Fugazi's page on the Dischord Records website still somewhat defiantly declares the band's timeline to be "Fall 1987 - present," so one can't completely rule out the possibility that they'll pick up where they left off in 2002, but at this point holding one's breath seems ill advised. Like the others, bassist Joe Lally has been determined to move on and make music on his own terms; his contemplative solo debut, There to Here, was followed up last November by the richly layered Nothing is Underrated. Produced by Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto, the album hums along with support from a number of other musicians, one of whom, drummer Ricardo Lagomasino, is with Lally as he tours the U.S. this month. (He currently resides in Italy.) Tuesday night Lally plays the Knitting Factory with the additional accompaniment of Jonathan Morris; Glorytellers open.
Your newest album is called Nothing is Underrated, which seems to me to be open to a lot of different interpretations. Indeed, it is.
Do you have an interpretation of your own? For me I guess it’s coming from more than just a few places. But I suppose with the pace of the world and how much – especially here in the U.S. – people feel like they have to be accomplishing. And it’s really not just here in the U.S.; it’s about the mind and what we feel we have to accomplish to feel satisfied and what allegedly makes us happy. I don’t know; it just sort of came down at some point to the idea that doing nothing is underrated. Being silent and going to a quiet place where creativity can come from… It’s a number of things; it’s hard to say that it came from this and therefore it’s that.
Of course. I seem to remember reading somewhere that you practice yoga. I do, but I moved away and I have kind of a teacher here, who I actually hope to see tonight. I moved away last July and I just haven’t been able to get into it. It seemed like in the states I could always do yoga someplace and make up classes. You can’t do that at all where I live now and I haven’t fallen into any class there and it’s been hard to kind of get it going at home. Really ever since my daughter was born it’s not quite the daily practice it used to be.
How many kids do you have? I have one. And one is a lot.
Is yoga less popular in Italy? It could be to some degree. I think it’s something that’s growing everywhere, which is great. To me it’s something that should be taught in schools. For me, getting to know the relationship between your mind and your body is just an essential part of life that for me every child should come to know better. How to relax, how to be quiet and okay with it. It’s such a simple thing it seems ridiculous talking about it; for me if I try and say what I think is great about it. For me it’s such a natural thing to bring into focus for children so they’re more comfortable with themselves and understand their mind and body better. And of course, I understand that to many people it’s wrapped up in a particular religion or a relationship with one’s, I suppose, God. And therefore it’s immediately dismissed as something that could be taught in school.
How did your last album, There to Here, influence your approach to Nothing is Underrated? There to Here is really the discovery of how to record a record on my part and how to get my songs down. At that time I was struggling to record songs that had been kicking around in my head for two or three years. I hadn’t really played with anyone in the initial approach to recording. I had started to work with people in order to bring them into the studio, but I was really trying to figure out how that was to be done. I did the process kind of backwards and recorded some of the stuff with just me on bass and then tried putting other stuff on top of it and it wasn’t the smartest thing to do. It was a whole learning process. Some of it was fine because I recorded with a whole band and maybe re-sang the vocal part and it was done. I’m not one to spend much time with the mixing of something. I’m really up for whoever’s mixing it to play with it some and surprise me with their editing.
Approaching the second record that was all understood. I really wanted the initial sounds to go down and then really left the editing up to Guy and Ian and had done all my parts and just left the country. I think Ian and Guy had a little bit of guitar to put down after I left and I just left it up to them to mix because I trust them, you know, and know them really well and they know me really well. That’s the kind of particular situation that I could keep doing, with those guys, every time I make a record.
Some of the lyrics seem very personal. I don’t want to read too much Fugazi baggage into it, but was it an emotional experience recording a song like "Painfully Aware" with Guy? No, because… There may be some of that in that for sure; Fugazi is a huge part of my life and then to have it just stop, you know, it was a really difficult thing to not be able to play with those guys and work on making songs and playing them live with them. However that’s worked itself into my songs is not to where recording with Ian and Guy is therefore really heavy or something. It doesn’t really have too much to do with that – recording a song is sort of trying to naturally capture something that’s an expression so in itself that can be heavy but it isn’t my relationship between the people I was working with that made it that way.
"Via Nomentana" has some gorgeous guitar work. I take it that was inspired by a visit to that ancient road? That road actually could be any road that has stuff under it from the past left over from past civilizations. Everywhere in Rome – they go to dig for the subway and they just keep uncovering more stuff. There’s a lot of that going on. Via Nomentana is not far from where I live and I just kind of understand it so it just happened to make sense and just sound the best for that song. It’s a road that led into the spot where my wife worked and was living for a time just outside the city. So I spent a lot of time on it.
What can you tell us about the last song on the album, "Strascinata"? It has a lot to do, I guess, with moving over there. And it has to do with… I don’t know how else to put it, other than ‘living simply.’ And not asking or needing a lot. It’s also a type of pasta that really is just flour and water. When my mother-in-law is making it – and it is so good – it’s hard to believe how simple it is when I’m eating it. But strascinata is also a way of saying, ‘to drag,’ and the connotations are very similar to the different connotations in English; like a relationship dragging. To make the pasta you cut off a section from the little tube you’ve rolled and drag it so the little ridges between your fingers show up. So it’s just this blob; it doesn’t have a shape like a lot of pastas have. It just has that imprint from between your fingers.
The bass sounds really interesting on that song. That’s something that I didn’t try too hard to capture but we thought it came out fine. I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of time mic-ing the room to death to try and capture the acoustic sound of the Hoffman. But I really like sound a lot and play that bass a lot. At home I never really plug in an electric bass. I always play them acoustically and write that way. But that bass just sounds so nice acoustically; we just put some mics in the bathroom and I’m just kind of standing in the doorway.
Instead of forming a new band, you’ve been sticking to the solo route, with a varying supporting cast. Have you had any inclination to work with a set group? I wanted to, especially moving to Rome because I felt like it would be really helpful to be able to get around Europe and maybe I could fall into a band. It’s really hard to do because people either have their jobs or a lot of other bands are involved. People are always in at least three bands here. Then there’s the reality of flying to other countries, which is still not necessarily I can afford to do with two other people. Especially coming back to America now. Paying for flights in Euro and then making dollars to pay them back is turning into a joke. With this particular tour there are people in other cities who will be joining me. So I’ll play with Ricardo Lagomasino, who plays on the second record and I’ve done three tours with him now with Capillary Action. And Jon Morris will be there; the three of us are playing together for the first time on this tour. I kind of know what I’m aiming for better now so I feel I can get a better performance out of people. In the past getting together quickly with people was really frustrating and I think that’s getting better. It’s nice; there’s a cello player who’s going to play with us in Chicago – I only know her from hearing her stuff on the internet.
What about in New York? Geoff Farina from Glorytellers is doing a week of shows with us so he’ll be playing on some of my songs during that part of the tour. There’s also Aurora Nealand, a saxophone player who is a friend of Ricardo’s. She joined us in New Orleans on the last tour, showing up just before we went onstage. So I wasn’t able to say much but this time she gets to hear a few things beforehand.
There were often some rowdy assholes at Fugazi shows. Is it more enjoyable to tour now that those morons have been weeded out? It is so not an issue that it’s not comparable. [Laughs.] And that stuff kind of died down in the last years – we kind of outlasted that by the end. Now I just don’t mind whether the people there are messing with me while I’m playing. Though I certainly don’t want to put the word out: “Fuck with me at my show!”
Do you have to put up with a lot of requests for "Waiting Room"? Not really. You know, it’s been surprisingly few shows where I’ve heard that. I’ve done full tours where no one mentions Fugazi at all. I’ve been kind of blown away by that. I think people who are Fugazi fans are really expecting something different and are open and ready to just hear it rather than just dwell on it. There aren’t a ton of people coming to see me either but even in England, where a lot of people were turning up and Fugazi just has a huge fan base, I was just shocked at how no one ever asked for that stuff and how respectful audiences would be.
I’ve seen you twice in New York – the first time was at Union Docs and that was mesmerizing, pin-drop silence. Then when you played the Knitting Factory there were some people in the back by the bar who were talking really loudly and it was a very different vibe. Do you feel like you would be better received in less conventional rooms? I feel like I’m not in too much of a position to pick and choose because I don’t think I could even cover my plane ticket if I came over and just winged it, booking shows. But it seems like I’m probably going to end up trying to see how that can work because I don’t have a lot of people coming out and I don’t know how many places I’m really going to get asked back to. We’ll see.
But yeah, I would much rather be playing shows earlier in the evening at different venues. I don’t need a big P.A.; it’s not a loud thing. This probably ends up being a topic with The Evens because it really comes down to the question of what is music to you and what is a song and where you’re coming from and so forth. And I don’t really think everyone has the license to blow you out of the room. I don’t think many people have the license to play that loud. Think about it historically; there was no P.A. for The Beatles to even make their shows work properly for the audiences they were playing to. And now what do we have? Amazing P.A.s no matter what room you’re in. Like everything else it didn’t necessarily develop intelligently, it just became what it was: the best of this and what is modern and so on. You can play a small room with just a P.A. on a stick and I’m much more into just playing to the sound of the room that I’m in and much more comfortable singing that way, when you can sing to the sound of the room and the band is playing the volume to the room you’re in. I know it’s really hard for a drummer to do that but if they were playing enough simple percussive stuff they could do what they wanted to and be happy with it. Playing in a room like that is so great and in a way you’re really like holding the hand of the audience.
It’s such a different relationship and that’s really interesting for me to explore because, come on, I’ve been seeing bands since I was ten or eleven and it went from R&B bands or whatever and The Spinners and The Jackson Five to seeing all the punk stuff. It became a different thing and now there are all these bands and often it’s like being assaulted and not in an interesting way or anything. It’s not because the singer is doing something you haven’t seen before or anyone in the band relating to the audience: It’s just a wall of sound separating you from the audience. I don’t know. There’s so much that goes through my mind about this. And I love music; I love Hendrix and would have loved to be standing in front of his six Marshall cabinets annihilating me. But I don’t feel like I’ve necessarily graduated to that level of getting that across. The Melvins have license to do that; I don’t think everybody does but they do it anyway.
In speaking with Brendan and Ian, the consensus seems to be that the Fugazi hiatus is permanent. Is that your sense of things? Yeah, there’s no other way to look at it. I’m not trying to make a particular statement about it one way or another. But psychologically why look at it any other way? You’ve got to focus on what you have in front of you to work with and why spend a lot of time trying to figure out something you don’t have any control over anyway?
What do you have planned next after this tour? Hopefully I’m going to play festivals in Europe and there may be some shows arranged in late July in Sicily. That’s the most solid thing that’s come up. In September I may go out to the southwest part of America that I haven’t hit too well yet. October I’m going to Germany, Switzerland and Austria. November is probably going to be France and then December might be some playing in Italy.