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

Rediscover Friday

We are at another Friday, this week it’s been all about Jazz for me. I used to spend a lot of my time in my late teens early 20s trying to find every BYG/ESP/Impulse etc record I could afford. Needless to say that’s partly why I was broke most of the time. What’s really interesting is that when I first started listening Jazz I decided (stupidly) to not give Bop/Hard Bop a chance. I thought to my ears it just sounded like “Grampa Jazz”, a few years ago it finally just hit me, maybe it was the early 60s Blue Note records I tried to collect, who knows.

Sonny Red – Nadia

Sonny Red did a killer one off LP with Blue Note. Hard Bop is one of those things that took me time to really enjoy, not sure why. Roy Brooks is on fire here, no crazy fills, just keeping the beat along until he goes into this crazy solo which for me, makes the song brilliant.

Art Brooks – side 1

It looks like Night Caller by Art Brooks is a private press LP. It really does sound like a lost ESP release or something. What makes this LP stand out is its almost “drone” atmosphere to it.  Not really quite sure  much else about this record though

Sunny Murray – Black Art

Sunny’s Time Now was one of the first LP’s I had listened to after being obsessed with Albert Ayler for the longest time. This record is in my top ten Jazz LPs of all time if I had to make one. What made this interesting was going from the almost spiritual political leanings of say Sun Ra or Ayler to this. Here Murray goes for the throat instead of sugar coating anything.

Duke Pearson – Sudel

Another Hard Bop record. This I believe came out in 1966, it’s pretty well executed Hard Bop stuff. The impressive thing about this song specifically is Joe Henderson’s playing. His solo is spot on and doesn’t seem too agressive with the notes.

Ornette Coleman – Doughnuts

Ornette isn’t playing to agressive here, but that’s what I love about this cut. Also David Izenzon  really pushes this song to be great. Just completely adding certain notes and a vibe to this version that is just awesome to hear.

Monday Power Pop Mix

It’s another Monday morning and my Ravens lost, so I need a good pick me up. First band that always comes to my mind  when thinking of Power Pop is the terribly underrated Superdrag. It’s a shame that they might only be known for their Buzz Bin hit “Sucked Out” cause as their debut LP, Regretfully Yours proved, Superdrag was a mix between My Bloody Valentine, Husker Du, and The Beach Boys. Later albums dove into more straight ahead heavy Power Pop as well as some weird Psych experiments as well.

Spiltsville, from Baltimore, also never got their due. I’m not sure if there was ever a place for them in Charm City, which sucks because their songs are extremely well written. I saw these guys I think when I was 14 or something at a local showcase at Merriwether. Of course every other band sucked but these guys. I picked up Repeater, partly because I found out they were on the same label as Shonen Knife or something. A few years later they did a tribute LP of sorts in the style of The Beach Boys Pet Sounds and The Beatles Revolver, which pretty much worked, though it was a little cheese ball at times.

The Shivvers from Milwaukee were a band from 1979-82 and should have probably been the biggest band in the world. Though I guess like the press release for the collection CD they put out a few years back said, if they were from NYC they would have been huge.  Love the vocals, which to me is what makes them special beyond the solid and catchy song writing. It’s a bit of the pretenders, it is a bit of the Raspberries, but it all rules.

The Riff Doctors with “Turn Me On” add a little bit of twang to your Power Pop or whatever. Here is a killer demo from this band, not sure if they did anything more than this. I guess North Carolina didn’t have much of a Power Pop scene.

I love Charlotte Hatherley, pretty much every LP she’s done has been Power Pop bliss. She used to play guitar for Ash, thought it seems she wanted to venture out on her own a bit, and with the LPs she’s recorded i’m glad she did. She does a good job at combining XTC, Chicago, Guided By Voices, and even Marnie Stern. “Kim Wilde” is from her first LP which is much more straight forward Power Pop than her last two LPs. You can hear a bit of the Ash influence in this one.

Jellyfish were one of those bands where their ambitions might have gotten the best of them, or at least when their last LP, Splitmilk, came out in 1993. Listening to “Joining A Fan Club” they seem to verge on channeling Queen or something. I’m not gonna complain though, as it’s something like that which separates them from the more normal Power Pop bands listed above.

Yoko Ono “Cut Piece”

Yoko Ono has always fascinated me from the moment I heard her LP, Fly. There was a certain intensity with that LP that rivals any kind of heavy sounding record be it then or now. The title track alone, as minimal as it is, takes advantage of the spaces in between her vocals almost, as though the song is pushing and pulling you in 1000 different places.

After hearing this record, I had to find out more about her. I knew she played a role in working with John Cage, little did I know how much of an impact her art had beyond those who just hated her due to The Beatles connection. I started to read up not only the work she’s done with other artists such as Keith Haring, La Monte Young, Nam June Paik, and Merce Cunningham. Though, Kate Millett was the one name that stood out to me. I started to research Ono’s involvement not only in Avant/Fluxus art but in Feminism as well. I came across what is my favorite piece of Ono’s, “Cut Piece”. “Cut Piece” is explained in the book YES, a book on Ono’s life and art:

“At DAIS Ono performed Cut Piece, a work that has gained iconic stature in the history of performance at for its pro feminist conceptualism. In London, as in Kyoto, Tokyo, and New York, where she had previously presented this work, Ono sat motionless on stage in traditional Japanese feminine position – knees folded beneath her- and invited members of the audience to cut a piece of her clothing away until, nearly forty minutes late she was left all but naked, her face masklike throughout. In her biographical statement of 1966, Yoko wrote:

People went on cutting the parts they do not like of me finally there was only the stone remained of me that was of me that was in me but they were still not satisfied and wanted to know what it’s like in the stone

Like many of her performances, Cut Piece is constructed around the phenomenological content of solitary actions, a concentration on the material of experience. What emerges in Ono’s work through this piece however, is a new level of physiological unveiling, an intiment and painful sensation of self that the public can encounter, watch, and feel. Cut Piece expresses an anguished interiority while offering a social commentary on the quiet violence that blinds individuals and society, the self and gender, alienation and the connectedness. ” (28).

The idea of helplessness of the woman followed by the idea that everyone  is involved in some way when it comes to oppressing women and their sexuality in public caught my attention. Furthermore, the almost violent vibe surrounded by the piece is what left a bigger impact on me, it felt as if everyone involved some how was a part of that violence, and the idea of them cutting “pieces” so freely seemed to underscore the idea that society is lax when it comes to violence on women. Ono has said that she wanted people “…to feel the environment and tension in people vibrations, the sound of fear and darkness…”, with this legendary piece, you certainly can.

Rediscover Fridays

We here at Error Vizion are happy to bring you a new feature every Friday called “Rediscover Fridays”. It’s pretty straight forward as it’s just anything that we have well, rediscovered. Enjoy.

The Soft Machine – Thank You Pierrot Lunaire/Have You Ever Been Green

I remember hearing Vol. 2 blasting from my roommates room 7 years or so ago I could quite put my finger on why I liked it. Maybe it was the fact it sounded like a weirder but less proggy Yes. I really love this little tune as it reminded me something Paul McCartney would do on his Ram LP.

No Fucker – s/t 7″

I’m not sure if this band is together anymore. I was dying to get them to play DC a few years ago. It almost happend, but the band kind of decided to break up a day before the show I think? What a bummer, but this 7″ and the few that proceeded it slay completely.

Quix*o*tic – Ice Cream Sunday

One of the most underrated DC bands of the ’00s. I saw them play fort reno once or twice and was blown away at how well they played together live but also how quiet they were without making it boring.  The vocals are what really makes Quix*o*tic stand out to me as they had some what of a “dark” vibe to them. The Black Sabbath cover on this LP is awesome as well.

Nicole 12 – Semen on Braces

Slow driving power electronics. The “vocals” are buried pretty deep and are lower in tone than some other PE groups which honestly can be annoying at times, so I really enjoy how this is done. There’s ton’s of CDr’s etc. out there. As always, some of it’s good, some of it is just goofy. Though this 7″ is killer.  This guy also does the project Grunt.

Res – They Say Vision

I always ask myself why the hell this song didn’t take over the world. The slide guitar in the chorus is so fucking addicting. The flow of this song is perfect, Janelle Monae’s voice seriously does remind me of Res whenever I hear it.

Akutt Innleggelse – Den Fortapte Generasjonen

Akutt Innleggelse were a hardcore band from Norway. I think this might have been taken from their 9 song demo from ’84 but if anyone knows let me know. Typical hardcore, but done really well. Bass riff is killer on this. It’s awesome, what more can I say?

King Blood – Eyewash Silver (repress)

King Blood

Eyewash Silver

Ignorant Gore (2010)//Permanent Records (2011)

I had heard of this King Blood LP through some friends, though by the time I tried to search for it myself it was gone. Though it was not surprising Permanent would reissue this considering their releases from Cave and Purling Hiss.  “Black Money” begins and there is something immediately grabbing about the record, almost as if you have heard these riffs somewhere before.  There’s very little bombastic guitar playing, which lends to the idea that the riffs are what drives the song and that is all. Unlike High Rise for example, who tend to take a riff and hide it behind complete shredding, songs like “End of a Primitive” and  “Poison in jest” seems contempt on feedback and riff repeating to do all the talking. Of course that’s not to say that is bad in anyway, it actually works really well due to the pacing of the songs. “Sinful Woman”  is a nice break from riffing and uses what sounds like a banjo to drive the short but well executed song.   “Moon in the Guter” is where it gets a bit more dynamic with its pounding bass line almost like a psychedelic take on an industrial song until it almost falls apart. With Eyewash Silver only  clocking in a touch over 30 minutes it happens to flow by quickly, which in turn, helps you realize that King Blood goes for quality and never crosses the line of self indulgence. It’s this quality that makes you want to come back to the record over and over again. How could you ask for anything more? 300 copies, hand numbered .

Axiom vol. 5 mix up now

It been awhile, but now you can put your worries to rest as vol.5 of the Axiom series is up now. The Axiom mix series is listenable on Spotify. Volume 5 takes you everywhere from Dock Boggs, to Shonen Knife, to Madball, to Helium.

 

Get the mix here

 

S.O.A. – Draw Blank
FNU Ronnies – Normalcitizen
Dock Boggs – Sugar Baby
Sonic Youth – NYC Ghosts & Flowers
Ryoji Ikeda – Test Pattern #0010
Madball – Lockdown
Shonen Knife – Twist Barbie
Halo Of Flies – Richie’s Dog
Jean Ritchie – O Love Is Teasin’
Helium – Pat’s Trick
Nimrod – Mongkok
Negative Trend – Never Say Die
Sun Ra – Call For All Demons
The Cultural Decay – Brave New World
Odetta – Gallows Tree
Urban Waste – No Hope
Nirvana – Oh The Guilt
Foot Village – Iran
Lou Reed – Make Up
Vermillion Sands – Where Was He From
Gang Green – Terrorize
Cheater Slicks – Feel Free
Sleepy John Estes – Poor Man’s Friend (T Model)