Interview by Mike Layout By Ed
If I were to sit down and try to come up with just a handful of people I would want to interview for the zine, no doubt this name would be at the top of the list. Never thinking it would happen, I wrote to Dischord a few times to request an interview to no avail. I gave it one last try and I not only got a reply from Ian but he agreed to do the interview. What was going to be a 30 minute interview wound up being almost 3 times that. This is the interview in its entirety, I didn’t edit it down for fear of not representing him or his answers properly. It’s long but it was a great interview. This is also the first time these pictures have ever been published. I took them at some “secret” shows at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, NJ in the early 90s. Enjoy!
NLY: Ian thanks for taking the time out of your day to do this for me. When you started playing music over 30 years ago did you ever think you’d be doing it for a living?
Ian: I don’t think about the future so the answer is No, and I also, I still don’t think about the future. I definitely didn’t think about the future back then. And people would ask me what I would be doing in 5 years. I just thought it was a ridiculous question, who knows what they’re going to be doing in 5 years, that’s crazy you know? So I think that when you’re young, people ask you all the time, oh well you’re doing this now what are you gonna be doing in 5 years? Well who cares, it’s none of your fucking business. At the time, all I was doing was what I was doing and that’s kind of what I’m doing now. I just do what I do, which is I work on what’s in front of me and in terms of ever thinking about it being a career, umm no I still don’t think about music as a career. I think about it as my work, I just do my work. What that means is this is really something that is largely predicated on an interview that I read. I remember reading an interview with Black Flag and I think Dukowski said in this interview in 1981 or 80 or something like that, he said he’d rather work a day job the rest of his life than ever be dependent on his music and it really resonated with me, cause it just seemed so clear to me, that if you put yourself in a position where the sales of either records or tickets were necessary to actually put bread on your table, then at some point you might find yourself trying to second guess what people want, because you’re trying to get more people or more records out the door. In my mind that would be a compromise of like the voice, what’s like the expression, what’s coming out of you. So, I think from the very beginning I was really committed to the idea of keeping my actual music separate, so when people look at me and think well yeah but look at you, you make quite a bit of money from your music, but actually I make my money from my work and what that means, like I’m not playing music right now, I’m doing an interview. I don’t know if I’ll even touch a guitar today, I might or I might not, it’s unlikely. I spend most of my day, you know, working. I run Dischord Records, when the band is touring I book the band, I drive the band, I manage the band. Like we work, that’s what we do and the whole point of that is, this is true with Fugazi as well, the idea is if you handle all your affairs when you step on the stage it’s your stage and yours alone.
NLY: Wow, that’s pretty powerful. When you think about it in that aspect and in those words. Like the fact that you’re up there, and that’s yours and that’s your moment in time and you’re there for that and that alone.
Ian: One of the reasons we put such an emphasis on low ticket prices, we were not interested in entertaining people. What we were interested in was making shows with people. Occasionally, and I imagine you’ve had this experience, you’ll be at a show where the band and the audience suddenly fuse and something kind of transcendent occurs. That’s music. That’s the point. And you know, our feeling is, the bands I’ve been in, the sense is, make it accessible, like have the audience help, they can assist making the show possible by paying money to get in. But if we’re charging 30 bucks we better play that fucking song those people want to hear. But if we’re charging say 5 or 10 bucks, then come on, we’re just, we’re seeing where it takes us. Basically it’s ok if we sucked because it’s cheaper than a parking ticket, or cheaper than a parking space, you know?
NLY: Oh absolutely!!
Ian: People will pay, gladly, they pay 12 or 13 dollars to see, horrific movies and they come out of it like, oh that sucked and they don’t think twice about it. They can pay 10 bucks to see human beings who’ve driven for hours to play.
NLY: Yeah exactly, someone who’s gone out there and created this for them.
Ian: Right, well for all of us. I always think of shows as these really, like I think of them as gatherings that have like the potential, again for some transcendence. So the band is providing music and some energy but then the audience is also. That’s a huge part of it. You know I’ve said to people when I play shows, I say to the audience you are part of the show, if the audience wasn’t there we would be practicing, right? It’s just so clear. Like if the audience isn’t there than what are we doing? It’s like this interview for instance. I mean one of the reasons I don’t do written interviews is, I got to get something out of it, I’ve got to have some kind of engagement. It just feels like fucking homework otherwise.
NLY: (I busted out laughing)
Ian: Like answers, you know? But imagine if you were doing this interview and you weren’t on the other end of the line, I’d just be talking to myself. So this is actually, this is two people making something occur. So the same way when you play shows, the audience plays a huge roll in what that evening is going to be. It’s interesting because really, so much of music is now, has been people. They study music on screens so much that I think that a lot of times when they go to see shows, it’s like the same way people, I think people have a difficult time talking on the phone because they’re so accustomed to texting. I mean I’m very interested in the kind of awkwardness I’ve encountered with people on the phone these days. You know people just don’t talk on the phone and when I get them on the phone it makes them nervous.
NLY: (Insert my nervous laughter here)
Ian: But I think it’s very interesting in the same way when I play shows, people get nervous, because all of a sudden they’re there. There isn’t a keyboard and a screen between.
NLY: Yeah, they don’t have the buffer.
Ian: That’s alright, punk to the rescue!
NLY: That’s what made us all who we are, right? I think that’s why we are all able to kind of step back and look at things like the inability to talk on the phone or how we are used to communicating thru such impersonal devices as texting or a keyboard, or whatever it may be at this moment in time.
Ian: I don’t mind, I’m not Amish, like I’m not anti-technology. But I do think however, that people should under value, they shouldn’t underestimate the power of actual human connection. When you actually talk to someone. I can get more done in a 2 minute phone call. Like when I’m trying to arrange something with someone and they want to do it on email, it just takes forever. It’s just ridiculous. You know, you can hear in the voice what the fuck is going on, otherwise you supply the tone. When you read it you have to supply the tone.
NLY: Exactly and your interpretation’s totally different perhaps than the person sending you the text and how they meant it and what they were saying and it’s all left kind of in the air.
Ian: Right, so if you get them on the phone it gets cleared up immediately. They can hear that, you know, if I’m trying to make an arrangement with somebody and they want to maybe use a song for something, and then we have this sort of back and forth, I say can we just talk on the phone, because we will settle this. Then they can hear that I’m not trying to gank them and I can hear that they’re not trying to rip me off. Whatever, whatever the situation is, let’s just get on the phone, let’s just talk. Let the human voice do what it does best, which is communicate clearly and not just the words, but with tone and attack, the way you deliver something. The sound you make even when you listen, these are very important communication methods.
NLY: Oh yeah, it’s your ability to read the person and understand the person and understand the context in which the conversation takes place in. A fine lost art.
Ian: Well not even lost yet.
NLY: We’re trying to keep it around.
Ian: It will never, things wane. People get stoned on technology. You know society’s get stoned on one thing or another. It can be war, it can be drugs, it could be technology, you know? It could be sports, but those things, it always comes back to the root, it has to.
NLY: Vinyl’s making a comeback and Dischord has been kind of this catalyst label for years. Let’s face it, you started Dischord as an idea and a way to put out your music and it grew into something bigger. Over the years you’ve put out all this great stuff and recently you’ve been pulling some amazing stuff out of your vaults. Regardless of the context, Dischord releases always leave this mark. What do you attribute this to and what surprises do you have on the horizon for us?
Ian: I don’t think about it in those terms so it’s very difficult for me to attribute it to anything. The label was started to document a really particular music scene, our scene, like what we were doing in Washington in 1980. The first record came out in December of 1980. It was almost like this point of energy that then suddenly all these other bands started to form and when we had enough money to put out a record we’d put out a record. It just kept sort of gathering and it got bigger, and frankly it’s gotten smaller. We were a much bigger label 10 years ago than we are now in terms of sales. Fugazi was selling hundreds of thousands of records, now I mean honestly, if we sell a couple thousand of something we’re very happy, and that’s fine. My sense of the label is that because of its really permanent attachment to a community and because the community is made up of people and people are living things and since living things die, then naturally people will die, the community will die and eventually the label will die. That’s fine, that is just organic trajectory, and I’m totally fine with that. For me, I see there’s been dips and it’s gotten bigger and smaller and I’m totally comfortable with whatever happens. I don’t feel like, oh this label is such a failure now that we’re only selling a couple thousand records. We have a huge catalog, a significant catalog, we have a lot of the stuff in print and we’re still chugging along. We never took out the money, the money sort of stayed in the company, so I still have 4 or 5 people that work at Dischord and run the machine of it all. They’re just across the street in the other office. It just chugs along. It seems strange to me it continues but on the other hand it seems very simple. Just do the work. In terms of surprises, I don’t know. There’s stuff as I go thru, I have this tape archive and I go thru it. There’s stuff I think is interesting but sometimes there’s also critiques, people like oh you just put out all this weird, old stuff. I kind of think it’s interesting you know? There’s this Youth Brigade first demo 7″ that I want to do. I dig up these things and I think it’s interesting, for whatever reason it didn’t come out before. Some of this stuff, we didn’t release the first time around because the band wasn’t happy with it or maybe we didn’t have the money to put it out. I think people are unaware of the fact, for the first 4 or 5 years of the label, everything we did was COD, so we would save up money, we would press a record, as soon as the record came in we had to pay all that money. Then we’d send it to distributors who would take anywhere from 2 to 6 or 8 months to pay us.
NLY: If that….
Ian: Well yeah or rob us. We had a few go out and just take our money. We couldn’t do anything until that money came back. With the releases, sometimes they’ll go why didn’t they put out that band? Because we actually had no money. We told the band we want to do the record but you have to wait until we get the money back from the next release. That was sort of our standard practice. The first 12″ we did was Flex Your Head. Which you know, we had to borrow money from Jeff’s brother to do that. Then when that money started coming back then we were able to do, I guess the Faith/Void record was the next one. We told the guys in the band, hey, just so you know, all the money from the sales of this will go to putting out the next record. The next record was Scream’s first album and basically we told them we can’t pay you but you can come book your tour using our phone and we can help you, you can use our driveway to fix your van, we’ll help you buy parts for your engine. We were so hand to mouth. We all had jobs. I had 3 jobs for quite a while. I was driving a newspaper truck and working at a movie theater and also an ice cream shop. It was just the way things worked, we were constantly working. It wasn’t for years until we actually got into a situation where we were able to put things out. So a lot of the early tapes that didn’t come out were just things that we didn’t have the money to do it at the time. I like to think there’s, I mean I love, so much stuff that I have on my table. I don’t know if the other stuff really merits release or not, but I’m going thru it and we’ll see what happens. I’ll go dig every so often and say let’s do this. They’re not huge releases, they’re just little things. The Fugazi thing was, that was great, that was funny to finally put that thing out.
NLY: It was nice to finally get it. I mean, yeah there were always tape copies floating around here and there, but by the time you get it, it’s been dubbed 67,000 times and it sounds like it was recorded under a carpet by the time you get a copy of it. You put them out, you put effort into it, you don’t just throw things out there, they’re beautifully packaged. The LP came with postcards, that was great. It gave a sense of not just the music but of you guys as individuals and a band and the thought process, what goes behind the music. It was nice to hear songs that, how many year’s, 20 years later? After they came out, it’s nice to hear their origin points especially for people who maybe didn’t in the beginning.
Ian: The thing about it from our point of view is, it did seem like it was a nice, a benevolent gesture. We were happy it wasn’t like a big money grab. We had a great time working on it, we’re very close and it was really nice to have a project. The last time, we started the live series stuff, that was nice to interact with each other but at some point it sort of became my work, because the other guys are not directly involved with the live series as much. So this was another opportunity for the 4 of us to work on something together and we tried to be thoughtful about it, but that’s just, I always think be thoughtful about things. Like I love the SOA record, I enjoyed working on that, that cover was great, I loved it. I think that as things come up, I think the label, we have an aesthetic, which is that it’s important to us, and the thing is, if people don’t care about it, that’s fine, there’s certainly no laws about buying it. Just walk on, there’s no shortage of other things to listen to.
NLY: That’s true. But it’s nice because you’re taking these chances and you look at things like the Youth Brigade demo. Youth Brigade is this band that was around for this flash in time, but left an impact on so many of us. I know that’s one of my favorite early Dischord records, I love that 7″. To think that there’s still the demo floating around and the possibility of it coming out, I know people that will matter to, and yeah I like that your philosophy is it doesn’t matter if we sell 2000 or 10000 it’s about documenting it and keeping it moving and getting things out there. You still care about things that happened 30 years ago and about documenting your whole community.
Ian: I think it’s just, at this point as a label, I think I’ve moved into, what I refer to as custodial responsibility. I think that for many years the label was just churning away. During all this time, hundreds of people have entrusted this label and
thru the label me, with their music. I mean I’ve never used a single contract with any of them. Ever! I don’t even have a lawyer. Yet all these records we continue to put out, we continue to sell them and we continue to pay royalties. The fact they have entrusted me with this music and this responsibility, really has allowed me to live a very unusual life. I’ve never had a full time job, I’ve never worked for anybody since I was scooping ice cream or working in a record store, so it’s an unusual existence. I don’t think it’s weird, I actually think that the American idea of our society is weird. I think what I live, it’s naturally. I think it’s strange that people don’t own their own time. It seems crazy to me. In fact my staff who work for me, that’s one of the most important things they know, is that they own their time. If they have stuff to do they have to get it done, but there’s no, you can’t be late to work at Dischord. If something comes up, that’s fine. As long as everyone knows that we’re on this ship together and so if somebody’s not paddling someone else has got to do it, you follow?
NLY: That’s exactly the same philosophy I use in my shop. I own a comic shop and my guys, like one has a preteen autistic daughter and another one is kind of the artsy guy and one guy is the store manager and everybody knows there’s responsibilities but everybody also knows like hey Will’s daughter had something happen at school and he needs to leave. Nobody’s like, aww I can’t believe he gets to leave, everybody just kind of steps up and fills those niches and knows that there’s things that need to get done.
Ian: Right! So I feel like in that sense, the label has given me, like that is how I would like to live. I feel like all these people and these bands over these years, because of the fact that they let us basically represent their music, it really made that possible. Now, things start to get, during the 90s we had sunk so many records, we weren’t really thinking, it just didn’t occur to us, we were just like yea it’s going well. We never, like we never bought a building, we never let our pants out. We didn’t trust, we weren’t thinking, oh great we’re gonna be big forever. When you start making a lot of money that’s when you actually tighten the belt, ya know? That way you don’t create a situation in which, you know, it would be like if you have a really good year at your shop and you’re well like fuck it, I’m gonna buy 2 more units or whatever, or I’m gonna buy a bigger building, and then sales drop off and you’re like ut-oh. This is a classic problem with so many labels in the 90’s, they blew up and they immediately said like great now we’re this big and then the circus left town and they were screwed. Anyway at this point things are getting smaller and I thought, enough is enough, I’ve been doing this for so long, but then it’s like now I’ve got to pay the piper. Custodial responsibility, I’ve got to honor this music because this music, clearly, it appears to me that the music was important to other people and I know it was important to me. So I feel like as long as there’s people out there who are interested and want this music in one form or another, that I feel that I owe it to these bands to make it available, I have to make sure that it is available in one form or another, that’s custodial responsibility at this point.
NLY: I love that term custodial responsibility. You mention buying a building and things like that, which I find funny because my next question is… Dischord house has always been this punk rock mecca where people traveling the world over want to come there and experience Dischord house and sit on the porch and reenact the picture and meet who’s ever there and be a part of this thing that spurred this community and this label, and I saw an interview recently and I can’t remember if it was on a video or if I read it somewhere but you talked about being offered Dischord house and you never bought it.
Ian: I did buy it!! I think you misheard. We moved here in 1981 and we started renting. In 1986 the owner sold it to somebody else without even telling us. We were shocked. Then the new people who bought it in 1986 they wanted to kick us out because they wanted to move in with their family. I was like I have to find a way to discourage them from doing this. I didn’t want to move and we had such a good arrangement. We had 5 people living here, it was $525 a month, it was a good arrangement. So then the new landlords came down to look at the house and I gave them a tour and showed them that we had fires in our outlets, it’s not a safe house for a family. The roof was leaking, the house is not up to code, let’s put it that way. It was built at a time when there was no code, it was built in 1919. By the end of the tour the people left and the guy called me and said you know I’m appalled by that house, obviously I can’t move my family in there but I also can’t even have you guys living in there, I’m going to have to get it condemned and tear it down. I’m like oh shit. But then, he was talking to his wife and she said you know those guys are doing something, that’s cool, let’s fix it up. They fixed the electricity and they fixed the roof and they let us stay. They raised the rent a couple hundred bucks but it was fine, then our rent was $800. They owned it for about 8 years and then at some point he called, he’s a good guy, like he’s a straight up landlord. We didn’t bug him with shit and then if there was something expensive he would just pay for it. There was just no bullshit. In 1994 he came to me and said listen I gotta sell the house, my oldest kid is gonna go to college and I need the money. I’m coming to you first, you guys have lived here for a decade now or more. You can buy it or I’ve got to sell it to someone else, but either way I’ve got to sell it. At that time, 1994, Fugazi had been on tour in ’93 for 6 months. I’d been working so hard, and at that point the whole label operation was in the house. Maybe the living room had been changed into a distribution center, we had shelves everywhere and counters everywhere, it was such a hub of activity and I just couldn’t imagine how on earth we would be able to move. So I said I guess I’ll buy it. I didn’t want to buy it. I really didn’t want to buy it, because at that point I was paying $130 a month rent, that’s a good arrangement. But when I bought it my note was $1300 a month. A little bit of a jump.
NLY: Yeah, just a slight change.
Ian: 10 times! The guy he said to me listen, we’re in Arlington, Virginia. I can get into downtown Washington in 5 minutes, for real. It’s right across the river. He said that every day people line up in traffic for hours to get into the city and go to work. Every day somebody’s in a car a little bit longer thinking I’ve got to move closer to town, you’ll never have trouble selling this house. I was worried that I’d buy it and never be able to sell it. Ironically, I don’t sell things.
NLY: You just acquire them and hang on to them, you’re a collector!
Ian: I guess so, it just seems uneconomical to sell it. I’m using it. I don’t live here anymore, I live in town with Amy and our son but I come out here. We operate stuff out of here. We have our art room here, we practice here, there’s all kinds of stuff that goes on in this house. So yes I bought the house.
NLY: At some point you’re going to have to get historical landmark status for the house
Ian: There’s been a discussion about that because I have an archive, and there’s some people who want me to place this archive with various different institutions, but some people think really, the house is part of the archive.
NLY: Absolutely. The house could almost be a museum if you think about it. On the level of what that started as, as a little rental where you and a few friends lived and wound up just using the basement as a practice space and what it developed into, to what it came to mean for so many people across the globe.
Ian: Well here’s the thing. One of the reasons I moved out here in 2003, and one of the reasons I was so hell bent on getting out is because I started to feel like a docent in my own house. I lived here, this is my home, and people would come to visit like oh my god that’s the porch, oh shit that’s the skateboard, oh my god. And I started to feel weird because like it’s my home, but everyone who came in, they had such a different relationship with the space, or what was inside of it and I thought I have to get out of here. I can’t live here, I need a home.
NLY: Kind of weird to get pushed out of your home for that reason. Yet, at the same point it’s got to feel amazing that what you created came to mean so much to so many different people.
Ian: Yeah I try not to think about that kind of stuff. I just do my work. Honestly, like I know people always say how’s it feel….I just think that’s music. Music kicked my ass and I intend to return the favor. It’s all I’ve ever done. I appreciate that people have been inspired by the records or the music that came out from Dischord, or maybe the way we approach things. But I also understand that I was inspired by music, that I was inspired by the way people did things. I just was following suit, so I try not to think about, I don’t ever bask in the glow of accomplishment because I’m still accomplishing, I’m trying, I’m working.
NLY: Still trucking along.
Ian: I think that’s the plan til the grave, the dirt nap!
NLY: Getting back to interviews I remember, there was one where I recall you downplaying the Embrace record, maybe not so much downplaying, but I feel like it was like that moment in time where something just kind of happened and you moved on, you didn’t look back at this particular one, or whatever the reason was. It’s not just one of my favorite Dischord releases, but it’s a record that still, when my father passed away in 1990, that was a record that I listened to every day that summer, probably 10 times a day. That record is so important to my life and still to this point there’s things I get, as I get older and change as a human being and still become the person I’m meant to become, that’s still a record I go back to for so many different reasons.
Ian: I like that record that’s why I put it out. I think what you’re hearing was probably me talking about the band. The band was, we only played I think, 11 shows or 13 shows. It was just such a fragile band. Those guys had already broken up in one band together. There was already bad blood between them. They were in Fatih, the same 3 guys.
NLY: They just swapped out a brother right?
Ian: I don’t know if you know the actual trajectory of how that occurred. Minor threat broke up and I was like what am I gonna do next. I had, there’s this fellow Mark Sullivan, who’s one of my oldest friends. He sang in the very first band I was ever in, The Slinkees. So Mark, is really one of my nearest and dearest. He moved into Dischord house around that time, so I was like, we should do a band, I was gonna play, I think I was gonna play bass and he was gonna sing in this band and Mike Hampton was gonna play guitar and Jeff was gonna drum, Jeff Nelson. Then, it just wasn’t working. So then, I said well maybe I’ll play guitar and Chris Bald will play bass and Jeff will drum and that just wasn’t quite working. So I said, well maybe I’ll play bass, Mike Hampton will play guitar and I’ll sing playing bass, and that wasn’t working, nothing was working. Finally I said how about if I sing, Mike Hampton will play guitar, Chris Bald will play bass and Jeff will drum. We were writing songs like that, Jeff Nelson was the original drummer. At some point Jeff and I had a conversation about where the band would go, what the ideas were of the band, when I realized that you know what Jeff, were just not on the same page at all. At that time I think actually, Lyle and Brian had gotten in touch with him about forming a new band, like a new pop band, so he said I wanna do this, I wanna make money. I was like alright you do that and Ivor was home from school and I said do you wanna play? He was like sure and suddenly I was in Faith. Kind of a weird series of steps. I really loved those songs. The lyrics for me, I think the lyrics are some of my favorite lyrics. Ironically, Mark Sullivan is the only person I Know who said to me that he actually thinks those are his least favorite of my lyrics. He’s the only person I know who has ever said anything sort of, he didn’t say they were bad, he just said, that era I was not that crazy about your lyrics. For me, I’m always kind of like wow, I think End of the Year, I like that song. Then the band just totally, it was basically breaking up since the beginning of the band, it was such a headache, and then finally, we had done this show, I think we did a show at 9:30, it ended with Chris Bald breaking his bass, and there’s a video of it and you can see it, I’m sure it’s online somewhere. He breaks his bass, which was sort of not a good sign and he actually knocked out Bert Queiroz, with a piece, a fragment of the bass and knocked out Bert. He hit it against a pole at the 9:30 club. Shortly there after, I had to go to England. I went to England for about 3 weeks. Jeff Nelson and I went out there to visit with Southern Studios, who were the people we worked with, who were like our partners in terms of making records, that’s when we did the Egg Hunt single. We went out and did this right around Easter of 1986. Embrace had a show booked in Boston about 2 days after I got back, so I told those guys, hey you’ve got to practice. As soon as I get home we’re going up to play a show in Boston, so you’ve got to practice, you’ve got to practice. I said if you don’t practice it’s just crazy. They didn’t like each other enough to practice. So I get home they said we didn’t practice, so I said ok, we’re not a band. I felt so relived it was such a stressful band. However, I like the songs a lot. It took a while, but we finally managed to get them released. There was a long discussion about whether we should release that record, but I thought those were great songs. I’m glad it’s out there. There are a lot of people out there, not a lot, a significant number of people, a lot of people who tell me how much they love Minor Threat, and there’s a lot of people who tell me how much they love Fugazi. But the people who are really deep, those are the Embrace people, they’re fucking deep, they’re the ones who are like, they look at me and are like Embrace, I’m like ok, gotcha!
NLY: That’s the record, absolutely. It’s funny too. Each one of those bands you mentioned is distinct unto their own. While yes it’s you, there’s so many different components to the projects, and so many other things that went into making that music, and the time, and where you were in life, and who you were at that moment in time and things like that, that they become snapshots.
Ian: All bands are relationships and the people who are in the band with you, that’s the voice. If you got together with 5 of your friends, and then each of you sang a song together, like you did a duet, even though you’re in each of those duets it’s going to be different, it’s a different combination. So each band is a relationship. It’s like romantic relationships, everyone you’re with is different. There’s different components. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never been interested in replacing members. In all the bands I’ve been in, the only person that kind of was not from the beginning to the end was Steve Hansgen, and he was in Minor Threat for about 4 months, he played bass, or 6 months or something, but he wasn’t in the band to begin with. Brian was playing bass, and then Brian said one day I want to play guitar and if I can’t play guitar I’m gonna quit. So we were like ok we’ll get a bass player. So Steve Hansgen came on board. Then at some point Brian said I want to play bass again. Otherwise, let’s put it this way, all the bands I’ve been in, the founding members of the band, once it was actually, the first show, like let’s put it that way. The people who played the first show were the people who played the last show. You follow? That’s just the way I like to do things, it just seems more interesting to me. I just can’t imagine Minor Threat without Lyle Preslar on guitar for instance. One of the greatest guitar players ever. That guy was so singular in his style. I know that no one else could play the songs.
NLY: Yeah, they could play those songs, but where would you go from that point on and would you still be the same band? Exactly!
Ian: I don’t have any regrets about any of the bands honestly, I’m glad, Embrace was, that time, that’s what was happening. It taught me a lot. The summer of ’86, I met Joe Lally, he was roadying for Beefeater. I had heard from Tomas, the singer of Beefeater, that Joe wanted to play bass and I was like oh good I’m looking for someone to play music with me. I talked to Joe, I’m sitting actually in the room right now, in this sort of dining room area of Dischord house, I remember sitting with him at this table and I said to him, do you want to play music with me? I’m not talking about forming a band, it’s not a band, we’re just gonna play, do you want to play? And he said sure! We started playing in the fall of 1986, August or September we started playing and we played for about a year before what ended up being Fugazi played their first show. That whole time the mantra was we’re not a band we’re just playing music and that was a direct response to what happened in Embrace, which was, we formed a band, our desire to be in a band trumped like actually thinking about the people in the band. Like it just was never gonna work because they didn’t like each other. That’s the way it went. So with Fugazi, I just wanted to be with people who really loved each other and I think that worked out pretty good.
NLY: I think that showed thru and thru from start to finish, that’s exactly what you were. I guess that’s kinda why you guys let it, I assume Fugazi just kind of ended organically?
Ian: I guess from our point of view, we’ve never broken up, we just stopped performing because circumstances made it impossible for us to do it in a way that we felt comfortable.
NLY: That’s what I mean, it wasn’t this angry break up or it wasn’t like we just decided we ran our course, it was just circumstances, and you didn’t say we’re done.
Ian: We accept that life is always fluid, and that things may well, I’m not trying to be coy at all, I’m just saying that we’re open. Maybe a point in time will come where we will do something else, or maybe we won’t, whatever, who cares? We will find out. That’s one of the reasons, we definitely didn’t want to ever do a reunion show, because it’s so not our esthetic. It’s why we keep saying we never broke up.
NLY: If we do play, it’s not a reunion because we did not break up!
Ian: I used to always tell people that and they think I’m being coy, like hinting at something, but I’m not, I’m just being straight up.
NLY: You’ve always been pretty political over the years as far as being outspoken and being involved in things whether it’s the percussion protests in DC, being involved with Positive Force or anything like that. Looking at the world today what do you think is the biggest problem that faces the US?
Ian: I guess I should qualify, my political work, or my political involvement, largely is to be in a sort of position of support for the people who are doing the heavy lifting. I feel like that if I was a baker I would make bread for the people, or if I was a carpenter I would help build things for them. I’m a musician so what can I do with music, or with my music that will inspire and encourage and support people who are, say for instance dealing more directly with issues like say the Ebola plague or homelessness, in other words, just to be clear, I’m not volunteering at a shelter right now. I’ve certainly done stuff like that but just to be clear, my political work is how I handle my affairs, and I think that is completely a valid form and I wish more people would think about that. One of the greatest things you can do for the world is to be mindful of your role in it. To think about the effect of your actions, and even thinking more about the effect of your inaction. I think that, just to be clear about, the kind of politic I largely engage in. If you ask me the single largest problem of the US, I think the US should get out of the war business. The reason I say that is the largest issue is that in our country, there is the illusion that we have some control over the people we elect, and we have some control over what laws are put into place and policies and what is built within the country and that sort of thing. Thru voting or thru whatever, there’s some sense that we have some say in the matter. These impossibly poor people in say Afghanistan or Pakistan or wherever, who are being bombed by drones, they don’t have a fucking vote in anything and yet this is a country that is engaging in that. I understand that there is a rational, that’s collateral damage, there are people there who say they want to do something to the US, I don’t know. I think that maybe the answer is to think less about eliminating the people who threatening this country and maybe think a little bit more about why they threaten the country and maybe eliminate that. Eliminate what it is, it’s not freedom, it’s not our freedom they hate, it’s the murder they hate. I think, for me, I’m always pushing for peace. Anyone, I think, who stands back and looks at the amount of money spent on war, compared to what is spent on peace, it’s just insane. I don’t know if this is still the case, but there was a period of time when the US spent more on its military or its defenses than the rest of the world combined. That’s crazy.
NLY: I’m sure it has to be that and then some at this point.
Ian: It’s crazy…insane! That to me is the biggest problem because we’ve allowed, you know if you have a cancer and you don’t do something about it, your body grows around it and embraces it, and then it can’t lose it. It’s almost like you can’t get rid of the tumor because you’ve just allowed it to be there and I think that’s really what’s happened in our society or our country. The role of the military’s become this idea of too big to fail. It’s the same way. One of the reasons the military is so permanent is that there’s entire cities, or towns, whose entire economic structure is build up on the fact that it’s next to a base. Every time someone says like, maybe we’ll stop making this particular kind of horribly murderous weapon, then somebody is like no, that’s jobs. I think at some point, you know, you’ve got to step back and say, yeah but these jobs, what are they doing? So, my vote is always for peace, always! I think that when the country engages in that kind of clinical authorized murder, there’s just always going to be problems. I think capital punishment is clinical, authorized murder. When you have, you’re in a situation where you can accept that as an acceptable way of dealing with things, it’s like you sprung a leak and you can never hold water. Morally, ethically, or sensibly!
NLY: And it just grows from there. Its own cancer grows from that.
Ian: That’s greed. Maybe that’s what really drives, I don’t know. I think of the US and all countries for that matter, is essentially I think of them as the weather. If any one of us could stop a flood, I imagine we would, because it does so much damage, but you can’t because that’s the weather. That’s the way I feel about the kind of structures that are in place. You can do some things, but at some point you’re just going to have to accept it and you have to dress accordingly. So if you’re living in a society, like I happen to wake up in the United States of America, so if I wake up here, that’s where I was born, that’s where I live. I don’t want to spend my time tilting up windmills trying to shut down the government. What I am going to do however, is make sure the government doesn’t shut me down.
NLY: Make a difference in your own little microcosm of the world as opposed to fighting the bigger picture.
Ian: I think the idea is to live the life you sing about in your song.
NLY: But if more people did that and used their voice to make a difference in their own little, picture everybody in a house. If everybody straightened up their own room, instead of worrying about the other room, or the whole house, maybe the house would function better and the house would look nicer and if you put the house on the market the house would sell quicker. As opposed to just worrying about, we only have to fix the roof, we don’t have to worry about the bathroom, or the bedroom or the closet.
Ian: I think that fear plays a huge role in how our society operates. Like I was listening to the radio this morning. I listen to NPR while I’m making breakfast and I was really struck by the number of negative, one piece was about child abuse, and one piece was about a bombing or something that was going on. It’s like our society, violence is just a pile of shit that we roll in, we love it, and it keeps people on edge and it makes them nervous. When they’re nervous, they’re weak.
NLY: It’s all about controlling the masses I guess. If punk never happened, if you never came across the music or the ideology, what do you think you would’ve done? Where would you have gone in life?
Ian: I just don’t. I don’t ever entertain that kind of question. I never thought about it, really. I don’t think about stuff like that, I just don’t. Like I always think about here I am. Like occasionally I might think about, what if I had grown up in, wherever, what would it have been like. But the thing is, I didn’t. If I did, I guess I would’ve had different circumstances. Let’s say for instance, I was born and raised in Guatemala, would my parents be the same parents? Unlikely since my mother is a 4th generation Washingtonian. So like who I am, is such a part of the frame I was in. My parents, Beecher St. where I was born and raised. I can’t imagine being plucked out of my actual world and being dropped into another one whole. My world is part of who I am. It doesn’t interest me really. I don’t think about what else I would’ve done. People say, what would you do if you weren’t playing music? I don’t know. I remember at one point I thought if I ever stopped working, I would become a bicycle courier. The reason is because I’ve lived in the city my whole life and I’ve driven around for years and I’ve never been in 90% of the buildings. I thought bicycle couriers get to go in all the buildings, it’s a good thing you ride your bike all day.
NLY: That’s right, you get good exercise and you get to experience the whole world around you and yeah you can see every one of those buildings you’ve gone past a hundred times but never experienced!
Ian: That’s me sort of doing a hypothetical for you. Like what would I do? Maybe I’d be a bicycle courier. But I’ve thought about it on occasion, like what if I started a restaurant? But then you’ve got to have a restaurant. I don’t know, I can’t really think about it. I figure that I’ll know, I’ll know it when I get there.
NLY: That’s awesome! You talked earlier about you and Amy and your son, how old is your son now?
NLY: When you became a parent and this beautiful life is brought into the world and it becomes part of you, how did that change you?
Ian: I don’t know if it changed me. No there’s no question, obviously I love my son. It’s pretty interesting to make a person. I try to stay away from that kind of holy aspect. I feel like people have been making people since the beginning and they’ll make people til the end. It is, you know, one of the most natural things in existence. It’s nothing new, it’s nothing new at all. It’s not some fucking miracle. I guess it’s a miracle, but I don’t know. It’s not a miracle it’s commonplace. I remember when Amy got pregnant and people were like oh man, now shit’s gonna change. Yeah, that’s the idea. The idea is yeah, like somebody new’s moving in. That’s the idea. It was really important to me, and Amy as well that, you know, we weren’t moving into Carmine’s world, like he was moving into ours, and that’s good for him. It’s not good for a child, that they, they’re born and immediately everything is like, they got enough of that kind of….the first job a child has is to figure out really, you know, the world is large. It takes a long time to figure this out. When a child is born, it doesn’t even know that there is such a thing as another person. The theory is that the first time that a child, and this of course is in a family, let’s say for instance, has a mother and a father, and the mother is the primary caretaker. In that setting, the first time that a baby has a sense of the other it’s the dad, because the mother, the child doesn’t see a distinction between the mother and itself. Why would it? It’s be inside her for 9 months. It doesn’t know that the mother is not the same thing as itself. The father is the first time, it’s like whoa, who’s that? That’s not me. Do you follow me?
Ian: That’s the beginning of the widening circle, where the child becomes more and more aware of the fact that it’s part of something. I think the amount of adulation and adoration and worshipping that our society has sort of put on this idea, these precious little miracles. I feel like that is done as a disservice because it’s good to be a part of something and then for everything just to be a part of you. I guess I feel like of course it changed my life because, somebody else moved into the house and obviously we had a responsibility. Humans are not the only animal but one of the only animals where, maybe it is actually, the child will die if not supported. The baby cannot take care of itself, so that’s the responsibility, you’ve got to take care of the baby and you’ve got to look after the kid. So, I guess to the degree that we had this person come into our lives so yeah our schedules changed, but that’s fine. I have to say, I really didn’t like the tonality of the way people would say, dude see you in 18 years or say goodbye to your sleep. Why so much negativity about something that is so perfectly beautiful and normal?
NLY: Something so wonderful and so amazing to have happen as a part of your life, it does seem like people have this total connotation of like you’re never gonna sleep anymore and so much for going out.
Ian: Who cares?
NLY: Right! You obviously knew what you were getting into. It’s not like oh now this kids here, what do I do now? I’ve got to feed it and I guess I gotta hang out with it for a while.
Ian: And it continues. But I also want to stress because I think it’s important, one of the reasons I don’t usually like talking about this stuff, because I think a lot of times people who either haven’t had a child or will never have a child or don’t want to have a child, I don’t want to give any impression that somehow, that they are missing out on some like unattainable, like joy that’s only attainable thru that. I just don’t think that way. I have been around people who’ve said to me, you don’t know happiness until you look in the eyes of your own child, and I think, you are sick in the head. Human beings, people navigate their own lives. They navigate and they figure it out. I don’t think you have to have a child. If you want to have a child, great. If you don’t have a child, great.
NLY: Yeah, it’s for some people and it’s not for some people.
Ian: If you don’t have a child, you’re not missing out on the miracle of life. It’s all around us all the time. Look out the fucking window and there’s the miracle of life.