Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Interview: Ian MacKaye

The following interview originally appeared in Fuck You Fanzine (Volume III, Issue # 1) back in January 2003. Enjoy. --Ronny

BBHC: Does the Dischord House feel like a tourist attraction? I know when I first moved to this area, my friends asked me “what sights do you want to see first; The White House, the Washington Monument?” I was just like “THE DISCHORD HOUSE!” So we did a drive-by one day. A lot of my other friends have done it as well. I hope that doesn’t creep you out.

Ian MacKaye: To some degree I suppose there is a “tourist attraction” aspect of the Dischord House, but the “tourists” are almost always incredibly cool, so it’s not a bad place to be. The irony of this is that the address that most people assume is the Dischord House (3819 Beecher Street) is actually my parent’s house. Dischord House is in Arlington, just across the river. I was living at home when we started the label, and when we moved into Dischord House (October 1, 1981) we decided to continue using my parent’s address figuring that we may not stay too long in Arlington. As it turns out I’ll be celebrating my 20th Anniversary in the house this year. People do come up to the door of the Beecher Street house and are usually met by my Mom and her dog, Lula. She enjoys meeting the visitors and usually has time for a short talk. In fact, she actually gets mail, fan letters of sorts, from people who have met her while looking for Dischord. One aspect of Dischord and the work we do that has always been important to me is the idea that this is for real. That if people came to check it out, that they would find operating evidence that kids can start and maintain a business and an ideal. So with that in mind, I’m glad that there are people who come to D.C. and search us out.

BBHC: Fugazi has been credited with championing the five dollar show. It is very often the standard that the scene lives and dies by. My question is this – Fugazi is huge and I think that it’s awesome that you play shows for such a low price. But do you think that ethic can hurt smaller touring bands that don’t have the draw that Fugazi does, and could benefit from an extra dollar or two at the door?

Ian MacKaye: I tend to think that we championed the idea of the low door price, not necessarily the $5 show. While it’s true that the $5 figure is what most writers have picked up on, our point has been to try to keep the shows affordable. Initially, the $5 was the simplest figure to work with in terms of making change at the door and counting out at the end of the night. Then it just became something humorous for us to pull off. The point is that if approached with economy and efficiency, these shows don’t really need to be any more expensive. Inflation is obviously something that has to be considered, but it wasn’t until the last few years (after the major label circus came through town) that the cost of doing shows went up enough to make us decide to charge $6 for most of our shows. The idea was never to force other bands into charging $5 for shows, it was what we felt comfortable charging for our concerts. By having the lower door price, we felt that there was less of an onus upon us to provide “entertainment,” thus freeing us up to try different things. This provides for a better forum for something interesting and fresh to occur in our opinion, and if it doesn’t pan out…if we end up sucking on any particular night…at least people can walk away feeling like it cost them less than a movie. While it’s true that the venue ultimately decides what they will charge at the door, it’s also true that the bands ultimately decide whether or not they will do the show. For every gig we have played, I assure you there are 5 or 6 that we said no to for various reasons. We have almost always played for percentages, as opposed to guaranteed fees, so the venue has no real risk of losing money on the deal. The challenge is to cut the costs of the production down. This means no paying someone to load our gear in (we do it ourselves) and not having light shows and extensive backstage food requirements. It also means that the venue has to back off on what, is almost always, inflated figures for rent, staffing, sound system, advertising and so forth. When faced with higher guarantees, the club makes it a point to jack up their own costs to make sure that they actually make some money before the money goes into the percentage split. Anyway, I don’t want to bore you with a bunch of business stuff, but I wanted to give you some idea into our approach to this stuff. It’s not just some purely idealistic ceremony, this is a way of doing things that attempts to bring things into real time and real cost.

BBHC: How did you end up in a studio with Al Juergenson when you recorded the Pailhead e.p.?

Ian MacKaye: I met Al at a studio in London in 1986 or so. He told me that he was getting into “hardcore,” which struck me as odd considering that Ministry, up to that point, was a college dance music band. It was also at a time when I was in the band Embrace, which was moving away from what many people considered “hardcore” at the time. He asked me if I wanted to sing on one of the tracks he was working on (he recorded a lot of music, and as he finished each piece he would decide what project-name he would release it under). At first, I didn’t think there was a chance I would do it, but when he played me the track (it would become “I Will Refuse”), I was pretty knocked out by it. I actually wrote the lyrics in an hour or two and did the vocals that night. It was partly inspired by the struggle with the major label that had signed Ministry at the time (Warner Bros.?), but like almost all of my songs spread out to cover a lot of different things by the time I was done writing. I didn’t really know in what form this song would be released, or if it would be released for that matter, but I liked what we came up with. A month or two later, Al asked me to come to Chicago to record a second song that would be used as a B-side to “I Will Refuse.” So I went out there and wrote and recorded “No Bunny” with him and Ion (Paul) Barker from Ministry and revolting Cocks, and a guy named Eric (whose last name I can’t remember at the moment) who played drums for Naked Raygun. I came up with the name Pailhead for the project and it was decided that it would be released with no name or pictures or information. This is not because we were ashamed to be connected to the music, or each other, but because it seemed cooler to do it that way. A year or so later, I went back to Chicago for a second e.p., and eventually all six songs we recorded were released on a single CD. I haven’t spoken with Al for many years, but I really enjoyed working with him and found him to be a sweet and brilliant studio producer.

BBHC: Pailhead wasn’t the only project that went under the radar. You were involved with another project that absolutely nobody is aware of. Can you explain your involvement with The Pickled Three?

Ian: Fugazi's drummer, Brendan, was doing music for a children's CD-ROM called "Chop Suey." I was over at his house while he was working on it and chipped in some ideas. One of the songs I helped write and record is "It's Alright if You Don't Like Me," which was sung by three animated pickles (Ian is the voice of the third pickle. Not only is the song really funny, but with some distortion and forceful vocals, it would make an awesome hardcore song -- ed.). I think it's a good track and hope that people will be able to check out Chop Suey for all of the other great stuff Brendan wrote for it. There are many D.C. punk musicians playing and singing on that thing, and much of the animation was done by Ian Svenonius, the singer of The Nation of Ullysses and The Make Up.

BBHC: Everybody knows that Uniform Choice was fond of swiping greeting card messages and skewbald songs. How exacltly did they get the lyrics to your song to put into "My Own Mind," which appeared on their first L.P.? Did you ever approach Pat about it after the fact?

Ian: Minor Threat broke up in September of 1981 when Lyle, our guitarist, went to college, and reformed in April of 1982, when he dropped out. In the intervening months Jeff Nelson and I were trying were trying to start a new band called Skewbald (my choice for a name) and Grand Union (Jeff's choice). We never managed to play out, but we did record three songs at Inner Ear Studios. The tape was traded around and I guess at some point ended up with the Uniform Choice people. Pat told me at the time he assumed it was a never released Minor Threat song, and since it was never released he figured they would do something along the lines of a "cover" of it. It was a little weird to hear lyrics so closely resembling mine released as a Uniform Choice song, but I never spoke with him about it.

BBHC: Did you produce the 7 Seconds tracks: Regress No Way, We're Gonna Fight, New Wind, Put These Words to Music and Still Believe? I swear I can hear you in the back-ups to Put These Words to Music. If so, were these tracks originally intended for a Dischord sponsored/split release for 7 Seconds, and if so, what happened to the record (because the tracks are split over two records)? Or maybe I'm way off base.

Ian: I produced two separate 7 Seconds sessions at Inner Ear Studios. Neither were enough to make a full album on their own, so songs were added from other sessions. They weren't intended to be a part of a Dischord split release because 7 Seconds had already gotten hooked up with BYO, but years earlier I had long discussions with Kevin about doing a split release with a label to document the Reno scene. Something along the lines of what we did with X-Claim! and the Boston scene, as well as Touch n' Go and the mid-west scene. I think the label Kevin had started was "Sceno" (I may be getting that mixed up with "Skene" Records), but the idea never developed. 7 Seconds ended up doing records with Alternative Tentacles, and then it was BYO, and then it just went on from label to label after that. I was always a little bummed that 7 Seconds were never really taken care of early on, as they were such a great band and such good people. I don't believe they were ever really fairly accounted to, and that's a drag because I think they sold quite a few records. Of course, I may be misinformed about this, in fact I hope I have been, but the last I heard they were never paid for most of those early releases. I am still a fan of the band, and while it's been a while since I have been in touch with Kevin, I think I will always feel a connection with him.

BBHC: You were one of the audience members for the Saturday Night Live episode when FEAR was the musical guest. Who else was there with you, and can you give us some highlights of the night?

Ian: I was contacted by Lorne Michaels, the producer of Saturday Night Live, and John Belushi and asked to put together a crew of people to come dance at the Fear appearance on the show. Belushi had been asked to make a cameo appearance on the show, and he agreed on the condition that one of his favorite bands, FEAR, would be invited to be the musical guest. He then insisted that the band should have some punk rockers on the premises to add some "authentic" flavor. He got my number from Penelope Spheeris, who directed "Decline of the Western Civilization" as well as "Suburbia," after she told him that the D.C. scene was the "happening" scene on the east coast. Anyway, they called and we agreed to come up to the show. As it turned out our good friends from Ohio, The Necros, were playing with the Misfits in NYC the night before the SNL show (Halloween '81), so we invited them along as well as numerous New York punks (I'm fairly sure that Harley Flanagan from the Cro-Mags was there). The actual experience was really disorienting. We were kept in a room until they were ready to have us appear, at which point we were led down through the backstage area and on to the set. The band would come out and we would all have to immediately jump into action. It was cold on the set and completely sterile, the music was quiet, and the people sitting in the crowd absolutely hated us. This was okay, beacause we hated them too, and we had chips on our shoulders. During the dress rehearsal (the show is run through twice, once as a dress rehearsal, and then the actual "live" show), a camera was accidentally knocked over and there was some damage, but the producers decided to let us come on the actual show. This was probably in some part due to Belushi pressuring them to let it go forward. The actual show was as weird as the dress rehearsal, though I think we were no longer interested in trying to keep things cool. As I remember there were even small skirmishes breaking out between audience members and dancers, and there was some headknocking going on between the punks themselves. Keep in mind there there was quite a bit of territorial friction going on in those early years. At some point during the show one of the D.C. punks, Billy Mackensie, jumped up on stage and grabbed a jacko'lantern pumpkin that the show had been using as it's commercial break transition shot. He hoisted it over his head and smashed it on the front of the stage in front of the band. We all started slipping and sliding on the pumpkin mush until the song was over. As it turned out the producers had cut away from the show the moment Billy appeared with the pumpkin, so no one ever saw the rest of the mess. When we left the room we were booed by the audience. We were locked into another room and told that we were going to be facing charges in connection to the "damage" done. Eventually, they let us go and in the days following the media picked up on the story. Before long, the story had blown into us "rioting on the set" and causing $100,000 worth of damage. It was, of course, not true, but SNL got some coverage out of the deal.

BBHC: I know that Eddie Vedder is a fan of Embrace and Fugazi. Did he ever seek advice from you when Pearl Jam went head to head with Ticket Master?

Ian: I think Eddie and I spoke about their Ticket Master situation, but the fact of the matter is that Pearl Jam are in a completely different arena and that our confrontation with Ticket Master (predating theirs by a number of years) was quite a different matter.

BBHC: Have you ever considered collaborating with Henry Rollins on a project?

Ian: I did produce the "Lifetime" album as well as a number of songs that appear on the "Do It" E.P. Henry and I are in constant contact, but we haven't ever really considered doing any sort of project together. We're both plenty busy with what we already have going on.

BBHC: If and when Fugazi calls it a day sometime in the future, will you do another band? Fugazi has been a standard for many years now. I have a hard time imagining you in any other band.

Ian: I don't think too hard about the future, it will get here in it's time, and while I can't quite imagine being in another band, I also can't imaging not having music in my life. So time will tell. Who knows, maybe Fugazi will play on and on.

So fucking Cheeeeeeap...

Due to the personal nature of my previous post (4/24 -- "Talk Is Cheap"), I decided to remove the blog entry. I will continue to use Barebones Hardcore to post my opinions on just about anything and everything that pops into my head, but from now on, the only personal details I will be sharing with my readers will be the details of my own life.

More posts to come this week. Thanks for reading.

Ronny Little
Editor BBHC
Attention Whore / Has-been

Friday, April 22, 2005


I finally got around to watching this week's episode of Judging Amy. I normally wouldn't watch this show, but there was discussion on the Livewire Message Board about this week's episode having a straight edge plot, so I plugged it into the digital recorder and figured I watch it for a laugh.

I was hoping that Amy would find out her 14 year-old vegetarian daughter was straight edge after being hauled into her courtroom in chains for fire-bombing a McDonald's, or at least hopping onto the counter and shouting the lyrics to MDC's "Corporate Death Burger." But the show is on CBS, and I'm sure such a shocking plot line would soil more than one pair of Depends.

As it turned out, Amy discovers her daughter is one of these crazy straight edgers after she gets a call from Lauren's Principal's office with news that her daughter had been suspended for staging some kind of protest in the cafeteria that involved her friends, $300 in hamburger damages and, (I'm assuming) a very pissed off cafeteria lady.

The next time the straight edge plot appeared in the episode was a confrontation in her daughter's bedroom. While snooping around, Amy came across a wad of $300 and immediately assumed the worst; the straight edge thing is too good to be true. It's obviously a ploy to trick parents into thinking their drug dealing kids are actually on the straight and narrow.





Me: ...barf.

If I was the daughter, the answer would have been "I sold my fucking Chung King on eBay! Why do you have to be such a raging bitch?!" But noooooooo. As it turned out, her and the other 19 of her straight edge friends (damn, that's a crew) involved in the cafeteria incident each chipped in $15 a piece (by school mandate) to cover the damages of the protest.

Amy: (stunned into silence, realizing that her daughter is growing up and making good decisions) ...

Lauren: (silent, tearing up because her Mom didn't believe her at first) ...

Me: ...bleeeaurghhhh!!!

I first got into straight edge when I was 15 years old. The year was 1986. None of my friends knew about stuff like the Youth Crew or anything like that. We were all punkers and skaters who were into a mishmash of bands ranging from Minor Threat to Dayglo Abortions.

I was always dressing in stuff that I thought was cool, but was entirely alien to my Mom. She didn't get the stupid hair. The dog collar. The shirts that said Suicidal Tendencies, Agnostic Front, Circle Jerks and Dirty Rotten Imbiciles. She was concerned because this was a pretty radical departure for me. I got the gear and pretty much changed the way I looked over night, and it was really freaking her out.

After about a year, my Mom decided it was time to confront me, because with the crazy music, the freaky friends, and the new wardrobe, I was obviously on drugs. She burst into my room one day and scratched the needle across the 7 Seconds record I was blasting on my turntable.





Me: NO MOM. I'M NOT ON DRUGS! WHY DON'T YOU GET ME A PEPSI(a joke that went right over her head, but I found hilarious none the less).

My Mom was in a total frenzy. I had never seen her so freaked out about anything I was involved with. At one point, she picked up my copy of Break Down The Walls, held it over her head and, no shit, said "I heard on the news that this band worships THE DEVIL!!"

Of course I burst into laughter.

Of course I got grounded.

Of course I had to flee the house when my Dad came over to kick my ass for upsetting my Mom that badly.

With straight edge and punk being so completely seperated these days, I doubt parents would jump to such conclusions anymore. If you put the guys in The First Step in neck kerchiffs and plopped them down next to Boy Scout Troop 36, you'd have a hard time telling who was who. Nobody is ever going to look at that band, or anybody who jocks their style, and say "those dudes are on drugs."

I may actually continue to watch this show. If Amy's daughter is True til Death and the straight edge plot line continues, I'm guessing she'll be sleeping with members of Mental and Righteous Jams sometime in the next few seasons.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Nuge -- The Stooge

How guys like Henry Rollins or Ian MacKaye could have ever jocked this hair bag back in the day, I'll never know:

"Remember the Alamo! Shoot 'em! To show you how radical I am, I want carjackers dead. I want rapists dead. I want burglars dead. I want child molesters dead. . . . No court case. No parole. No early release. I want 'em dead. Get a gun and when they attack you, shoot 'em."

-- Ted Nugent, speaking to wild applause Saturday at the National Rifle Association's annual convention in Houston, where he also performed the national anthem.

I absolutely hate gun nuts. The Nuge and these rednecks responding with wild applause will breathlessly tell anyone who will listen about their right to bear arms, yet they can't be bothered with the idea of one of the most fundamental rights we have as American citizens: due process.

Yes, let's put a gun in the hand of every citizen so they can defend themselves from criminals. Ordinary average people will not reach for their guns when they get dumped, dissed, or audited. Really.

Could you imagine living in a world where everyone had access to a gun the way the NRA would like you to have access? Not only would you have to worry about criminals, you'd have to worry about seriously pissing off anyone who had a gun, or access to a gun. We'd have a Columbine masacre every month. With more guns laying around, more and more ordinary citizens would turn into criminals.

Question: What does spewing retoric of this sort from the stage at a NRA convention have in common with asking Cleveland if they're ready to rock, or dedicating "this next song to all of the straight edge kids out there?"

Answer: they're all great for cheap applause.

Somebody needs to force feed this asshole some tofu.

...come to think of it, maybe I should get a gun.

--Ronny Little

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Death By Stereo (or three story fall)

Does anyone have an extra $160 million laying around?

Posted below is the link to a story of a house show gone horribly wrong. While I have all of the sympathy in the world for the family of the kid who died, as well as anyone unfortunate enough to still be living with an injury as a result of this accident, you absolutely cannot blame the death of your son on a band for having the audacity to play in someone's living room.

Sure, the kids who had the show/party should share some of the blame for packing way more people into a living room than they had any business doing, but this was an ACCIDENT as freak as getting your head chopped off by debris coming from a tornado. Nobody could have forseen, literally, a wall of death pushing six people out a third story window.

This country is getting way to litigious. And that's coming from someone who's marrying an attorney in June. Anyway, enjoy the article.



Sunday, April 03, 2005

Interview: Gorilla Biscuits

I did this interview with Walter, Al, and Civ at City Gardens back in 1989. It appeared in issue #4 of my first venture into zinedom, Longshot Fanzine. The 4th issue was more like a 4-page freebee, which was my first venture into the lean and mean format I used for every other fanzine I have ever done.

The interview is short and simple. Some of the questions are painfully lame. Back then, I didn't really have any instincts as an interviewer, and without the internet, it wasn't always easy to research or get news about my favorite bands. So, the interview is kind of barebones. Take it for what it's worth.


So what the hell does Gorilla Biscuits mean?

Civ: We had to play a show with Token Entry after their summer tour. It was our first show and we needed a name. It was just something stupid we thought of. It's a name for a qualude. They're called Gorilla Biscuits because they're so big.

Is the straight-edge scene declining in numbers?

Walter: I think it's bigger than it ever was. I just don't think that there are many good bands anymore. There's a lot of bands, but not many of them are that good.

Is Gorilla Biscuits a band that jumps around a lot?

Walter: Usually, when we suck we jump around a lot. When we're good, we stand still.

C'mon. It's not choreographed?

Civ: It's not like we plan it out!

Al: It has a lot to do with the music.

Civ: We don't say, "Al, move ahead four feet, now fake! Walter, do Chuck Berry. Luke, PUNT!"

With a lot of bands, it almost seems like it's played out.

Civ: Lame songs, we jump around a lot.

Has it always been Walter, Luke, Authur and Civ for the line-up?

Civ: Always me and Walter.

Walter: Me and Civ.

Civ: Luke a long time.

Walter: Aurthur was always in and out. We've had a lot of different people, but the main people are me, Luke, and Civ.

Civ: Al has been with us a long time.

I know it's not proper to ask your salary, but...

Walter: We are absolutely unashamed.

Civ: We don't get what we're supposed to.

Walter: I think we usually get about $250. Different clubs, you get different amounts.

Al: We'll play CB's and get $500, and then get $100 somewhere else.

What annoys you most about the scene?

Walter: I think a lot of kids just come to the shows like they're a football game. They think hardcore started with Raw Deal, and it didn't. These guys don't even know anything about music. Everybody thinks it's our song on the "Where the Wild Things Are" compilation! It's just gross!

Yep, that's it. I'll get back to posting more interesting stuff when my schedule settles down a bit... --Ronny

Oh yeah, by the way...

...April Fools. Yes, I was successful in my campaign to start a world-wide outcry across the internet by making everyone think Todd Jones had joined Linkin Park (inject sarcasm here).

The email was mostly authenic. All of the stuff about Betrayed, Snake Eyes, and Internal Affairs is on the up and up. The only thing about the email that wasn't authentic was the Linkin Park bit, which I wrote myself:

"My new situation with Linkin Park won't allow for them to be anything more than that. Please continue to keep that on the DL for a few more days. Warner Bros. is issuing a press release on Friday. "

The strategy was to release the rumor onto message boards at about 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 30. The thinking was, most people wouldn't read it until Thursday morning, and since people would see it was posted Wednesday, they wouldn't put the rumor and April Fools together. However, a hectic work schedule coupled with night classes kept me from posting the rumor until Thursday afternoon.

Some people bit on it. Others called bullshit.

The first hole was blown open by Bill Wend on the Livewire Records message board. From the War Room (erm...my desk at work) I ordered a message board counter strike from Tru Pray (who was in on the gag) to take any attention away from Bill's suspicions on the board, but it didn't do any good. Actually, it ended up turning into a personal spat between Bill and Tru, which I never intended to happen, so I'd like to apologize to both of you for any ugliness that happened as a result.

By the way, Todd was in on the gag. I was looking to make his "news" the next Brian Baker/Junkyard saga, but as it turned out, most people were actually happy for Todd. For the record, if Todd, or anyone I liked and respected in this scene got a chance at commercial success like that, I'd be happy for them as well. I would just hope that they'd do it with a better band than Linkin Park.