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Fucked Up

Fucked Up

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Saturday 3rd December, 2011 10:49PM

Fucked Up released their third official studio album this year. A rock opera called David Comes to Live it was critically acclaimed and continued their charge into progressive and challenging territory. UTR caught up with front man Damian Abraham to discover that they're not breaking up, Dave Grohl is a really nice guy and that if you want to write a rock opera all you have to do is hang out in a mall with your pals.

How are you?

I’m doing great, thanks! We’re in Melbourne right now and it’s my perfect weather, it’s kind of rainy and cold. I’m not a big heat person so these are my ideal weather conditions.

How’s the tour going?

Ridiculous, amazing. We’ve played one show so far so I should knock on wood when I say that. The myths about The Foo Fighters being the nicest band in the world are totally true. So so true. And they’re crew too, everyone in their crew are awesome and they’ve been taking really good care of us. I can’t believe we’re able to do this I really can’t, it’s so weird that we’re in position to do this.

It’s must feel pretty surreal to be sharing a bill with arguably one of the biggest bands in the world?

Oh absolutely, but the even weirder thing is that the Foo Fighters were one of the first bands I ever saw when I started going to shows as a kid. I went to see them when I was 14 on their first tour they were the openers and to think that I’m on tour with them now is crazy. And the first thing that I bought that got me into punk rock was 1991: The Year Punk Broke. It’s a documentary about Sonic Youth and Nirvana’s tour of Europe. I remember seeing Dave Grohl on that video and being like ‘man that guy just seems so awesome, I have to meet him’. And here I am on tour with him, it’s mind boggling.

Also Nate (Mendel) the bass player used to play in this band called Brotherhood who are one of my favourite bands of all time other members were in The Germs No Use for a Name and of course Dave Grohl was in this little band called Nirvana, but also Brain Damage and Mission Impossible and it’s just like holy jesus! We’ve played three shows with them so far and it just feels so weird. It’s so awesome and so weird to see these people walking backstage and chilling with us.

Kind of like the history of the music you love personified?

Totally! I'm just a nerd about independent music from everywhere and that’s why I’m really looking forward to coming to New Zealand, the land of Flying Nun Records – the legendary Flying Nun records!

We've had the best month over here because it's Flying Nun's thirtieth anniversary.

Oh is it? I knew that actually I’m sorry. I’ve only ever seen The Clean but I would love to see The Bats. I think the first Bats recordings are some of the most beautiful music ever made by human beings; they’re so gorgeous. And even the smaller, lesser known bands like The Double Happys and things are awesome! It’s such an incredible label and testament to what happens when you have a scene that’s properly represented by a record label. Now there’s a history of New Zealand pop music that’s going to carry on because of Flying Nun, but sorry I totally left your question behind…

That’s OK. So we’re talking about lineages, and about being part of a musical lineage...

Yeah so it’s like the guitar tech's tour managed some of my favourite bands of all time. Like there’s a guitar tech who tour managed Poisoned Idea from ’84-’90. Everyone on this tour - I punish these dudes to get these stories from them.

But you’re starting to become an influential band for the next era of punk and you’ve just released a record this year that was critically acclaimed for its progressive nature; it’s a rock opera, right?

Yes. Some people say it’s a concept record but I’d say it’s a rock opera myself.

What made you want to write a rock opera?

I think for us the reason we wrote this record was because we finished the last record and we were like 'no-one’s going to care about the next album we put out' because we had an insurmountable level of hype put on our last record. So we were like ‘let’s just do this weird rock opera thing that we’ve been joking about’ and so we start writing the music and Mikey (Haliechuk) our guitarist and I were fighting over writing the story.

We eventually finished recording just about all the music and we were still without any lyrics or storyline so we sat down in this mall that is equal distance from all our houses and we wrote the story out over three sessions of hanging out in this mall eating French fries and drinking smoothies, you know.

It was weird, there were bad ass teenagers sitting around and then there’s like old Portugese people that hang out in the mall too and then there’s us at this mall with our table covered in pieces of paper and a computer trying to write down these notes for the story line.

Where was the starting point for this crazy tale you tell on David Comes to Life?

I think we just kind of sat there and thrashed it out. We picked the setting first. We knew we didn’t want it to be in North America and we kind of thought the UK because of the rise of DIY culture, and also this simultaneous rise of this dark spectre of Thatcherism. It was a really interesting time because you had an incredibly democratic empowering thing like DIY culture where anyone can do anything because the music production was placed in the hands of kids again, but also you have this giant political machine that’s punishing and hurting people and pulling jobs and making people suffer. As they say it was the best of times it was the worst of times. That was our jumping off point.

We knew we had a character named David that we had to write it about and it just all fell together really quickly after that and then Mikey and I went back to our separate notes about what each song had to convey and started writing in the lyrics.

But also there’s this weird history in punk of the rock opera; the concept record. There’s an Integrity record Seasons in the Size of Days for example and there’s just this sort of unspoken lineage of the concept record. It’s like the dirty secret of the pretentious side of punk rock; I like to think we stumbled into that world.

Why do you think it’s punk rock as a genre that courts this kind concept record?

Um I think punk has always been about reclaiming. When you hear the interviews with these people they often just wanted to reclaim the energy of rock and roll. You talk to The Ramones and they’re like ‘yeah we just wanted to hear stuff we grew up listening to on the radio’ and not what was going on at the time. There’s nothing inherently evil about the rock opera but it has been an abused little genre. I think with us it was part of the constant experiment to reclaim things. The rock opera has always been something that bands have wanted to reclaim, and also it’s pretty fun to write a record that has a storyline and you know you have to convey particular messages at particular points; I love doing that. This record was more fun to write - even though it was harder - because you knew what way you were going with the songs and it was harder to write because you had to sing or write about your own personal tragedies to put yourself into the songs.

This isn’t the first time Fucked Up has done something that has been considered different or progressive

-pretentious, you can say pretentious –

- OK, but you guys are known for doing these left-of-centre things that are new and rather than reclaiming ground that was lost you’re kind of forging new directions. Is that something that's core to the Fucked Up philosophy?

Well I think for us so much of being a band is about repetition; playing the same songs and doing the same things so when you get the chance to go into the studio why not try something new? You’re in there you might as well try something kinda fun because people are gonna get sick of your band if you do the same thing and people are going to get sick of your band if you change things too much. So if you change things at least it’s going to stay interesting for you as a member of the band.

It’s always been a thing for our band – keep it exciting for us. If people like it they like it and if they don’t well we can always go back to working normal jobs because we never planned on this becoming a full time thing. We’ve been so lucky.

Back to talking about DIY there’s this seven inch by a band from the UK called The Desperate Bicycles and I think The Desperate Bicycles are one of the most important bands of all time because they were the first band that said ‘anyone can be in a band’. I truly believe that and I think this band is an example of that. You feel so blessed and lucky - I don’t want to say blessed that makes me sound like a Christian rocker. But you feel fortunate that you get to experience these things and here you are able to go into the studio and try new things so you might as well go into the studio and experiment and try just figuring things out.

Of all these experiences – playing 12 hour shows, writing rock operas – what has been your favourite experience, the game changer experience?

We played a show in Barcelona and we flew there from a European tour that was a little thankless to say the least. I remember playing this show and it was in a squat in Barcelona and I could not believe that here we were, really far from Toronto, Canada, and all these kids are singing along to our music. That to this day one of my favourite shows of all time because I could not believe that we had entered people's consciousness so far from home. It was so unbelievably humbling and flattering. That show to me will always stand out as being about the power of the music – not the power of music in a cheesy way. But the ultimate goal you have as a musician is to touch people and if you can touch people from other parts of the world who don’t even share the same mother tongue it’s unbelievably humbling and flattering all at the same time.

At the start of the interview you mentioned the tour was going well. What are these rumours floating around about not wanting to tour anymore?

Well you know the thing that’s amazing about touring is that hour you get to play the show; it's the best. Unfortunately it’s the other 22 hours of the day when you’re away from home, missing your family and you’re in a band with people that you’re not talking to because you’ve been in a band with them for 10 years and you literally have nothing left to say to each other. That’s when it’s hard. This right now isn’t a tour it’s a vacation. As much as I miss my family and my son and my wife I am on a vacation. I am in springtime in Australia and New Zealand and it’s winter back home and I’m on tour with the Foo Fighters - like this is ridiculous I should not be able to do this.

I’m really worried people think I’m taking it for granted when I say I don’t want to tour any more and it’s not that I’m taking it for granted and it’s nothing against the people that support our band at all. I’m unbelievably touched that people like our band – cannot express how awesome that feels – but at the same time you just begin to resent the people in your band and around you. You begin to miss home and I think after a while everyone in a band looses their mind. I really think this year I lost my mind. There were parts of this year when I was like yelling at the people in my band and screaming at everyone and looking back at it I’m like ‘that’s not the person I am and I don’t want to be that person’ so I think we’re going to take a break but we’ll still do stuff during the break. Sometimes you just need to take a break and remember why you still love each other.

And it must be hard you’ve been a band for such a long time and your lives and priorities must just have changed quite a lot?

Exactly. And it changes just how you relate to each other and you grow up and your interests change. Over ten years all of us have changed as people and the people that hung out with each other ten years ago probably wouldn’t come together and hang out now and yet we do because we’re in a band together. You find yourself asking how you got into this position, but you get to this point where it’s like ‘how do we get to do these things’ so you share that with your band mates and I think we just need a bit of a break to remember why we care about each other.

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