The Messthetics at Machines with Magnets, Jan 11

The Messthetics

The Messthetics
(Photo: Antonia Tricarico)

Some of the best music comes from ideas that are inventive. These ideas push boundaries and inspire new sounds that spark creativity. These days, who knows this better than drummer Brendan Canty and bassist Joe Lally. As the rhythm section for punk legends Fugazi, they were the anchor behind a band that turned an entire genre on its head. With Anthony Pirog on guitar, they have a new band called The Messthetics that’ll be rolling through Machines with Magnets in Pawtucket on Jan 11, with Providence acts Minibeast (featuring Peter Prescott from Boston indie rock phenoms Mission of Burma) and Snowplows.

I had a chat with Lally ahead of the show about rejoining with Canty in a new band, the unique syncopation they have, living in Italy for nearly a decade, living in Washington, DC, with Donald Trump as president and a certain album that’ll be released before the spring.

Rob Duguay (Motif): The Messthetics comprises you on bass guitar, fellow ex-Fugazi member Brendan Canty on drums and guitarist Anthony Pirog. This band is instrumental with a whole lot of noise and distortion. What inspired this approach to the project when you all came together to do it?

Joe Lally: Brendan introduced Anthony and I after I lived abroad for about eight years. I moved back to Washington, DC, and over the years I had put out three solo records and I had played that music with different people. With coming back to DC there was always a possibility of just doing a show every now and then. Brendan wanted to see what we could do and who we could play with. He brought Anthony up one day to his practice space and we played some of my stuff.

I really just felt like Anthony was kind of above and beyond that music and I wasn’t really that focused on doing my solo stuff at the time. Of course I had a great time playing with him because he’s an exceptional guitarist and we kind of let it go from there. Anthony plays a lot of different kinds of music with different people and he gives lessons and he does a lot of playing around. He comes up to New York a lot and I set it aside and I didn’t really think about it. He said that he wanted to work on a record of his music and asked Brendan and I if we’d be interested in being the rhythm section and we both responded positively.

RD: How has it been being in a rhythm section with Brendan again? As a bassist do you have a different syncopation and/or melding of talents with him on drums than when you play with other drummers?

JL: I guess so. Anyone you play with is going to have some kind of different feel about it and someone always brings something different to whatever you’re doing. The two parts then add up to something on their own. In the case of Brendan, I hadn’t played with him because he already started having kids before Fugazi went on hiatus. By the time Fugazi stopped playing, Brendan was just so busy that it never came up to play a live show with him.

Until we played together in May of 2017 in The Messthetics, it had almost been exactly 15 years since I played with Brendan. It felt like the most comfortable thing ever to play with him again and it’s hard to describe after playing together for so long. It doesn’t feel like that with anybody else. We know each other musically awfully well so it couldn’t be better. It’s hard to describe beyond that, it’s just an extremely comfortable fit.

RD: I can see how it can feel that way especially since you and Brendan played for so long together in Fugazi. You mentioned earlier how you moved overseas and you moved to Rome, of all places, while living with your wife, and then you moved back to DC in 2015. What made you want to move to a city like Rome, and what did you like the most about living there? I know the city has a tight-knit punk scene.

JL: My wife is Italian and she had lived in Rome from when she was about 18 or 19 until her 30s or whatever it was. Then she moved to DC for 10 years while living with me until we moved back to Rome. The decision was based on me feeling that she needed to be with her oldest friends and family, it really had nothing more than being a family-oriented thing. I was also very happy to raise our daughter in another environment and in another culture so she would know something different than what American culture is like. We stayed there for as long as we could manage.

It’s not an easy thing and it’s very, very difficult to find work there. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, it was a great experience and I initially expected to stay there forever, but it became financially very difficult and it was better to move back. I got to know some music scenes there and it’s like any big cit: I think there’s many different things going on. You could follow what was happening in different clubs in one city and it’s not necessarily all related, so I got to know some but not that much really.

I didn’t do out at night [often] and when I did go out it was to go out and play. During the first five years I was there I was still going out and touring, and not just in Italy. It was really hard to try and get to know the scene there but I got to know some musicians and some people who didn’t even live in Rome. There was a guy from Napoli who sings in Napolitano and he was somebody that I got along with very well and played a little bit with. His name is Francesco DiBella, and it really was a lot of random things that happened.

It’s people you become friends with, just like you do in your own scenes at home. I did get to know some different musicians in Rome but most of these friends came from random interactions. I didn’t go out a lot at night so I didn’t get to know that much of what was going on.

RD: Now since you’ve been back in DC, there’s a certain guy in the White House who has been dividing a lot of people, to say the least, while also saying a lot of outlandish and offensive things. How has it been in Washington, DC, since Donald Trump has been president? Are people there more on edge? Do you see a lot more people doing a lot more organizing when it comes to activism and protesting? How has it been living in DC these days?

JL: There was a lot of marches that we went down to last year but lately there hasn’t been anything happening for a little while. There is definitely a lot more of what I remember with somebody coming into the White House and a lot of reaction to it. There’s a lot of people just gathering and it’s going to continue going on. I’ve seen the area around the White House get blocked from traffic and now it’s only foot traffic and I’ve seen that traffic blocked. It went from where we were gathering between the White House and the back of the White House in Lafayette Park.

People would gather there and then march to the front of the Trump Hotel, and I’ve also seen that area get shut down. It’s more like seeing him set up the barriers more than in the past then I’ve ever seen in this city. It’s all slowly changed over time since September 11. Overall, I think most people are pretty flabbergasted by the fact that this type of person is the president of the country. The office of president was already coming into question before because of the feeling of, “What does this do and how are things getting done?”

It’s clear that things don’t work the way they should. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of respect for the office, especially now. The person in office doesn’t seem to give it much respect. There’s so much to be said about it that I don’t even know where to begin. I don’t know what to make of politics, anyway, because I think a lot of it is keeping the majority of people at a distance from whatever the power is that’s in office, whether if it’s Democrat or Republican, and now it’s 1,000 times worse is all I can say.

RD: I totally agree with everything you’ve said and it’s strange how certain points of the city are sealed off now. With The Messthetics, do you guys plan on heading into the studio to record an album later in the year?

JL: It’s already taken place. We recorded last summer in the place that we’ve practiced, because that’s Brendan’s studio space where he does a lot of his soundtrack work. He already had it set up to record and to get things sounding great, so it seemed unnecessary to have to book time in the studio. We just got down to business and set aside time to get songs done as we could. We were done by August or September with the recording, and there should be a record out on Dischord Records sometime before April.

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