Fugazi introduced me to independent music. They still continue to inspire me (despite their 10 year hiatus). I remember the thrill when I learned that Guy Picciotto (guitars, vocals) agreed to respond to my questions. This exchange occurred over e-mail in May 1998, just a month after their release of End Hits, their fifth full-length album.
Phil > You have been together for about 10 years now, right? So, do you find it easier or more difficult to reinvent yourselves in your music, as far as new ideas or writing styles?
Guy > I think when a band starts out, there is usually a bit of a golden period when the combination of individuals is really fresh and untested; so, you kind of explode out of the gate with a bunch of ideas sparked from the newness of the interaction. After a while, you kind of get accustomed to certain tendencies from each other. So, you may have to work a bit harder to undercut your own expectations. With our group, I think it’s never been super easy to write new songs, mainly because all four of us contribute to the writing, so each piece kind of has to run a gauntlet with each member taking whacks at the thing. A great majority of songs don’t survive the hazing. But, we do really work hard at pushing ourselves to a different space each time. We kind of like trying to mutate the signature.
Phil > I read an interview with Ian once where he said that you basically “handcraft the songs”. How exactly do you come up with new song ideas?
Guy > We basically get into writing modes where we sequester ourselves in whatever basement we’re practicing in (we’ve moved from Ian’s to my parent’s to Brendan’s, and now most recently we are in Joe’s) and play like four or five hours a day, four days a week. Basically, each of us will throw pieces at each other, and we’ll work through them, combining, rearranging, discarding, resurrecting, etc. The same as all bands. Occasionally, someone will have a song completely written and arranged, and it will survive intact without that much editing. But more typically, all songs get fully imprinted by all the members. I think a lot of people probably don’t realize how much of the actual bass and guitar parts are written by Brendan, for example. Everyone can write for everyone else. That is for the music. Lyrics, on the other hand, are more of a private affair with whoever sings the song being responsible for those lyrics.
Phil > Are there any bands out there now, from DC or not, that interest you?
Guy > Yeah, right now in DC there are a ton of bands, old and new, that I think are pretty killer. For example, there is Quix*o*tic, who just played out on the road with us for five days, who I think are amazing. They should have a record out soon. Also, The Cranium and CromTech are astonishing ground breakers. I could go on and on with The Make-Up, Lungfish, The Stigmatics, Deep Lust, etc. etc. As for out of towners, I would recommend Blonde Redhead from New York City. I just worked on a record with them, which will be out in September on Touch & Go. It’s totally epic.
Phil > How do you see the DC scene now as compared to your days with the Rites of Spring, back in the early- to mid-1980s?
Guy > It would be pretty hard for me to compare them, because in the Rites of Spring, I was a completely maniacal 19 years old and everything hit my consciousness in an extreme and raw fashion. Now at 32, with a lot of time under my belt as it were, my perspective is all elongated and stretchy. I mean, in some ways, I think not much has changed – groups still form, they still provide wild inspiration, they still break up cataclysmically. All those processes remain. The underground network and music community is still really strong. But there is a difference that really has to do with historical forces and the weird mass media communications assault of the 1990s. I mean, in the early 1980s, the ambitions were really localized to a degree. There was never any sense of an overground or industry interest, so shit happened in kind of an idyllic, do-it-yourself netherworld. There was a real sense of rival culture underneath the rest of the world’s radar. Though I think there still is and always will be strong underground activity, in a real way, things got disrupted by the glaring focus and lacerating influence of corporate attentions. I don’t want to cry too long and hard over the wrecking of the playhouse because there is more pressing work to be done, but looking back, it’s hard to ignore the differences.
Phil > Was there anything in particular that was different between doing End Hits and any of your previous records?
Guy > Really, the main difference was how long it took us to record and complete it. Generally, in the past, we would do our records in quick bursts from between four days and two weeks, but rarely longer. Last year, though, everything was really scrambled. We had a bunch of tours to make up due to cancellations and postponements brought about by Ian’s having a lung collapse on our tour in Australia and the subsequent six month recuperation period. At the same time, our drummer, Brendan, was getting married and having a kid, so there were a lot of breaks in the recording process. We started in March and didn’t finish until December, with tours and stuff taking us away at every juncture. Still, it probably worked in our favor. The record has an interesting feel as a result. We really got a chance to fine tune it and make it just like we wanted.
Phil > What life experiences have you learned through making music with Fugazi and your entire experience since being with the band? Has it taught you to look at life differently?
Guy > Well, for the last 11 years, it basically has been my life. There is not a single thing in my experience that has not been affected by what it means to be in this group.
Phil > Your lyrics, where do they stem from and what do you want kids to get most out of your music?
Guy > I am kind of a reluctant lyricist. A lot of people have notebooks jammed with scribblings, fragments, etc. But I am completely not like that. To get me to write anything down is orthodontic teeth pulling. So, when I get an idea for a song together, I am pretty thankful and just try to massage it into shape. It’s funny: we get two criticisms about our lyrics. Either that they are too obtuse to be understood or that they are too specific and dogmatic. The criticisms are completely contradictory and self-canceling, so I don’t know what to think. I just write them and if people get something out of it, I’ve succeeded. If they don’t, I’ve failed. I can deal with it either way.
Phil > Literature, do you take interest in it, or even art, do they influence you in any manner and how?
Guy > Yeah, I read tons. I love movies. The museums in DC are all free. It’s all grist for the mill.
Phil > What is the whole tour experience for you like? Obviously ups and downs, but how does it influence you?
Guy > I am a big fan of the touring experience. In the time we’ve been in Fugazi, we’ve gotten to play all 50 states in the US, 19 countries in Europe, Australia, Brazil, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina. These are all places I probably would never had the chance to visit otherwise, and the impact of the travel has been major. It’s weird, because physically the toll is pretty intense. You really have to learn how to detonate on stage night after night and always respect the music the and moment, even if say your stomach is distended with a giardic infection or your voice is strained to a straw sized radius or you broke your nose on the mic stand base, or whatever. It’s really quite a learning experience. Hope this works for you. All the best, Guy/Fugazi