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Odd Is Evens

After 25 years of making music, Minor Threat and Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye continues to confound expectations

By Mike Connor

It's not hard to see how Ian MacKaye went on from scooping ice cream to become the conscience of hardcore punk rock. Anecdotes of his audaciousness and iconoclasm are easy to find. Like one time in high school, when he was stuck on what to write about One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. He simply called information in Oregon and asked for Ken Kesey. Ken wasn't home, but his wife was. They discussed the book, then MacKaye wrote his report. He got an A.

In 1979, MacKaye and some friends in his Washington, D.C., high school formed a punk band called the Teen Idols. Before they called it quits, they managed to save up $600. They used the money to finance Dischord, which would later become one of punk rock's most influential labels.

"We were all in bands," says MacKaye, "and at some point we said, 'Well, let's just document this,' because we felt like we had sort of the authority to do it, because it was something that we felt that we were authorities on, which was our friends, and our music."

Dischord began recording compilations of D.C. bands exclusively. Among them were the Teen Idols, S.O.A. (State of Alert, led by vocalist Henry Garfield, who would later change his name to Henry Rollins) and Dag Nasty. Dischord also released records by MacKaye's bands‹Minor Threat defined hardcore punk rock, and Fugazi drastically expanded its boundaries.

Dischord distinguished itself over the years as a successful model of an independent label that, despite numerous and generous offers, never sold out--indeed, it never even really operated as a business. To this day, the label has never used contracts.

Independent Lobbyists

His current project is a two-piece band called The Evens, consisting of MacKaye on guitar and his longtime friend Amy Farina on drums. They started playing about three years ago, after other members of Fugazi went on a permanent hiatus in favor of family life.

MacKaye's response to a question about the Evens' sound is typically atypical. "That's why I'm coming there," he says, "to show you what it's like. If I could put it in words, I wouldn't play."

More important than describing the music, says MacKaye, is his and Farina's common intention: to create music that can transcend the rock club environment. "It's very difficult to find music being played outside of the traditional rock venues," says MacKaye. "That's not to say that they're bad or evil, it's merely to say that if there's always a venue that is an actual business, there has to be an audience. And new ideas don't have audiences."

The Evens will perform at the Rio, but they won't be using the stage.

"The idea is to celebrate the alternative space, the free space," he continues. "In other words, I understand that in Santa Cruz, there is the [Rio] theater. But we're playing in the lobby."

Of course, it won't be the first time a band has played in the Rio lobby--Goodnight played a rocking set prior to a screening of Reefer Madness, as did Bethany Curve and Rick Walker.

"Anytime you formalize anything," says MacKaye, "anytime you put it on a map, you basically alert everybody who either would want to (a) shut it down because they don't like what's happening there, or (b) figure out a way to make money from it. And then it's easily defeated, or it's easily sort of assimilated or co-opted. It's a bit of a game, in a way, it's a constant race going on. But I think that with new ideas, there always has to be new ways to present them." It may seem like a lot for an established musician to ask from unknown bands, but MacKay is putting his music where his mouth is, remaining wholly committed to creating and inspiring new music.

"This is something I've often said, it's sort of a mantra of mine, which is that music kicked my ass ... and I only intend to return the favor. It's the truth! And I feel like, you know, I'm 42 years old, and I can say it unabashedly. I am just not fucking around about that."

The Evens perform on Monday, Feb. 14, at 8pm in the Rio Theatre lobby. Tickets are $5, available at www.ticketweb.com or at the door on the night of the show.

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From the February 9-16, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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