Since his time with the Teen Idles in 1979, Ian MacKaye has not given up on his quest to make excellent records on his own terms. With Fugazi on indefinite hiatus, he's focusing on the Evens, his project with former Warmers drummer Amy Farina. The group's eponymous debut, which was released on Dischord earlier this year, has proven once again that MacKaye deserves his notoriety. But behind MacKaye's impressive resume is his sincere desire for a relationship with his audience, something I experienced firsthand when I tried to set up an interview with him before his show at the Department of Safety in Anacortes, Washington. The show was fantastic, but we never did get a chance to talk. A few weeks later, I got an e-mail from MacKaye saying he'd heard I was looking for him and wanted to set up an interview. If only all indie-rock legends were so accommodating.
The Evens: Amy and I have been friends with each other for well over a decade. We've been long-time admirers of each other's work and have spent a long time talking about music. At some point we talked a lot about playing music together, but both of us were busy doing other things. It was around 2001 that Fugazi went on a break. One of the guys was becoming a dad, so we were taking time off from the band and I figured this would be a good time for me to play some music with somebody. Amy and I started playing together, and it just sort of developed from that. We didn't actually start doing shows until January of 2004. For two or three years we just sat around and played songs for each other. PM: It seems the Evens' style is much subtler than other projects you have done. Was that intentional?
The Evens: Of course -- we're playing it. It's always intentional, I think. The way people perceive things may not necessarily be intentional. In terms of the band, we definitely thought a lot about volume and about the kind of equation or construct people have about volume and music. Volume equals power, but we don't actually believe that. Volume can be powerful, but it's not always powerful. Sometimes things that are quieter lay it out even more intensely. [We felt that] a lot of the time people were leaving [shows] feeling beaten over the head. It was just not a pleasant feeling. So we thought, Maybe music doesn't have to be quite so assaultive. Maybe it should be something people can hear and then leave the room thinking, not reeling. It's just an idea; we're not intending to be critical of other people or the way they approach things. We want to play in lots of smaller, different types of places, so it seemed really practical to strip it down. I don't think it's a thin sound; I think it's a full sound. PM: But compared to other projects you've been involved with
The Evens: Certainly. Although, one thing worth noting is that a band like Minor Threat, for instance, was not that loud of a band. The PAs we were using were much smaller. At some point in the early nineties, PAs became incredibly loud. PM: There is also much more crowd participation with the live show. How did that come about?
The Evens: We're just making music and having an evening with people. If I invited you and some people over to the house and I said, "Hey, let's have a chat, or play Scrabble." We're people, and we're making an evening out of it. I think that because it's quieter, because of the different setting -- whereas at a Fugazi show you're playing for fifteen-hundred people and there's a high stage and it's a very different kind of setting -- it's actually possible to communicate. So obviously, there's a different kind of energy. PM: What is your preference between Fugazi and the Evens?
The Evens: I don't compare, though I guess it would be safe to say that currently I prefer what I'm doing, otherwise I wouldn't be doing it. I could actually, fairly easily, put together a very loud punk rock-ish underground band and play huge shows. I'm sure I could do that and people would respond. In fact, I feel like this is the road less traveled, the one we're doing. So I think that should indicate that I prefer what I'm doing. PM: What is the status of Fugazi right now? Are things still indefinite?
The Evens: We're on an indefinite hiatus, and that means we're on a hiatus that has no defined limits. I don't know -- it could be forever. The fact is, life served up a set of circumstances that made it impossible for us to work. Since it was not somebody saying, "I hate you guys, I don't want to be in the band," it didn't break the band up. It seems so ridiculous to break up. So we thought, since we can't play, our options are either break up or just call it a hiatus and see what happens down the road. We could never have predicted that the band would have played for as long as it did. So why would I predict that we'd never play again? PM: I was able to see Jem Cohen's Chain at the Vancouver International Film Festival last year, and I noticed your name on the credits. What was your involvement with the film?
The Evens: Jem's one of my dearest friends. We went to high school together. I've known him for many, many years. We worked pretty closely together on a couple projects: some short films a while ago and then the Instrument movie [the Fugazi documentary]. I think with that experience, Jem thought it would be good to include both Guy (Picciotto of Fugazi) and I in his new project. He wanted some friends who he shared an aesthetic with that he could bounce things off, because sometimes making films can be a lonely sport. Eventually, he gave us the credit of executive producers, which doesn't really mean anything. The fact is that Guy and I worked very hard talking to Jem, looking at all the different versions of the movie, discussing the editing, discussing all sorts of things. In terms of a major contribution, the woman who played Amanda, that was my suggestion. She had never acted before. Jem was looking for somebody and I said, "You know what, Mira Billotte (of the D.C. band White Magic)!"