Fugazi was a Washington, D.C., post-hardcore band known for forging a hybrid of musical influences, rowdy (and methodically recorded) shows and a do-it-yourself ethos. The band and frontman Ian MacKaye (formerly of Minor Threat) became household names, at least in the houses I’ve been in.
The band’s rhythm section, bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty, have a new instrumental project, The Messthetics.
“Being a three-piece instrumental band, you find a lot of breathing room,”Lally said during a phone interview while on their way to Coachella to perform for thousands.
The band’s structure lets it explore different moods and themes. The goal is to add complexity while remaining tasteful.
“After making a few solos records, I wanted to see what it’s like to make music where vocals aren’t the focal point,” Lally said.
The Messthetics’ 2018 self-titled release is engaging and full of stories. One of my favorite parts of music is when a narrative exists without vocals. In this case, Anthony Pirog’s wild guitar is the main voice and driving force of the music. The album is calming, exploratory and dynamic.
“(Pirog) is really like a singer,” Lally said. “If you don’t have someone that efficient at what they’re doing, you start looking for what’s missing. With someone of this caliber, that question just doesn’t come up. There’s a voice in the instrument that can express what needs to be expressed in the song.”
Lally met MacKaye while working as a roady for a band on Dischord Records (MacKaye’s label). Without even seeing Lally play bass, based on commitment and enthusiasm alone, he wanted him to join the band.
As a family man, in the back of his mind was always the thought, “should I get a regular job to support my family?” The love of writing music and playing for people lit a fire under him.
“To be in a community, with everyone completely focused on that one thing, allows us to be something more than individuals separated by class, religion, race, anything,” Lally said. “(The Fugazi years) helped me learn how to interact with people and the world. It taught me everything.”
While on tour, he vaguely remembers coming into Reno and playing a house show at a member of 7 Seconds’ apartment. He was inspired. He said, on one hand, you can feel like there’s something missing and the city is lacking a club or support.
“But really, it’s an inspiration when you see people making it happen, finding bands a place to play and people to treat you well,” Lally said.
The Messthetics are playing in Reno at Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor on April 24 with Boston-native Bryan McPherson and Reno’s hometown heroes Pink Awful.
Fugazi’s music and approach is important to the openers.
“They just hit me at the right time for me,” Pink Awful guitarist Mike Miller said. “Finding a band that you could not only get behind musically, but ethically, morally, even just as a business model — it meant so much. It still does.”
Miller admires and strives for the control the band has over every aspect of its art. What they love most about Fugazi lives on in The Messthetics. He said the strength of Lally and Canty’s rhythm section creates an unrelenting pulse that stops and starts at will.
“They are one of the most innovative bands to happen,” Miller said. “We hold them in high regard as musicians and more importantly as people,.”
Lally’s advice for aspiring artists is tell your story and find the most natural way to do it.
“Work at it and don’t worry about what would appear to be limitations,” Lally said. “Forge ahead – there’s no reason not to.”
Miller and Pink Awful frontwoman Ashley Costelloe said it’s unreal to play with a band that’s had such an influence on them.
“It’s a dream come true,” Costelloe said.
— Tony Contini