Fugazi is an American punk band that formed in Washington, D.C. in 1987. The band's continual members were guitarists and vocalists Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto, bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty. Fugazi are noted for their DIY ethical stance and manner of business practice. Fugazi has been on hiatus since 2002.
After the hardcore punk group Minor Threat dissolved, Ian MacKaye (vocals and guitar) was active with a few short-lived groups, most notably Embrace. MacKaye decided he wanted a project that was "like the Stooges with reggae," but was wary about forming another band after Embrace's break up. MacKaye recalled, "My interests were not necessarily to be in a band [per se], but to be with people who wanted to play music with me." MacKaye recruited ex-Dag Nasty drummer Colin Sears and bass guitarist Joe Lally, and the trio began practicing together in September 1986. After a few months of rehearsals, Sears returned to Dag Nasty and was replaced by Brendan Canty (earlier of Rites of Spring). One day Canty's Rites of Spring bandmate Guy Picciotto dropped by during a practice session to see how his friend was getting along; he later admitted he secretly harbored the idea of joining the group. But Picciotto was disappointed that there seemed to be no place for him; he said, "It seemed really completed already [. . .] It had a completely different feel from what I'd been doing with Brendan. It seemed just solid and done."
After some uncertainty from Canty about what he wanted to do with his future, the trio regrouped and booked their first show at the Wilson Center in early September 1987. The group still needed a name, so MacKaye chose the word "fugazi" from Mark Baker's Nam, a compilation of stories of Vietnam War veterans, where it used as slang for "fucked up or screwed up" . The word fugazi is Italian slang for "fake." The band began inviting Picciotto to practices. Inspired by use of a foil in hip hop, Picciotto sang backup vocals. After his band Happy Go Licky broke up, he became more involved with Fugazi. MacKaye eventually asked Picciotto to become a full member, which he accepted.
Albums and tours
Fugazi embarked on its first tour in January 1988. In June 1988 the band recorded its debut EP Fugazi with producer Ted Nicely, and shortly afterwards embarked on an arduous tour of Europe. At the tour's conclusion in December, the band recorded songs for its intended debut album. However, the band was spent from touring and decided that the resulting sessions were unsatisfactory. The tracklist was cut down to an EP and released as Margin Walker the following year. Upon the band's return from Europe, Picciotto, unsatisfied with merely singing, began playing guitar.
The band's first album, Repeater, was released in January 1990. The band spent most of the year touring behind Repeater and routinely sold out 1,000-capacity shows. By summer 1991 the album had sold more than 100,000 copies, a large number for a label that relied on word-of-mouth promotion. While major labels began to court Fugazi, the band decided that Dischord was distributing their records well enough and refused the offers.
For the band's second album Steady Diet of Nothing (1991), the band once again asked Ted Nicely to produce. Nicely had become a chef and had to reluctantly turn down the job, so the bandmembers decided to produce the record themselves. Fugazi recorded its third album In on the Kill Taker (1993) with Steve Albini in Chicago; however, the results were deemed unsatisfactory and the band rerecorded the album with Ted Nicely. With the breakthrough of alternative rock in the early 1990s, In on the Kill Taker became the group's first record to enter the Billboard album charts.
By Red Medicine (1995), Fugazi were on the road less frequently, due in large part to other professional and personal commitments. Their music had evolved far from their hardcore roots, with strong art rock leanings. The Argument (2001), featured the first extensive contributions from outside musicians, most notably longtime roadie and sound engineer Jerry Busher, who added percussion or a second drum set to most of the album's songs.
Fugazi is currently on what the band describes as a "hiatus", partly brought on by Canty wanting to spend more time with his family.
In the meantime, the members are undertaking side projects, with MacKaye forming the duo The Evens with drummer and singer Amy Farina (formerly of the Warmers). In 2004, MacKaye produced the DC EP for Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, which also featured Jerry Busher.
Canty has been doing a variety of soundtrack scores and playing bass in the trio Garland Of Hours alongside frequent Fugazi guest contributors Jerry Busher and Amy Domingues, and has played bass live with Mary Timony. Canty also appears on Bob Mould's 2005 album Body of Song and on Mould's 2008 album District Line, and has toured with Mould, appearing in the live DVD Circle of Friends. He is currently working in the Burn to Shine DVD series which is being released by Trixie DVD.
Lally has appeared on fellow DC post-punkers Decahedron's debut album Disconnection_Imminent, as well as on a one shot project with John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Josh Klinghoffer of The Bicycle Thief known as Ataxia. He also released his first solo album There to Here and is also performing shows under his name, solo and along with producer Don Zientara. His second solo album, Nothing Is Underrated, was released in November 2007.
Guy Picciotto currently works as a record producer most notably with Blonde Redhead and The Blood Brothers, and he has performed alongside members of The Ex at the Jazz festival in Wels, Austria. Picciotto also co-produced and contributed guitar on Vic Chesnutt's most recent album, North Star Deserter, for Constellation Records.
Fugazi's music was an intentional departure from that of the hardcore punk bands the members had played in previously. Fugazi incorporated funk and reggae beats, irregular stop-start song structures, and heavy riffs inspired by bands such as Led Zeppelin and Queen, bands that the punk community largely disdained. Picciotto became the group's second guitarist when he realized MacKaye's typically chunky, low-end riffs and Lally's dub-influenced basslines allowed him to focus on high-pitched parts. In both vocal and guitar roles, Picciotto assumed the role of a foil to MacKaye; employing a Rickenbacker guitar for its scratchy single-coil sound in order to "cut through MacKaye's chunky chording like a laser beam." Picciotto's assumption of guitar duties allowed all four members of the band to jam together and write songs that way, where previously they had played songs largely as MacKaye had arranged them. When writing songs, the band often rearranges them with different structures and different singers.
Generally, MacKaye's lyrics and singing are more direct and anthemic (MacKaye admits that he loves audience sing-alongs and writes songs with shoutable slogans), while Picciotto usually favors a more abstract, oblique approach. Lally has contributed vocals to a few songs as well, in which he sings in a more relaxed, quiet style as opposed to MacKaye and Picciotto, whose lyrics and vocals often feature strong emotional intensity.
Later, Fugazi more fully integrated elements of punk rock, hardcore, soul and noise with an inventively syncopated rhythm section. Notable is MacKaye and Picciotto's inventive, interlocking guitar playing, which often defies the traditional notion of "lead" and "rhythm" guitars. They often feature unusual and dissonant chords and progressions filtered through a hardcore punk lens. Their guitar work has earned comparisons to New York art-punk icons Television and the early work of the UK's Gang of Four. Most of Fugazi albums have featured an instrumental song or two. Though clearly rooted in punk and hardcore, there is arguably much more than punk to be found in Fugazi's music; for example, a review of The Argument compared a few songs to Radiohead. With Red Medicine, critics Ian McCaleb and Ira Robbins declared that Fugazi combined an "unprecedented dynamic range ... and previously unimagined elements" such as "clattering musique concrète ... piano and sound effects ... murky dub and lancing clarinet" and "loose-limbed jammy funk ... into an ambitious, experimental format that raises more stylistic questions than it answers."
Business practice and ethics
On their first tours, Fugazi worked out their DIY aesthetic by trial and error. Their decisions were partly motivated by pragmatic considerations that were essentially a punk rock version of simple living: for example, selling merchandise on tour would require a full-time merchandise salesperson who would require lodging, food, and other costs, so Fugazi decided to simplify their touring by not selling merchandise. They were also motivated by moral or ethical considerations: for example, Fugazi's members regarded pricey admission for rock concerts as tantamount to price gouging a performer's most loyal fans. Their inexpensive target goal of $5 admission was spawned during a conversation on an early tour when the band's members were debating the lowest profitable admission price. At some venues, particularly on the east and west coasts of the U.S., Fugazi was unable to get ticket prices below about $10. However, they never saw the $5 rule as inviolable, instead aiming to charge a price that was both affordable and profitable. Unlike some similar, small-scale independent rock contemporaries, Fugazi's performances and tours were nearly always profitable, due to their low business overhead costs, and MacKaye's keen sense of audience response in given regions.
Fugazi's early tours earned them a strong word-of-mouth reputation, both for their powerful performances, and for their eagerness to play in unusual venues. They sought out alternatives to traditional rock clubs partly to relieve the boredom of touring, but also hoping to show fans that there are other options to traditional ways of doing things. As Picciotto said, "You find the Elks Lodge, you find the guy who's got a space in the back of his pizzeria, you find the guy who has a gallery. Kids will do that stuff because they want to make stuff happen."
The group (MacKaye in particular) also made a point of discouraging violent, unwanted slam dancing and fistfights, which they saw as relics of the late 1970s/early 1980s hardcore punk era. Azerrad quotes Mackaye, "See, [slam dancers] have one form of communication: violence ... So to disorient them, you don't give them violence. I'd say, 'Excuse me, sir...'- I mean, it freaks them out -'Excuse me, sir, would you please cut that crap out?'" (emphasis in original) Azerrad writes, "[Mackaye's] admonitions seemed preachy to some. And by and large, people would obey - it wasn't cool to disrespect Ian MacKaye." Occasionally, Fugazi would escort an unrepentant slam-dancer from the concert, and give them an envelope containing a $5 refund (they kept a stock of such envelopes in their tour van for these occasions).
During the summer of 1990 MacKaye formed the corporation Lunar Atrocities Ltd in order to shield his own and his band mates' personal assets from the threat of lawsuits. As Mr. Seth Martin, MacKaye’s financial advisor explained to the Washington Post in a 1993 interview: "protection from liability is the main reason to form a corporation, and for these guys it makes sense. If someone got hurt stage-diving and decided to sue, it would be a little harder to go after their personal assets.”
- Repeater (1990)
- Steady Diet of Nothing (1991)
- In on the Kill Taker (1993)
- Red Medicine (1995)
- End Hits (1998)
- Instrument Soundtrack (1999)
- The Argument (2001)
- Furniture (2001)
- 13 Songs (1989)
- State of the Union (album) (1991)
- International Pop Underground Convention (1992)
- 20 Years of Dischord (2002)
- Fugazi's page at Dischord
- Southern distribution page
- Dischord Records — The band's record label.
- Interview at The Land Salmon with lead singer Ian Mackaye
- Interview with Ian MacKaye, October 2007, Jaimeville.com
- Interview by Loserdom zine with bassist Joe Lally in October 2002
- Fugazi's page at Allmusic
Biography from Wikipedia