This is Fucked Up; Damian is the bald guy grinning in the back

Toronto band Fucked Up got its start as a controversial hardcore band


An Interview With Damian Abraham of Fucked Up

This is Fucked Up; Damian is the bald guy grinning in the back

Toronto band Fucked Up got its start as a controversial hardcore band whose legendary, occasionally bloody live shows have resulted in everything from bits of glass making their permanent home in Damian Abraham's forehead to the destruction of an MTV2 bathroom (for which the band was later billed). Not to mention that band name. But their music is so much more than something to pump your fist for; after releasing a smorgasbord of 7" singles, Fucked Up began to release LPs: critically-acclaimed debut Hidden World and last year's Matador Records release The Chemistry of Common Life. With those two records, the band has emigrated from a scene of sonic purists into an experimental rock and roll netherworld. Hardcore anthems gave way to complex compositions with dozens upon dozens of guitar parts, 18-minute punk rock symphonies and unorthodox instrumentation, which simultaneously repelled the purists and attracted significant praise from the wider musical world-- so much that the band was nominated for a Juno this year (they lost to Nickelback.) As you can imagine, all this attention was a huge change for a gritty DIY band whose members didn't learn to drive until they were forced to (Damian still can't).

Fucked Up plays Neumos on Wednesday night, but you should also know that Damian-- who made a brief appearance on FOX News show Red Eye not too long ago-- will return to co-host the show for a full hour on April 21. I commend his bravery, and sincerely hope that he will hand FOX News its ass in a doggie bag.

So, let's just get it over with and talk about the Juno Awards: did you guys think you'd actually win and beat out Nickelback?

Oh heeeelll, no. I was like, convinced we would not get nominated. We were in, like, Albuquerque New Mexico, and I told Ben (from Fucked Up), I bet you we don't get nominated. I bet you a thousand dollars." And he was like, 'No no, lets just bet a hamburger.' And I'm very cheap, and I definitely don't have a thousand dollars to bet anyone. That's how convinced I was that it wasn't even an issue. I never thought we had a chance of winning. When we didn't win was like, 'eh. That's fine.'

It's still got you guys some really good press attention.

It's really, really weird. The Junos have never reflected my taste in music--Nickelback, Celine Dion, Loverboy getting a lifetime achievement award this year... don't get me wrong, I like me some Loverboy, but lifetime achievement status? Really?

It was absolutely, totally surreal. That being said, I love any sort of attention that I can get because I have really low self esteem.

You always say that in interviews.

I was super, hyper sensitive about my body and stuff, growing up. So I loved the attention [from the Juno nomination], but at the same time it was like, "Maybe we're doing something wrong now that the same people that like Nickelback and Simple Plan and all these other terrible bands are paying attention to us. Maybe we're not doing something that we should be doing."

I think it's just that the music you're making now is more approachable to a general audience than your early stuff.

It's one of those things where like, there's a pure hardcore scene we've definitely been told to move on from, almost. And there's a scene, the scene that we're part of now, that's made of all these punk and hardcore ex-pats, bands like No Age, Vivian Girls...all these people that love punk and hardcore but maybe don't fit in to the hardcore scene any more.

Yeah, but a lot of these people are purists to a fault.

Absolutely. And don't get me wrong--I love the fact that there's a purity to it. It's just something that, after ten years, I don't think it would be right for us to keep trying to do that thing, to be that band that these people want us to be. Because I think they'd be sick of us too, by now. We just kind of let it evolve how it evolved. And then everyone in the band changed as people, and the music changed too. It wasn't a conscious thing, it was a gradual thing.

Sometimes you see these bands that have been together forever and they've been trying to make the same record over and over again, and you know they're not having fun, so what are they doing? What was the plan there?

Speaking of plans...was that choice to move from making singles, like you guys did for years, to making albums, a conscious one? How did that play out? There's this extensive Wikipedia entry on you guys that implies you were somehow against making full-length records...

I think we wanted to make an album, but once we started making single releases, the plan was to make a record. It wasn't that we were like, 'No, forget that, we don't like records, we only like singles.' It was that we never really felt confident enough in the material to make an LP.

With an LP, the idea is to make something that has some consistency and flow to it, ideally. Really early on there's, a track listing somewhere and it had a bunch of songs that wound up being singles. And it was like...Wow, imagine that this collection of songs had been our first LP. With Hidden World, we were so rushed and by the end of it, we were just, like, panicked trying to finish it all and put it all together. It still comes off like a collection songs, albeit a collection of really drawn out songs...with Chemistry Of Common Life, we had a lot more time to go back and listen to things and say, 'Yeah, this sucks, let's try this again,' and because of that It has a much better flow than Hidden World did.

And as much as I like LPs that are, like, greatest hit type albums that are all singles, I prefer the idea of an album as an album. One of these records that you can listen to start to finish, not that every song blends into the next, but that there's a flow to it.

I feel like that's a total record collector approach. People who like records tend to prefer an album that has a concept, that's sort of unified...you guys are all big record collectors, true?

I think some of us in the band are completely reformed, and some of us are on the way to being reformed, but I unfortunately are in the throes of the disease. I dream about records almost every night. I dream about records that don't exist, I dream about finding records in stores that don't exist, and then I just dream about records that do exist and finding them in stores where I'll never find them. I'd say every third night, I'll have a dream about a record or a record store.

What's your most prized find?

It's hard to say. It's like picking a favorite child...It's bizarre because there've been so many moments I've had in a basement of some record store going through boxes and boxes of cast off seven inches and finding, like, The Dry Heaves 7" I've been looking for for, like, forever somehow buried away in this pit of terrible cast off records. Those are the moments that I will cherish forever. When you go into the record store and having the guy in the record store say, 'I think I have a box of records somewhere in the basement' and then going down there and find a Project X 7" or something else I've lusted after for years.

I liked Indiana Jones as a kid, so I kinda feel like Dr. Jones finding the Holy Grail.

The worst part about the mp3 era-- as much as the mp3 era is great, it exposes people to so much music--is that the social aspect of music is kind of disappearing. There's a social aspect to shows, but shows are so loud you c ant really talk to people. But I've met [so many] people in record stores, like going into record stores and talking to someone else who's buying records, or talking to someone else behind the counter who's like, 'Oh, you like this kind of stuff, do you? You should check out this band.' And that's kind of on the retreat.

If you don't mind me psychoanalyzing your band a little, I think this collector aspect also might have something to do with why you'll have a zillion guitar parts in a song, or that famously long drum solo...

I think it's that, and it's definitely...everyone in this band, whether or not they collect records, and whether or not they want to admit it...everyone's a music nerd.

We talk about it a lot. The only time we really get along is when we're talking about music and when we're making fun of each other. And food. When we talk about food, too.

You're going to be a dad soon. Has anyone been like, 'You're gonna be a dad; how can you play in a band called Fucked Up?"

I have the most unconventional father. I guess I was pretty destined to be an unc father myself. My dad would be the guy that would show up to parent teacher day and my friends would be like, 'Is your dad a Hell's Angel?' and I'd be like...no, he just likes to wear leather jackets.

My dad was a nerdy advertising guy who had long hair and wore a leather jacket and loved rock and roll. I wish my dad was a biker. It would've added some legitimacy to his pose. But he loved music, too.

My mom, she likes some really good stuff, and she was definitely the more responsible parent, but she had a little more conventional music taste than my dad.

My dad and I though...his music taste has diminished with age. We stopped really talking about music when he told me how much he loved the Bloodhound Gang and Chumbawumba.

Things change.

Unfortunately, not always for the better.

I wanted to ask you about an interview you guys did with Pitchfork, in which you said something about how being in a successful band, when you started out as this very DIY punk band, means becoming complicit in a system you previously railed against. That may or may not be a direct quote.

Being in a band that goes full-time, it requires...um, being in any sort of artistic community of any sort there's a sliding scale of morality to it. It's one of those things where you end up making some compromises. And they're not necessarily all negative compromises, but you end up with some [situations] where you were [previously] like, "I'm never gonna do this.' For me it was free clothes. I hated it when bands got free stuff. It drove me nuts. Because you know why [companies are] doing it. They're doing it to try and make that product popular. And then these companies go, 'Hey, do you want a free tee shirt? Do you want a free pair of shoes?' and I'm like...Yeah, ok. I'll take those. I'm still completely aware of why these companies are doing it, but you know, all of a sudden, this means I don't have to worry about buying a new pair of shoes, so maybe I'm ok with it. It does require some, like...as it goes on, you'd be like, 'Well, I'd never wear that, so I'm not gonna take it.' But it's still a weird thing to find myself having to make these decisions, being the band that we were and having never ever thought it would even be a question.

I have to ask you about FOX News and being on that Red Eye show. You are probably sick of talking about this, but um...what was it like?!

That was, like, one of the weirdest things...the way that it all happened, I got sent a link from Gerard at Matador, who got a link from someone he knew, being like, 'You'll never believe this but some anchor on FOX News picked Chemistry of Common Life as his favorite record of last year,' so I watched the Youtube clip and sure enough he did.

I sent him an e-mail and was like, 'You know, I never wanted or thought that anyone on FOX News would like my band,' and he was like, 'I'd really like you to come on the show.'

He was talking to me about The Melvins, talking to me about The Cramps...I thought, 'maybe this is the one guy at FOX who isn't, like, FOX News.' Sure enough I watch [the show] and they're defending Ann Coulter on it.

Oh no.

So then it's like, 'Yeah, ok you've just got good taste in music. He [Greg, the host] is a nice guy and stuff...They took me to a satellite studio in Philadelphia and I did a live feed to them in NY. And it was completely surreal. I'm actually going on that show again in the end of April. I think it's April 21 or 22. I'm actually co-hosting the show for a whole hour. He was like, 'Yeah, why don't you come back on and we'll talk about politics...' And I was like, 'You realize that I am the polar opposite of everything you guys talk about.'

I agreed to do it, and that week I agreed to do it he went on air and made fun of the Canadian army the day two Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan...and now he's, like, the most vilified person in Canada. I'm not the most militaristic person so I'm not like, 'You better not make fun of our boys!' But I also think it was a really dumb thing to say so I'm like, oh my God. This is going to be inSANE. Like, I know about FOX news but mainly from Colbert Report clips.

I try to watch it sometimes just to know what everybody else--the "other side"--is thinking. It's difficult.

I can't watch it with any sense of detachment. I can't watch it, like...ok, sometimes I'll watch a bad movie that I know is a terrible movie, but I watch it with some sort of humorous detachment from it. But I can't do that with FOX News because this isn't a joke. This is real to some people.

I know that these FOX News pundits, these anchors....[to me] it's professional wrestling. I really doubt that Bill O'Reilly cares about any of the stuff he's talking about. He's probably kind of right wing, but he doesn't care about illegal immigration. It doesn't affect his bottom line. He just goes on there and feeds into peoples' legitimate frustrations with their situation and tries to find a scapegoat that's a real easy target. And then Bill O'Reilly goes back to his mansion. He probably only cares about lowering taxes.

I also think that's probably the case with Ann Coulter.

She's like The Ultimate Warrior, or Hulk Hogan. She's one of these people that's playing a character. I definitely have no illusions that she's probably a really lame person, but she knows what she has to say to get on TV every time.

Like calling some Democratic politician a faggot. But she knows that's going to get an insane reaction, and get her on a million more talk shows, and get her inches of column space in every paper. A lot of people just on TV media, I think they know they're playing a role. And in opinion media, too.

That's definitely the case with this guy Greg, too, at the Red Eye show. I think deep down he doesn't believe what he's saying. I think he's just saying what he has to say to get the people who watch FOX News to keep watching.

What are you going to discuss with him?

I hope he brings up...oh, there's so much stuff. I'm ready to do battle on every front. Israel/Palestine, I'm ready to do battle on security, the war in Iraq, even the war in Afghanistan. I think every issue they could possibly bring up, I'd disagree with them on.

I think the only thing we're going to agree on is that the Melvins' last record, Nude In Boots, is the best record they've done since Houdini. That is the only thing we are going to agree on on the Red Eye show. That's a Seattle-area common ground. The Pacific Northwest brings us all together, right and left. There's something really romantic about that, in a weird way...that the Melvins could bring us together.

What's your next project going to be?

I think we're going to start working on the musical David Comes To Life.

We actually have designs on trying to write a punk rock opera.

I thought that was just you guys messing with the interviewer, asyou've been known to do, but I was wrong! What's it going to be about?

We have no idea. We know it's going to be loosely following the same concepts as all our other records: death of spirituality, loss of faith and faith restored through other means, nature vs. science and things like that, but as far as the actual mechanics of it, no.I'm still in disbelief we're actually going to wind up doing it.

And I kind of like the idea of an admirable failure. Like that Lil Wayne song "Prom Queen," which is a terrible, terrible song--and I love Lil Wayne--but that song is not very good. But at least he tried. And I love it--if you're going to go out, you might as well go out swinging.

When you fail big, it's still like...it still leaves room for people to kind of look at it years later, and go you know, why didn't that work? like Tuft by Fleetwood Mac.

I love rap music in general but like...Lil Wayne, especially on those Dedication II and Drug Free and Tha Carter III, I think he kind of hit an artistic stride, and now I think we're kind of witnessing maybe the drought after the storm type thing with that "Prom Queen song. I think it's going to be interesting to watch it happen nonetheless.

You look at someone like Kanye West, and there's no doubt that he's really talented, but he's not terribly interesting. Even, like, Jay-Z. Jay-Z is probably the best MC of all time but once again, his last couple records haven't been terribly exciting. With Lil Wayne, even when [his music is] bad, it's exciting.

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