Ian MacKaye is a renowned musician and guitarist, known for being the singer of pioneer hardcore band Minor Threat, the inadvertent founder of the Straight Edge movement, and one of the guitarists and singers of renowned alternative rock band Fugazi. He now plays baritone guitar in his most recent band, the Evens. Dan Bogosian caught up with him while in the middle of a busy work day to discuss everything from his guitar playing, John Frusciante, and the future of Dischord Records.
UG: When, why, and how did you first pick up guitar?
Ian MacKaye: The first time I ever played guitar was probably when I was 10, or 11 maybe? I had played piano since I was a little kid, I started playing piano before I can remember; I actually wrote my first sort of rudimentary songs when I was three or four years old, somewhere around there. And then, took some piano lessons with a local woman up the street who just taught me, basically, how to read, kind of it was very lighthearted kind of stuff. Then my mom put me in a more involved school and I hated it and I quit. I quit playing piano, even.
At some point, I thought I was gonna try to learn guitar because I was very much into Jimi Hendrix and loved rock & roll and I wanted to play guitars and I wanted to break guitars. I had seen the Who at Monterey Pop and Hendrix at Monterey Pop, and it just seemed like Wow, I wanna do that.' There was a guy in my neighborhood, kind of a local tough guy, named Nicky, and he was a tough guy, and my Mom in a sort-of moment of great wisdom hired him he played guitar so she hired him to teach me how to play guitar. But really, in a way, it was also de-fanging him, because he's not going to beat up a student. He was four or five years older than me.
So I had gotten a guitar, I think we had bought a guitar from a garage sale for like $20. My Mother had never played guitar, none of us had any idea, so the guitar, the action was probably an inch and a half off the fret board and it was basically unplayable, but nobody knew that. And Nicky taught me how to play Smoke on the Water, but just on one string, basically. Having played piano, I could not understand the way the guitar worked. It's a totally different instrument, and my whole understanding of music had been sort of framed around the piano keyboard. And I just didn't understand the relationship between the way the strings worked and the notes, I just couldn't understand how the chords would work, and I just kind of gave up on that idea, I really gave up on guitar period at that point and thought I would just not play music.
Then in high school, there were some friends who had rock bands and one band was looking for a keyboardist, so I thought I would try out. They wanted to play rock. A band called Frozen Heat, they were a cover band; and I had one practice with them, which was probably I have no idea what they thought, but I thought it was horrible. I remember doing the Beatles' birthday song, in which I would just play the end of the riff, the hey-its-your-birthday part. Sunshine of your love, Cream, I would just play the last two chords, the dun dun, dun part of the riff. I mean, I didn't know! Anyways, I didn't get the gig.
In 1979, or late 78, punk kinda showed up. It really showed up at my high school, and there were these people I was friends with who were really into it; at the time, I was a real Double Live Gonzo!, Ted Nugent fan. I saw Nugent three times. Pretty epic, I have to say.
I never would have guessed that.
You gotta remember, I was a skateboarder, and at that time, the 70s, to all the skateboarders, Nugent was a godhead. And Henry y'know, Henry Rollins, at that time named Henry Garfield he and I grew up together, and we went to see Nugent together three times. I mean, Nugent, those shows were incredible. I have to say, as deranged as he seems now and as totally unlike me, how we totally couldn't be more different people now at the time, at those shows, I just saw thought those shows were incredible. He cussed on stage, he spit on stage, I thought he was a great guitar player and his shows were so visceral and terrifying.
It was kinda normal at those shows, big arena shows, fifteen or sixteen thousand people, people would regularly throw firecrackers on stage. People were setting off fireworks in the building all the time. And someone threw a firecracker and it blew up right next to his fingers while he was playing, and he went ballistic and was threatening everyone in the audience, trying to get people to identify the dude so he could come suck his eyeballs out. For a fifteen or fourteen year old, it was alive! I was very, very blown away.
So Nugent was a big deal, and the first band I ever saw was Queen, Thin Lizzy and Queen in 1975. That was pretty incredible, too. So, I had long since given to the idea of playing guitar, but you think about Brian May, Ted Nugent, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix the way they played guitar, all these guys in their own way have their own style and its pretty celestial, and it was just out of reach for somebody who couldn't even make a chord work.
Punk rock really got it rolling for you.
The thing about punk rock was, at first I had to get my mind around what it was, because I couldn't understand the music at first. I've used this analogy many times before but I think it's a really apt one, which is: if you're raised eating steak and potatoes every night and that's dinner, when you go to a Vietnamese restaurant, you don't know what's in front of you. You just can't recognize it. The thing is that not only is it good, it's probably better for you. And that took me some time to figure out how punk was music.
I couldn't hear it because I was so used to how mainstream rock and roll sounded, so hearing bands like the Cramps or the Clash, or the Sex Pistols the Sex Pistols were an incredible gateway punk band, because they had enough rock to them, that you could've kind of make the connection, so you could make the leap, and yet they were terrifying. I think the song Bodies is still such an incredible song, and the lyrics are so heavy, so unlike anything I'd ever heard from anywhere; bands just didn't sing about that kind of stuff.
So I was very excited, because it was like a whole new world and it sort of represented counter-culture, this underground I was searching for. I grew up in the 60s like Yeah, I'm part of the new world, and the new world sort of just packed it in during the 70s. It was this very weird time with disco music.
Prog rock, disco, and funk took over.
Yeah, and it was just really brutal. It was so boring, and all the kids in high school, no one really had anything to rebel against except they couldn't see it. The only way people rebelled was by self-destructing, which I wasn't interested in. And punk rock was this incredibly creative, wild, open spot and that's really where I wanted to be. So, I started going to shows around January of 1979, and shortly after there we decided we were gonna form a band in my high school. My friends, Geordie Grindle had played guitar in another band and Mark Sullivan had sung in another band, Jeff Nelson had played the timpani in the school orchestra so he was the drummer so I said OK, I'll be the bass player. So I played bass, and because I had already taken lessons with Nicky and learned Smoke on the Water on one string, no problem! I was already there. So I taught myself how to play the bass, and I played bass in the first band, the Slinkees and then the Teen Idles, and at some point towards the end of that band, I borrowed an acoustic guitar and started to understand how notes related on the fret board. I started to understand how you made chords, started out with two finger chords and made my way up. I still basically don't play full chords; I just have my own weird way of playing. I didn't start playing guitar really proper I didn't play guitar in a band until Fugazi which was 1986, but before that I had done some recording playing guitar, I wrote songs on guitar, a lot of the Minor threat songs I had wrote on an acoustic guitar.
I bought this acoustic guitar from Brian Baker, the bass player from Minor threat, for like $25; I still have it, I still play it. It's a junky old acoustic. At some point, I think in 1985 or 1986, I bought an SG from my boss at the record store, this guy Skip Groff who owned this store called Yesterday and Today, I bought the guitar for $200; he had never used it and I wanted to play guitar. I just started figuring it out.
I was in other bands, and there were some bands, one band called Embrace that was ill-fated, the desire to be in a band outweighed the actual personalities in the band. So once we got in a band, we immediately broke up. We should've broken up the week after we started playing, but instead we were just miserable for nine months. After that, I thought, You know, being in a band is the problem. I want to play music. And that's when I really started to address the guitar and I started playing with people, clearly not to be in a band but just to play music. That's when I started playing with Joe Lally and a number of drummers but Brendan Canty was one of those drummers, and that's how we got to Fugazi. We spent a year of playing music together playing with people in the basement and I just played guitar. So there's your very long answer to a very short question.
Following up on that, how did you end up at the Evens? It seems like every band you're in is so much different than the band before it.
Well, I play a baritone guitar in this band.
How did you even decide on a baritone guitar? It's very distinctive for the band's sound, but it's not a common decision.
I have to tell you that almost everything I do is actually somewhat pragmatic. Like Fugazi, those guys are my family. We spent fifteen years together; we did a lot of work, played a lot of shows, played twelve hundred shows or something. And when we weren't playing, we were constantly working. We would practice three, four, five times a week, and our practices would usually go anywhere from four or five or six hours a day just practicing. So it was really very serious, and the relationship is still serious. I've been in touch with all those guys the past few days, because our friendship is the real deal.
But towards the end of 2002, things were getting very complicated in terms of the circumstances of our lives, and it was getting problematic. We weren't going to be able to continue working the way we had done in the past. I had been meditating on things I was struggling with in terms of the band, in terms of the work we were doing. One of the things I was struggling with was the fact that my form of expression guitar, music and the kind of music that we played, somehow had been slotted into working mostly in venues in which the economy was based on self destruction, and what I mean by that is bars. Rock and roll and music in general, has been hijacked by the alcohol industry. It's not unique to America by any means, where the idea of music without alcohol is almost impossible.
They're almost intangibly put together.
I would posit that inseparable notion is largely something that's been promoted by the alcohol industry. It's the same way people think that you have to have a diamond ring for an engagement ring. But if you went back 100 years, nobody in the world had a diamond ring for an engagement ring. That was a De Beers concept, and a very successful one at that. Most people other than royalty would never wear a diamond, much less a diamond ring, but De Beers had a problem because their demographic was rather small. They made a decision that they were going to start marketing it to the commoners, and one of the ways they did this was they got Hollywood involved, and in movies, there's this scene where the this diamond is prospered as proof of this person's love or devotion. And you cut to the actress, the woman being proposed to, and she melts.
But now, it's as if it's in the bible. But it's not! It's just not. It's a fraud. And I think the alcohol industry has done that as well, the idea that you can't have music without alcohol is really a marketing thing. And in my opinion, it's a deep disservice to music, which has been around longer than the alcohol industry by a long shot. It's been around since the beginning of mankind. It's a form of communication that predates language. It's no fucking joke.
So, I thought about the fact that Fugazi was largely playing these venues, and it's weird! And I thought if Fugazi can't play, and we're not going to be gigging, I am interested in trying to figure out ways to step out of that circuit. If Fugazi's going to play, I understand there are logistics involved. I understand why we ended up playing these things. But, if we're not gonna be in that band, I thought, OK, I'm gonna be in a band that doesn't have to play in these rooms. And I don't hate these rooms; it's just that music should exist outside of these rooms, too. Someone's gotta point that out.
So, the thing that compels people to play in those rooms, or one of the things that really seals the deal is volume. Because those rooms have sound reinforcement usually, or they have arrangements with the neighbors, whereas if you were to setup Fugazi to play in a house, it would be ridiculous. So volume is the thing that has pulled us by our noses into these rooms. And I think our relationship with volume is also one that has been, people have grown to believe that volume equals power. And then therefore, power can only be brought about through volume. I actually don't agree with that either.
Some of the most powerful moments in my life have been in near silence. So I thought play quieter, and figure out how to do this. So I thought, well, do a two piece. Because it was a two piece, I didn't have a bass player, I felt like I really needed a lower register. The baritone just made sense. This idea I had for a sound, having it quiet but still having a sort of richness to it.
And frankly, even though I played guitar in Fugazi for many years, I'm kind of a bass player. I'm really a rhythm guy; I've never played lead in my life, as far as I know. I mean, maybe I have, maybe I've played things that essentially sound like leads.
It's debatable which one of you has played lead, it's certainly shared, but you definitely have a sense of rhythm in your parts.
There's no question, I'm a rhythm guitar player. There are moments where I might do a little something, but, yeah, I have a weird style of playing guitar, so I think the baritone just kind of made sense. It's not a guitar, though, it's a baritone guitar; it's a very different instrument, you have to pedal on them. You have to keep playing, you can't stop, there's no sustain to speak of, especially since I don't play very loud, you have to keep churning away at it. It forces you to make decisions that are interesting, it's an interesting instrument. And while in some ways, it can seem sort of confining, the nature of it, that's kind of my way.
Like in Fugazi, I only played an SG through a Marshall JCM-800, and one cable. I never used a pedal. I've never used pedals ever. I'm just not interested in pedals. I'm interested in all the sounds I could elicit through tone and volume and physical manipulation, proximity to the amp, using the kind of relationship with the distortion all that stuff, that's what I was interested in. I didn't want to introduce pedals; I actually find pedals to quite often sort of synthesize things in a way that I just don't relate to them anymore, especially with guitars.
It's funny you say that because one of the more renowned guitarists for effects considers you a huge influence. Tom Morello covered the Minor Threat song In my eyes on Rage Against the Machine's last record.
Sure, but I didn't play guitar on that song, but I understand. He's a genius. He's great. I'm not insulting effects, I'm just saying for me, I just never used a pedal. It's funny. My all time favorite musician is Jimi Hendrix, and he certainly employed pedals. He used pedals like baseball bats, in a way. If he was gonna use an effect, he really used it, like full on. If there was gonna be tremolo or wah, he would just take it all the way. The way he played, the attack, the fingering he did, the tone and volume of the guitar, that's when he made something very unique.
I find a lot of times when I see a lot of bands where the guitarist's pedals are so present, it's almost like they're machinating their sound or something. I'm more interested in the human aspect of music. I always go in that direction. But most people I know who I have a love and admiration for their work use pedals, so it's not like I'm against them, I just don't use them. I'm just interested in limitations, because then I think I get freer when I'm forced into that kind of situation. I once read a quote from an artist, and I don't remember who it was, and they said I paint myself into a corner, and then I have to paint my way out, and that made sense to me.
I feel like a lot of bands today have a lot of pedals that they don't even really use, and you're just pointing out that for you, it's just purely about the music.
For me, it's interesting. I love dub music, and there's a lot of effects in that. I think effects can be used in a way that is quite beautiful, but I do think that, at times, people's reliance upon pedals and the various effects they can create... I wonder if maybe, they're not feeling compelled to write songs that can create that kind of mood. In other words, thinking about the song itself, the arrangement, writing better songs or playing them in a way that's more compelling. I can remember early on, people would try to get a really tough sound, and just stack the distortion pedals. Like in a way, the band that has a really intense distortion, it really isn't that tough sounding. Once you step away, you're like oh, OK, it's just buzz-buzz-buzz-buzz. Because there was nothing behind the songs, it was just a lot of distortion.
And I remember Lyle Preslar who played guitar in Minor Threat, he had a Les Paul and he played through a Marshall. And I think the Minor Threat guitar sound is perfect for that music. And maybe other bands that were trying to emulate that bought some distortion pedal, but it just didn't sound right because there was no texture to it, because it was just basically grabbing certain frequencies and squeezing the shit out of them. Whereas I think with instruments, there are certain tonal textures, the attacking of the strings; you can really elicit different sounds. But I don't know. I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about. I'm just telling you what I think.
I've got to say, I don't really think of myself as a guitar player in the sense that a lot of people do. I just play guitar. You follow?
Yeah, I follow you. Are there any bands or guitarists today you appreciate?
Yeah! There are some really interesting bands. There's a band from Australia, they're not that new, called the Eddy Current Suppression Ring, and I think that guy's a brilliant guitar player and its great music. And I just saw that Tune-Yards band and the bass player in that band, that guy is serious, very good. I have a great appreciation for good players, like I think John Frusciante is incredible, the way he plays.
"I was very much into Jimi Hendrix and loved rock & roll and I wanted to play guitars and I wanted to break guitars."
Do you know what he's doing now that he's out of the Chili Peppers at all?
Yeah, he's working away on new ideas. He's got all kinds of stuff. He has these really specific ideas about music and he's following those ideas, and it's fucking incredible. He's playing guitar, but he's using a lot of computer stuff, and it's very interesting. He's a friend of mine, so it's hard for me to know what other people think of him in terms of his music. I think he's a genius and his ideas are really intense. What he's doing is very hard to describe.
And the thing about it is, to John, it doesn't make a difference whether or not anybody ever hears it. And that's just the way it is. He's making it for himself, and that's the mark of somebody who's
That's the mark of a true artist or a true musician.
Yeah, like all artists are translators. Visual artists see something, and are trying to translate it so other people see it. And musicians hear something, and they're trying to translate it. They're trying to find what they can hear and they're trying to recreate it. I think there are different levels of that. But I think Frusciante's taking it to a really pure level. Because he's trying to pursue something that only he knows what it is.
It's intense when you phrase it like that. There's all this debate within Frusciante's fans all the people you say you don't know they feel because you know him as a person there's a whole debate whether the fans are ever going to hear whether John's doing right now, and should they even care since it's all about creating that sound at this point.
I think he is pursuing something that has not yet been made, so therefore cannot be described. So that's just the way it is. And you know, almost once a year I'll see him and hear what he's working and be like Wow, this is really out there. But I bring him up, because there are musicians that I have known, and occasionally I've had a chance to play music with them, and when you play with somebody who's on a certain level, that their relationship with their instrument is so intense, that when you play with them when they're on their instrument it elevates your playing. And I can definitely say that's the case, just messing around and kicking it and fooling around with John. Just a couple of acoustic guitars or something, you realize he's really at one. He knows his shit.
There are a few people like that. I think Tom Morello is a great guitar player, he's actually a guy who's taken effects and he doesn't use to accent his music, he uses the pedals as music, and it's interesting. I think Guy from Fugazi is an incredible guitar player. I think Asa Osborne from Lungfish, that guy's a genius guitar player. But most people would think he's just playing these riffs, but those riffs, I mean, how can you deny them? I actually listened to this band, Screaming Females, and I think the guitar player is great. I saw her play and I remember thinking I imagine you have the same sense where you see someone with their guitar and you think, they're connected to that instrument. They're at one. That's what I always look for.
There was a band years ago called Honor Roll from Richmond, Virginia, and the guitar player in that band, I remember one night at a show he was playing with his telecaster, and there's something about the way it was sitting, and I just thought there's no separation between him and that instrument. It was just one of those moments where I knew, he and the guitar was just one thing.
That's really how I feel about Hendrix. I've done a lot of time with Hendrix. I've studied him as long as I can remember and it never stops, I have 40 gigs of Hendrix bootlegs. And I particularly like his flawed shows, his last tour, 1970, European tour, things-are-falling-apart shows. At some point in that time, his pop ambition was gone. There were no mountains to climb in terms of popularity. He was not interested in the structure of rock and roll anymore, but he was interested in this exploration, and he was exhausted. And I guess not well, based on the fact that he died. And in that vulnerable state, there are moments where I feel the essence of his musicality comes out, because it's not being cloaked in anything anymore. It could be out of tune, or feedback problems, but his navigation of sound in those moments, for me, that's what I'm looking for. It's like you can feel the essence of his music coming out. It doesn't matter anymore he's just playing.
I know there are like Hendrix purists who are think that's really sloppy and crappy' and prefer the early stuff, and that's fine; I don't give a fuck what anybody else thinks. I'm just interested in that era, because I feel there's a sense of purity there in terms of him, and not necessarily the whole form. And it's very interesting to study that and if you look at say, Villanova Junction Blues at Woodstock, like, where'd that come from? What kind of music is that? And how do you get to a place with your instrument where you can just peel off something purely improvised that is so deep? It's very interesting.
What do you think of other Fugazi member's recent works? Like, what do you think of Brendan Canty's film scoring?
It's great! Brendan's a genius. I love the guy.
Could you ever see yourself scoring film like that at all?
No. I mean, if someone invited me to do something, I would look into it, but no; it's just a different form. I just write songs, really, so. You know I've done improve things in the past, for friends showing a move, just played something. I've actually helped Brendan I don't know about a lot, but a little bit, I helped him write some stuff for some scoring, he was scoring and he asked me to work with him. I see him every week, pretty much, so I went up with there and tried to come up with riffs.
But it's a different form. The thing about Brendan is he is constantly writing. He can play any instrument; obviously he's a brilliant drummer, great keyboardist, and in many ways a much better guitarist than I am. He can play the guitar, he can play leads; so he can really just sit in his studio for hours and just build all these tracks and he has them, when someone asks for stuff, he has files and files of music. I don't know how he remembers what he has, because I have to say his organization is not particularly good. [laughs] He and I, for the past few weeks, actually, there's a piece of equipment that I've been trying to get and he just can't find it. But yeah, Brendan's great, and you know, Guy has been writing stuff. I'd love to hear what he's working on, but it's very hard to get him to share stuff.
But he of course played with Vic Chestnutt, and I thought his work with him was brilliant. Did you ever see Vic Chestnutt play?
I never got to see him, but I was a fan while he was around.
There's a guy whose guitar playing was phenomenal. And you know, he was compromised. He had physical limitations. He had to play this little weird, short scale guitar with nylon strings, he had to practically tape a pick onto his glove, he couldn't hold a pick. His relationship with music was so intense. So watching him play like I liked the band a lot, but I loved watching Vic solo. Just him and the guitar, working it out. And it was flawed, but god damn it was beautiful, and perfect.
You know that's when something's great, when you can describe it as both flawed and perfect in the same sentence.
But that's the thing about me, I think perfection is in the uneven lines. The heart never beats the same twice. So when Guy played with him, I know Guy's been doing some soundtrack stuff and I've heard some of it and that's great too. And Joe's actually done three solo albums, his bass playing is phenomenal. He's the greatest. So yeah, all of them, I'm always really super to hear what they're working on. And anytime I can, I help them. With Joe, I played on his first record; if Joe were living in Washington right now, I'm sure we'd be playing music together. That's just the way it goes, but whatever they do, I'm very excited about it.
It's funny you mention Joe last, because he gave a quote about how at some point, Fugazi would have to come back together and try to top The Argument. Could you ever see that happening?
I don't know the quote, but that's a nice thing to say. The Argument's a great record, and I remember we finished that record, and I called Brendan the next morning and said Let's block out the studio, and just write another record right now. And he's like Are you out of your fucking mind? We didn't write in the studio, we'd write some of it in the studio but I was just feeling like we were firing on all cylinders, so to me it was like, Let's just go right now let's just write another record right now.
It would've been a totally different record, but it just wasn't gonna happen. I mean, Brendan had two kids at that point, and a third one coming shortly thereafter. So, there was just too much going on.
"The only way people rebelled was by self-destructing, which I wasn't interested in. And punk rock was this incredibly creative, wild, open spot and that's really where I wanted to be."
Have you ever heard, and if so, what are your thoughts on Wugazi?
I'm familiar with it, and I heard a little bit of it, and I thought, wow, some of our songs worked well. I mean, I always thought our music was extremely danceable anyway, or very groovy or soulful or funky or whatever. It was sort of like if you had something salted perfectly, and then someone poured more salt on it and you go Wow, that's really salty.
I gotta say, as a form, it doesn't really hold my interest, that kind of stuff. It's interesting, but it's more of a novelty. For all the hub-bub about it, I can't picture people being like, Wow, did you listen to that Wugazi? I can't stop listening to it! I think it met the needs of the day. Something for people to bubble about for a week, and then they'll get something else to bubble about.
There's another mash-up with Destiny's Child and Waiting Room, and that one, actually, was pretty fucking badass. That one, there's a melodic kind of merging; they managed to interweave the tune to one song with the guitar playing, and the melody of Destiny's Child to form an entirely new song. Wugazi, with the Wu-tang thing, was largely just rapping. And rapping is largely monotone, so once you get the key, you can play it over anything hence, remixes. It's just a matter of mashing keys, and you can do that with a computer.
So it's not as if it's like wow, its perfect, with Wugazi, but with the Destiny's Child, it was interesting. But again: I'm not a big Destiny's Child fan, either, so. I think it's funny that it exists. And I'm assuming that the people who created it were Fugazi fans, along with Wu-Tang fans, but I assume they must have liked the band, and I appreciate that. And I'm assuming the excitement about it exists, because I was overwhelmed with e-mail about it. It's not as if people are listening to mash-ups of things they don't like, so, it's like, fair enough; it's cool.
What are the plans for the future of Dischord Records? Do you have any plans to expand beyond the DC area, or is your focus the Fugazi Live series right now, or what are you guys up to?
Well the label, we really don't have future plans. We have present plans.
What are the present plans?
Oh, the present plans? I see. [laughs] Well, the Fugazi Live series is a joint thing between Fugazi and the label, and work is continuing on that. That's an enormous undertaking, we still have 700 shows to post, and we only have 200 up so far; it's a lot of work. But I am looking forward to it; I'm in the process of trying to accelerate things to the point where I can be like There it is. I'll be happy to get it done. I have to say I really enjoyed listening to it; I get to be like Wow, Fugazi's a good band! I don't ever get to listen to Fugazi, I didn't get to listen to any Fugazi live shows; I played them. So I have a different relationship with them. So sitting and hearing some of the playing is like Wow, Fugazi is a good band. We played well.
So, that's been really enjoyable; it's interfered a little bit in terms of the Evens. Amy and I have been trying to get this new record finished and it's just something that's been sort of dogged out by circumstance. We were actually working this morning, so we just started a new recording project and hopefully something will come out of it in the next few weeks.
In terms of Dischord, it's been thirty one years now of DC-only; I don't see any reason to change the course on that at this point. Part of the rationale of limiting it to the DC-area is that it was supposed to be permanently connected to the community. Communities are made up of people, people are mortal, thus people shall die and communities shall die and one day, the label can die. It's not a morbid thought, for me it's actually kind of liberating. I wasn't interested in the record business; I was interested in the documentation. At some point, I like to think, it'll be like OK, that's the last page. Every great book I've ever read has had a last page.
Having said that, I don't know and never know what the future holds, because this is a community that you never know. If someone, like the Evens, if we do another record, we'll put that out. There are other bands that are deeply connected to us, and I think that's part of that; there's a fairly significant back catalogue, and we have a lot in the tape vault that we haven't figured out what to do with it all yet. I realized about five years ago that I had a custodial responsibility to all these artists and bands and music since I live a very unusual life and that life has been made possible by the trust of all these people who have allowed Dischord to distribute their music. We never used a single contract with anybody, it's all been trust based, and it gave me something to do which I really appreciate. Over the years, I realized that all of these bands, dozens and dozens of bands and hundreds of people, they have trusted us entirely. I feel I have a responsibility to them, that as long as there are people in the world who are interested in this music, I have a responsibility to make it available.
So, though things may be quiet relatively speaking, there's still plenty to do. And I feel really at peace with that. Whether or not there'll be a whole slew of new things coming out, I don't know; I just don't know. But there's always a back catalogue that's there if people are interested. At some point, I think it'll be an online thing; I don't know that, but I assume at some point people aren't going to buy records anymore. I mean, that's the hardest part if you're going to make a vinyl record, you need to make a certain number of them and the question is Are there the same number of people in the world who are going to buy it?' And if there's not, then you have to think, because a vinyl or a record or a CD or a tape that is unlistened to is actually just a piece of trash. No value.
And I think the world is full of trash, it doesn't need any more. So it's always making sure you're doing the right thing.
Interview by Daniel Bogosian
"I think the world is full of trash, it doesn't need any more. So it's always making sure you're doing the right thing."