Ian MacKaye graciously agreed to do an interview with me—twice. For some still unknown reason, some cruel tape recorder whim, I was only able to record half of my first interview with MacKaye. More specifically, just my half of the interview. It’s a nearly 45-minute tape of my voice, asking pedestrian questions that go unanswered.
It’s a real lesson in humility to be forced to email Ian MacKaye and ask him to re-do an interview because I don’t know how to properly use a tape recorder. MacKaye was the vocalist of hardcore groundbreakers Minor Threat and then the guitarist/vocalist in Fugazi, a group that opened the hardcore template wide open. He’s an important figure in the history of punk rock: one of the architects of hardcore and its many illegitimate children, and the accidental progenitor of the Straight Edge movement (which takes its name from a Minor Threat song). He’s also the founder of Dischord Records, a model for the successful independent record label. His current group is The Evens, a two-piece with his romantic partner, Amy Farina. He’ll be appearing at a question-and-answer session at the University of Nevada, Reno on Sunday, Nov. 16.
From what I can recall, our now legendary “lost interview” was awesome. We talked about Fugazi’s one show in Reno, nearly 10 years ago, and, more specifically, the mind-blowing set by their tourmates, Dutch group The Ex. We talked about his occasionally confrontational style of crowd management—"If I invite you to dinner, and you try to stab another guest with a dinner fork, then I’m going to try to stop you.” I asked him how his perspective has changed on Straight Edge: “Come to the session, because I’ll have to answer that there,” he said. “I get asked that every time.”
Our second interview began with him gently berating me: “Now, are you sure that thing’s recording? Didn’t I ask you that last time?” (He did.) But he’s a thoughtful, loquacious guy, and we talked for just as long the second time.
It was impressive how much he knows about the history of booms and busts in the Reno music scene. The early ‘80s hosted a vibrant scene that was dwindling by the end of the decade. MacKaye blames Seattle:
“In the early ‘80s … when [punk bands] made our way across country, there was nothing happening in the Pacific Northwest … So we would take I-80 across, and of course I-80 goes right through Reno, and it made sense; it was a perfect place to stop on the way to San Francisco. And I think also at that time, 7 Seconds … brought a lot of attention … But when Seattle came along, all of a sudden it became a destination. … I think people started drawing their routing through Seattle, and it just took them off the 80. Eighty got hurt, and Reno got hurt.”
His question-and-answer format is a unique forum:
“It’s actually a really good example of how an audience and a performer work together to make a show. …In our culture, I think largely because of television, people began to think of their role as an audience as purely observers. They’re just coming to be entertained, that don’t actually feel that they’re part of the evening. … I don’t agree with that at all. … The idea I had was that having been invited to speak at a college some years ago. … They said, ‘Will you come speak?’ I said, ‘I don’t really have anything to say. I don’t really have a prepared line. I don’t have a particular agenda. I’m not selling anything. You know, I have a lot of ideas … but I don’t have any specific idea that I would want to talk about. However, if there are people who are curious and would like to ask me some questions, I’m happy to answer them.”