In the eight years since seminal post-hardcore band Fugazi went on indefinite hiatus, bassist Joe Lally has continued to show an impressive work ethic and passion for music. Having toured across the globe and released three albums as a solo artist, the 47-year-old still retains a drive and love for playing music that should make any jaded young musician feel ashamed. We chatted with the soft-spoken and disarmingly approachable Lally from his home in Italy about his new album, called Why Should I Get Used to It, and what it's like playing shows as "a guy from Fugazi."
Daniel Hill: The last two albums had a lot of contributions from D.C. and Dischord musicians, but for this one you took a different approach and teamed up with musicians from Italy. How did you meet them, and how has this been different?
Joe Lally: It really was a necessity. I knew I was going to end up somewhere else, so I really was writing in such a way that I was going to allow for other people to come in and let the music change. When I moved to Italy in 2007, right as we finished recording the second record, Nothing Is Underrated, I literally left America with the album unmixed and left it in Ian [MacKaye's] hands to finish it. In a way, one thing created the other. I moved here knowing I would be staying here; my wife is Italian, so we just kind of ended up here. And then her mother moved in with us, so we really had a reason to be here. I started to play with different people in Rome, and we would go out and play live. But I was really hoping to home in on someone who would stick with me, and along the way I found Elisa Abela, who plays guitar on the record. I had already started writing some of those songs on guitar, and she kind of dedicated her time to be with me. She is from Sicily, and she moved to Rome to be closer and to work on the music with me.
You've toured through Japan, and I saw that the upcoming tour has you going through the U.S. and Italy and that you had hit Brazil before. How does being a touring musician differ from country to country?
Well, the nice thing about going back this time was we returned to Japan in September with Fabio [Chinca] and Elisa. Basically what's changed so much now about touring is playing with the two of them. We're really feeling like a band who knows what they're doing. I can go back and do any of my old songs, which I've kind of had trouble doing — being able to focus on the material in different ways if we wanted to, to treat songs differently in different venues. Some places we end up in are so different than others.
Yeah, sure, more intimate versus a big place.
Japan is, I suppose, culturally different, but as far as going to a country and arriving in a different town each night to play a show and then get up and move on to the next town — I figured out early on with Fugazi, it makes touring the same everywhere, because you don't get to see a whole lot. But you do get the feel of a place when you get to keep returning. And I love going to Japan; it is a little bit different culturally, and people are really so kind. We played Kobe and Koshi and Hiroshima, which are farther in the south, and you're really driving through a lot of country to get there. It's just wonderful to be there. I enjoyed just driving through the countryside. It has really helped solidify the band, having good tours.
How is touring now compared to the start of your career? It seems like back then it must have been so much harder to book a tour compared to just hopping on the Internet now.
Yeah, it is. It's really weird because the amount of bands doesn't really help the fact that it is so easy to book. So it's a problem in a completely different way for a completely different reason. I mean, it was harder to book the tour, but then it was easier to actually have some people show up. I did a tour as a roadie for Beefeater — a Dischord band — the summer of 1986. The summer is a terrible time to tour, but I didn't realize that then. That tour wasn't any different to me really than the first Fugazi tours, except more people knew who Ian was, and Ian had been in contact with people because of being an owner of Dischord records, so the word of us coming — even Fugazi as an unknown band — was always a little bit bigger than a band like Beefeater. It has all changed completely.
But people wanting to go see something and enjoying something when they do attend a show...it's always kind of a beautiful thing. If people come out to a show — to one of my shows — to see what it's about, unless they have seen me before, they are coming out to check out what a guy from Fugazi is up to. I think people in general are pleasantly surprised to see what I'm doing...pleasantly surprised that they like it I think.
That is awfully humble of you.
I mean, it is the way it is.
You mentioned how you felt people are coming out to see "a guy from Fugazi." Was it difficult to make the transition to a solo artist?
Sure it was, in the sense that I never really wrote songs on my own. I would never try to complete songs on my own, that was the most difficult part of it — not really going out and booking a show or something. Those things are hard, but you figure them out one way or the other. But really, being satisfied with your own ability to write songs, that was the hard part. And it was just knowing that I really needed to do it for myself. I really needed to continue meeting with people, you know, however many people in a room, whether it was 12 or 50...and just being able to play. I really love doing that, and that's what I found that I really needed to continue doing. It's not so easy because it isn't always financially sound, but it's something that I really love to do. And I'm just going to keep trying to do it.