There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Four months after the band’s final show on August 17, 1983, Faith released a posthumous EP called Subject to Change. One of the classic documents of D.C. hardcore, Faith’s swan song has never gone out of print. But its current incarnation, remastered and reissued by Dischord Records, is certainly the most generous and elegant version.
Reviewed in this week’s paper, the new reissue more than doubles the length of the original EP with the addition of an unreleased December 1981 demo session—Faith’s earliest professional recording.
As background for the review, I corresponded, via email, with Faith vocalist Alec MacKaye and Faith guitarist Michael Hampton about the band’s history and the new reissue. Here are the complete responses.
How long had it been since you heard the demo included on the new Subject to Change plus First Demo? Was it a surprise?
Hampton: A very long time maybe 25 years or so. I always liked that recording better than our later split LP, where we rerecorded some of the songs. There was a “rule” of sorts that you made a demo first and then recorded the real thing when you were ready. The demos from that period tend to be better in my opinion.
MacKaye: I listened so closely and repeatedly to that recording when we made it that it became part of the architecture of my brain. While I don’t listen to it frequently, I’d say I probably listened to it at least once or twice a year since it was made. My past, even the long ago past—-is not a very distant planet. Perhaps the most appreciable surprise was how good it sounded with new mastering. At the time we made the demo, it felt like we were rushing a little, trying get down as many tracks as possible, but not knowing how much time we might need to mix. The sensation of headlong, forward energy is evident in the sound.
Sonically, the demo sounds really good. When the band recorded it, was there ever any thought that it might be good enough to release?
Hampton: I like the way that demo sounded (see above) and the new mastering of it and Subject to Change is very good. I seem to recall us wanting it to come out when we did it, though. We sent three songs to the Bad Brains for an ill-fated comp, never released. By sent, I mean the master tape was cut and—the only copy of three tracks—was sent to New York, not really a good idea. The tapes never made it back. When preparing this release a new mix was done by Ian, which sounded good, but didn’t have the elements I remembered from the demo. Not being a fan of modern remixes I encouraged Dischord to use the original “vintage” mix, all weird and ’81-sounding. The three missing tracks were mastered from my original cassette (not telling which, though).
MacKaye: I think we felt then that we could do better. Fixing mistakes or taking a long time to mix was a luxury we did not have. On top of that, some of the songs were new enough that the rough spots hadn’t settled down, and at that time, with the technology available, there was no amount of mixing that could change that it was a demo, after all—the very idea is that it is a sketch for a record or something to just give an idea of what the band is like. Lo-fi and loose-playing musicians were not appreciated then the way they are now.
Dischord spokesperson Alec Bourgeois tells me that Faith was “beloved” in D.C.; did the band ever play outside of the D.C. area?
Hampton: We were sometimes beloved, sometimes not. History has been kind (in D.C.). Keep in mind we were in high school, so touring was not likely AND we didn’t have amps, so we would borrow everything from the bands we played with (that practice was definitely not beloved). Our first out-of-town trip, we played CBGB in Dec. 81 opening for the Bad Brains; later we played again in New York, Baltimore, and Detroit.
MacKaye: Yes, but only a few times. We played in New York City three times—once with the Bad Brains in December of 1981. Glen Friedman took pictures at that show. It was a crazy, packed show. I remember there being so many people backstage that I went out into the club to try and get some space to breathe. People kept asking us if I knew anybody in the
bands. We mostly replied “no” or pointed to strangers and said that they were the bassist or drummer or bassoonist.
We played at the A7 club, around the corner from the Rat Cage. We went up to New York with Deadline and Insurrection and Red C. It was days without sleep… I remember hanging out in Tompkins Square Park, drinking an egg cream at dawn – just before we went on stage to play. We ended up stuffing a dozen or more people into Louie from Antidote’s mother’s one-room apartment in Hoboken to try and get some sleep. She chased us out with a broom around 10 a.m. We sought refuge in a bar, where (Guy [Picciotto] just reminded me of this) there was an old man wearing a house dress and a gumball dispenser filled with peanuts that had become a biosphere for mealworms and maggots.
Another time up in NYC, we played at Great Gildersleeves with Scream. Eddie folded his guitar in half while trying to bend a note and found himself wearing a large necklace of wires and wood by the second song. We had to beg Franz [Stahl] to loan us his brand new guitar—which he did, but a little nervously. I fell/jumped off the high stage and landed on my head, ran out the front door, pushing past Joey Ramone, who was coming in, bent over backwards at the waist, being held up by a woman who stood only as tall as his belt buckle. I don’t know which made me feel dizzier, the head injury or the Joey sighting.
We also played in Detroit—Hamtramck to be precise, at Paycheck’s lounge with Negative Approach, Insurrection and the Allied. Judging from the mail we got from all over the U.S. and Europe, I like to think we were a little bit beloved in other places, too. I suppose it’s a shame that we flamed out before getting a solid tour set up and executed, but it’s also a wonder and a success that we did what we did.
Someone once told me that Faith practiced at the Naval Observatory. True? If so, what’s the story behind the practice space? If not, where did the band practice?
Hampton: Ivor Hansen, the drummer of Faith, replaced the drummer in S.O.A. For a few weeks, that band practiced in the house Ivor lived in at the Naval Observatory (his father was an admiral). Faith never did. We practiced first in my parents dining room, then various basements, etc., etc.
MacKaye: Your source was likely referring to S.O.A., Ivor and Michael’s first band. Ivor Hanson’s father, Thor, was in the Navy and at one time they lived on the grounds of the Naval Observatory. I remember rehearsing at Ivor’s home in Virginia at least once. Faith generally rehearsed in Michael Hampton’s basement: A narrow rowhouse in Georgetown, with a sliding glass door that looked out onto a small patio. We came and went through the back gate.
How did the band arrive at the name Faith? It’s so much more optimistic and less macho that, say, State of Alert or Untouchables. Was there any particular thinking behind the name?
Hampton: I can’t remember, I think it was Chris [Bald] and/or Alec who came up with that name. I wanted to use “Nothing Sacred,” which was the name of the band Chris and Alec were working on when we formed Faith.
MacKaye: In my memory, we felt that Faith (or The Faith, as we typically called ourselves) was a stronger-than-macho name. I don’t recall the actual conversation that took place, and, thankfully, I can’t remember the alternate names we nearly used. But we did want something more up-ful and less nihilistic, in spite of our chaotic and sometimes destructive approach to performance.
Faith added a second guitarist, Eddie Janney, between the Void split and Subject to Change. This happened around the same time that other hardcore bands, such as Black Flag and Minor Threat, added second guitarists. What prompted the addition?
Hampton: I’m not sure if there was any connection to what other bands were doing. Eddie was a great guitar player, I was a big fan of his playing; he had been in a band with Alec before. When a lot hardcore bands went “metal” they added guitar players, but that wasn’t our plan.
MacKaye: I don’t know why other bands did it, but for us—it gave Michael some room to get some more complex guitar ideas into the songs and softened the impact of guitar malfunctions, which were a constant threat during good shows. Not to mention, we just wanted a fuller sound and we loved the way the Eddie played. In fact, I STILL love the way Eddie plays!
According to the liner notes of the new release, Faith split up four months before Subject to Change came out. How would you characterize the breakup? What led to the band’s untimely end?
Hampton: Ivor went to college. We also were not all getting along with each other all the time, so I seem to remember it was a good time to stop. Two years seems like a long time when you are a teenager.
MacKaye: It was strange to stop playing as a band while we—and the scene in general—seemed to be picking up momentum, but it would have been harder to stay together and try to create songs when our personalities and pursuits were diverging. I can’t say exactly what made us decide to quit, but it was getting more difficult to be productive and creative together, and that usually leads to a breakdown. I guess that’s what happened to us. But think of all the bands that come out of The Faith! So I’d say the end was also a beginning…
Do you have any recollections or impressions of Faith’s final show? Was the audience aware that the band was breaking up at the time? How did you feel about it?
Hampton: It was billed as the “final” show. It was a pretty big crowd for us I think. My memory is a little foggy on that one. Ivor was off to school and we were ready to stop.
MacKaye: As I recall there was a big poster that announced it was to be our last show—so people might have had some inkling…
It was a pretty emotional gig. I cannot recall many specific details, but afterwards I heard from people who said that it felt like a larger end, of sorts. Not just for our band, but for some epoch in the music scene. I don’t think we ever thought of ourselves in those terms, but in retrospect, I can see what they talking about. A lot of bands that came after us were comprised of kids whose first gigs were D.C. hardcore bands.