Friday, December 10, 2004



Most people have heard of Fugazi but in my opinion not enough people have actually heard Fugazi records. For me they are the most innovative and direct band on the planet. Much is made of their "anti music industry" stance, dishearteningly taking focus away from the actual musical content. It is a tragedy that this policy results in close to nothing is ever heard of them in this country as they refuse to speak to the mainstream music press. They're often compared to The Ruts, Gang Of Four and Crass but for me they are more the band that links Nirvana to Henry Rollins and vice versa. I first heard of Fugazi, reading Gina Arnold's Route 666 book intrigued by her tales of them and how she ditched watching Nirvana at Roskilde 92 to go see them play a club in Berlin. Any band capable of such exploits had (has) to be special.
Whether they like it or not, Fugazi is the flagship of Dischord Records (don't even bother trying to squeeze the Make Up into this equation). Dischord (as in DC, as in Washington DC) was started in late 1980 by Ian MacKaye (previously in the Slinkees, who played just one show) and Jeff Nelson of the Teen Idles when they released an eight song 7" by their own band, paid for from "seed money" earned from playing shows, some of which were with Bad Brains. It was recorded on four track and still sounds amazing to this day. Dischord's next release was a ten song 7" by State Of Alert (S.O.A.) who featured Henry Rollins. Next came MacKaye and Nelson's new band, the legendary Minor Threat. With another ten song 7" they inadvertantly started a whole movement called "Straight Edge" whereby teenagers would proudly profess to not drink, not smoke and not take drugs. Despite worryingly potentially being picked up like a trend and unnecessarily producing sheep mentality, it still provided a relief from posturing rock stars and fucked up role models. The EP contains Screaming At A Wall which the Beastie Boys have covered and were originally accused of being Minor Threat copyists in their hardcore beginnings. By the end of 1981 Dischord had released three more 7"s by Minor Threat, Government Issue (the Legless Bull EP containing probably my favourite hardcore songs ever in Religious Ripoff, Fashionite, Asshole and Bored To Death) and Youth Brigade. There is an amazing compilation CD of the first six 7"s called "1981: The Year In Seven Inchs" (DIS14) which has 48 tracks on. Dischord continues to release material by Washington DC bands and for its 100th release issued a previously unheard Teen Idles EP. The Beastie Boys have commented that Dischord Records has acted as an inspiration for Grand Royal.
Minor Threat split in 1983. Read the lyrics to Salad Days to pretty much understand the situation at that time and why they split up just as bigger (not necessarily better) things were seemingly approaching. Band members disagreed about what direction the band should go in. Brian Baker eventually ended up in, amongst others, Bad Religion. That was one direction. MacKaye's next band (direction) was Embrace and were a whole lot better than their current namesakes who probably don't even realise they're flogging a taken name. Embrace was basically Ian fronting Faith, replacing his brother Alex on vocals. Option described the band as "MacKaye's transistion from the tense impassioned songs of Minor Threat to Fugazi's more expanded sound". They produced one album (DIS24) before MacKaye's next stop and current position in Fugazi, also not forgetting the brief (and somewhat surprising) collaboration with Al Jourgenson, Pailhead. He also did some early production work on the Rollins Band.
Guy Picciotto and drummer Brendan Canty (a blood relation of the Make Up) played together in Rites Of Spring, One Last Wish and Happy Go Licky. Happy Go Licky and Rites Of Spring had the same band membership, with HGL being the latter to exist, but with an entirely different musical program. Happy Go Licky released a six song 12" on Picciotto's own Peterbilt label, played a total of 7 shows and split on New Year's Day in 1988, in the early days Guy was only a temporary member of Fugazi. A 21 track live album was released late last year jointly by Peterbilt and Dischord including the original six 12" tracks. Similarly Dischord has released has released a Rites Of Spring (DIS16) compilation of the couple of records it put out on Dischord in the 80s. Picciotto has produced and recorded a number of bands including Blonde Redhead and the Make Up and is also into film-making. The fourth member Joe Lally entered into punk later than the other band members, going to Rites Of Spring shows and touring with Beefeater as a roadie.
Fugazi was finally formed in 1986/7 by Ian and Joe. Brendan joined on drums and brought Guy along shortly after. Fugazi actually played their first show without Guy but, in his own words, "almost immediately after, I quickly insinuated my way into the group, singing backups and dancing for the first year then playing guitar from Repeater onwards". They actually played their first show in the fall of 1987. The self titled 7 song EP came out in 1988 and by the Margin Walker EP in 1989 Guy's position in the band was cast in rock. A single, 3 Songs, came out on Sub Pop in 1989 in limited form and on Dischord in unlimited form. Since, they have released five full length albums: Repeater (1990), Steady Diet Of Nothing (1991), In On The Kill Taker (1993), Red Medicine (1995) and End Hits (1998), all at mid price. Their only other release is the track, In Defense Of Humans, which is on the State Of The Union compilation (DIS32), although Reprovisional appears on a K Records IPU compilation, a convention they had an amazing time playing at. In 1992 Ian MacKaye appeared on a major label release, playing guitar on the Sonic Youth track Youth Against Fascism from the Geffen album Dirty. A documentary film made with Jem Cohen called Instrument featuring numerous shows with tour and studio footage came out in early 1999 along with a soundtrack album featuring demos, alternative takes and previosly unreleased songs.
With the co-operation of Tom and Matt heres an e-mail interview with Guy Picciotto.
How are you and what have you been up to recently?I am doing quite well, enjoying an unseasonably cool breeze and a Brazilian soda. The last few months have been pretty action packed. In terms of Fugazi style band activity there has been alot going on. First off, in late May the End Hits album finally came out and we decided to emerge from a 9 month cocoon and play some live shows again. We went out and did a 2 week exploratory tour from DC to Chicago and it was really a killer. Though our drummer Brendan recently became a father and has intense familial obligations, we will still be going back out on and off for the rest of the year. The loose plan is to do some more US and Canadian dates in July and later in the fall (October or so) we will do a full European tour. We also have lately renewed our work on a Fugazi documentary style motion picture collaboration with filmmaker Jem Cohen (the guy who also has worked with us on the graphics for our last 3 records). I'm going to be spending much of the next month in New York with him trying to pare down the overly epic 3 hour version we have now to a more viewer friendly 2 hours. In addition outside of the band I've been doing production and engineering work for a variety of bands including Blonde Redhead, the Cranium, Make Up and Quix-o-tic. Needless to say, I've been a busy bee.
Why did you choose to be in a band?Well I first started playing in bands in the early 80's when I was around 14 years old. At the time the punk scene in Washington DC was really happening, the Bad Brains were playing, the Teen Idles were playing, there was a lot of activity and most of it was being done by really young kinds in their teens. The feeling I had was that I wanted in, I wanted to participate in the moment. Being in a band was the currency of exchange, it was the backdrop of all the hanging out, the shows, the creation of a community which in some form or another has persisted to this day. The first groups I was in were kind of unfocused, more an excuse to go-off than to actually make a statement but by the time I was 17 and had kind of gotten the hang of it I realized what a powerful and cathartic outlet playing music was and how it had become almost biologically necessary for me to express myself in that way. Five bands later, I'm still here.
What effect would you like your music to have on the listener?Quite honestly any effect will do. I am pretty happy if people actually spend their time listening to the albums or coming to the shows. Its like the physical laws of electricity, you've got to have both poles to create any action.
What are your touring plans for 98? We haven't had the opportunity to see you live yet, how does a Fugazi show differ from the records?I guess I kind of already broached this one already but basically the concept is to go on less extensive, more baby friendly tours in sporadic impulses for the next year or so. We really do plan on hitting the UK this fall at some point. In the past we tended to really do pretty full coverage of every nook and cranny of the globe but now we will have to be a bit more efficient in terms of time expenditure and tighten up our geography. As for our live shows, we really consider the stage our true habitat. There we are able to fuck with the songs, stretch parts out and rewrite them in the moment. We never use a setlist so every show is completely different and everyone in the bad has to be ready at any time to play any song from any point in the band's history. Its very much a tight wire concept.
Over the last year you've recorded the Make Up and Blonde Redhead in your basement. What studio set-up have you got and who would you like to record next?The studio set-up we have has kind of morphed over the years. Initially it was a small 8 track operation composed of a bunch of gear Fugazi and our old sound engineer put together. More recently in cahoots with Juan Carrera (ex-Warmers and Slowdime Records Magnate) we expanded the equipment to include a 16 track deck and more outboard junk. Really its not any kind of pro set-up as its in the basement of my old group house but over the years it has served to record a lot of local bands from the Metamatics to Chisel to Make Up to Blonde Redhead. The latest stuff being worked on over there is a Cranium album which will be coming out on Slowdime and which is easily the most ambitious thing ever done at Pirate House, it is like an encyclopedia of manic angles. I'm also doing a Quix-o-tic tape which is Christina from Slant 6's new band (along with her sister Mira and a guy named Brendan). They really are amazing as well. As for future projects, I'm not ambitious with the studio, its really a very utilitarian concept of creating a place where local bands can record for dirt cheap and get their sounds out there.
Who are your favourite British bands of the present and past?Let's see, I like: the Zombies, the Small Faces, the Beatles, the Slits, Discharge, PIL, This Heat, Yummy Fur, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Gang Of Four, the Kinks, Wire, Alternative TV, LKJ. That's just a bunch off the top of my head.
Arpeggiator: have any of the band had any formal musical training?Not really. Well, Brendan did study a bit of theory and piano but it was pretty abbreviated exposure I think. Of course he did come up with that descending scale chord thing that Arpeggiator stemmed from so maybe he's more Mozarty then he let's on.
What was the last book you read?The prison letters of Antonio Gramsci and Don Delilo's "Underworld".
What was the last film you saw?Stephen Fry in "Wilde" and Kiarostami's "Taste Of Cherry" - both were great!
How's the film-making going? (Both the Jem Cohen film and your own Super 8 stuff)As I mentioned earlier we are really close to finishing the Fugazi project. We should have it completely edited by the end of June and the audio mixed in August so by year's end it should be available. We plan to release it as a video through Dischord and also strike a theater print to play on screen. As for my own personal Super 8 stuff, I haven't done anything since the two movies that showed at the ICA in London ("Silly Game" and "Please Cry"). I hope to finish up the trilogy in 16mm with a film tentatively entitled "Essential Oils" but I'm having a hard time scripting it (I have no narrative sense).
What are your views on the internet in general? (vague question)I'm kind of new to the whole thing so I'm going to reserve my opinion for the time being. I don't want to come off as an Amish technophobe.....
You've had considerable influence on loads of bands. Have you ever been namechecked by anyone you despise?I'm too vain to ever be offended by a tip of the hat, no matter how unsavory the tipper. Namecheck away!
Do any of Fugazi play in other bands or is it totally full-time?Fugazi does consume an inordinate amount of time but there have been side projects here and there. For a while Ian recorded in Pailhead. Brendan has played guitar and released records with a band called the All-Scars. Brendan and I have released stuff under the name Black Light Panthers on my own label called Peterbilt Records. I'm sure there are other things here and there but they escape me at the moment.
How many Paul Sky King tapes are there?I honestly have no idea.
Have you heard the rumour that you folks beat-up people who own TVs?That's a new one on me, though of course how could I deny it? Its alot better than the Hepatitis one or the drunk driving/murder one or the one that says we frown on the heating of homes as ethically compromised.
Does Charlie the accountant still dance (and make a spectacle) on stage with you?Nope, though he is featured in our upcoming film in all his glory.
What was playing the Lorton Correctional Facility like (other than playing to a bunch of hardened crims unaccustomed to the Fugazi sound or anything nearing it)?Some footage from this show will also be in our movie. Suffice to say it was a surreal event.
Finally, who's your favourite Simpsons character?To tie a bow on the interview, I'll say my favourite Simpson's character is the gossipy preacher's wife - there is something about the creepy angled cast of her eyes that gets me everytime. She is deeply evil.
Best of luck with the label and gigs - sounds like a positive flurry of activity.

[taken from No Pictures 9]


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