"It created this healthy ecosystem of indie distributors and stores," he
said. "People knew where to get records by bands like Husker Du and Sonic
The downfall of that delicate indie ecosystem in the late '80s wasn't the bands' fault,
MacKaye says. "It was due to the record companies who were distributing the bands,
because they changed the way they did business. They began acting like major labels and
treated the bands poorly. So the question for them became, 'Do we want to be treated like
assholes and get shitty distribution, or get treated like assholes and get good
distribution?' With all the bands going to majors, the smaller stores didn't have any
product and couldn't compete with the huge, national chains."
Thanks to Dischord, the 'asshole question' has never posed to Fugazi. The band has
reportedly shunned a number of major labels offers, preferring to stay their DIY course.
More than a decade has passed since they released their first album, the seminal punk
opus, "13 Songs." How has being in Fugazi changed over the years?
"When we started playing we were part of a completely different musical
community," MacKaye said. "Now we're at this weird stage where we're alone.
There's no one in our position that I can think of. Though I feel connected with a lot of
bands in the scene, they're all younger than us. All my peers have been signed by labels,
and subsequently dumped. It's an aging thing. Rock and roll is very much attached to
people in their late teens and early 20s. That's when they are looking for youthful
energy. Most of American society expects you to grow up and get real, but we were already
real when we started."
Another thing that's changed is the way the band tours. Recently, Fugazi began doing
shorter, multi-week tours instead of spending months on the road. The reason: family.
Lally recently got married. Canty is a father these days, as is the band's sound engineer.
"It's just a lot of family stuff," MacKaye said. "The last year has been
quite a change for us. We're just trying to creatively address the issue of wanting to go
play and not take ourselves out on the road for too long. We've toured for over a decade,
and for the time being, we're living two different kinds of lives. It's something we're
all happy about."
"We used to tour six or seven months a year, just an enormous amount of time on
the road," Picciotto said. "In a weird way, it compressed time. Life from age 19
to 22 took longer for me than from age 22 to 32. It was just a steady cycle of consistent
work with the same four people.
"It's been quite a while since we've been to Omaha. Over the years, we've kept
expanding out touring base, from the United States and Europe, to the Far East to South
America. We're always adding more and more to our plate. And now touring is going to get
curtailed even more, and it'll take even longer to get back to certain places. It's
daunting trying to find a way to get back to those towns where we began."
Daunting maybe, but central to what Fugazi has accomplished, Picciotto said.
"We consider the live show the basis of what we're about. It's how we best present
ourselves. That's the reason for the cheap door price, we want to play to as many people
"I don't think anyone in the band has been burned out playing live. It's always
been the most exciting thing I've ever done. There will be a time when I won't do it
anymore, so I want to do it as long as I can. There's definitely some tradeoffs for being
away from home, but for me, there's nothing like playing, especially with this band."
MacKaye says there's a particularly warm spot in the band's heart for Omaha. "I
remember that it's one town where every gig we've ever played was epic," he says.
"Whether it was at Peony Park or Sokol Hall, it's always been a great place to
He says there's a number of similarities between his hometown of Washington D.C. and
Omaha, especially when comparing the cities' music scenes. I asked him if he ever
considered leaving the nation's capital.
"There was this whole attitude when we started that you couldn't play music in
D.C., and that to make it, a band had to play in New York. Some even said you couldn't be
a punk rocker there. I told those people to go fuck themselves. Our creativity,
expression, attitudes and philosophies aren't geographically bound and dictated. If
someone defines 'making it big' as being a part of the industry, they may be right. We
judge our success by our ability to be creative and play music."
Originally printed in The Reader November 12, 1998.
Copyright © 1998 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
Photos (used for this webpage, and not published in The Reader) by Glen E