No Cause for Concern? Issue #9 | June 1984 | Page 10 | Ian MacKaye Interview
MINOR THREAT was one of the more explosive bands to ever come out of Washington. They were also one of the most popular punk bands worldwide. Unfortunately all of this came to an end last year as the band split up. Now lead singer Ian MacKaye, with drummer Jeff, work keeping Discord above water. The following interview was done late at night on December 26th, 1983, in Ian's "temple".
DAVE: What caused the demise of the Teen Idles?
IAN: I don't know. Geordie kind of found religion and didn't want to do the band anymore and I was really frustrated because I'd written all the lyrics or almost all the lyrics and I wanted to sing them. And just getting kind of tired playing the same shit for so long. So we decided to do something new.
DAVE: Were you dissatisfied with being a bassist?
IAN: I just wanted to sing, it wasn't a matter of being dissatisfied. I enjoyed playing the bass. I might even end up playing bass again. It just so happened that I wrote the lyrics and I wanted them sung differently than they were being sung. It was tedious and it was also that we fought so much toward the end. Toward the end of the Teen Idles we're talking like instruments being thrown around at each other. I left about five practices at least.
DAVE: Talk a second about what I feel is a unique approach to Minor Threat songs. They seem to me to all be written from the "I" level. I have yet to come across -- and will probably never come across -- any lyrics penned by yourself that have to do with the standard hardcore theme of today. You know, World War Three, Ronald Reagan, Nuclear war
IAN: No, I don't see any reason wasting my rhymes on that shit. It's fine but it depends on what you want to be known for. If I'm going to sing a song I want to speak from a point of knowledge and experience. And even though I may think what's going on in Lebanon right now is wrong, I'm not there, I don't know. I'd rather sing about something I KNOW is wrong or right or whatever. Every song I've written is about me or someone I'm involved with.
DAVE: Can you tell me about the song "Small Man, Big Mouth"? I was under the impression that it was about a member of your band.
IAN: Everyone thought it was about Brian but it's not at all. In fact, Brian thought it was about Brian but it wasn't. I wrote it about a little kid who was in our school. I was a senior when this shit was going on and this little motherfucker would come and he'd have about -- he was an incredibly ugly little light-skinned black kid -- and he would come up -- man, I'm talking UGLY, let's see if I can find you a picture. This motherfucker was ugly. [gets out his school year book.] He must have been a junior at this point. This kid was trouble man. What he would do was he would come and he'd have about eight of these biggest motherfuckers with him and start giving you shit. There he is, look at that motherfucker. [Dave laughs] He is incredibly ugly man! He's an evil evil motherfucker and he would come up to you and say "hey you faggot, you honky motherfucker" or whatever and he'd hit you and if you touched him you'd get killed. That was the whole point. They'd circle you, they'd just stand around and say: "touch him and you die". The guy was just the biggest fucking little asshole. He would go out of his way to fuck with you. He was a little guy with a big mouth and a lot of big friends.
DAVE: Do you know what ever happened to him?
IAN: Well, about last year I was driving by Wilson where I went to school and saw him standing on the street and it was me and Rich and we really pondered going back and just kicking his ass but we decided it wasn't worth it.
DAVE: For those who don't already know, what is straight edge all about. In your opinion seeing as you're the person who wrote the song and have probably come under a hell of a lot of flack for it. People have said "Who the fuck is this guy going around telling us what we can and cannot do?"
IAN: They're wrong. It doesn't make any difference. They can think what they want to think. I don't say that. I don't tell people not to drink. People are stupid. All I had to do is offer a good idea -- what I consider a better idea. There is no argument for me. The only people I think should drink are old people. They can drink all they want, they have lived there lives. Anyone who says that "it loosens me up where I can talk", that's bullshit. If you're able to talk by drinking you're able to talk. I would never get into a thing where I had to drink just to talk, that's weak.
When you don't do something you get to see. You become a good witness and when you see other people getting fucked up you go "my god, that's pathetic" or at least that's the way I feel. I like to be responsible for what I do and anyone who argues against that I think are fucking idiots but oh well. Straight edge is just an idea, basically a pro-responsibility song. Be responsible for your actions bla bla bla. Positive thinking. You know, there's people who call themselves punk rockers and they think they're so different from everybody. The entire world drinks, man, the entire fucking world drinks and any punk rocker who's drinking a six pack of beer and hanging out down at the bar, you and every other fucking teenager, preppie or whatever -- it's nothing new and I don't think people draw on their own personalities or character enough.
That's the way I feel. As I said, a lot of my dear friends drink and I don't hate them for it. I don't tell people to drink or not to drink. period. I don't do that.
DAVE: Did that outlook inspire "In My Eyes"?
IAN: "In My Eyes" was my answering song. People were always asking me these questions so I thought do a song where I answered all their questions.Every line has a story behind it. I enjoyed that song.
DAVE: "Out of Step", I noticed the difference when you re-recorded the song --
IAN: We did that on purpose, the 'I".
DAVE: When you originally wrote that, were you telling people what to do?
IAN: No! Listen to it. It says 'Don't smoke, don't drink, don't fuck, at least I can fucking think" It's obvious to me. The only reason I did it was because Jeff and I got into so many fights about it so I just said fuck it, I'll do it. To me it's obvious: "don't drink, don't smoke, don't fuck, at least I can fucking think!" Anyone who can't understand thatbut take it the way you want it. And people wanted to take it like that and it was wrong.
DAVE: I saw it that way and then I noticed on the "Out Of Step' e.p. when it was re-recorded that the 'I's had been added. And there was the explanation in the middle.
IAN: We argued about it for a long time and finally it came down to what's more important. Of course it makes us look a little wishy-washy but I think it's really important for people to understand my songs. I don't want to be misunderstood. So at the risk of coming off kind of stupid looking, we re-recorded it.
The 'fuck' thing is what everyone gets upset about anyway. That was really funny 'cause all the time they've been taking my things about drugs and drinking but the moment that I fucking mentioned any of our God-given biological functions, all hell broke loose. I STILL get letters about it. They've kind of missed the whole conception. I have nothing against sex, sex is fine. I hate seeing guys getting destroyed over girls or girls getting destroyed over guys and boy does it happen. And that's the worst thing that can happen in adolescence. Drinking and drugs are one thing but heavy-duty adult emotional relationships just fuck people up for life. It's not something to be toyed with and neither is sticking your dick into things, it's not to be toyed with. If a guy just wants to get off he's better off doing it in his hand but once your serious about a relationship, I think it's great, no problem. But chalking a notch into your penis I think is bullshit. If you're only trying to keep a score then you've really lost the game.
DAVE: After Minor Threat recorded their first e.p. in June July 1981, you embarked on a mini-tour --
IAN: It was suppose to be a big tour but we never made it. Tom's (from Youth Brigade) mom said we had to bring the van back or she wouldn't pay for his college. We made it as far west as Madison.
DAVE: What happened when you came back?
IAN: We played two more shows then Lyle went to college. 'Cause Lyle was leaving and he was a founding member of the band there was no way Minor Threat was going to go on without him. Then for about six months after that we were broken up and Jeff and I fooled around with and Brian joined the G.I's and Discord did it's thing. I roadied for Black Flag in England then we kind of got the ache to get back together so we got back together. H.R. had really pressured us to get back together, you know: "you guys came out with this big statement and you just break up and everyone's going huh? What's going on?" so we decided to get back and just take it as far as we could take it. We thought it was time a D.C. band did something. At that time -- and I still do -- I honestly believe that the reason I did it was purely because I wanted D.C. to get on the map. I was right into that idea. Just to show that this is happening in the east. It was cool to see it getting bigger and bigger and playing hugh shows. It was really great.
DAVE: Could you describe the reactions of your peers in Washington about that?
IAN: About the selling out thing? Of course they said we sold out. They said we were getting back together for the fame and the money. That made me resentful as shit which of course is natural. We did "Cashing In" the first time we played after we got back together. We threw money to the crowd and that show went off okay. There's still anti-Minor Threat sentiments 'cause they thought we'd be playing all the time stealing everyone's shows, we'd take the money they were supposed to earn. It was just fucking bullshit. So we did it that one time to get it off our chests. The one problem with getting bigger is that you become a national band and then your own friends start to feel kind of alienated by the whole thing so that's really frustrating. Towards the end it really depressed me.
DAVE: There's a lot of kids that never got a chance to see Minor Threat, especially where I'm from --
IAN: I sure wish we could have played up there. That's the only thing I really really regret is not being able to play there...or Seattle or Denver...going to Europe. There's so many things that I'd love to have done but we didn't get to do but it's not a waste. To know that you've played and made people think is really great. Whether they hated us or loved us, just to know that you've stirred up a little something is really great. I just hope that in twenty years when they write about punk rock they'll at least give us a paragraph or something. That'll make me very happy. I wanted to be part of something like that. I'm not finished -- I'll find some new thing some day.
DAVE: Do you have any idea what that's --
IAN: Not the slightest idea. I really want to do some fucking total emotional band but I haven't figured out who I'm going to get in the band, how were going to do it, what I'm going to play. It's just really up in the air. I hope something. I'm just hanging out trying to get Dischord on it's feet.
DAVE: What was the main idea behind Dischord Records, just to get the Teen Idles e.p. out?
IAN: No, the first idea was that we had all this money sitting around so we decided to get our own record out. The band had already broken up but we said fuck it, let's put it out anyway. We had a thousand dollars sitting there. So we got it out then we said let's be a label for our friends, it was no big deal. So Henry [Black Flag] put out S.O.A., he paid for that. We started getting a good reaction then we put out Minor Threat then all of a sudden it became a full fledged label.
Jeff and I stuck with it and it's a business now. I'm getting really sick of it personally. I don't mind doing it for fun, I don't mind making money off of it. It pays my rent which is really cool. But for all those who think it's some dream life; you're wrong. It's fucking more than full time. It takes my entire life up. I pay out my ass for having this because every moment of everyday you have to do something. There's always so much pressure. I've got like five months worth of mail and trying to answer it is just so hard. Trying to get the prices low has really put us in debt. It sucks and the business aspect of it is just not fun for me. I want to keep it up but at the moment I'm not prepared to become an adult. I'm not interested in that. I'm more interested in just still living and not getting all settled down and shit.
Fuck I'm only twentyone years old. Most people at twenty one are still fucking around in college and haven't even left there hometowns. I still got plenty of time. I have plans to hang out and do something and whether or not it'll be as big as whatever, it doesn't make any difference.
DAVE: Is there any truth to the rumour that Dischord had to go legal 'cause the government was catching on?
IAN: We're paying taxes but there's nothing to pay 'cause we've been losing money anyway. We had to go legal because doing mail order we're dealing almost entirely with cheques and we were dealing with a big volume so it was bound to catch up to us. It was just bound to so we decided to nip it in the bud 'cause you can get into a lot of trouble. It was a long hard decision. I sure didn't want to go legal 'cause I thought it was sort of hypocritical but we argued about it and we finally decided that if we got taken out of business by the government then all the bands who had donated their time and their music and everything to the label -- which they have -- would just be wasted by our own personal irresponsibility and our laziness. That wasn't fair 'cause the bands have put too much into it. S.O.A., Youth Brigade, G.I.s, all these bands, they've really put a lot into it and it just would not be fair at all. And it doesn't make any difference 'cause we lost money last year and we're losing money again this year and we've one more year to lose money and then we're going to be called a hobby by the I.R.S. anyway [laughs]. Oh well.
DAVE: It's kind of funny how they can call something a hobby that too many people have put too much time --
IAN: No, that's fine. I'd rather be called a hobby personally. The only reason we're doing the I.R.S. thing is so we don't get into any trouble, so we don't get wiped out. We're too disorganized anyway. Trying to get taxes paid is a nightmare.
DAVE: In the last three years what do you hope you've done and learned?
IAN: Just made people think, stirred up their coffee a little bit so they could at least ponder something different. It's great to know the fact that I -- personally and the band -- have influenced people across the country, it's really incredible. But whatever I've learned it hasn't satisfied me. I'm still looking. I'm still going to find out someday whatever it is I'm supposed to find out. I'm not satisfied and I'm not finished.
[Dischord Records is still around. Check them out here: www.dischord.com The site also has a good Official history of the label as well as Minor Threat and other D.C. bands connected with the label.]