Subject to Change: Interview with Alec MacKaye of The Faith

Like many, my introduction to The Faith was the legendary split with Void. Of course everyone today seems to talk about how amazing Void’s side is (and it is), but a few years ago I found myself playing The Faith side just as much. Songs like “You’re X’d” and “Face to Face” not only stand up with the best of DC Hardcore, but with Hardcore as a whole. When revisiting The Faith’s catalog one tends to forget how intense Alec MacKaye’s vocals were, which is what really set them apart from any of their HarDCore contemporaries. Instead of  just the normal brash screaming and pushing everything all in one verse, Alec had a way of making these minute blast songs almost melodic without compromising or losing any intensity.

This past week Dischord re-issued Subject to Change on vinyl (re mastered and with demos), we’ll have that review up tomorrow, for now here is an interview I did with Alec MacKaye of The Faith last week. We not only do we talk about the re-issue, but what the early shows were like, recording the demos, and how the Faith/Void split came to be.

Faith – Aware 

When The Faith started did you view The Faith picking up where the Untouchables left off?

No- if anything, Faith was S.O.A. continuing. When Henry left to join Black Flag, he suggested that I start playing with Michael and Ivor. But when we started playing together, we knew we were going to be different than our previous bands. Ivor had only done one show with S.O.A. Michael had some songs that hadn’t gotten sorted out, so those, along a couple of S.O.A. songs with new lyrics were what we started with. But really, we started pretty fresh. People learn and change quickly at that age. I knew Chris Bald from Wilson High School and brought him in to see if it could work and something gelled, as they say.

How did the idea of finally issuing the demos come about?

Ian came up with it. He was thinking of ways to get some of the old stuff remastered and back out and when it came to Faith/Void split, well it was hard to figure how to pull that apart. He hit on the idea of getting the demos out instead…

What are some of the things you remember most about recording that first demo?

Mostly the anxiety of being in the studio. We didn’t know how much time would really need to mix after getting the tracks down… We were really happy to be at Don’s though. It was when he had his studio in his basement. The vocals booth was in the laundry room, the control room was next to the furnace, the instruments were set up in his daughter’s play room, with dolls and a chest full of dress up clothes… Don was and is a masterful, calm and inspiring person.

The Faith added a second guitarist for Subject to Change, how did that change the dynamic in terms of song writing? Was song writing easier?

Well the dynamic changed – and the joy increased. It was so cool having Eddie in the band and it helped the sound stay solid on stage, as well as added a lot of depth and strength. Guitar parts that were hard to pull off live, were suddenly attainable for both Eddie and Michael. Song writing changed, too. Eddie brought a lot to the band. For me, the other impact was having watch out for yet another guitar swinging for my head. Eddie nailed me good at a 930 show and still have a scar on the top of my head from it.

Faith – In the Black 

Subject to Change seems really focused, I’ve always enjoyed a song like Unititled which was just a well executed hardcore song, followed by the almost stooges-ish Subject to Change. Was in purposely done to make Subject to change almost more melodic than the Void split?

We weren’t purposely trying to be different from ourselves – we are just growing and changing. Read the title of the record again! We also spent a bit more time mixing Subject To Change. As much as we liked doing the split, we thought we could do better almost as soon as it was out.

Your vocals were always what I thought were the most interesting about The Faith, they weren’t the typical “hardcore” vocals, and it seems bands like Die Kreuzen would borrow from them almost. They seemed melodic in a sense, would you say this is what helped push the songs in different directions on Subject to Change?

Thanks for that. I actually don’t know what to say to say about my voice. I was just doing the best I could with what I had to work with. I would say that by the time we recorded Subject To Change, we had played and rehearsed a lot more – we had grown into the songs as well as gotten more in tune with each other. More confident even in allowing “mistakes” to occur (as opposed to when we were younger and trying to nail things tight). And we had Eddie in the mix which was huge for us.

In the American Hardcore book it said you sang so hard you would hyperventilate. Is this true? That must have freaked people out.

I suppose its true — but I don’t recall anyone freaking out. I always finished our sets as far as I know.

Keep in mind, the shows were often wild all over. Some of the shows were unbearably hot, too. Imagine an overcrowded church basement with all the windows and doors shut to keep the noise from bringing the cops… I remember watching a kid go into a full seizure in front of me on the steps at the Wilson Center. He just stiffened up and planked, face firs,t hand at his sides, onto the steps. I never did that.

Why did The Faith break up? Was it odd to have an EP come out and not be in that band anymore?

Being in the Faith was a bit like harnessing fireworks. After a while we just got so we didn’t want to do that anymore. I know we were proud of the way Subject To Change turned out and really wanted it released. It was worrisome, because in general, it didn’t make sense to put out a record if the band was no longer around to do shows and sell records– especially if there were other bands to put out. I am glad Subject To Change was pressed then, and I am really happy to see it getting re-released now! It looks so cool with a red sleeve and still sounds great!

Who’s idea was it to do the split with Void? Was it always meant to be a split? 

Pretty sure that was Ian’s idea, too. I think it was just that neither band had enough material recorded to warrant a whole album, back then we always tried to fit as much music as mechanically possible onto albums. Void and Faith were definitely into each other’s bands but our approaches to music were so different that there there isn’t much point in comparing the two sides… though people always do. Its like comparing red vs. blue; The two things have their particular jobs to do. They are never close enough to compare, only to contrast and to compliment– and that’s the whole idea. I suppose it could be interesting to attempt to verbalize the ways that blue is different from red …

Looking back ’79-’83 do you feel that hardcore and especially the harDCore scene is romanticized at all? Do you enjoy or read the books and movies that have been made on hardcore in recent years? Do you feel there are some bands these books and movies have glossed over that they should have included?

– I wouldn’t say the scene is romanticized too much, in general. Some people do have astonishing, sometimes curious recollections, but I think that is bound to happen. And that can be fun to hear. As long as there are other voices to bring some balance (and discerning people to look for them and listen to them) some modicum of truth will be settled on.

I always read books about punk history and I always assume that some portion of it is bullshit. Anyone trying to contain a bunch of complicated, incongrous information and assemble a readable/watchable narrative for a book or an article or a movie is bound to cut out things that impede flow, eat up minutes, or interfere with the set-up of who is good and/or bad in the story and what was important, etc.

Trenchmouth were an amazing band to see. I wish they had made it into a studio! All there is is some cool rehearsal tapes on Scott Wingo’s web page. I would like people to listen to the two Limp Records samplers to hear the music that came just before hardcore, to get a sense of some of what we were listening to.  

Subject to Change (Plus first demo) is out now on Dischord Records. Buy it here

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