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Toronto Punks Fucked Up Attempt the Most Un-punk of Records, the Rock Opera 

Thursday, Jun 9 2011
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"I'm not someone who blends into the woodwork. I don't have that kind of physique," says Damian "Pink Eyes" Abraham, the husky, hirsute frontman for Torontonian punk outfit Fucked Up. The critically acclaimed, notoriously dysfunctional band have released countless singles over the course of their decadelong career, while playing bat-shit-crazy live shows in which Abraham often ends up naked and/or bleeding. But the spectacle doesn't end there. In 2004, Fucked Up drew the ire of the PC-punk police for using a photo of a Hitler Youth rally on a 7-inch record sleeve. In late 2007, they filed a class-action suit (along with Xiu Xiu) against both Rolling Stone and Camel cigarettes for unauthorized use of their band name in a magazine ad. Somewhere in there, Fucked Up's fans famously trashed the studios of MTV Canada while the band played live. Twice.

But now, Fucked Up might be making their most controversial move yet. The band's third and latest full-length, David Comes to Life, is a 78-minute rock opera based around the tragic life of a young man who works in a lightbulb factory in an imaginary English town in the late '70s and early '80s.

Such high-concept sprawl might seem like the antithesis of punk, but Fucked Up have taken their vision of the rock opera to even more elaborate lengths: They've already released a compilation of fake bands (made up of Fucked Up and friends) called David's Town, which serves as a companion soundtrack. And Abraham says there are more companion recordings on the way. "Our attitude was pretty much 'go big or go home,' " he explains. "That's why I think this is going to be the definitive statement from this era of the band. It's the end of one phase and the beginning of another."

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DANIEL BOYD - Fucked Up, mellowed out
  • PHOTO BY DANIEL BOYD
  • Fucked Up, mellowed out

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L.A. WEEKLY: The David character appeared on Fucked Up singles long before David Comes to Life was recorded, and the would-be title track is actually on your 2006 album, Hidden World. What was the genesis of the character?

DAMIAN ABRAHAM: We were writing this song, "Ian Comes to Life," that was going to be on Hidden World. At the time, the lyrics were a tongue-in-cheek reference to our friend Ian, who upon hearing that we had signed to Jade Tree said he felt like he had been kicked in the nuts. He thought we had completely sold out by doing that. [Laughs] And then [guitarist] Mike [Haliechuk] had this idea for an imaginary manager/Svengali-type person called David Eliade. David would fill this role of being our spokesperson, and on a very practical level, being the person we could blame certain decisions on that we didn't want to have to make ourselves — like being asked to play shows we didn't wanna play. So the song became "David Comes to Life." Shortly after that, we had this idea about doing a rock opera.

Judging by the short documentary Matador recently released to promote the album, it seems like no one in the band can really explain the story line.

I think that's true. [Laughs] When I was writing these lyrics, I had to kind of get into the characters a little bit, and I ended up twisting them to fit my own personal feelings. So at least from my perspective, this is the most personal record I've ever written. But yeah, I don't think anyone in the band knows the story. We have a general idea of where it's going, but we all have our own ideas about how the details play out. I think the expressions are universal enough that they're not just tied to the characters, though. It's like Cats: You relate to what's-her-name, the tragic cat that's dying, because we all have bittersweet memories that we look back upon. So hopefully this is gonna be our Cats.

There are three companion records attached to David Comes to Life — a compilation of fake bands that are supposed to hail from the same town as David, and two more records in the coming year. This project seems like a ton of work.

The recording itself was spread out over eight months, between touring and studio time getting booked up by other bands that were a little more, uh, finite in their plans. [Laughs] We also had a situation where our engineer/producer, Jon Drew, who has recorded us for years, quit on us. He said he didn't want to work with us anymore.

Why not?

I think we're a very hard band to work with. I think most bands go into the studio together and have some kind of camaraderie. We used to do that, until suddenly we would be at each other's throats. So we started going into the studio in shifts. This time we had a story line we had to follow, so we had to work a little more closely together than usual, which occasionally made for a very tense working environment. [Laughs] So Jon bailed out for the sake of his sanity.

Much has been made of the fact that the members of Fucked Up don't get along particularly well. Has that changed at all lately?

It actually changed a little bit last summer, and that's because I broke straight-edge. I started smoking pot, and that caused me to mellow out a lot. And I've now come to see that a lot of the tension in the band was caused by myself, especially on tour. We still fight and we still don't have a lot in common, but as far as the open warfare that used to exist, that's my burden to bear for being the cause of it.

Why did you decide to break edge?

Well, I'd been on anti-anxiety pills and I hated the side effects. I decided to go off them right before we went to Europe. I find it very stressful to tour, which I realize sounds like the biggest first-world problem I could ever describe. [Laughs] "Poor me, I have to tour Europe!" But I went over there and had kind of a freak-out. Now, the last time we went to Europe, I had to go to a mental hospital in Denmark, and I didn't want that to happen again, so in a moment of desperation, I was, like, "Yo, pass that joint." And it worked. It took away all the stress. And the side effects aren't nearly as severe as the ones that come with the anti-anxiety pills. So I'm not drinking or taking other drugs, but marijuana is something I've taken to like a fish to water.

Why did you reach for a joint before a beer? Was it just a matter of what was immediately available?

I kind of debated this in my head for a while before I broke edge, but alcohol is something that I've always associated with severe family strife. It's not like I grew up with drunk parents or anything like that, but anytime alcohol was present, it always led to a disagreement. Also — shockingly — I have stomach issues, so the prospect of having gut-rot brought on by alcohol was not appealing to me. [Laughs] Hangovers don't appeal to me, either.

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