"We Know How the Machines Work and We're Able to Take Control:" An Interview with Fugazi's Guy Picciotto (con.)

Scott Thill

ST: Checking in with some fan reactions to The Argument, I came across some descriptions of the album as more "pop" than Fugazi has shown before, while other fans bristled at the use of that word. They all love it, of course, but is there a point where terms like "pop" and "punk" become reductive?
GP: Well, it's not really something that we sweat too hard. I mean, we write the music to keep ourselves engaged with it, and that's not really something we worry about. We want to push ourselves to find ways to make music interesting, so to make the same record over and over again would probably not be of any interest to us nor anyone else. So, with each record we try to -- and not in a forced way, since I think that our progression from record to record seems organic -- build on what we have done before. I like a lot of pop music, so it doesn't really bother me. In terms of whether we are or are not a real punk band, it's not something we worry about.


Giving the image the middle finger. "I think that more than ever the entertainment industry is trying to serve as a distraction, to keep people from thinking too hard."

As far as I'm concerned, that stuff is just marketing. I don't give a fuck about it. To me, at least historically, I feel comfortable being called a punk band, because I feel that's what we came out of. And I feel totally comfortable with the core concepts I associate with it, but I'm not interested in selling it to someone else who may have a different take on it. I don't care.

ST: There comes a point where you pick up your instrument and played the same riff. It's time to explore something different.
GP: Right. With this record, practically speaking, we brought people in to play with -- which we had never really done before -- so it forced us into playing something different. We never had a second drum set playing through most of the songs. We had people playing cello, people coming in and singing with us, so we kind of opened the process more. I think this record has a different flavor mainly because it had different people involved with it. We used to always seal the four of us in a studio; there was no outside light coming in at all. But now we've got things like this guy, Jerry Busher -- who's been playing live with us on a second drum set for awhile. And we had written a lot of the songs with him in mind so we that knew it was going to sound different.

ST: Fugazi has always seemed to write songs for the dispossessed. And now, especially with the War on Terrorism, do you feel that the pendulum is swinging away from vacuous pop to the more political music like yours. Is it due for a resurgence?
GP: Well, I don't think it's ever not due. I think there's always a call for people who are bucking the norm. But I don't expect it to happen now because I think that more than ever the entertainment industry is trying to serve as a distraction, to keep people from thinking too hard. And I don't really anticipate that the overculture -- or whatever you want to call it -- is going to support stuff that is very critical right now, because I think that people are terrified of being critical and are convinced that critical voices won't sell. Which may be true, I don't know.

But I think that there's always going to be an underground that cuts against the grain, there always will be. I'm not one of those guys who wrings his hands and worries about it, because there are always going to be people that can't get with the current program or whatever. I think that right now is a really difficult time -- a lot of radical and progressive groups are trying to figure out their strategies because things have gotten so polarized and intense. I think that people are trying to figure out how to take the next step. But I think that they will. And I'm convinced that they have to, because it's gotten serious and fucked up.


The faces of punk? "I feel totally comfortable with the core concepts I associate with it, but I'm not interested in selling it to someone else who may have a different take on it."

ST: Listening to tracks off the album, like "Life and Limb," with lyrics like "We want our violence doubled in a loving way" or "The national temper that's all the rage" seem to really stick out considering our current political situation. There seems to be a lot of mobilization -- to get even or to make change -- but people don't really seem to have the facts to make a move that might work.
GP: I agree. In light of the situation happening now, we actually don't have information. There's a lockdown on the press so intense that we can't know what's happening. Have we reached an appropriate quota of dead civilians over there to balance out our dead civilians over here? The whole thing is really . . . I think that people are scared to analyze the situation, but it's precisely at moments that you are frightened that you need to be the most clear-headed and analytical. And I think that's something that the powers that be are . . .

ST: They want you to go buy a flag.
GP: Yeah, they just want people to turn off their brains for awhile. There's a wholesale restructuring of the way government works going on right now, and I think that people need to pay attention to it, you know?

ST: Like the wiretap issue. I think everyone missed that one.
GP: Yep. There's some weird shit going on. One thing that really freaks me out is this whole presidential papers thing that sort of slipped under the matrix. Now the sitting president is able to put a lid on the release of presidential papers. The whole thing is bizarre.

ST: Speaking of lyrics, I was listening to "Oh," one of my favorite songs off the album. It's kind of like Lennon's "Yer Blues" for the dotcom sect.
GP: (Laughs) That really cheers me up because that's kind of what it's about. I thought there were lines in that song that people who worked in offices would really get into. (Laughs)

ST: So do you think the multinational corporation's secret is out or are people just waiting to go shopping again?
GP: I think the thing is that there was really an amazing anti-globalization movement that was coming together, raising a lot of intense questions about the way global economy works. And it was gathering a lot of momentum, and was one of the more optimistic things to happen in a very long time. But in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, it's come to be seen as disruptive. But I think the issues it was raising aren't going anywhere; that stuff is still true. It's going to have to be dealt with sometime, particularly now that we're finally admitting to a recession.

ST: Finally.
GP: (Laughs) Yeah, finally! There are things at work, man, that people are going to have to examine, and that's kinda what that song was about. It is weird, man, writing lyrics and writing songs. I've got to say that it's almost like sitting in a cloud. For me, it's such a difficult process because a lot of times you write these things, and when they actually come together, you're really happy. With this record, it was weird. Like you said, in retrospect, reading "Life and Limb" and some of the other songs, it's strange the way it played out. It's almost as if the meanings have become exaggerated.

ST: But you guys can kind of get where fans look at your lyrics and go, "Oh yeah." And then use them as a position paper for whatever they want to rage against the machine about.
GP: Right, and that's kind of the point. I'm an insane music fan. I've grown up working in record stores, collecting music and I've got relationships with other people's music and lyrics that's very intense. So I understand the process that goes on for people. But for us, when you're working on your own thing, there's a self-consciousness that you try to avoid. Because to me it's paralyzing to spend so much time going over that ground.

It's a difficult thing, and it probably frustrates people who interview us, but the point is that we put a lot of effort and work into making these things, doing the concert, making the record, writing the song, and at a certain point, you just gotta release it out there, know what I mean? And let it interact with people. It's like a chemical -- you put it out there and the reactions that it creates is what art is. The art isn't breaking down the puzzle, explaining everything to people. That makes you feel like a necrophiliac or something. (Laughs)

ST: That's an interesting metaphor! There are some songs like "Strangelight" and "Oh" that are different, that have cellos and backing vocals. Even though every album is different, is that a direction that the band is headed in, do you think?
GP: I really don't know what we'll do. We didn't anticipate having a cello or backing vocals on the record until we got into the studio. Ideas presented themselves and we just ended up liking them. We're never very considerate of the direction that we're going in. We develop our aesthetics individually and when we all come together in the practice room, we try to force fit our attitudes together. And that's what makes the music. So I have no idea where it's going to go from here. But I imagine that we'll continue to expand on incorporating Jerry into the writing of the music, and things will shift and change.

To me, the newest songs we worked on -- stuff like the "The Kill," "Strangelight," and "Life and Limb" -- might be where we heading. But we work in weird loops, and we're not one of those bands or people, like David Bowie, that's trying to come out with a new fashion every record. Just because we wrote "Epic Problem" ten years ago doesn't mean we still don't feel it now. It's coherent, but at the same time, we're trying to push ourselves.

ST: Which is ironic because for me each Fugazi album sounds totally different that the one before it.
GP: Really? That's funny because we'll put out an album and get a ton of reviews that'll just say, "More of the same slash and thrash from the punk heroes, Fugazi." (Laughs) It's so funny, man. I think it really depends on what people hear.

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