March 2008 Joe Lally interview transcript

What’s Montreal about?

For me to be able to write a song that fast…. I can’t think about the lyrics too much. The project really was just to be a show, not a recording, and no one would ever hear it again… If I was going to sing something though, I felt I had to really feel something for it.

It is about a particular time in my life, an insane part of my life, when I was very heavily listening to the music that influenced me to play the way I’m playing in that piece…. Songs where one bass line can carry the song…

I was gonna go visit my best friend – she’d moved to Montreal to go to school and stayed there, I was gonna go live there too. I really didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. Had I gone though… I really don’t know I’d ever made it out alive. My mind was not in a good place, there wasn’t much hope of me doing anything creative there; it would have been more of a destructive thing. Looking back, it’s kind of a joke… I’d never have figured out my way there, I’d never have had the guts to go…. I was 18.

In the live shows, there were a couple of jams played… were these just spontaneous? Or were they tracks you’d begun to work on in the studio?

I don’t know what you’re referring to… we may have just been making noise! I can’t really say whether it was something we worked on but didn’t get recorded…. And yet it’s a possibility… Boy…. we couldn’t have written that much stuff in such a short time!

The recordings were made just two days before the shows, no one had ever heard them… so whatever the audience were doing, they were just reacting to John being on stage! It’s really strange… It’s strange when people start paying attention to it… I think we all agree that if we were to ever do it again, we’d do more work on it… that’s why the second release was kinda downgraded. If we thought people were that interested, it’d have been marketed more.

Were we to get together and play again, we’d approach things differently…. it’d be really interesting, because I have no idea what would happen… it’d be really fun to do!

…there’d be a lot of demand for it too….

…and that’s also strange! Because those guys… it’s the last thing they have on their mind… As far as my ability to go out and play; I have a 6 year old, and I go out and play as much as I can and so even my ability to go out, as well as working on my own thing – I don’t know how much I’d be able to do! Those guys are much busier than me also….

If we get enough people to ask REALLY nicely, can you reunite and play in Europe? How many people would we need to get to ask?

I don’t know! Start the petition!

Give us a number!

I don’t know! Maybe I need to organize it so I can open!

Bring them to Europe!

I’m serious! Start the petition!

Josh spends a lot of time in Europe… next time he’s there, you should grab him…

That’s true! He’s an elusive character though… He’s a hard guy to pin down, so I’ve never tried! He just happened to email me once while he was here, and he didn’t know I’d moved here! He was on the other side though….

The final question about Ataxia is quite a bizarre one…. and it makes no sense to me… on the song Union (formerly Ola), you play a killer bass line which goes B – F – D – E – F, which seems to be rooted in B, while John comes in on a D…. giving the song a diminished 5th feel…. (Joe laughs) ….are you surprised that people dissect the music in this way?

Someone wrote in about this? That’s interesting! It’s cool! I should know more about the sound… but I don’t! I’m not sure what it means… I think it means it sounds cool! It means that particular listener found it interesting!

…quite a few found it interesting…

…that’s cool! I can’t even think of the song! I’m glad people are interested…

How do you make your bass lines sound so powerful?

I guess you have to believe in what you’re doing… I fully believe in the bass as an instrument. I believe bass lines are the root of songs of any kind, I see them… I see bass lines as very powerful statements. I always work on bass lines in that way, they should function in music in that way. It helps that the people working with you are working on the same concept alongside you, with the kind of focus and dedication that John and Josh have… so there’s no doubt that the purpose they give what I’m doing really enhances what I’m doing. I’m only as good as the people I’m playing with, and so really I try to play with fantastic musicians. If people find this stuff interesting at all, it was pretty quickly written. Given the short amount of time, all three of us were there, in the moment, trying to make something out of something very simple.

Did the Ataxia sessions impact on how you approached your solo work?

Before I went to LA, I already had a lot of stuff forming in my head, and I put a lot of stuff on tape with Ian (MacKaye), and drummer Ryan Nelson, so I’d remember the ideas; mostly so I could convince myself and Ian (i.e. someone else) that these were songs. I needed some input to say that yes, these are songs – make them!

Playing with Ataxia was what I felt music was… The quest I was on at the time was to find out how to make music without the people that I’d learned to make music with (the other members of Fugazi) now they’re gone… And so playing with Ataxia was like a shot in the arm in that sense, of being able to go, OK, this is something… real musicians are saying go for it! Make your music!

I’ve heard music in my head for a long time, but felt this was something that people wouldn’t be interested in, and I was also busy with Fugazi at the time, so… it didn’t really matter!

Ataxia really encouraged me…. We were doing something that was kind of abstract… One bass line for so long… that’s a bit extreme! The songs are so long… I purposely make my songs shorter, because of the approach where there’s only one change…. and I think, before people get sick of this, lets get out of it! Escape!

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