I was definitely not one of those people anxiously awaiting the release of David Comes to Life, the latest by Canadian hardcore sextet Fucked Up. I will say this much, I love the band’s name. I have several Fucked Up songs on my iPod, but that’s just because I hope somebody will ask what I’m listening to and I can lure them into an Abbott and Costello “Who’s On First”-esque routine. (“It’s Fucked Up,” I’ll tell them. “Yeah, I know,” they’ll respond. “But what’s the band’s name?” “It’s Fucked Up,” I’ll repeat. And so on.)
But nothing about David Comes to Life sounds like a good time to me. For one thing, it contains a meaty 18 songs, and sitting through 18 songs worth of hardcore punk — which, even at its best, can get a little screechy — is not my idea of listening pleasure. It also doesn’t bode well that David Comes to Life has been called a “rock opera,” which in most cases is rock n’ roll shorthand for “bloated and pretentious.” Before I heard the first note, asking if I wanted to hear the new Fucked Up record was like asking, “Would you be interested in having Pink Floyd’s The Wall shouted at you?” No, I really, really wouldn’t. But here’s the shocking truth: David Comes to Life is awesome. Seriously. And not just awesome because all the cool kids think Fucked Up is awesome. Legitimately awesome. It’s the kind of awesome record you’ll still be talking about in twenty years and going, “Remember David Comes to Life? That was fucking awesome.”
I called Damian Abraham, Fucked Up’s hirsute and oft-naked frontman, to talk about the new album, and my timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous. Just moments before I called him at his Ontario home, his dog jumped onto the bed with him and puked all over his chest. “I don’t have a shirt on,” he told me. “And as you probably know, I’m a hairy guy. So I got all that dog puke twisted up in my chest hairs.” When you’re talking to the the lead singer of a band called Fucked Up, you really couldn’t ask for a better context than shirtless and covered in dog vomit.
Eric Spitznagel: I gotta tell you, I was nervous when I heard that David Comes to Life is a rock opera.
Damian Abraham: You don’t like rock operas?
I really don’t. There’s a reason I listen to Who’s Next a lot more than Tommy.
See, that’s interesting, because Tommy is my favorite Who record. Maybe that’s my malfunction. I’ve always loved continuity and narrative, whether it’s in comic books or TV shows or anything else. And that’s especially true in music. I love that Danzig’s first three records are a trilogy. I love the idea of investing in a band. I’ve never been interested in sports, but I always thought it was great that people had their favorite teams and they followed those teams every year. I feel the same way about music. I’m not so much a fan of songs as I am a fan of bands.
Green Day’s rock opera, American Idiot, was turned into a Broadway musical. How long until David Comes to Life makes it’s Broadway debut?
Surprisingly, there have been no Broadway producers banging down my door. I haven’t heard from anyone. But you know what? I would love to see a high school do it. That would be my ultimate fantasy. A high school musical production of David Comes to Life. If there’s a sophisticated drama teacher out there — which I’m sure there is, because I’ve dealt with some drama teachers in my time — who wants to subject his kids to doing a musical based on a Fucked Up album, I would just love that.
If it does end up on Broadway, I have a feeling there’ll be just as many injuries as they had on Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
Exactly! This is going to be just like the Spider-man musical, except we won’t go back to previews because people are getting hurt. When somebody gets injured in this thing, we’ll just walk right over them. No, no, that’s not true. Anytime somebody falls down at a punk show, you have to pick them up.
Is that actually true? Because I’m been too scared to go to a Fucked Up show for that very reason. I’m convinced that I won’t make it out without at least a few dozen bone fractures.
No, no, certainly not. I love that there’s that element at our shows. There’s the threat of… no, not a threat, because that sounds too hostile. There’s an excitement and an energy and people are moshing and jumping around and having fun.
They’re also beating the shit out of each other.
Well yeah. But there’s also a lot of people who stand in the back and watch from a comfortable distance.
How old is too old to be in a mosh pit? What’s the age cut-off?
We played three shows in Holland not long ago, and I would say the average age at those shows was 53. Not that that’s bad. I wasn’t like, “Oh god, this is horrible. We only play to the kids.” But I remember during one of the shows, I walked out into the crowd and I realized, “Wow, I’m the youngest person here.” That was just insane. I’m 31, which I know is young, but in punk rock terms, I’m approaching my twilight years.
Until you get to Iggy Pop’s age. Then you’re cool again.
And I’m a lifer. I plan to keep doing this until I reach Iggy Pop’s age. Not performing. I don’t think I’ll still be in Fucked Up at that point. But I hope I’ll still be going to shows when I’m Iggy Pop’s age.
You have a tendency to get naked when you’re performing.
Not a little naked. A lot naked. Full-frontal naked.
I won’t show everything. It’s mostly just my upper torso and the back.
What’s that all about? Are you trying to keep ventilated?
Oh absolutely. When it started, I was terrified of taking off my shirt. I wouldn’t take my shirt off during intercourse for a long time.
Oh come on!
No, no, honestly. I was just mortified. But then we were playing at a festival in Austin, Texas, and a friend of mine, Scott, who plays in a band called Limp Wrist, he said to me, “You would look really good with your shirt off.” I was like, “Are you kidding me?” But he was like, “No, seriously. You should think about it.” So that night I took my shirt off, and it was a very liberating moment. It was like when Hercules puts on the magic ring in that old Hercules cartoon. I couldn’t go back. If I had to play a whole show with a shirt now, I’d probably have a heart attack. My whole body can sing and breathe when I take off my shirt.
As one hairy guy to another, I have to ask: Why don’t you shave the shoulders?
I tried! I asked my wife, because she’s a wonderful human being, to wax my back. And we got about four strips in and I was like, “You know what? I want to be hairy.” I just couldn’t do it. It was horrible. They don’t tell you this, but waxing makes you bleed. Your back is covered with little dew-drops of blood.
I’ve been there. I had a similar experience with my wife, and she nearly scalded my back with chemicals. I was like, “Fuck this, I’ll be a Wookiee.”
Yeah, exactly. There is no way I’m gonna let somebody do that to me again. And thankfully, being a little hairy has become my trademark. Enough that now when I take off my shirt, I’m more of a novelty than a freakshow.
Let’s talk about the band’s name. I love it, but I’m not sure I understand what it means. Is it “fucked up” as in “I got so fucked up on PBR last night?” Or like a general description of any situation? “Dude, that is fucked up.”
All of the above. It was definitely born out of a lot of anarchist stuff, and an old LA punk “fuck you” attitude. Mike (Haliechuk), our guitarist who kinda put the band together, took it from this band N.O.T.A. They have a song on their LP called “Fucked Up.” He loved it, and he wrote it all over the bathroom wall of the house we were living in at the time, which was a disgusting house that we really did not make better when we lived there. He was like, “That name would really look cool on a flyer.”
In a way, the name is a self-fulfilling prophesy. You’re never going to sell out when your band’s called Fucked Up. No matter how good the music is, you won’t be getting a call from Jay Leno. Al Roker will never be introducing you on the Today show.
Not really, no. I guess the name has ultimately been like a moral compass for us as a band. Any time there’s been a questionable choice, like “Hey, do we take money to do a commercial?” Which sounds like a good idea, because we don’t have any money, and money would be really good right now. But then the company backs out because of the name, and we’re like, “Oh okay, we’ll have to figure out money later.”
What’s the story behind the aliases? Everybody in the band has a fake name, like Pink Eyes, 10,000 Marbles, Mustard Gas, Mr. Jo, and Concentration Camp.
The aliases served a very functional purpose when we started the band. It was a way for us to get across the border into the United States. They’re very savvy at the Canadian-American border. They’ll Google your name, and if they find out you’re part of a band, then they’ll search you and start demanding visas and things like that. But with the fake names, they couldn’t find us on Google. It wasn’t like my passport said “Pink Eyes.”
Which is a good thing. If they Googled “Pink Eyes,” they’d probably find a few disturbing porn videos.
Exactly, exactly. The name actually came from a porn series.
You named yourself after a porn film title?
It came from another band I started just after college called I Misogynist. It was going to be an examination of misogyny in society. I majored in Women’s Studies in school, and I wanted it to be an extension of that. It was incredibly pretentious. I worked at a video store at the time and we would get these really insane catalogs for adult films that were horrific. I saw an ad for a film called “Pink Eyes.” I was looking at it, and I’m like, “That is the definition of misogyny.” You know what I mean? Ejaculating into an open eyeball is the definition of misogyny. There’s really no other way to describe what you’re doing. If you’re into that, you’re definitely into some degradation.
It’s not an expression of love.
No, it certainly isn’t. And I don’t mean to judge or disrespect anyone if that’s their kink. If two consenting adults want to do that, absolutely, more power to them.
Nothing would make me happier than if we got angry letters from people who like ejaculating into open eyeballs. “How dare this Mr. Abraham disrespect my lifestyle choices!”
That would be one group that I wouldn’t mind running afoul with. We’re just not going to see eye to eye on this. (Makes a “ba-dum ching” rimshot sound.)
You’ve got a two year old son, right?
That’s right. Holden.
You must have fans who run up to you and say, “Fucked Up! I love Fucked Up!” At some point, you’ll need to have a discussion with Holden about what daddy does for a living, right?
Well, so far I’ve been lucky. The people who want to talk to me because they enjoy our music are very polite and very friendly. But I hear what you’re saying. It is awkward.
Eventually Holden will ask about that word.
The “fucked” word? Yeah, yeah, of course. There’s no escaping it. Obviously hate speech is different. But I have no problem with swear words like ass and shit and fuck. I understand why people are offended, but it’s totally conditional. It’s a conditioned response to being offended by this random arrangement of letters. I think what we’re going to do is teach him that it’s not appropriate to say certain words around people that might be offended by it.
That’s easier said than done. I have a kid now, and my wife and I love to fucking curse.
That’s the thing, swearing is fun. Who am I to stand there and get so much enjoyment from swearing and then turn around and tell this beautiful little person that they can’t experience that same enjoyment? How old is your child?
He’s a baby. Just two months.
Oh, oh! Get ready! If you think he was beautiful the first moment he opened his eyes, you wait till the first moment he drops the f-bomb. That is a hilarious, amazing moment.
Did you name your son Holden because of Catcher in the Rye?
It was actually taken from the back of a Screeching Weasel record. My wife and I were discussing names, and I was moving around some records and I saw this song title on the back of a Screeching Weasel record, “I Wrote Holden Caulfield.” I think it was a response to a Green Day song called “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?” So I saw the title and I said, “What about Holden?” And my wife was like, “That’s amazing!” Ultimately, I think it was inspired by Catcher in the Rye, because that’s what Screeching Weasel and Green Day were talking about. This was before Ben Weasel went postal at SXSW. Now it would be wholly inappropriate to name a child after a Screeching Weasel song.
I know it’s been awhile, but I feel like we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about what happened at MTV Canada a few years ago.
We played the MTV station in Canada twice, and the first time we played, it was great. It was the best possible experience you could ever have. It was bloody and there was lots of moshing and things got broken but not too badly. And the MTV people were like, “That was so good, you have to come back. You can play our bathroom.” And we’re like, “Well, that sounds kind of interesting.” Have you ever seen the movie Class of 1984?
I haven’t. But I think Michael J. Fox was in it, right?
That’s the one. There’s an amazing scene where a motorbike rides through a bathroom. So I’m like, “Hey, we have a friend with a motorbike. He can he bring it and make it look like Class of 1984.” And MTV was like, “Sure!” After that, we wanted to make everything look like the movie, so we started spray-painting the walls. I’m not going to mention any names because I don’t want to throw anyone at Viacom or MTV under the bus, but there was somebody with a lot of authority who kept coming over to us and saying, “Do whatever the hell you want, man. Just go nuts.” I’ll admit, the ceiling tiles were my fault.
You were ripping off ceiling tiles?
I was, yes. The barricades they’d set up to keep the kids out of the bathroom, they didn’t have anybody watching them, so the kids broke through and unfortunately hit a cameraman. And then they came streaming in, knocked down a stack of amps and hit Mike our guitarist, who just left. It’s amazing when you watch the footage, you can see him take off his guitar and just walk out of the room. The rest of us kept playing.
Weren’t there accusations that you tried to blow up the building?
Yeah, yeah, it’s actually kinda funny. The motorbike got knocked over and all the gas started pouring out. Originally I had this idea that I was going to spray a sink with lighter fluid and then drop a match it it. But then I thought, “You know what? That might be a dumb idea.” So I didn’t do it. But I still had the matches there. After we got thrown out of the building, they found the matches and the gas leaking out of the motorbike and they assumed that we were trying to blow up the building.
I love this story so much. I think it just replaced the bathroom scene in Trainspotting as the most awesome filmed bathroom travesty of all time.
[Laughs.] Well thank you very much. That is high praise.
Is it true MTV sent you a bill for the damages?
Yeah, for $9000.
$9000? What the fuck? Were those bathroom tiles made from Ivory Elephant tusks?
I don’t know, man. Probably. We never paid it though. We didn’t sign a waiver before we played, so we didn’t have to pay the bill.
I hope that experience didn’t sour you on MTV.
Not at all! The people at MTV have always been like, “Yeah, we’re sorry you got into so much trouble for that.” It was whoever owned the building that wasn’t very pleased. We’re still technically banned from the building. But we had to go back a few years ago for the Polaris Awards, because the ceremony is held there, and the only way we were allowed into the show was if we signed a waiver that if anyone was injured during our set, regardless of whether we were involved or not, we would be liable. And we were frisked by police every time we came or left the building and before we walked onstage.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in MTVHive.com.)