We caught up with Lally from The Messthetics ahead of their two London dates to find out more about the band and how they decided to cover a Sonny Sharrock tune…
Guitar-bass-drums – it’s a simple formula. And in the right hands a trio can be much greater than the sum of its humble parts. Just take The Messthetics. Bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty first began playing together in 1986. The band was Fugazi – the most influential band to ever emerge from the fertile punk scene of Washington DC. Forty years later, they hooked up with fellow DC resident and guitarist Anthony Pirog, who acts as a truly wonderful foil for their visceral and intelligent playing.
The trio arrive in London wielding a superb debut album on legendary DC label Dischord. But it’s an album that could easily have never happened. One jam session in led to the next, which eventually led to eight songs being recorded in Canty’s practice space in 2016. The album is a perplexing mix of instrumental power trio rock, spacy jazz licks and a supple rhythmic flexibility.
The star of the show is undoubtedly the fearless Pirog, who can veer from a shredded thrash riff to a subdued minor key romp at the drop of a hat. Put the solid grooves of Lally and Canty at his disposal and the results are often jaw-dropping.
We caught up with Lally ahead of the band’s two London dates to find out more about the band – and just how they decided to cover a Sonny Sharrock tune.
How did you and Brendan first meet Anthony? How did it progress to jamming?
I was living in Italy from 2007 to 2015 and during that time Brendan often saw Anthony play around DC. Anthony was always playing in different musical settings and showing such a wide range of ability that Brendan was happy to find a reason to play with him. Brendan got him over to his practice space for the three of us to play music and see where that would go. It was clear we enjoyed playing together and soon Anthony had asked if we would be his rhythm section on a solo record he wanted to make. Brendan and I let him take his time with his ideas and we played together so much we started feeling like we had found a good band to be in.
You and Brendan had your musical partnership perfected in Fugazi. What’s it like playing with Anthony?
In Fugazi, Brendan had a certain freedom. I liked to play in a way that held the beat down and gave him room to explore. With Anthony there is definitely a feeling of being able to do anything we can imagine. Which is pretty liberating.
Where did the name of the band come from? And at what point did you think the band had enough ideas and potential to write/record an album of songs?
We were all searching for a band name and going through song titles by various bands. Brendan has always been a Scritti Politti fan and he found the title among their recordings [an early Peel Session]. We got together to make a record in the first place, it’s just that we turned into a band along the way.
You cover Once Upon a Time by guitarist Sonny Sharrock. It’s perhaps not the most obvious choice for a cover song. Is Sharrock an inspiration to you as a guitarist?
Sharrock is certainly an inspiration. [His album] Ask the Ages is a favourite of mine and it turned out Anthony had played the whole thing live with a group he had a few years ago. I didn’t know that when I was messing with the song at practice one day. Anthony showed me what the notes were, and we found a way to do it. I love Sharrock and especially the album Black Woman, which his partner Linda sings on.
What do you look for in your bandmates?
You should enjoy being around them as people and I think you should feel inspired by them, too. It’s a good sign if you can get somewhere just by jamming and without a lot of discussion about what’s going on musically.
When you’re in London, you get to play with Michael Rother of NEU! at the Label Mates festival – Is that a band that influenced your sound over the years?
I came to NEU! much later in life and I like them. I saw Rother play in Los Angeles once and enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to seeing him again.
What motivates you to get up and play music every day?
Ian [Mackaye of Fugazi] usually picks me up at about 9:15am after he drops his son off at school. We go to his house and write music with Amy Farina [drums/vocals]. We’ve played a couple of shows but still don’t have a name. Sometimes that happens as much as four days a week. After that, I can go to a Messthetics practice from noon until 2pm or 3pm. I do prefer to play in the morning, but I’ll play whenever it’s possible with others. The motivation seems to be built-in – I’m thinking about music all the time. We’re just very happy to get over to the UK and play for people. We’re fortunate anyone cares about what we’re doing.