Fucked Up

Now that Fucked Up has ended its banner year, rumors of questionable origin have begun to plague the band, somewhat mimicking the early days where the band themselves deliberately disbursed misinformation. Last year found the Toronto band releasing their critically acclaimed David Comes to Life LP, a meta-concept album that tied the band themselves into a story about blowing up a factory in 1980's England. But, after the accolades came pouring in, stories of the band's demise, lead vocalists quitting, and rampant dysfunction quickly followed in the wake.

Now, Fucked Up is releasing the fifth of twelve planned twelve inches dedicated to the Chinese Zodiac, Year of the Tiger. To get to the bottom of these mysteries, staff writer John Gentile spoke to lead vocalist Damian Abraham where they covered Abraham's status in the band, Year of the Tiger, and Gentile's (one sided) vendetta against the band concerning a Fucked Up song writing credit attributed to a certain Ted Leo…

First up, let’s clear the air. There have been suggestions that you quit Fucked Up. Are you still in the band?
I am still in the band. The rumors of my departure were greatly exaggerated. It was nothing that dire. We kind of ended the year on the best possible tour. It was ridiculous and really amazing way to end the year, touring with the Foo Fighters.

Interesting. Foo Fighters are a great rock band, but they aren't as… say avant-garde… as Fucked Up, if you will. Did you have trouble bringing Fucked Up's weirder elements to a stadium?
When you are the opening slot, it doesn’t matter if you are opening for Tool, or for James Blake- at the end of the day, all you are is the band onstage just filing the time before the band everyone came to see. As long as you don’t expect the audience to freak out about you, it’s fine. You kind of go in with no expectations and then it’s always surprising how well it goes. I’m not going to pretend we won over the Foo Fighter audience completely. You’re not going to win over everyone by being an opening act. But, there was never a day we got bottled. One day, someone pushed me from behind and I was pissed off! But, after the show, I found out it was Steven McDonald from OFF!. I had no idea that he was gonna be there and there I was blaming all the Foo Fighters fans!

So, if Fucked Up had a great year, and things are slowing down, is the band on a hiatus, then?
We’re not on hiatus. We’ve definitely reduced the work load. We’re not touring as heavily. We’re taking some time off from touring, but we’re doing some shows. We’re dong the Bruise Cruise. We’re playing Kingston, and things like that. We’re not on hiatus so much as we are on a break.

You're winding down from the monumental success that was the David Comes to Life LP. What's next for the band?
We just finished Year of the Tiger. Also, we just finished our side of a split 12 inch with the Melvins. That's the dream come true. On Year of the Tiger, we did something with Jim Jarmusch. I’m meeting all these people that I worship, so when it comes to the end of the day, I want to keep finding a way to do it. Right now, I have my heart on Veronica EP.

It's interesting that you are on a split with the Melvins. I notice that the Melvins were also mentioned as inspirations in he sleeve notes to David. What is your connection to the band?
They were just a huge inspiration to us in the beginning. They are still one of our huge inspirations. You can’t name too many bands that have had such artistic integrity and managed to be a functional band. We just got to meet them on tour and went on tour with them in Australia. We are really just fans, and becoming friends with them, was amazing. They were just a band, and we got to meet them and [Melvins drummer] Dale Crover turns out to be the nicest human being ever.

I feel that the Melvins analogy is quite apropos. Like the Melvins, it seems to me that Fucked Up has continued to rapidly evolve, all while retaining a sort of core identity.
The big thing for us, you do a band, you want people to like your band, but there also comes a time in a band when people want you to do the same thing over and over. So, it’s better to just do what your doing- if they don’t like it well, they’d be sick of the same old thing anyways. The Melvins have always done what they wanted and done the cool thing no one sees coming.

Year of the Tiger has a spot on it featuring Jim Jarmusch. What was it like working with the famous filmmaker?
Jim Jarmsuch! There are certain things that are like unbelievable and awesome, and, "I can’t believe this is happening," but many of those things, for us, were still within the realm of music. With the Foo Fighters, it was still within music- not that we ever saw it coming, but it was in the same galaxy as us. Jim Jarmusch, we never saw it coming. I think he’s one of the greatest contemporary film makers. To get him to do this is insane, and to find he liked the band was ridiculous! Were sitting in the studio, with Shane Stoneback, our engineer, and he had Jim Jarmsusch’s number. So, we called him and found out he was into it, and a fan, and next thing, it was happening. That’s Jim Jarmusch! That’s Down by Law… that’s not some guy that used to be in a punk band

But, I should mention that Jim was in a fantastic new wave band called the Del-Byzanteens. They did a 12 inch and a 7 inch on Don’t Fall Off the Mountain Records. I went up to him and said I really loved the band, and he could not believe that I knew about it. My secret weapon is that I’m a huge nerd.

According to the Fucked Up blog, the lyrics to Year of the Tiger are literally about a tiger, which seems to be different than the bands often ambiguous lyrics. Is the song really about a tiger?
I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Mike. We are going to play Year of the Tiger on Tour.

I’m the type of the person that can’t enjoy instrumental music. I have no musical ability, and lyrics are really important to me. I have not always succeeded, but I’ve always tried to make sure that the lyrics have always stood up, and within the context of the music. Bands like Pulp and Morrissey, and even Sam McPheeters from Born Against- those are some of the greatest lyricists. Jarvis Cocker, Morrissey, you listen to those lyrics and they are heavily referential, and I think it adds to the music, it gives something to go back to, and really to investigate.

What a lot of people don't know, is that you write a fair share of Fucked Up's lyrics, and, really, your lyrics are quite unique. But, the first thing magazines always mention about you is that you're a big guy with a beard. Is it ever frustrating for you that your physical presence seems to take precedent over your lyrical ability?
I think I got frustrated in the beginning. The people would assume we are a violent band and that we carried ourselves on stage that way and that we would hurt people. But, we never did. People are going to come to the band for any number of reasons. Maybe they heard we went on tour with such and such, so they’re gonna come to any band for any variety of reasons and they think it’s gonna be scary, but then, if they like the lyrics, that’s fantastic. That’s why I liked playing with the Foo Fighters.

I also find it interesting that you are so willing to hand the mic to co-vocalists. For example, guys such as KRS-One aren't going to hand the mic to anyone. Why are you so willing to let other people handle vocal duties?
But I am no teacher! I am but a student of KRS. I look at the band, and think, so much emphasis is put on the band because of how I look and the nature of our performance. I think of the band as Mike, Jonah, Josh, Sandy, Ben, and myself all working together. I just like the idea of bringing in other sounds. I don’t look at it like me stepping down. For example, when we listen to a song, and think that it needs an additional sound, we just bring in an organ and the player and try it out. It’s always been in our nature to bring in different sounds for Fucked Up. Fucked Up continues to make music, adding other flavors. I really enjoy second vocals. People listen to early Neurosis with two vocalists, and it’s amazing. I think just adding other dimension to the music revitalizes it.

Fucked Up is often thought of as a band of people that don't really get along. But, you are a touring band, so is this disconnect overstated?
I think the most telling thing is this. There’s footage of Johnny and Joey during the very last Ramones show. They’re walking off and Johnny and Joey are walking side by side, and they don’t say anything at all to each other, and they just walk off into their separate dressing rooms. I think that’s really telling, not that anyone in the band hates each other. We certainly love each other like siblings. We’re definitely constantly at odds. I think that’s the thing, you can do it, and still be a band, and stop being friends. Black Flag was still a band, even through their circumstances. The hardship is not being in a band, but maintaining the friendship. Like Oasis, how long were those two not speaking but they were still in a band together.

But if you guys don’t get along to that extent, how is it physically possible to write music together?
That’s why Josh was there. Josh was a good secondary voice, but was also peacekeeper. Not that Mike and I were gonna come to blows in the food court, but at the same time, we were at an impasse of dealing with each other.

A year and a half ago, I interviewed Fucked Up guitarist and Mike Haliechuk. I asked him about the mysterious "T. Leo" and "Nanker-Pheldge" credits that appear on early Fucked Up recordings. He told me That Ted Leo wrote all of Fucked Up's early songs, but I think he was just slapping this poor journalist around. What's the real story behind those credits?
The "T. Leo" is actually "Tio Leo." Tio Leo is a fake name Mike used when we would play fake pranks on the internet and I think he used it when he was arrested one time. As far as the Nanker-Pheldge reference from The Rolling Stones, you’d be hard pressed to find a more important rock band than the Rolling Stones. They are one of those great bands, and it’s a fun thing to reference that long history of music. That’s one of my favorite things, to have songs references that are lifting lyrics, that are almost like a quote to another song, to take a Ramones line and work it into David Comes to Life. I love the ideas of playing with the pop culture lexicon. Look at Redd Kross referring to Linda Blair and The Beatles, and I think that’s so awesome. That’s what I love about punk rock, is how self aware it is.

Any last comments?
I’m not just saying this because of the interview, or to butter up you guys, but I am a huge loyal reader of Punknews. I gotta say, after being on a magazine cover, nothing brings you back down to earth like reading the comment section. That’s the nature of internet comments. I think more bands should read their internet comments, to get an idea of what people really think. Also, you would be surprised about how many punk legends read Punknews… I’m not gonna blow up any spots, but it’s more than you would think…