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Posted June 19, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

What’s ahead? Ian MacKaye doesn’t know (or care)

Evens_Charles Previtire
Evens_Charles Previtire

Revered as the leader of hardcore heroes Minor Threat and Fugazi, singer-guitarist Ian MacKaye has spent the last decade touring and recording with the Evens, an indie pop band that features his wife, singer-drummer Amy Farina. MacKaye still runs Dischord Records and we recently phoned him to talk about the Evens and what it’s been like keeping the label going for 33 years.

What’s it been like keeping Dischord going?
It’ll be 33 years in December. How can I answer a question like that? It seems normal to me. I just wake up every fucking morning to get to work. I’m honest. One thing about me is that I’ve never thought about the future. I don’t care about the future really. I just care about the present. If that’s the case, it’s just one foot in front of the other. At one point, you stop and think, “I’ve come a long way, I guess.” But it doesn’t matter how far you’ve come because you’re always where you are. When the label started, it was just to document a band we had been. We wanted to make a memento. Then, the scene here was exploding. It was just on . . . Now, we have people who grew up in bands listening to our music.

Is it a huge challenge?
No. It started from absolutely nothing. Can you imagine the interest and excitement for a band of teenagers from Washington, D.C. who had just broken up? There was zero interest in that. The fact that we sold any of those is kind of startling. We sold one thousand and then two thousand and then however many thousands. It’s totally insane. It’s totally surreal. Things got bigger and bigger and our small records were selling eight to ten thousand and our biggest-selling records were selling 400,000. But we didn’t let our pants out. I’ve never been interested in the record industry; I just put out records. It’s like you’re a writer. You’re a freelancer and then you try to get published and you write. The fact that anyone reads you is amazing. I think that as long as there is an interest, it’s worth doing.

I’ve come around to this realization that I have a custodial responsibility. For the last three decades, these artists and bands have trusted us. We’ve been selling these records and paying royalties every six months. I wrote them just a week and a half ago. There’s something so perversely pleasant about writing a check to someone who played on a record in 1981. It’s amazing. We never used a single contract and I don’t have a lawyer. Every record we ever put out, we still have. There’s no disgruntled band. They’ve made it possible for me to exist in a rather strange place. Now that things have gotten smaller, it means things are not as easily self-sufficient. But I have a custodial responsibility and as long as there’s an interest, it’s my responsibility to make it available in one form or another. There’s enough of an interest that we still make vinyl and CDs and digital downloads. I have four or five people who work for me with health benefits. That’s okay. The problem with other labels is when they hit that fat period in the ‘90s they got buildings and cars. We never did.

There’s something so perversely pleasant about writing a check to someone who played on a record in 1981. 

Talk about how the Evens came together.
I met Amy Farina in about 1990 or 1991. She grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and she moved down her to go to school of art. She was a musician and her older brother was in Karate. She was in a band called Mr. Candyeater. One of the people in the band was a guy named Charlie Moats and he worked for me. They opened for Fugazi in 1992 here in town. She drummed and sang a song. I talked to her and thought she was a great singer. She was a big fan of Minor Threat and Fugazi. She started to play with Lois Maffeo and I really liked them and I offered to do some recording and recorded a few songs for them. They formed a band with my brother Alex in the mid-’90s. We were great friends. We talked about playing tunes together. I don’t do that with other people because it gets weird. It’s hard for me to informal with people, musically speaking. In the late ’90s, things in our lives started changing. People in Fugazi were having kids and our parents were getting sick and dying. We would take four- or five-month breaks. I had some songs that didn’t fly in Fugazi. I asked Amy to play some music. The first practice was so pleasant. We just started playing and played all through 2001 and 2002. At the end of 2003, Fugazi went on this indefinite hiatus and after about nine months, we did a little performance and started gigging in 2004. It’s been great. Amy and I are together and we have a kid. There’s no question in my mind that we’re a family, the guys in Fugazi. We’re all super tight. Amy is literally my family and an interesting extension of that.

Do you like playing in a duo?
That’s challenging because when you’re a four-piece you can drop your guitar and keep going. I love the simplicity of it. I love the agility of our arrangement. We book shows two weeks out. We have our own PA and lights, we just need a space with some outlets and somebody with a vision who will help us sort it out. They’re off the radar. People say, “It’s your new band.” Yeah, my new band that’s ten fuckin’ years old. It’s cool. There was an intensity to Fugazi and the way we worked. We would practice four or five times a week, sometimes for four or five hours. But we never practiced the songs. We just jammed and worked on music. We had 100 some songs at our fingertips. Before a tour, we would take one week of running through the songs at least once to dust them off. I have ringing in my ears. That’s not from the shows. It’s from practice. I miss the practices.

I have ringing in my ears. That’s not from the shows. It’s from practice. I miss the practices. 

Do Fugazi fans like the Evens?
Some people do and some people don’t. I talked to a guy the other day who said he didn’t like the band. I don’t give a fuck. I care, but I don’t give a fuck. When we first started to tour, there were people who thought it was terrible. They wanted Minor Threat. It’s not a bait and switch. I don’t advertise the Evens as Fugazi. I was in both bands. Unless you are under the impression that all people like bands for the same reason, then the answer is clear. Maybe they like my songwriting. And maybe they don’t like it because we’re not that loud.

Fugazi ended rather abruptly.
What makes our end any more abrupt? Let’s say our last show was in London in 2002. Why would that be any more or less abrupt?

If you had announced a final tour . . .
That’s not my style. We’re alive. We’re responding to real circumstances. In 1986 and 1987, there were circumstances that allowed us to do the work on the project that became Fugazi. In 2002, things became more complicated. We had made the band the central aspect of our lives. At some point, life has to become the central aspect of the band. It made it impossible for us to work in a way that made sense to us as a band. Instead of saying how long we would go on a break, we decided to leave it open. I still think of it as a band. Doesn’t that seem horrible? Imagine if it was the last thing you were going to write. Is it possible we’ll play again? Sure. Will we play a concert? I don’t know. It’s an indefinite hiatus. The only thing you know about the future is that it’s going to show up. And when it does, it will be a present.

In more ways than one.
Thank you very much.


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.