Ian Mackaye Interview (Minor Threat, Fugazi, Dischord Records)

A telephone interview with Ian Mackaye :: March 22nd, 2011.
Here's someone who needs no introduction. If you have been living under a rock and need an introduction I suggest you check out this for starters: Ian Bio

Approaching Oblivion:
First off, what’s going on with Dischord Records? Any new releases coming up?

Ian Mackaye: Well we’re going through a major transition a the moment. Our partner company, Southern, had shut down its Chicago office and that had been taken over by a company called CID. Southern and CID basically helped us with manufacturing and warehousing for the past 25 years. Last year CID decided that they wanted to focus more on being a retail store, so for the last 4 or 5 months we’ve been moving everything back here to the Dischord House.

AO: Southern is from the UK, right?

Ian: Yeah. Southern was started by my dear friend John Loder. In 1983 he came to see Minor Threat play and asked if he could put our record out in England. Dischord was in a pickle at the time because we were unable to get credit at record plants; we had to pay COD (cash on delivery) for all the pressings. The records would sell out immediately, but the distributors would take anywhere from 3-6 months to pay us. So we had sold all of our records, but had no money from the sales and we couldn’t repress the record that was in demand. We were totally broke. So when John asked about doing the record in England, we said that we would be into it, but only if he could make extra copies and send them to us to distribute in the USA. He agreed and we started working together. John died in 2005, which was the beginning of the end of Southern. Then CID stepped in and took over the Chicago office.

Dischord Records is now 30 years old and we're heading into our 31st year. We don’t have a lot of current bands. Part of our arrangement from the very beginning was that we were documenting a specific musical scene. I think that it waxes and wanes, it’s a living thing, and eventually it will die because it’s a living thing. I don’t think we’re done documenting things, but right now we have a specific back catalog that people are interested in and we feel that we have a serious custodial responsibility to distribute this music.

AO: So no big releases coming up? Just a lot of repressing?

Ian: Yup. Repressing. We’ve got a lot of unreleased stuff that we are considering putting out. Hopefully something new will come along. I’m hungry to have my mind blown by something or somebody to come along and knock the shit out of me musically.

AO: Still sticking to just D.C.?

Ian: Of course. Why would we change now?

I never actually wanted to have a record label. I wanted to be in a band and wanted to play music. I wanted to play how, when and wherever I wanted. I didn’t want anyone to tell me how to do it. The way to facilitate that was to have my own label. I actually find the record industry rather despicable.

AO: That is something that's deeply rooted within the hardcore lifestyle, the idea of keeping things independent. The interesting thing about your story and about Minor Threat is that you didn’t have much of a scene to grow off of. You were literally creating an entire movement and genre of music. I think that’s really honorable. Which bands influenced Minor Threat? Was there an underground scene in the early 80's D.C. area before you started pushing your music?

Ian: There's a lot to speak about there. I don’t know if it was ‘honorable’, we were just doing what we were doing. We weren’t thinking that we were crafting anything beyond what was already going on. We were just trying to make the music that we wanted to make. We weren’t thinking we were going to start a scene. I had no sense that Minor Threat would be heard by anyone outside of Washington DC, maybe other parts of the punk scene, but it never occurred to us. When I was writing those songs, I wasn’t writing them for anybody but the 30 people I hung out with.
I've always considered myself real. I’m real now and the things that I want to do now are real and legitimate, and whether other people think they are or not, I don’t give a damn. I was extremely excited about seeing a counter-culture in our society because I find mainstream culture so deadening. So for me I found it in the Punk and New Wave scene…it was really an incredible discovery for me to find this collection of freaks, that were involved with this underground music scene that I had only heard about in a derisive manner in terms of ‘punks are stupid, they stab themselves’ and all that. Upon further investigation, I saw something real was going on there and as soon as I saw a show I realized 'Oh okay, this is where I want to be.'

AO: Do you remember what your first show was?

Ian: Of course. It was The Cramps in February of 1979 with Urban Verbs and The Chumps at the Georgetown University Hall of Nations. Absolutely mind blowing gig.

AO: Did they play green fuzz?

Ian: It was earlier, before they wrote that song though I saw them at that stage too. I saw them a lot in those days. But of course there were a lot of bands that were influencing us…English bands like The Damned, Sham 69, Sex Pistols, Generation X. They were really inspirational, the music was so fresh. Then of course the Bad Brains were absolutely mind blowing. They were friends of ours that were making music that I had never heard before in my life. Then of course on the west coast, Black Flag was essential. The Germs, The Weirdos, all the stuff that was happening with Dangerhouse Records, I was influenced by it all. I was even influenced by Janis Joplin. I was looking for music that sounded like it was being made by people who didn’t have a choice in the matter.

AO: More of a cathartic release or something like that?

Ian: Yeah. Cathartic or just straight up honest. Something that sounds like they’re making the music that just needs to come out is music that is real and sacred.
I do think it’s odd to use the word lifestyle. Semantics play a huge role of how we operate as a society. How people talk about things plays a huge role in the way we do things. People have spoken to me about the ‘straight edge lifestyle’, but I never referred to myself as straight edge…I said ‘I’ve got the straight edge'. Because I don’t drink or do drugs people will ask me ‘so are you still living the straight edge lifestyle?” and I think it’s interesting because in my mind if you think of living a sober life, that is living a life without any external lubricants, you have to think about when a baby is born. They don’t drink, they don’t smoke, they are just these little perfect beings…

AO: They're just little harmless creatures.

Ian: Right. So in my mind, to be ‘straight’ is to be mindful about what is going into your body…that is life. It’s an example of a kind of psychological inversion that we suffer from in this society. People think that if you are living naturally then somehow it is a lifestyle, but if you live unnaturally then it is life. I submit that the party is the lifestyle.

AO: Have you gone out to any shows recently? Any bands that you’re really digging?

Ian: I see bands every now and again. I went and saw a band from Philly called Paint it Black. They were solid, I enjoyed them. There's a band down here called Give, which I think are kind of cool, another band called Gift, that I think was kind of cool. I’m not interested in a musical style, a look or an attitude, what I’m interested in is new ideas. I want to see people wrestling with new ideas.

AO: In terms of Fugazi, you’ve been on an indefinite hiatus since 2002. Do you have any intentions of playing or recording again?
Ian: The four of us love each other dearly. I saw Brendan last night, I was on the phone with Guy today, and Joe is on tour at the moment. We are a family we don’t stray from each other. We worked really hard for 15 years; the band was the central aspect of our lives, and at some point life demanded attention. We had kids getting born and parents that got sick and some died. A lot of new things happened in our lives that we had to pay attention to. It meant that we had to stop working.
We didn’t break up, I coined the indefinite hiatus term specifically because I thought it was absurd to break up, it wasn't a circumstantial issue, it wasn't that anyone did anything wrong. There wasn't any anger there wasn't any big ‘fuck you!" It is entirely possible that we will play again and it's also possible that we won't. We have the desire to play, but there’s a geographical issue. Joe currently lives in Rome and that makes it hard to practice. There's also a time issue. Everyone is super busy. You've got to remember that when Fugazi was actually working we usually practiced 5 days a week from 4-6 hours a day.

AO: It shows in the songs...

Ian: We worked our asses off. We practiced and practiced and practiced. That’s just not possible right now. I’m so busy right now with work.

What I’m currently working on right now is going through a database of 1000’s of live recordings we have. I’m editing and fixing things up, we’ve been working on this project for 2 years now. We’re going to create a website, where all of these recordings will be made available.
I’m struck by how intense some of these tours were. We’d do 65 shows in 70 days. We were working and working and working. It’s insane to look at it from this perspective. That’s how we made money, that’s how we could stay afloat...Constantly touring and constantly working.

Fugazi live in 1991:

AO: In regards to the website you’re working on, do you have an idea when that will be up?

Ian: I wanted it to be up last fall. Jerry is upstairs right now editing shows. We had to digitize every show, they are on cassette and DAT (digital audio tape) for the most part. So we got that stuff done. Now we’re in the process of mastering all the shows so they play at the same volume. That stage is not too hard, it’s pretty mechanical, there’s a mastering program that does most of the work. Then we have to edit the shows which means we have to put in index points in-between every song so they are not these 2 hour long files.

AO: That’s a lot of work

Ian: It’s a fuck of a lot of work.

We're hoping it will be up in the near future. The idea at the moment is to start it with 100 shows. Then put 20 more on every month or something. We’re still building the site, it’s an interesting and complicated process.

Can you hold on one second? My dad is on the other line...

AO: Yup.


Ian: Sorry about that...But to get back to Fugazi playing again, we’ve been offered an insane amount of money to play reunions, but it’s not going to be money that brings us back together, we would only play music together if we wanted to play music together and the time allowed it.

So many people don’t do that. They just fold, and go for the cash. They just sell out; I guess that’s what selling out is.

Ian: Yeah. I mean Minor Threat got offered enormous amounts of money too. But Minor Threat never played a single show for money ever, so why would we do that now? Isn’t that ruining all the work?

If you wanted to see Minor Threat, why would you want to see a guy who is 49 years old, doing a song he wrote when he was 19? I think that’s just insane. I tell people, I love Minor Threat, but that band belongs to that moment in time. I think it the music holds up because it is an honest expression, and that's why people can still relate to it. If you want to see Minor Threat, form a fucking band, that’s minor threat.

AO: I post on a forum where I promo'd this interview. Some posters had random questions. Someone wanted to know what the first car you ever had was?

Ian: My first car was a green 1970 Plymouth duster. It was a great car. In 1979 I played bass in the Teen Idles. After we played our last show in November 1980, we took the gear back to our houses, and Jeff (drummer of Teen Idles) and I took a case of Coke and drove the Duster all night to upstate New York to visit friends. It was on that trip that we basically plotted what would become Minor Threat. I had a lot of great experiences in that car.

AO: There’s a video of you out there when you were a kid working in an ice cream place...

Ian: Häagen-Dazs, yeah.

AO: And you worked there with Henry Rollins.

Ian: Henry hired me, he was the manager.

AO: Someone on the forum wants to know if you have a favorite kind of ice cream.

Ian: Well, I haven’t had any dairy for the past 25 years, but there is a place called Scoops in LA, that makes an incredible soy ice cream. I suspect that working at Häagen-Dazs lead me to decide never to fuck with dairy anymore, because at the time I was so poor that that was essentially my dinner. Ice cream. I get sick around that stuff.

Alright, I should jump. I've got to call my Dad back. Any other things?

AO: That about wraps up the interview, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for the Approaching Oblivion Blog.

Not a problem. Many thanks man. Take care.
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-Jake/AO Blog


Great interview, some really motivating things were said. Thanks for sharing.
thanks cullen. it was nice to speak to a legend. of all things talked about, i'm really looking forward to the website dedicated to unreleased fugazi material.
Ryan said…
awesome interview. I met Guy in Seattle in 2009 right before Vic Chesnutt died and he was a humble and grounded person to be around considering what he's been involved in...hope to see Fugazi play again someday!
Anonymous said…
Fucking love this man, thanks a lot, some nice information!
José Ayerve said…
Really enjoyed that interview, Jake! thanks for making it happen, and asking really good questions. cheers!
Anonymous said…
I was talking to a guy last year who told me he paid £700 ($1100) for a VIP backstage pass to meet and greet the band Kiss at their show in London. A few years ago, I saw The Evens at a small and intimate venue in Bremen, Germany, and after the set, I simply walked up to Ian Macaye and had a brief chat with him and shook his hand. It didn't cos me a penny. That's the difference between the punk/hardcore and the corporate music machine - the former nurtures respect, the latter encourages rip off merchants to suck to blood from "fans" who blindly follow their leaders.
Tommy Danger.
Thanks everyone. That is the beautiful thing about most underground music scenes. It creates and is run by really down to earth people. There is no celebrity status or soap boxes. For instance, I am just an average guy who started a blog. All I did was email Ian and he agreed to do this, you can do the same thing. Same thing goes with my upcoming interview with John Joseph.
Anonymous said…
I feel so inspired now. Thanks for the post.
Unknown said…
Inspiring, as always. Thank you for passing that on.
excellent interview
thexJib said…
Thanks for the interview. Ian Mackaye is a real inspiration and a phenomenal artist. Just about anything cool that has happened in rock music over the last 30 years can be traced by to him... and he will never get the credit due.
jon_patterns said…
I liked his comment about being mindful is thought of as unusual or lifestyle. I think there are some parallels between this the way the word 'radical' is used in politics. For example to want change the economic system is thought of as too radical - but in actual fact not changing it is too radical.
Foul Pete said…
Good stuff. Thanks for doing this interview. It is good to know Fugazi will never cheapen their legacy like so many other 'artists' continue to do.
Anonymous said…
Met Ian around 81' before heading off to college in Wisconsin. When he says Minor Threat didn't play for money, he wasn't lying. Put on a show in Milwaukee. They were on tour and agreed to swing by and play. We collected 140.00.that night and Ian was so genuine about it being enough. . Incredible show! I may not subscribe to many of.his beliefs but I respect and admire him
Jason M
jason00454 said…
it's still great to check in the the fugazi guys every once in awhile. No other band has influenced me more than they have.. and not just musically... they taught me a lot growing up, and such important lessons keep on teaching throughout life. I've met Ian a couple of times over the years, and he was very kind and thoughtful. I know a lot has been said about his beliefs, but i wouldn't go so far as call them beliefs. i think he lives in a very practical way.. he seems to take responsibility very seriously, which is something we should all do. to me, fugazi's "beliefs" always kind of mirrored buddhism in it's purest form. not religion, but a path trough life that's full of respect and awareness. awareness is really the basis of buddhism. i'm not saying that fugazi are buddhists...they just happen to share a lot of the same ideals. ideals that have helped me a lot over the years, still do, and will continue to help me throughout the rest of my life. snd the music is pretty damn good too.. of course.
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Jim said…
I always have hope that, when we least expect it, and on THEIR terms (as opposed to terms dictated by fans, money, whatever - all that shit they had to put up with over the years), that Fugazi would come roaring back just to let us know they've been listening. Thing is, even if they don't, look what we've got that they gave us already. DC was always weird like that, bands came and went, and the memory was cool enough. At least they went out on top because The Argument is phenomenal.
Anonymous said…




I hace nothing against old bands reuniting to play. I'm not completely against they go for money (we all need it). But hardcore punk belongs to small venues. Most of reunited bands come like rock star idols, and that's what they started against at the beginning. I don't like large venues. Small venues are the real hardcore, the real fun. Hooray for McKaye.
Kevv said…
Brilliant interview! I've never been a fan of either Fugazi or Minor Threat, but cannot discount what a punk/hardcore legend Ian McKaye is.
again.. brilliant interview, thanx!!
Anonymous said…
if minor threat would play any reunion-show ever, then i would stop organising shows, would stop my own recordlabel and distro and would sell ALL my punk and hc-records.a friend of minde sold all his records recently cause of the refused-reunion.and he was right.
Anonymous said…
I hope you choke on some celery !

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