Ian MacKaye on the Future of Minor Threat, Dischord, and His New Band

“No, absolutely not, we’ll never play again.”

Ian MacKaye has no doubts about a future reunion of Minor Threat. The legendary D.C. hardcore punk band broke up in 1983. From that moment, many fans wondered if they would ever see Minor Threat play again. In November of 2018, a picture of the band members sitting on the porch of the famous Dischord House in Arlington, Virginia—recreating the cover of their final, posthumous EP, Salad Days, from 1985—caused a sensation on the internet. “We’re just friends,” MacKaye says. “We’ve taken that picture a few times over the years. It’s just that [bassist] Brian [Baker] posted it on Instagram, and that made everybody get excited. Then, people start talking about it, using the word reunion, but no. That band belongs to the time it belongs, and the band broke up because we had reached a point where we didn’t agree about what we wanted to do musically.”

As the vocalist of Minor Threat and vocalist and guitarist of Fugazi, MacKaye has always been known for standing behind his decisions and strong words. “I want to respect that band. It was what it was, and it’s not some fucking 50-year-old dude trying to recreate something that can’t be recreated,” he confesses. “Every lyric I ever wrote, I stand behind. There’s nothing ironic about it. I can remember deliberately not putting Ronald Reagan’s name in any song because I didn’t want it to be dated. I was singing about being a kid, and I thought that was universal. Because it was really about the transition from being a child in your nuclear family or your biological family to your new family, which is tribal quite often, through punk or whatever form. When I was writing those songs, I was thinking for real from my heart about those experiences, and I was thinking, ‘This is not specific to 1981 or 1980. This is something that people go through.’ I didn’t want to ruin it by talking about something that was nailed down to those particular years.”

For MacKaye, punk has always gone far beyond the musical genre. “We were self-selected. We were a commune in our own right. We were all connected,” he explains. “I think of music as a currency, something that people can connect through, and punk music was definitively a statement of something. When you got into punk, you were saying,‘I secede from the nation, from the mass media. I want to be the other.’ So, you self-identify as somebody in opposition. You self-identify as a countercultural person, somebody who wants to question the world, question society, and by identifying with that music, you find other fellow travelers.”

It’s still vivid in his memory where it all started. “My first punk show was Cramps, Feb. 3, 1979,” he remembers. “When I walked in that room, it was full of all these freaks. They were music freaks, they were political freaks, they were sexual freaks, they were drug freaks, whatever they were. I never used drugs in my life, I never drank, but I felt an affinity for the freaks because I felt like a freak. I said, ‘Well, we’re different freaks, but we’re freaks,’ and that was super important for me. When Fugazi started touring and we went overseas and first came to Europe in 1988, making those connections with people—how interesting was that? To be in a place you could never imagine being and finding people in the world who didn’t accept the status quo.”

Records. Dischord House. 2018 (Marika Zorzi)

MacKaye is also the cofounder and co-owner, alongside Jeff Nelson, of the historic punk label Dischord Records, a label with a different approach to the music business. “Dischord has always been a documentary label. We weren’t putting out records to make a scene; we were seeing the scene and documenting it. We didn’t put the record out to make the scene happen,” he explains. “We approach things very differently, and I feel like, now, what’s most important is that we keep together those people over there [at the Dischord office]. They make all the money. I pay them to run that shop, because as long as they’re there, it’s like the heart is beating. We keep making the records, and people are still interested. It’s smaller, but I feel like a folk label. We are evidence of something that actually happened, something that was real and had a lasting effect. We’re not just walking away because there’s no more money. We’re not washing our hands of it. We’re still in it.”

“If the label represents the community and if the community is made of humans and humans die, then eventually, the community dies, and then, the label dies, and that’s fine,” he continues. “There was a period when we were selling many records. We sold four million records over the years, but now, we don’t sell so many of them. So, one would think, ‘Get out before the bottom falls out,’ but I feel like I have a responsibility, because those people trusted me with their music and the agreement was that as long as there are people in the world who are interested in hearing it, make it available in some format. That’s the deal. So, I decided I have a custodial responsibility now. I have to take custody of this stuff, and part of that is not to speculate. Not to gamble.”

Minor Threat Skateboard. 2018 (Marika Zorzi)

For both his attitude and his approach, MacKaye has always been a point of reference in the punk scene—even if this notoriety often puts him under unwanted spotlights. “I feel totally free to do what I want to do, but I am aware of the fact—like with that fucking photo—that there’s this weird, unhealthy interest in my persona. It’s too much, and it’s weird,” he admits. “If I go see a band, if I dance, then I hear about it. That doesn’t make me feel good. I’m self-conscious and have to kind of keep myself in a certain way. I don’t have that sort of freedom. Occasionally, I’ll be doing something, and then, I’ll hear about it later on that I was at a store. The other day, my sister mentioned, ‘Oh, I heard you were snacking on granola at the co-op [on] the street.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ It was just weird, ’cause I don’t really do it that often, but the one time I did it, somebody saw me, and it got reported. Then I think, ‘Oh well.’”

“Conversely, I’ll go to a show, and they’ll say, ‘Come on in,’ or I’ll go to a restaurant and people will say, ‘Here’s a cup of tea.’ I’m treated very well,” he notes. “So, I think it goes both ways, but for the most part, living in Washington, I’m invisible. I guarantee if we went downtown right now, we could walk around all day and nobody would say a word. I think, mostly, they don’t have any idea who I am.”

Fugazi. Memories. Dischord House. 2018. (Marika Zorzi)

This notoriety followed MacKaye to the first public appearance of the new band he has formed with Amy Farina of The Evens and Joe Lally of Fugazi, when they played a benefit for a local church in Washington D.C. in November 2018. The band still don’t have a name, but they’ve been playing together for three years, practicing four days a week in the basement of Dischord House. “Being me is sometimes problematic,” he confesses. “It is a little weird, because I can’t just do a little show. It always just turns into a fucking circus. That’s a problem for me, and it has kind of put me off playing shows. I don’t really like all the attention, because you can’t grow something.”

“I’m the guy you’re talking to. This is exactly who I am,” MacKaye asserts. “I’m not just a singer of this or this or the guitar player or bass player of that. I am me. This is who I am. I have friends and family, but I think if you talked with me in any other situation, you would find that I’m pretty much the same. That’s who the fuck I am. That’s always who I am. It’s not a person, it’s me, Ian MacKaye.”

Ian Mackaye. Basement Dischord House 2018 (Marika Zorzi)

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