Perfect Sound Forever


Ian grinning Ian singing
Photos by dFx

by Jason Gross (April 1997)

It's one thing to start an influential hardcore (some would tell you THE hardcore band) like the legendary Minor Threat. It's another thing to also establish a fiercely independent record label at the same time (Dischord) which even today is a role model and subject of consternation from major labels and newspapers. It's still another thing to have your whole code of ethics, 'straight edge' frowns on drugs and alcohol, become a movement onto itself. How about cutting CD and concert prices to the bone and even as you reach a national audience, continue your support of small zines (like this one) and fend off the majors? Now imagine doing all of that and still be going at it in a band that is equally influential? Ian MacKaye and Fugazi are definitely true to their roots and their music. Even if he or the whole band itself packed it in right now, they would have a stunning legacy behind them. Luckily, they're still around and going strong, widely known as an amazing live act (Ian attributes this to 'showing up on time').

Many thanks to AJ Downer who runs a great Fugazi site

PSF:What was the music that you were listening to before you were in any bands?

I am an eternal Jimi Hendrix fan. Furthermore: Janis Joplin, the Beatles, Ted nugent, Queen, Cheap Trick. So forth.

PSF: Before Minor Threat, was there a real music scene in DC that supported local acts?

In the sixties, Washington had a really solid bluegrass scene. When I first got into punk rock, in 1979, there was a small but active scene. There was a couple small labels (Limp, Doodley Squat) and some cool records. There were a bunch of great bands playing; the Razz, the Penetrators, the Slickee Boys. And of course the Bad Brains had just started out. Keep in mind that there weren't really any touring bands in the punk scene at that time, so the local bands were it. People definitely came out for them.

PSF: How/why did Dischord come about?

I was playing bass in the Teen Idles. We broke up in November of 1980 and decided to use our savings to release a record instead of just splitting it up. We started the label because it was obvious that no one else was going to put out our record. We were inspired by the awesome 'Dangerhouse' label from l.a. and we got a lot of advice from Skip Groff, who ran a local record store called 'Yesterday and Today'.

PSF: How did the idea of 'straight-edge' come about?

It was just the title of a song that i wrote. I guess I coined the phrase but certainly never intended to start a movement.

PSF: Do you still follow this?

I am still straight, but have never really been involved with the 'straight edge movement'.

PSF: Were you surprised by the following/influence of Minor Threat?

Yes. But I was equally surprised by the impact of punk rock in general.

PSF: It took you a few years to get from Minor Threat to Fugazi- went through a few bands. Did it take some time to find your bearings?

I don't think of it like that. Each of my bands had their own reason to exist. Fugazi just happens to be the latest project (albeit the longest lived) that I've been involved with.

PSF: How did you, and do you, feel that your work with Fugazi has been different than your work with Minor Threat?

I can't really compare the two, so I don't. Needless to say that I was 21 years old when Minor Threat broke-up and I'm turning 35 next week.

PSF: Fugazi's songwriting process- do you jam to write songs, or is it more of a conscious effort? It seemed like on RED MEDICINE, there was a lot of improvising

We usually write together, just working out music ideas in the practice space, but we don't have any particular hard-fast formula.

PSF: These days a lot of majors have tried to snap up independent labels- how do you think you and Dischord have stayed away from this temptation?

No amount of money is worth losing control of our music.

PSF: RE your admirable efforts like supporting small zines, $5 shows and low price CD's: did you ever feel that this hurt the operating overhead of the label/band?

It just means that we have to be creative in our operations.

PSF: Do you know about Re/Recommended Records (run by Chris Cutler in England) who have done the same type of independent management and efforts to keep prices down for consumers?

No. But I did meet Chris Cutler once in Brazil, I believe. We were playing together in the first ever Brazilian Independent Festival.

PSF: Are there other ways that you know, or have thought of, to fight the whole status quo of the music industry?

I'm not interested in fighting them. I'm in interested in doing my work despite them.

PSF: Do you feel there are other dragons ought there to slay?

I'm sure there are plenty of hurdles to jump.

PSF: Eddie Vedder has done battle with some of these forces from the music industry- Ticketmaster, Grammies, MTV, Rolling Stone. Any thoughts on his battles?

Pearl Jam exist in an entirely different arena. They seem to have done well with the management of their situation.

PSF: Do you feel sometimes that you have a lot of pressure as being a 'role model' of integrity and the whole hardcore ethic?

I am aware of the fact there are people who pay attention to what I do and say, but I try to avoid customizing my behavior for them.

PSF: You've done work with Sonic Youth, Ministry, Bikini Kill and many other bands. Do you feel that this in part constitutes some kind of supportive network?

I don't see those particular projects (with the exception of the Bikini Kill session) as part of a network as much as interesting collisions. The BK record came about because they completely blew me away when I saw them for the first time. I took them to the studio because I thought they needed to be documented.

PSF: What kind of non-musical hobbies/activities do you like to indulge in?

Reading. Playing cards with my mom. Eating with Cynthia and Joe.

PSF: What kind of future/long term plans do you have for Fugazi, Dischord and yourself?

I've never had future or long terms plans.