[Originally published: Issue #6, circa 1989]
LOOKING BACK: Hands DOWN Ian MacKaye is one righteous dude. He picked me up from the Metro station, drove me to the Dischord mansion, gave me a tour of his home, played with his dogs with me, and sat down for a few hours for an interview. I remember being a little starstruck by this whole experience, but genuinely touched. I mean, how many times have YOU been disappointed by meeting someone you admired, and have them actually be a jerkoff? I've met him a few times since (we put on a FUGAZI show here in Philly WAY back in the day), and he has always been a man of his word. -- Mickey
THREATENING SOCIETY: How old are you now?
IAN MACKAYE: Twenty five.
TS: How long have you been in the punk scene?
IAN: Um… The first time that I saw a punk band was in January of 1979. It was THE CRAMPS. The best show ever. The greatest show ever.
TS: So there was no turning back then?
IAN: It was just tremendous. It was a very, very good show. Totally crazy. Then I saw THE CLASH about two weeks later. Then the BAD BRAINS and THE DAMNED in June of 1979. Totally great. Then, at that point, we were already in a band called THE SLINKYS. And Mark [Sullivan] who's in KINGFACE now, was singing. I played bass, Jeff [Nelson] played drums, a guy named Geordie [Grindle] played guitar. We played one show in the end of 1979, then Mark went to college. We got a new singer named Nathan [Strejcek] and formed TEEN IDLES.
TS: Did you take bass lessons?
IAN: No, I taught myself.
TS: Was THE SLINKYS something you toyed around with?
IAN: Well, we were a real band. Like half of the TEEN IDLES songs were SLINKYS songs. "Deadhead" and a good amount of others. Well, we only played one time and that was at a party. But we definitely learned our instruments. Jeff never played drums before that band. I never played bass. But TEEN IDLES played their first show in December of 1979 and we broke up in November of 1980.
TS: How popular would you say you were?
IAN: Well, you can't compare it to anything at the time. It was a totally different climate. There was no punk scene, really, whatsoever. It was comepletely different than it is today. There were no magazines or anything like that. It was a completely different situation. We had a strong following our shows tended to be about forty or fifty people. Our biggest show was about 1,200 people, but that was when we opened for THE CRAMPS.
TS: Did you play outside of DC?
IAN: As a matter of fact, we played one show in Baltimore, one show in Norwalk, Virginia, one show in Los Angeles, and one show in San Francisco. That was sort of a fluke. In the summer of '80, we decided to go on a "tour." We got one show in San Francisco and one show in Los Angeles. We took our bass, our guitar, and our drumsticks, and got on a Greyhound bus. Mark and Henry [Rollins, formerly of BLACK FLAG] went with us. We went across the country and played the two shows. We saw the CIRCLE JERKS and the DEAD KENNEDYS for the first time. We were completely blown away by what was going on out there. It was so great. And then we came back, and sort of took it from there. And from that came MINOR THREAT.
Copyright 2007 ThreateningSociety.com/PhillyPunkRock.com
TS: Why did you break off to form MINOR THREAT?
IAN: Geordie quit. He wasn't happy with the way the band was going. We had different ideas. I think people got sick of it - sick of each other. We could've gotten another guitar player. At that point, I had written almost all the words, and I wanted to sing. At the same time, there was a band called THE EXTORTS in Washington. THE EXTORTS was SOA, except with Lyle [Preslar] singing. So they broke up at the same time we did, and Lyle wanted to play guitar. And I sang. Lyle knew Brian [Baker], and asked him if he wanted to play bass in the band. We played our first show in December of 1980.
TS: So you wrote all of MINOR THREAT's lyrics?
IAN: All except "Seeing Red," which was written by Jeff.
TS: So, why did you break up? I mean you were probably one of the most popular bands. Even now… I went to a show a little while ago, and these 15-year-old kids were up there playing a MINOR THREAT cover…
IAN: Well, we had been together for three years, and we were starting to get very popular. We were starting to reach a point in the life of the
band where our dreams were actually starting to come true! We could play anywhere we wanted, we had a lot of pull, we were able to do a lot of stuff. What was happening within the band was a lot of dissention about how the band should operate, and what the policies of the band should be, and what directions the band should go in.
TS: So, it wasn't fun anymore?
IAN: Oh, it wasn't fun for a while. We argued eternally. We argued from day one. There was always an argument. There was always stuff to argue about. That was a part of the whole energy, I guess. We were charged, we were angry! One conflict is the Jeff and I own Dischord Records, and Lyle and Brian don't. So there's the problem, when the biggest band on Dischord is MINOR THREAT. And they might have wanted to sign to another label. Of course, Jeff and I weren't interested in that because we wanted to be on Dischord, our own label. Basically what happened was that we just came to a point where suddenly our aspirations and thins that we wanted to do came into play. We could actually consider "should we sign to a major label?", "Should we even attempt to?", or "Should we do this or that?" For me, personally, the answer is no. That's not what I want out of music. But for some people, yeah, they want to do something like that. That's the direction they want to go in. Obviously, we disagreed. It's not a matter of right or wrong. It's a difference of opinion. And in the end, instead of each of us compromising, continuing with the band, and making the name of the band suffer, we split, and pursued what we wanted on our own and let the band's name rest in peace. Let it stand for what it stood for. We broke up at a time, when you're right, we were completely popular. And it's just as we did. We didn't drag it out. And there are certainly a few bands that are still together today who, if they broke up four years ago, Christ, they would be legendary! But now they're sort of like a bad joke.
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