Ian MacKaye talks Minor Threat, Fugazi, Bad Brains, making records & more in new interview
As co-founder of Minor Threat, Fugazi and Dischord Records (among other things), Ian MacKaye is the epitome of the DIY aesthetic, having managed to do it his way his whole career, and succeed doing so. He talks about how the DIY aesthetic applies to recording in a feature interview in the new issue of Tape Op magazine, discussing the way he's made records over the last 40 years, producing other bands, creative solutions to technical problems, and more. As Tape Op is a magazine about "creative music recording," it's a little technical but there are also many great stories.
MacKaye talks about how early band Teen Idles and Minor Threat would use a boombox to record practices, and how they got better at doing it. "We didn't have a PA at that time, and I was singing through a guitar amp with less than desirable results. It was useful, in terms of getting a sense of the vocals for a song, but it was shitty-sounding and the feedback was pretty unbearable. We developed a method of recording practices with clearer vocals by taking the boombox up the basement stairs and recording the band from a distance while I would sing directly into the deck up on the stairs. It took a little tweaking, but we were able to make relatively balanced recordings that way."
Talking more about the difficulty of recording vocals, MacKay recalls how Bad Brains would record vocals live with the band...in the backyard of storied suburban Inner Ear Studio. "Inner Ear was in a small brick house where [Inner Ear studio owner Don Zientara] and his wife, Juanita, lived with their two young daughters, Emily and Katie. The band played in the rec room in the basement, which was filled with children's toys, and the control room was in a little side porch on the first floor. Don eventually moved the control room into this tiny boiler closet in the basement, but not until 1981. To pull off the outside vocals for H.R., Don ran long extension cables ganged together for the mic and headphones. When you listen to the 4-track [tape], on the vocal track, you can hear cars go by and cicadas buzzing. At one point you can hear people clapping, because there were little kids that had seen this crazy punk guy dancing frenetically around the backyard with headphones, and they couldn't hear the music he was dancing to." Those recordings would be released as the Black Dots album:
He also discusses "the definitive version" of songs, and how while many people think of the studio recording of "Waiting Room" that's on Fugazi's debut album as the definitive version, he and the band had played it hundreds of times before they recorded it, and how the song continued to change live. "In my mind there were so many versions of 'Waiting Room' that transcended the one on the record, which obviously is static, frozen in time."
Other subjects: digital vs analog, how he's produced "a hundred sessions" with other artists but has only been paid once, and more.
He does talk Coriky (including info on the name itself) on the new episode of The Adulting Well Podcast.
You can also see MacKaye being interviewed in documentaries Salad Days (about the DC punk scene), American Hardcore, and Don't You Wish That We Were Dead (about The Damned), which are three of the 13 great punk and rock documentaries we recomend to stream right now. He also recently talked with Nardwuar.
You can also subscribe to the print edition of Tape Op for free; there are always at least a couple of cool interviews in every bi-monthly issue. The August/September issue also features talks with David Gilmour, Butch Walker, King Britt and more.