The Bass-O-Matic

Joe Lally keeps a frenetic pace after his long history with Fugazi

One band’s hiatus is another man’s overbooked schedule.

That could be the mantra of Fugazi bassist Joe Lally. Since the Post-Hardcore/Punk band announced a break in the action seven years ago, Lally has been working relentlessly on a variety of projects. He started by forming Decahedron with former Frodus members Jason Hamacher and Shelby Cinca, releasing an EP and an album. He subsequently joined Red Hot Chili Pepper guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Josh Klinghoffer for the Ataxia project, which resulted in a pair of releases.

But before the second Ataxia album was released, Lally was already exploring a solo direction, doing solo gigs accompanied by a laptop, which eventually led to his debut solo album, 2006’s There to Here. The following year, Lally released his second album, Nothing Is Underrated, and began touring in a guitar/bass/drums format with a rotating cast of bandmates, hitting the U.S., Europe and South America. He had just begun a tour of Japan when his father passed away, necessitating his immediate return (he hopes to make good on the missed Japanese dates this fall). And two years ago, he and his family moved to Rome to allow his wife to reconnect to her Italian roots.

“It doesn’t really matter where I am, in a lot of ways,” the soft-spoken Lally says. “My daughter is 7 and with the three of us together, it’s fine. As long as there’s enough (time) for us to be together, it doesn’t matter where we are. That part doesn’t have to be a further complication in an already complicated situation. It leads me to live in sort of a bubble wherever we are. I’m not so interactive, Italian-wise, because I’m just in my own world here.”

Lally has begun the process of writing new material for his third solo album — which he hopes to begin recording before the end of the year — and his new songs reflect an important new aspect of his performance, namely the addition of semi-permanent guitarist Elisa Abela.

“I found her last summer and she’s been sticking with me and playing with me the most,” says Lally. “I’m trying to allow her to come into (the) writing, too, so I’m taking more time.”

Until he added Abela to his trio setup last August, Lally had been working on his new songs at a fairly brisk pace. But now that he’s including Abela and Philly drummer Ricardo Lagomasino in the creation process, he’s backing away from any hard and fast deadlines.

“I’m just kind of watching it grow,” says Lally. “Getting down the basic ideas. I’ve never played guitar on my own demos before but there was nobody (else) and that left me, and I don’t really play chords. It is what it is. I’m just trying to fine tune and adjust, and then there’s some newer songs that the two of us wrote together and I’m trying to let those take shape, too, and let some of the album be a collaboration and less of me, so it sort of points to what the fourth (album) will be. It’s gotten easier with Elisa because I can really feel it starting to grow and change as much as I want it to.”

Abela adds another dimension to Lally’s live repertoire with her saxophone and flute skills, a component that Lally hopes to expand with his just-launched U.S. tour.

“It’s been easier to just stick with guitar but we’d like to explore it more,” Lally says. “We did our first tour together in January in Spain and France, and we brought along the saxophone and she played a couple of songs. We’re trying to get the varied instrumentation going. She can do more, it’s just a matter of gathering everything.”

As for the music itself, Lally’s solo work is a long way from the shingle-loosening fury of Fugazi — understated, simple, melodic but still exhibiting hints of the chaotic beauty of his previous outfit.

“I never really tried to sit down and make my own music before, so a big part of how it sounds is just me figuring out how to do that,” Lally says. “I hadn’t felt comfortable getting my voice out over the top of anything too raucous and that went for Fugazi, as well. I’m kind of getting better at that and things are starting to jack up.”

Given Lally’s reticence with fronting anything as wildly unpredictable as Fugazi, it seems like he might well have chosen a simple support role in another band until Fugazi’s return (whenever that might be). As it happened, he felt compelled to create his own music, a situation he feels hard pressed to explain even now.

“I don‘t know why I have strong feelings to do it myself,” he says. “I hadn’t really explored it before and it just seemed like there was plenty there to figure out. I tried to play (my) music with other people as it was growing, before I recorded (the) music. Whenever I played with people, I wanted to write new music with them. I couldn’t get used to the idea of making my music band music. It seemed like solitary music, and I had to keep exploring it as solitary music. I was just kind of following what I was hearing in my head. It wouldn’t go away so I had to pursue it.”

JOE LALLY performs Wednesday at the Southgate House Parlour with Glorytellers. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.