Music » Music Lead

No Repeater, Please

A former Fugazi dude swims his bass into uncharted waters.

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Joe Lally roams alone, but he ain't looking for Fugazi.
  • Joe Lally roams alone, but he ain't looking for Fugazi.

Like his former Fugazi comrade Ian MacKaye, Joe Lally is busy these days exploring new worlds of sound. "I remember the grief we would get in Fugazi for not being just a straight hardcore band," Lally says, phoning from his home in Washington, D.C. "In the beginning, it was such a big deal. But boy, it's not like we were playing the way I play now."

Just cue "There to Here" and listen to the slithering bass groove crawl from the speakers to your ears, rolling over machine-gun drums, crackling guitar, and Lally's laconic drawl repeating: "No about-face, from there to here." The song -- spooky, derelict dub-rock -- falls somewhere between the ambient electro of DJ Shadow and the cold dreamworld of Joy Division.

The title track from There to Here also serves as a great anthem for the first solo project from Lally, detailing the journey from his famous D.C. punk band (on hiatus since '02) to a new collection of sparse and murky, bass-and-drum-driven rock.

"I went to Brazil in November, and people there were definitely interested in seeing Joe Lally, who had been in Fugazi," he says. "But they were also definitely vocal about the fact that they liked what I was doing now."

Shortly after Fugazi's extended break began, Lally desperately looked for a new outlet for the sounds still rolling around in his head. "It was not a good time for me -- to find out Fugazi was not interested in playing live anymore or wasn't going to work on any new records," he admits. "But the interesting thing was that bass lines were still coming to me, and once I realized the band wasn't functioning anymore, words started coming to me. So then I started trying to pursue what I thought my own music would be, and that's something I'd never really tried to do before."

He initially played in Black Sea, with ex-Frodus members Shelby Cinca and Jason Hamacher. And he cut Automatic Writing while in Ataxia, a project also featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante and Josh Klingoffer, a multi-instrumentalist who has toured with the likes of PJ Harvey, Beck, and Gnarls Barkley.

But those were only side jobs, and soon Lally craved some studio time to tweak his solo work. Taking him two years to write, compile, and record, There to Here sees Lally employing the aid of old friends and local musicians, including former Fugazi mates Guy Picciotto and MacKaye (who produced and released the record on Dischord). But those Fugazi fingerprints didn't spawn punk rock akin to such classics as "Repeater" and "Long Division." Sure, Lally's songs feel similarly beastly and beautiful, but they're much more naked, subdued, and minimalist -- mostly built on just bass, drums, and vocals.

"I'm hoping that what I'm hearing in my head is something different," Lally explains. "I'm not interested in doing what sounds too familiar."

To bring those alien sounds from his mind to the mixing board, Lally wanted to keep the formula simple: "Billiards" catches fire with a guitar sound reminiscent of Folk Implosion and Sebadoh, without the drums, just bass and guitar. And "Pick a War" pulsates with Pink Floyd-like intensity -- but peppered with bass, tambourine, and social sloganeering, not unlike former Fugazi hits. On some songs, Lally went so far as to record no instrumentation at all, just his echoing voice.

"'Sons and Daughters' pretty much just came as it is," he admits. "I tried to keep putting music to it, but it just seemed to take away from the power of the song. It just had to be all vocals."

In the live setting, the sounds continue to mutate. Lally's performances always include a revolving cast of players, leaving his songs open to interpretation. When the album was released late last year, Lally hit the road supporting the Melvins, who doubled as his backup band. This year, he plans to tour Europe with Italian hardcore jazz gods Zu and America with Capillary Action -- experimental rock scientists hailing from Oberlin and Philadelphia.

"When I get together with Capillary Action, I'll need to really convince them that it's me joining them," he says. "They should bring themselves to the music, and who they are should change the sound. It shouldn't sound like the record. Ultimately, the bass and vocals are the song, but it's about finding your space in that music and then being able to leave a lot of space for everyone else."

When Lally isn't touring or recording and writing his next solo project, which he hopes to release later this year, the bassist commits his time to his five-year-old daughter as well as to compiling the ever-growing Fugazi Live Series. Lally has converted 30 shows from tape to CD for sale online, hoping to eventually transform the series into a downloadable format. As these discs document, Fugazi unleashed amazing live performances. One just wonders if we'll ever see another gig.

"Right now, we're just trying to pursue the Fugazi Live thing," Lally says. "Everybody's out doing their own thing now, and they're happy doing it. So that's where we stand."

For Lally, that means standing at a crossroads, firmly in the shadow of his former band. For his solo career to feel like something more than just a charismatic excursion, There to Here needs an equally impressive follow-up. Luckily, those fat bass lines just keep coming.

"The next record is already forming in my head," he assures.

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