’t share it. Finally the technology made it possible for us to share all of it with everybody, or anybody who has access to a computer. Um, it’s a really crazy job. It’s a massive undertaking. I don’t know if it will ever pay for itself, once we factor in my hours or Guy’s (Picciotto) hours or the others. That’s uncompensated. But, I do think that it’s really…it just seemed like an interesting project and something kinda cool. I think it’s gonna be a really pretty incredible archive for people. I just hope the technology of the internet doesn’t render it obsolete, which scares me…that nonsense. I can make a book and you can read it if it is 400 years old, but you can’t read an email if it was written ten years ago.
Yeah. For sure, I know. You have a time capsule preserving it for people who know. Stuff moves so fast nowadays and hopefully doesn’t get wiped out. Hopefully the government backpay, so to speak, will be people really appreciating it. Having it there for posterity.
We hope it will be useful and people will like it. I don’t give a fuck about the money aspect of it. I’m not a martyr. I think art should pay for itself. rather, people should pay enough to keep the art thing going. And people have. people have definitely bought a lot of shows. I think I’ll break even. But I have to say for me just having done it, i will think ,” wow. This is great.” but that’s the work. It’s what’s been in front of me the last few years, among other things.
Where I live, there is a 4 year old running around. That pragmatic approach is becoming more and more important. I’ve gotta be focused and not be pulled in 8 million directions. One at a time. Repeat. Multiply.
Do what you can. The field will never be ploughed. So do what you can and be sure you get some rest.
A little bit. That’s laughable (laughing).
You’ll be alright.
Yeah, i’m alright. (chuckling) If you don’t mind, lastly, I love some of the stuff you’ve been putting out lately like Red Hare, but I’m a huge fan of the old Slant 6 stuff. Inzombia and stuff. Any cool memories to share from that time period on what it was like to release those albums? (I and a home hade sleeveless Inzombia shirt I made in the late 90’s).
I’m still really close to all those cats, of course. I’m still very close to Christina. I haven’t seen Myra in awhile. I haven’t seen Marge for, i dunno, seven years. But they were crazy people. The thing about Dischord, most of the people on Dischord are pretty crazy. The bands just wouldn’t fit. To be on Dischord you have to be not only ambitious but Dischord tried to make a good place for them . Like Lungfish. They’re crazy people. Slant 6 were a very eccentric bunch. Christina, i think, is a musical genius. She actually lives in Baltimore and is playing music again, which is nice. She has a six or seven year old daughter and she has an art degree. She’s quite an artist as well. That was an interesting time. Nation of Ulysses and Slant 6 and Make Up. That whole era…that crew was a huge clique and there were a lot of crazy memories. It’s hard for me. I don’t know what to tell you about. I loved the first record. The second one was harder. The Inzombia song went into that long song. They did a soundtrack to the Inzombia movie. That’s the soundtrack to the project. They shot it in Super 8. And then that’s the soundtrack to the movie. That’s why there’s a weird, long, sound effects type thing. The second record was hard because they were really not sure about how they wanted to approach it. then at some point I just sat in the next room and booked a Fugazi tour while they were mixing it. they were second guessing everything I did. I said, ” Why don’t you mix it. I’ll be here.” They did the ultimate mix on that one. They are an intense bunch. I hope to re-issue at least one of them on vinyl. With the label we need to know that enough people will buy it to justify repressing it. I don’t know if you’ve heard me say this, but a record that you don’t listen to is a piece of trash. If we make 1,000 Slant 6 records and only 400 people want it, the rest are pieces of trash. The world doesn’t need any more trash.
That’s one good thing about mp4s. They take up a lot less physical space.
That’s true but the bad thing is people don’t have the same relationship with them. So it just becomes less of a driving factor. I have drives and drives of music I don’t listen to, cuz all I see is the drive. But anyway, I really would like to press them again. I think the first record we could definitely do.
I gave that one to my friend Joey Eppard as a gift, once.
Inzombia, I don’t know if I could sell that one again. Inzombia is tougher. I don’t know if we could sell that one again.
I have that one on CD, so repress the first one and I’ll buy one. They both have a great cover. (laughing) Thanks for your time and everything you do. It means a lot. I’ve been singing for over twenty years and you know how it is out there. You have learning processes you go through. It’s great to see people keep going, no matter what – because they really believe in it. So thank you. Deeply.
Well, thanks for that. But also, keep in mind…we keep going because we don’t have a choice in the matter. Gotta wake up. That’s all you gotta do.