Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fucked Up interview with Damian 'Pink Eyes' Abraham

Never to be labelled as anything near conventional, it’s a strange concept to see Toronto punk kings and queens Fucked Up touring the world with Foo Fighters. It’s not an irony that lost on ferocious vocalist and basically most-punk-man-on-the-planet-right-now Damian ‘Pink Eyes’ Abraham – yet he maintains there are strong links between each member of the now stadium rockers and his punk rock upbringing. “When we first met the Foo’s on Toronto, we’d heard from our friends The Bronx who’d opened up for them, that they are the coolest people you will ever meet, prepare to be shocked,” he says. “And so I was like, yeah, how cool can they be? Let’s be honest, I’ve met some cool people.

“Nate [Mendel] from the band was in Brotherhood, one of the greatest hardcore bands of all time. They were one of the bands that got me through high school, I loved that band to death... Basically all of the band – with [members of] Sunny Day Real Estate and The Germs – played in a band that was so pivotal for my musical awareness.”

To backtrack, Fucked Up are now ten-year veterans of the punk rock scene. In that time they’ve delivered over sixty releases (mostly singles and odd-length 7”s and 12”s) including three studio albums. Their second full-length, The Chemistry Of Common Life, scored much critical acclaim and won them the Polaris Music Prize. Their live shows are notoriously brutal and their onstage antics have garnered respect and disdain in equal measures (MTV won’t be calling them back in a hurry). They famously played a 12 hour set at the Bowery in New York City in 2008 to celebrate the Chemistry... release and were joined by members of Vampire Weekend, Dinosaur Jr, Les Savy Fav and others on stage. They’ve (unsuccessfully) sued Rolling Stone Magazine and Camel Cigarettes, they’ve played ATPs and pretty well every other major festival in the world, they’ve just released their third album – an 18-track rock opera set in Thatcher’s England called David Comes To Life, for which they’re apparently penning a prequel – and they’ve even covered Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas for a fund raiser with members of Yo La Tengo and Broken Social Scene, along with Tegan & Sara, Bob Mould, Kyp Malone, GZA and more.

There’s no doubt they are a big fucking deal, yet Abraham’s warmth and modesty is disarming down the phone line. When I suggest the new record had me reaching for the liner notes like I was 14 again, he recalls a similar youth. “The best thing you can hope for in a band or for anyone who’s trying to do anything creative is that something you make is engaged with by other people... We live in a world now where you don’t necessarily have to engage with music, there’s not necessarily any cost to it so you can go and listen to it and process it and then move on. There was a time where I would pore over the liner notes and where I knew the lyrics to every single song.”

Though their roots run deep into the American hardcore of the ‘80s and ‘90s, Fucked Up express a variance in song constructs that suggest wider influences. Abraham confirms that his musical upbringing was as much Sonic Youth as it was Black Flag, and elaborates that it was more the idea of punk that moved him more than any particular sound. “A lot of the stuff that’s perceived as punk these days runs against what I perceive punk to be,” he continues. “But there’s always been a legitimate beating heart to the scene and y’know, you can’t stop an idea. The idea of DIY punk is a very powerful one if you’re a kid and a fan of music. You don’t really wanna be a cast from the heavens rock star, you just wanna be someone that plays music because you love it. DIY punk is a great way to make music and be involved in music because you just do it yourself and you literally take complete control of a situation. As a kid you have very little power in your life and here you’re given power. You don’t like the music you’re hearing then start your own band; you don’t like the bands that are coming to your town then book another band; you don’t like the records that are coming out then put out a record. It’s just so awesome that this idea never really died. And I don’t think it ever will die. It will continue getting co-opted and bands will keep ‘selling out’ and moving on but it’s gonna stay pure because there’s always a kid who’s gonna say ‘fuck that band in the mainstream, I want a band like this’.”

The early stages of Fucked Up saw distributors refusing to carry their material as it did not adhere to the usual confines of what a ‘release’ should be. They found like minds in Deranged Records who were happy to carry whatever they produced. The albums came slowly as the band grappled with the gravity of stringing a group of songs together in some sort of continuum. But after the success of Chemistry... they were confronted with an entirely new pressure. “After the last record we felt that we had an insurmountable amount of hype on us y’know. I really felt like we had hit a point where we were like ‘where the hell are we gonna go with this record?’ Chemistry... really felt like, it was really flattering, but it felt like they’d painted us into a corner in a way.”

Thankfully this external pressure played a large part in the development of the concept of David Comes To Life. “We thought we’d do this record that we wanted to do anyway and we were kinda like if people don’t like it, they don’t like it. So we made it a concept record with this idea we’d been playing around with for a long time.”

There has been much conjecture in recent weeks over the band’s future after Abraham was quoted as saying that he is sick of touring and needed a break. At least during this interview there is little indication of the band’s imminent demise, though he talks of an altered course. “I have a feeling this will be the last full LP with me as the sole vocalist of the band,” he says. “I’m pretty sure that’s the direction we’ll end up going in and that’s for a variety of reasons. Number one, I don’t wanna get the band to a point where it gets stale and you can’t really dial it back from a concept record. Where do you go? I guess a quadruple live record’s the logical progression [laughs]. We’re at that stage now where there’s gonna have to be some changes. And that’s not gonna happen tomorrow, but definitely down the line.” He adds that they’ve just completed The Year Of The Tiger and that they’re planning a prequel EP to the new record surrounding Veronica – the album’s leading lady. Diehard fans fear not... It doesn’t seem likely they’ll be tossing it away just yet.

Samson McDougall

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