Fugazi Southern man Neil Brown talks to hardcore legend Ian MacKaye about eggings and playing in churches.
On a recent trip up the East Coast, I was lucky enough to see Fugazi perform twice in their hometown, Washington D.C. The following interview with the band’s front man Ian MacKaye was conducted a few days following the Fort Reno and Cavalry Church shows.-N.B.
“Fugazi, Fort Reno, July 30, 1998″ read the tour calendar. Fort Reno? “What a strange name for a club,” I thought. When I arrived in D.C., I called information to get Fort Reno’s phone number. “I’m sorry sir, we have no listing under that name,” the robotic operator stated. Hmm. Wanting to get to the bottom of this, I went to a local record store in Georgetown. “Do you have the number for Fort Reno,” I asked the clerk.
With a look of pity for my stupidity, the clerk replied, “Fort Reno is a park, man. It’s a free show.”
Neil Brown: So, how many years have you been playing Fort Reno?
Ian MacKaye: I think we played our first show there in 1988, and we’ve done shows there every year since but one.
I hear you only play for free or fundraisers in D.C. Is that a way of giving something back to your hometown?
Yeah, it’s a way to do community work.
I’ve seen you play five times now, and every show you introduce yourself, “We are Fugazi from Washington D.C.” Is that an acknowledgment to the scene you came up in?
Yes. I think that context is quite important to us. We feel we are a part of a community here in D.C.
You said you grew up right near Fort Reno and would come see bands every summer. How does it feel to be the park’s biggest draw now?
I don’t really think about it, but I guess it’s nice.
Before the show, the band and your friends enjoyed a picnic without disruption. Does that respect exist everywhere or just in D.C.?
I think people are generally respectful everywhere, but I especially don’t think we raise much of a stir in our own hometown.
What was up with the egging at Fort Reno a few years ago?
It was just some dumb kids throwing eggs. They didn’t introduce themselves or explain their actions.
“Stacks” was in the set at the Fort Reno show. You guys don’t usually play much stuff from Steady Diet Of Nothing. That particular album seems to be a love-or-hate record for many fans. Do you feel it was a turning point for the band?
It was definitely a difficult record for us. It was probably the most stressful recording session we’ve ever had, and I think you’re absolutely right that it’s a love-or-hate record. I don’t know what that is. I do know that I think some of our best songs are on that album. So, I’m happy we still play almost all of them.
The evolution of Fugazi’s sound from 13 Songs to End Hits shows a lot of change. Many critics call this “maturing,” but I think saying that detracts from the strength of your early work. When you look back, are you satisfied with how things have gone, and are these really End Hits?
I’m satisfied that this is the way things have gone, and I don’t really have any idea if End Hits will be our last record. It certainly was not intended to be, but I never think about the future.
Calvary Church, July 31, 1998. Fugazi playing in a church? This seemed a little odd. Was the new album climbing the contemporary Christian charts? Well, of course the answer’s no. Fugazi played a benefit for Positive Force, a local activist group raising funds to help deliver groceries to the elderly and build a community center. You gotta love this band.
Have you played a church before?
In D.C. there are a number of churches that have opened their halls to us and Positive Force to hold benefits. It’s strictly a rental arrangement, and the churches are confident we’ll look after the halls. Also, they’re happy the benefits we play are almost always for the very neighborhoods they minister.
Positive Force seems liike a real world manifestation of what a lot of people preach. They match up well with the “call to action” ethic of Fugazi. Do you get a lot of similar groups asking for your support? Does it get difficult to decide what you can and can’t do?
There aren’t many, if any, groups that operate like Positive Force. We have worked with a few others over the years, but we limit the number of benefits we play out on tour. We have overhead that needs to be dealt with, so the dough must be made.
Did you set up Shine as the opening band?
Joe Lally and Guy Picciotto picked them. I was out of town when the opening band had to be picked, and I was certainly very happy to hear they were on the bill.
For those who don’t know, could you talk a little about Shine and The Obsessed?
The Obsessed were a heavy rock band from D.C. that played throughout the 80s and developed a strong following here. Both Joe and I were huge fans; our initial conversations were primarily about how much we loved the band. Eventually, the guitar player/singer, Wino, formed a new band called Shine that plays a bunch of the old Obsessed songs. And we’re still fans.
Did Joe really learn to play bass from them?
Joe lived with Wino for a while back in the 80s, and I think Wino may well have given Joe some lessons.
Did seeing Shine open amp you up? You seemed charged up that night.
I enjoyed their set, but I’m usually fairly amped on a night we’re playing.
You guys like to sweat on stage; your rider a personal request list from the band even asks for the air to be shut off. I’ve never seen anyone sweat like you and Guy did that night. Have you ever collapsed?
Both Guy and I have passed out on stage. It’s a very momentary experience, but very weird, also. The biggest problem I have is that I literally sweat my guitars out of commission. It takes a day or two for them to dry out and for the electronics to work properly again.
At both shows it seemed the audiences were younger than I expected. Is it that your older fans don’t get out, or is your audience getting younger?
I think we are getting older, and our older friends are less likely to come out for the gigs.
Any lasts comments to that audience?
Yeah, thank you.