And what better place to begin than an interview with the legendary Fugazi? The interview originally ran in Fracture Magazine, a UK-based 'zine run by Dave "Monk" of Newest Industry. In it, Alan Willoughby spoke to Ian MacKaye about what would be the band's final studio album for the forseeable future: the critically acclaimed 2001 album, the Argument.
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The new album is titled "The Argument", what does this mean?
I couldn't tell you really. It's the name of one of the songs off the record, but we don't really explain things like that. We put it on there and people figure it out or they don't. It's a title of a collection of songs and we leave it up to peoples own imagination about what the relationship between the songs, title, and artwork is.
Have you taken a different approach in the production of The Argument?
I can't say, every record has been different. In every record we do we're different people, they're a couple of years apart every time and a lot of stuff happens in-between.
No record label is going to tell us what we can or can't do. The thing that people don't really get about us is that we just don't give a fuck; we do what we want to do.
When will the album be released?
Will there be a European tour?
No, Joe (Lally, bassist) and his wife are having a baby. As a policy of the band, when someone has a kid the band goes into an indefinite hiatus until the parents of the kid are ready for the dad to go away. I should mention that we also have a single coming out the same time as the album.
It's called Furniture +2.
Yeah, it's a 3-song 7" and Furniture is one of the songs on there, a 10-song album and a 3-song 7".
Those songs didn't make the cut?
They belonged on the 7", not the album. Its just didn't make sense to us with the concept of the album. It seemed like those songs, aesthetically, needed to be in a different place.
There is a fifth addition to Fugazi, who is he?
His name is Jerry Busher and he's been a good friend of ours for many years. We've known him since the mid 80's and he's been a rodie for us for 6 years. When we did the End Hits record, Brendan (Canty, drummer) double tracked a lot of the drums, so when we tried to recreate that live we asked Jerry to sit in on some of the songs. We liked it so much we started writing more songs and included his parts or input.
You play with him live now.
Yeah, but he only plays on 7 or 8 songs out of 90 or so. He also plays trumpet on a couple of songs.
You worked with Jem Cohen on Instrument, I understand there's a DVD version coming out that's slightly different.
Yeah, we put the movie on DVD with 5 extra things; 2 short film's of Jem's and 3 live songs of ours.
When will it be available?
I believe the beginning of November.
While on the subject of Instrument, what's the story behind the prison gig?
We had done a number of benefits for prisoner's rights and new thought it would be interesting to go play a gig in a prison. It was a really intense experience. A lot of the kids who are in prison down there don't listen to our type of music so I don't think they were necessarily entertained by the music, but I do think that, because every other function that comes there is religious or country music, they really got a kick out of just how loud it was. It was kind of weird because they just stared at us and we just stared at them so there was an awkward feeling but at the end it was great because they were so psyched. I think that most people who are in prison have no business being in prison. This country has gone insane. I just heard on the radio this morning that there's twice as many jail sentences being handed out today then there was 10 years ago. It's completely absurd. This is drug stuff I'm talking about.
You feel they should be rehabilitated instead?
Absolutely, I don't think people should be put in prison for doing drugs, that's stupid. Actually, I don't think that drugs should be illegal necessarily. I definitely don't think marijuana should be illegal. I think that drug laws are nonsense. I think there's a massive industry surrounding police weaponry and the prison lobby. There's such an organization behind pressuring for that kind of stuff. The people that make guns to sell to the police have made a fortune over the past couple of years on this so called "War on Drugs". There's so many people becoming the fattest millionaires and billionaires over building institutions to house people, and the only thing they need is for people to be put in these houses. That's the way they keep their business going. I'm completely opposed to it.
Fugazi was included on VH1's top 100 Hard Rock Bands of All Time. What are your thoughts on this?
I don't have any thoughts about it. I never saw it. I think somebody or some people at VH1 are obviously fans and thought that they would try and get us on the list somehow. How could anyone make a list of the "Top 100 Hard Rock Bands of All Time?" Doesn't it seem a little crazy that you have Fugazi and Billy Joel on the same list? So I don't take it very seriously at all. I will say though, the few seconds we appeared on that damn television channel, my mechanic of 15 years said, "I saw you on TV, you guys are finally starting to make it!" I mean, we've been together for 14 years! I guess it just shows you the kind of weight television has.
When we tour we barely break even. We have to rent a van, pay a sound person, stage person… everything. The thing about the low door price is that the single most important tool that we have is to say no to a gig.
I think a big reason Fugazi was included was because of the tremendous influence you've had on other artists. Are you able to hear this influence Fugazi has had?
I can't usually. There are occasions where I hear something that sounds familiar. People tell me all the time though; they say some bands have just ripped us off completely. I can't really hear it because it always sounds different coming out of someone else. I've even heard people cover our songs and it doesn't sound like us to me. It sounds like it's coming from a different place. I can't explain what I mean by that, but there are certain riffs I hear that sound real familiar. It seems they are emulating a certain aspect of the music, whereas I'm knowing the music in a total and complete way.
Off the new album, the song "Cash Out" seems to have been inspired from living in D.C. Is this where you get most of your lyrical inspiration?
Most of it, yeah, this is my arena. I walk around and see things I'm involved with. I don't necessarily write all my songs about civic issues though. "Cash Out" does deal with the distrification issue. I think the real point of the song, in my mind, is that people have to live somewhere, so where are they going to live if the price keeps going up? People have to exist, they don't just disappear. It's a song that just thinks about the idea that everybody needs a place, so how do we work around that puzzle.
Is it still difficult to keep a low door price after all these years?
No it's not that difficult actually. The $5 shows were getting to be kind of ridiculous because inflation was just wiping us out. So one dollar more per head really made a big difference. When we tour we barely break even. We have to rent a van, pay a sound person, stage person? everything. The thing about the low door price is that the single most important tool that we have is to say no to a gig. For every gig we've done for 5 or 6 dollars, there's been a dozen that we've said no to because they would have been inappropriate. The ability to walk away or call their bluff is an asset to us. Once we went to a club that we had agreed to a $5 door price to and when we got there they said it was going to be 8 dollars. I turned to the band and said, "Lets pack the stuff up." We started to load the van and he flipped. I think that he didn't believe that we would call his bluff.
Do you still find problems with moshing or stage diving?
No, we haven't for years. I have more problems with the media constantly talking about it. It just drives me crazy how much I have to read about our supposedly "confrontational" relationship with our audiences. Look, I'm a human being and I speak my mind, I feel like the media people are almost insulted or offended by this, but that's punk man, it's always been that way. To me, part of being a punk rock kid is that the band and the audience are sharing a room, so if I see something that I think is wrong I'm going to say it, and that is all.
Was there a specific instance that led to this?
There's years of it. In the beginning of the band it was a totally different time. Every gig was full of skinheads. I've done shows where I've had like 40 guys "sieg heiling" me. I have had to negotiate a peace pact between two warring skinhead gangs in Dallas, Texas. I had to make arrangements with the venue to let them in if they took their jackets off, so they couldn't be identified with what gang they were in. One of the guys was actually dressed as a WWII Nazi, it was incredible! After the skinhead thing in the early 80's, we had this fuckin' even more loathsome era when Nirvana came out. They had made these videos where people were jumping off the stage and crowd surfing. After that every show we played became crowd surfing madness. It had nothing to do with our music. It was really disturbing because it is distracting as hell for the audience and for us, but what was really upsetting for us was a number of instances where people became quadriplegic from getting their necks broken. It's fucked up man, that should not happen. People think we're anti-mosh or anti-dance, we're not. We want people to dance, what we don't want is this moronic, television-inspired brutal behavior. We're not going to play a soundtrack for violence.
Fugazi has a unique ability to toy with music and create unpredictable expectations. Was this an influence or did it just come out?
I think it just came out. The band has always worked under the idea that we would continue playing as long as we felt challenged and interested by the music. If anyone of us were to quit, that would be the end of the band. So all of us are equal members and none of us can be replaced. When we write we try to challenge ourselves and fool around with sound. One of the things we've done it try to create a place where we can do anything we damn well please. No record label is going to tell us what we can or can't do. The thing that people don't really get about us is that we just don't give a fuck; we do what we want to do. We're conscientious, we like our fans and we're concerned about them but we are not going to be told or instructed by the marketplace, the industry, or necessarily our fans. We appreciate the fact that people like us and we feel obliged to them on that level but never to the point that we are going to patronize them or play exactly what they want to hear. We feel like we're on a journey and we're psyched that they want to come along with us.