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Over three decades, Ian MacKaye has tested a few possibilities of what punk can mean. His first band to make a national impact, Minor Threat, was a clear outgrowth of the hardcore scene in his native Washington, D.C. His second act, Fugazi, was subtler: four musicians, all songwriters, infusing punk's energy with rhythms pulled from funk, reggae and even classic rock.
Today, MacKaye's main project is his family — which is to say he's in a band with his wife, Amy Farina. The Evens consists of MacKaye on baritone guitar and Farina on drums, singing in harmony and finding intensity in spareness. The duo has just released its third album, The Odds. Here, the musicians discuss their lives at home and on the road with NPR's Guy Raz.
On alcohol sales in the live music world
MacKaye: "Over the years playing in Fugazi, it had become increasingly clear to me the irony [that] this was my form of expression, and yet the only venues in which I was allowed to perform it were these venues where the economy is based largely on self-destruction. And I don't think it's evil; I don't think it should be shut down. I just thought was strange, when you think about all the arts, that music — rock music, especially — always gets shunted into the bar scene. Which is incredibly ironic considering just how important a role music plays in 16- and 17- and 18-year-old kids' lives. The idea that these people can't see these bands who are making this music, only because of the fact that they're not old enough to drink alcohol, shows you there's a very deep sickness in that system."
On their 4-year-old son
Farina: "It's hard to have a conversation when you have a loquacious 4-year-old. Especially when both of the parents are the band. It's not like one of us can stay with the kid while the other one goes to rehearsal or something like that. It's logistically very complicated, and we're really fortunate to have family nearby and a kid who's actually really easy to do things with. ... He does like our music; he's also not too shy to critique things."
On quiet shows in alternative spaces
MacKaye: "It's crazy the amount of money it costs to put a show on, so if you're trying to put a show on for a low ticket price, you're up against it. So we discussed finding a way to split off from that system, and one way to do it was just to turn down the volume. Turning down allowed us to play basically anywhere. ... It's so great to play in a barn, or a museum, or an art gallery, or a theater lobby. Quite often, when you put music into an unusual or untraditional space, in many cases, the music really steps up. It's not being filtered through the venue experience as much."