Fucked Up Talks Influences, Pro Wrestling, And How Hard it is to Get Pot on Tour Ahead of July 4th Show

by | Jul 3, 2014 | MUSIC

I imagine whenever my parents think of the punk rock shows I like to attend, they probably envision crusty-looking, long-haired hippies and freaks headbanging and thrashing about to bands with vile and offensive names, which often are profane and reference drug culture.

I imagine whenever my parents think of the punk rock shows I like to attend, they probably envision crusty-looking, long-haired hippies and freaks headbanging and thrashing about to bands with vile and offensive names, which often are profane and reference drug culture. Sure enough, on July 4, Strange Matter will be hosting Fucked Up and Weed, some of Canada’s top current alternative music exports.

Fucked Up will be returning to Richmond after a 5-year absence, touring on their most recent release Glass Boys, which came out last month. Opening the show will be the recently revived Dry Spell (Vinyl Conflict Records), and Slugz.

Don’t forget to come out and make it the most spectacular and memorable 4th of July you’ll spend with some non-American bands at your favorite local venue/bar/arcade. We spoke with Damian Abraham, Fucked Up’s lead singer, ahead of the show this week.

Glass Boys just came out about a month ago. What can you say about this record compared to David Comes to Life and the rest of your discography?

I think Glass Boys came out of a really angry place, and then it transitioned more to a melancholy or joyous place, I guess. Ultimately, it’s about getting old and looking back, assessing how you would judge yourself, how your younger self would look at your older self and vice-versa. It’s a conversation between an internal generational divide… hopefully that doesn’t sound too pretentious.

Because that’s a theme on this record, the dichotomy of playing music when you’re young compared to older, what do you tell younger bands that are getting popular and starting to tour? In other interviews with Fucked Up, members have said they didn’t plan on getting this big. How does that happen?

It’s hard to say. I have no certainly have no regrets at all about how things have played out for our band, but there are plenty of bands that came up with us, had opportunities extended to them and decided not to go for it–whether it’s not signing to a bigger label, not trying to tour more–because they didn’t want that. Ultimately, the only advice I can give to another band is to do what feels comfortable. Obviously, when you become a professional band, or a full-time touring band, there are compromises that will have to be made as far as the shows you play, the festivals you play, things like that. If you’re okay with things like that in the end, it’s a pretty amazing ride to get to be able to tour and play for people that had no idea about your band.

Another theme on Glass Boys is the role of money in the music industry. For a band from Canada that’s won monetary prizes [such as the Polaris Award] for selling the most records, what’s that like? Also, I’ve always heard rumors that if you’re a band or musician from Canada, the government gives pretty nice subsidies, deductions and tax breaks. Confirm or deny?

No, it doesn’t work like that. There’s a program called FACTOR and it is like an arts funding program. You can apply every time your tour and they can help cover some of the expenses of your tour. There’s no guaranteed money, and we never actually got any until we won the Polaris Prize. I think that’s the moment when it got established anyway. But prior to that, that was something that was never an option for us. Certainly, I’d be lying if I said every Canadian band got that.

That being said, would you say there is no difference in the challenges of being a band from either the US or Canada?

In Europe, there’s a lot more arts funding too. It’s just something in America of the neo-conservative attitude that’s risen, that arts funding is constantly under attack. The cost of art funding is minute compared to war funding. Like, the nuclear power plant that’s being built in Ontario is far more expensive than any arts funding. It’s just the reality of the world. But it is awesome when you get it. Unfortunately, in Canada it’s only established bands that really get it, not the younger bands or up-and-coming bands that really need it.

When I first got you on the phone you said it was your son, Dorian’s birthday (Happy Birthday). You also have a son named Holden, another literary reference. Your lyrics throughout Fucked Up’s discography have often been ambitious, poetic and inspired by literature and art. What are some books that have really inspired you and your writing?

I appreciate you say I’m well-read. I wish I could say I was better read. I’ve just always found a lot of joy or interest in reading. David Peace, he’s a huge author for me. He’s written a lot of historical fiction, through a sort of left-spectrum, looking back on like the miners’ strike in England or looking back on Thatcher in England, or even Japan after the Second World War. Ever since Propagandhi introduced me to Noam Chomsky, I’ve read a lot of him. He looks at things that are complex, scary concepts, and tries to ground them in reality and makes you think about how we can get together and change the world. I also like a lot of music biographies and pro wrestler biographies.

You talk about pro wrestling in a lot of interviews.

We could talk about wrestling for hours. Actually, Daniel Bryan, when he was with Ring of Honor, used our song “Generation” as his theme song. It was one of the biggest thrills of my life, being part of Daniel Bryan’s career, one of the greatest wrestlers of this generation. I’m a footnote in it.

On the topic of wrestling, it seems it’s sort of synonymous with punk rock in some ways. I know the band Night Birds put out Maimed for the Masses last year on Fat Wreck Chords, and that was a psuedo-love letter to Mick Foley of Mankind/Cactus Jack/Dude Love fame. Do you see that connection between punk rock and wrestling?

There’s definitely similarities. Punk rock is real, but with a band like KISS, when you’re going out as a character, it’s a performance, like wrestling. Wrestling is real, but it’s also a performance. You’re not going out to see guys have a real fight, you’re seeing them perform. It’s not like you’re going to a show to see a guy have a real nervous breakdown on stage, you’re going out to see them perform a nervous breakdown on stage. It’s real, but it’s still performance. That’s kind of what a show performance is like when it’s best. You don’t actually want to see a nervous breakdown. I’ve had those and it doesn’t make for a good show at all.

Punk rock and wrestling both go back to the roots of it. Way back when, there were themes by the guys from The Dictators–their guitar player wrote a theme. The guy who was the lead singer of The Bomb wrote about pro wrestling. There’s kind of a concurrent thread, like wrestlers from Cleveland, big burly guys, talking about punk rock there and referencing it.

It’s crazy. There’s this wrestler Robbie Brookside, who’s an old British wrestler who trains people at NXT, and that dude started posting playlists on Twitter, and he’s the most down with punk dude I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s so varied too–crust punk, oi!, Ebullition [Records], power-violence stuff… everything, all of it.

CM Punk, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose is also apparently a punk rocker, Davey Richards has a Youth of Today tattoo, which is crazy. I think punk rock and wresting attracts people who are marginalized from the larger pop culture in a weird way. Not every wrestler is like that, obviously, because there are some people already pre-engaged with terrible culture.

It’s well-known that you’re not huge on touring and that you suffer from anxiety. You’re also a well-known medical marijuana advocate and user. You’ve said that it’s helped with that anxiety, but what about on tour? With a new record out, does that help ease that anxiety at all, just being excited about people hearing new material you’ve been working on for a while?

It’s not the discomfort of touring that I find hard. I get really anxious around new stimulus. I look back when I was a kid, I’d have these freak outs when new material would be presented to me. It was never defined as a learning disability, because I had no problem actually learning the material. It was just a panic reaction to it. I look back at that now, and thinking about touring, it’s just a new environment every day. Now that I have kids, it just exacerbates it all.

It’s weird. I’m definitely more excited that we have new songs to play, because it’ll make the performance different, but it’s always going to be the unknown about that performance that makes me freak out, like maybe no one’s going to show up for a show. I think it’s a thing I’ll always have.

Weed definitely helps me cope with it. The thing with touring though is it’s difficult to find, impossible in some places, so I’ll have to go back to anxiety medication, which sucks. Anxiety is something I look at and realize it’s been a huge part of my life. I didn’t go on our first European tour because I had a panic attack, so they took a different singer.

I look on the anxiety now and I consider myself lucky. I’ve tried to quit this band dozens of times over the years, but the guys in Fucked Up have always helped me and found ways to work around it. Also, without anxiety, I wouldn’t have any lyrics, I wouldn’t be the person I am and doing the things I’m doing, kind of weirdly living my dream of being in a band and being as popular as we are. I wouldn’t want to be any more popular than we are. I’ve always wanted to be in a band no bigger than The Melvins, because that’s the music I like. It’s all through anxiety in a weird way. The lyrics, freaking out on stage, being in the band–it’s like, without this thing I’ve hated my whole life, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing.

Fucked Up is a pretty huge and well-respected band within the greater alternative music scene and even in some of the more critical, independent circles and subcultures of it. What can you say about Fucked Up having found that success, but still “staying true” to your roots as a hardcore punk band?

I think we’re really lucky. I think it’s because we never changed. We changed what we did musically a little bit, but I don’t think it was ever a conscious thing, where I started singing or adding melodic vocal parts. We always tried to be Fucked Up. Everyone else in the band still loves DIY, punk and hardcore. All the music I still listen to is hardcore, it’s really what I like – and Cam’ron – but I think it’s because we never tried to turn our backs. We never said anything like “let’s move on and be a real band,” because the only music that’s real to me is punk and hardcore.

It changes you for life. I had friends in high school who were like “ravers” and stuff–now they’re just normal people. Everyone I know who was into punk and hardcore has changed in a real way. Even if it’s by acting normal, they’re still changed by it. I started doing podcasts, interviewing people about punk rock, and I just interviewed Richard and Jeremy from The Arcade Fire about how much they were shaped just by going to DIY basement shows and being shaped by being a punk rock kid. It’s like the one genre – well, i’m sure there are others – that can change you in a really profound way.

When was the last time you guys played Richmond? I’m sure you know Richmond has a long history of breeding punk and metal bands. Your vocals actually often remind me of Tim Barry from Avail. What are some of your favorite Richmond bands/labels?

It might have been the after-party for the last No Way Fest. It’s been awhile, probably not since before David Comes to Life came out that we played Richmond.

Mike would be mortified, but Avail is one of my favorite bands. One of the greatest live bands I’ve ever seen. There were Avail shows I saw where there were tears in my eyes because they were just that good. I remember the last time they played Toronto, they were opening for some band at this huge club, and I gave Tim our “Litany” 7” and told him he was a huge inspiration to me. I love that band.

No Way Records, Direct Control, Government Warning, Down to Nothing, War Hungry, and they’re from Virginia Beach but Wasted Time. Those bands are amazing. I’m trying to think of some older bands… like Graven Image, they put out a really cool 7″.

It seems like there’s so many different types of scenes in Richmond. I know Brandon from Direct Control was also in Municipal Waste. Toronto’s sort of the same way. Once a few things started happening it went all over the place, but it’s all loosely connected within the same community.

You guys invited Weed to come along and play this short tour this month. What made you want to bring them along?

They’re a really cool band. We’ve played them a couple of times on the show I do in the last year. A lot of us in the band are really into them. There’s no better feeling than playing with a band you really like every night. There’s no worse feeling seeing a band you’re dreading every night. We’ve always tried to bring bands we like. Mike’s always been really good about finding bands that are fun to see every night.

You’re playing Strange Matter here on July 4. Lots of people are going to be spending “The American Holiday” watching two touring Canadian bands that night. Have you guys ever been here on the 4th of July? Have any special plans to celebrate our great and wonderful holiday?

We’ve definitely been in the states for the 4th. I sort of look at every Fucked Up show as a celebration of American culture, at least as in the sense of rock n’ roll, wrestling, and now, marijuana. I remember seeing an Avail video where they made everyone do the pledge of allegiance before a show. I think it’d be awesome if a Canadian band made a bunch of people do the pledge of allegiance. I don’t know it by heart though.

Maybe we’ll make it ultra Canadian celebration in response that day, we’ll have the SCTV theme song and Kids in the Hall theme song, talk about Drake trivia in between songs. We’ll celebrate Canadian culture.

Tickets to Fucked Up’s show tomorrow night at Strange Matter are still available, but they’re going fast. Get yours at http://fuckedup.eventbrite.com now!

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

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