A Steady Diet of Riffing
Guitar World|December 2020
A Steady Diet of Riffing
Jim Beaugez

PUNK PIONEER IAN MacKaye’s proudest guitar moments say a lot about his philosophy and aesthetic for the instrument. Deep in the runtime of Instrument, the 1999 documentary about his legendary post-hardcore band Fugazi, MacKaye stands in front of his Marshall JCM 800 half-stack, conjuring caterwauling feedback from his alpine white Gibson SG during the breakdown of “Promises,” the closing song on 1989’s landmark 13 Songs [Dischord].

“There’s this moment where I do this chirping feedback thing,” MacKaye recalls. “It was really like I intended it and I knew what I was doing, and it got captured. And I’m like, ‘That’s what I’m talking about.’”

MacKaye doesn’t think far beyond wood and wire when it comes to guitars. In his 30-plus years of playing guitar in Fugazi, the Evens and now Coriky, his new band with wife Amy Farina and Fugazi bassist Joe Lally, he’s never used effect pedals. He only recently acquired an amplifier that has a channel switch. But out of that simplicity comes a maelstrom of sounds heard in the lockstep post-punk syncopation of Fugazi’s Repeater and the caustic tones of In On the Kill Taker [both on Dischord]. MacKaye manipulates volume and the proximity of his pickups to his amplifier, playing offthe acoustics and resonant feedback of the room, and lets his hands do the rest. “[I like] what happens electronically when you get [in] that space, and then using the toggle switch and bending a neck and making music out of it.”

MacKaye traces his inspiration and sense of musical adventure to Jimi Hendrix, whose performance of “Villanova Junction Blues” at Woodstock made a deep impression on him as a kid.

“His relationship with his instrument is so profound that it’s almost supernatural,” he enthuses. “You realize this person was a genius beyond measure. Not that I could ever hope to play like that, but I like to think that I can be inspired by that kind of relationship with the instrument. And that’s how I’ve always approached my guitar playing. I’m just committed to making interesting sounds come out of it.”

While he loved Hendrix and Seventies rock and funk titans like Ted Nugent, Queen and Parliament-Funkadelic, his musical language was originally piano, which he picked up as a kid growing up in the Washington, D.C., area.


You can read up to 3 premium stories before you subscribe to Magzter GOLD

Log in, if you are already a subscriber


Get unlimited access to thousands of curated premium stories, newspapers and 5,000+ magazines


December 2020