Hi Folks! Italian publication Rumoré reached out to Fugazi and Ted to discuss Repeater 30 years after its release. I don’t have a full translation but I bet some of you have browser extensions that can translate – or maybe you’re Italian and would like to take a stab at it! In any case, check out the article via the link above, and get a peek at Ted’s answers “in inglese” below! 😉 Matty
RUMORÉ: Repeater, Fugazi’s first album, came out almost exactly 30 years ago. When was the last time you listened to it? What where the first things that came to mind when you did?
TED NICELEY: I listened to Repeater in its entirety the other day. A friend of mine had sent me an article proclaiming Repeater number twenty in a list of “The 25 best Indie LPs of All Time”. It’s s a great record. I think it stands the test of time, and does not sound dated – which is a wonderful thing. It’s a mighty record.
RUMORÉ: You had worked with the band on their debut EP, but Fugazi in late 1989 was a very different band. How did the addition of Guy’s guitar change their sound and their way of playing/composing?
TED NICELEY: I co-produced their first EP. The addition of Guy as a co-guitarist made their sound more ‘angular’ texturally. Guy played a double pickup Rickenbacker thru a Hiwatt amp and cabinet (maybe a Marshall but I think a Hiwatt), which has a very treble-y, wiry sound that makes it add something very different. One of a kind dual guitar sound, really. As a songwriter, maybe a bit of a different color? Songs like “Blueprint”, “Reprovisional” – that “Giant Claw” riff in Repeater? Totally Guy. “Blueprint” strikes me as a human song, maybe romantic or soulful. I think one could look at “Shut the Door”, even tough as I understand it to be, is about a specific moment, I think of as a sister song to “Blueprint”. The politics of being a human being, which is my favorite politic.
RUMORÉ: More in general, where was Fugazi at – as a group and individually – at the time of Repeater? What was the feeling between them and around them?
TED NICELEY: Not sure why you would ask that but, determined. As a group? They had come off of a long tour, which at end of they recorded the “Margin Walker” EP, a fantastic record to me but an experience that I gathered wasn’t ideal for them, in the manner of which they recorded it. They were determined to record the way they enjoyed recording, a medium that, at that time at least, still frustrated them a bit perhaps? Some artists feel stifled by recording. As individuals? Still were the people I loved and vibed with. Beyond that, I have no idea. I was friends with Guy and Brendan especially. Ian too – but in a different way. Outside of records we didn’t really hang out everyday. Feelings between them? Great as far as I could tell, period.
RUMORÉ: How did you work in the studio, technically?
TED NICELEY: I’m not sure what you mean by that? Me? The group? The group, in my experience, was always well prepared. All songs always went down without vocals but everyone playing together. Never replaced whole parts. Maybe a punch in on a downbeat on the bass or something. Once or twice. Very, very tight. After the basic track was done, we would start overdubs, which were minimal. We would start vocals as soon as we could, mainly because I don’t like “assembly line” recording, where it’s all done but the vocals. If somebody gets a cold or screws up their voice, etc., there’s nothing you can do. You also get a good feel for the song. What does it need, if anything? It also gets boring for the singers, makes it a slog, maybe?
RUMORÉ: Were the songs fully-formed or they worked on them in the studio as well?
TED NICELEY: I’ve never worked with Fugazi when the songs weren’t there. Their instincts were always right musically, vocals were too, but Ian and Guy would agree – I think – that singing in the studio was/is never a comfortable vibe for them. Listening back to your voice is usually not an enjoyable thing for singers, see: “outgoing voice message on answering machines”, etc. My thing would be “you can scream without ‘SCREAMING’”, you don’t have to yell about everything (lol) to be emotive and effective. I think it worked. It’s a fine line. I love the way both sing and sang on this record. Maybe we broke down a kick beat or something.
RUMORÉ: What was the most difficult aspect of being their producer on those sessions?
TED NICELEY: Nothing especially. Always a good vibe. Fugazi is not a “difficult” group. The most ‘difficult’ thing, if you can even say that about it, was helping them understand their voices a bit better, trusting a performance, knowing when it might need a little more work but even more, knowing when it was “in the bag”. Great work. They just wanted to do great work and make a great record. I think if we are still talking about and celebrating Repeater thirty years later, we must’ve been doing something right, yes?
RUMORÉ: When I asked him, Ian defined your role as a “referee”. Do you agree with that? Were there hard to solve situations concerning songs, musical choices or lyrics?
TED NICELEY: Referee? Kind of/sort of. They never argued with each other about anything around me. Songs? None that I can think of. Musical choices? We’ll discuss a couple of thing down the page.
RUMORÉ: Is there still something you would have done differently?
TED NICELEY: Not that I can think of. I just listened to the whole record on Monday, and even the one song that used to bother me slightly, the drum track on “Sieve-Fisted Find” used to strike me as rushing, the only Fugazi song I ever put up a click track to play to and it just took everything away that makes Brendan, Brendan. It’s great. I’ve always called Brendan the ‘Tony Williams’ of rock drummers, I still feel that way.
RUMORÉ: Do you have special memories or anecdotes of the recording sessions?
TED NICELEY: Yes, Some funny, “feely” stuff.
One, I always respected that Ian is a producer, and a producer of many, many records. The only reason I was probably ever invited to be involved with and to produce/co-produce Fugazi records, was that Fugazi is/was a democracy and democracy – in a musical sense – is not usually a great thing. It’s easier to have someone, i.e. ” the producer”, to bounce something off or to voice a concern to instead of watering everything down so no one has their feelings hurt or, worse, no one can feel comfortable voicing something. I also am pretty well known for not being a “bullshitter”. I will do my best to not offend but if I feel something is not up to their own standards, I will be the first to say, “I don’t think that’s ‘happening’” and explain why.
- Anecdote 1: Guy’s guitar part of “Repeater”, the screechy part I know I, and I think Guy, dubbed, “The Giant Claw”, after a sound the monster made in the late 50s/ early 60s sci-fi/horror film of the same name. Guy was really in the middle of it to make this terrifying sound and was at one point ready to bust his RICK in half! We got it done though.
- Anecdote 2: Fugazi does not, I repeat DOES NOT replace tracks!!! Joe Lally and I found that out on “Shut The Door”, “Repeater’s” masterful last track featuring a baddest-assed “bass drop” courtesy of Mr. Lally. Ian was out on an errand, I’m not sure where the other guys were, but Joe and I were checking out the basic track to STD and Joe felt that maybe he didn’t feel that he did as well as he felt he could’ve done. I couldn’t hear what Joe was hearing, I didn’t really feel comfortable in saying “you’re wrong / you can’t”, I think we had an open track. He started to redo the track, Ian came in and that was when I realized it’s not a great idea. Ian was – how should I say – ‘very expressive’ about it. It’s one of the all time great Fugazi tracks. Great moment!
- Anecdote 3: Funny but serious. We knew we needed something really distinctive for the drum sound on the title track of “Repeater”. Brendan and I were screwing around with all kinds of stuff – Public Enemy drum samples – all kinds of stuff. I could see that Ian was growing frustrated. I think I finally said, “What’s up, any ideas?” He said, “yes” and pulled out a butter cookie (pasta frolla) tin, the kind you find in Cost Plus or gourmet places, stuck a radio speaker and a microphone in it, we pumped the snare, kick thru the speaker and routed the microphone thru a Rockman guitar processor, turned on the distortion on the Rockman, and voila, the drum sound! I muted all of the other drum mikes except maybe a little kick and snare I think, until the break when everything opens up, still with the distorted tracks on too. As a good friend of mine says, “a goosebump moment”.
RUMORÉ: 30 years later, what do you think is Repeater’s biggest strength and its biggest weakness? What do you think is its place in the band’s discography?
TED NICELEY: “Repeater’s biggest strength is great songs and great teamwork. No weaknesses. If a record is still being as celebrated 30 years later as it was when it was released, you did something right. It’s certainly a landmark and iconic.
RUMORÉ: What are your favourite songs on the album, and why?
TED NICELEY: Side one, for me, is a masterpiece. In 1997 I was producing a record in Seattle and I walked into a coffee shop on a Sunday morning, and heard this music I KNEW but couldn’t figure it out from where, so I asked a Barista. It was “Brendan #3”. Amazing. Side two is a different vibe, but just as great in its own way. Side 2 is more of Fugazi stretching it out ( to me), experimenting a bit i.e., “Two Beats Off “/”Sieve-Fisted Find”. “Reprovisional” is fantastic, the guitar explosion in the middle is next level (I got to watch it) Of course, ‘Shut The Door”, one of the best Fugazi songs ever. Ian’s vocal is sublime, the track is scary good, the bass breakdown so fucking on, Excellence.