F*cked Up: Punk’s Not Dead… It Just Got Smarter

You may assume that our playlists here at JUICE are full of hipster and EDM drivel and that our handphones are locked onto mindless, self-indulgent Twitter handles; but we assure you that our gasmasks and The Anarchist Cookbook are at arm’s reach at any given moment. If you too are tired of ‘indie’ folk and other types of pussified rock genres, then Canadian hardcore heavyweights F*cked Up might be the perfect salt for your wound. Taking the dissent of punk and hardcore and fueling it with artistic ambition has led to the release of their 2011 LP David Comes To Life which topped several tastemakers’ lists (hipster or otherwise) as album of the year. JUICE got on the good side of singer Damian Abraham (aka Father Damian/Pink Eyes) at the Hostess Club Weekender concert at Tokyo and talked about broken bones, Oolong tea, punk and hardcore’s place in the world today, and Harry Potter…

“I’ve never stage dived because I’m fat, and I know I’d crush people.” 

Are you straight edge?
I was straight edge for 16 years and I was on anti-anxiety medication. It was like two years ago, we played a show at Holland, Amsterdam, and I’ve had these panic attacks before where I had to go to the hospital especially when we’re in Europe for some reason. And just in a moment of weakness, I was like “Can I smoke some of that marijuana?” It worked better than my anxiety pills. So I went back and now I’m working on getting a prescription. It takes a long time to get in Canada but yeah, it works a lot better for me. But, here [in Japan] it’s a class-A drug so it’s not worth going to jail for.

How did you come up with the band’s name?
It’s actually from an old hardcore band called NOTA (None Of The Above). They had an album and on the back of the record, they had the song titled ‘Fucked Up’ and Mike, our guitar player was like looking at it, he said “That would be an awesome name to see on a flyer.”

Well, the name’s got shock value …
It’s meant to be shocking. It was meant to be a band that would play a couple of basement shows. We never thought we’d be, you know, talking to a magazine from Malaysia, playing in Japan. Playing in Japan was always our dream ‘cause we all grew up as punk and hardcore kids worshiping Japanese hardcore, like “When we make it we’ll get to go to Japan and play.” We never expected this. So it was a shocking name but we’re like, it will be shocking for our friends to see it on a flyer, never once thinking how will they say our name on TV and radio. We never thought anyone would have to worry about that.

Did you expect David Comes to Life to be a hit?
No, absolutely not. To be honest with you, we thought that The Chemistry of Common Life got the praise that it did get which was, once again we never expected to get praise, great! Then we won this award in Canada called The Player’s Prize, which is like a big Canadian award. So I kinda just assumed no one was going to like David Comes to Life no matter what just because that’s the way it goes. Normally people like one record, and then they hate the next one – that’s the way I work. It shocked me that people responded to it.

A rock opera done hardcore is kind of like putting a solo into a punk song, don’t you think?
Yeah exactly! But it does have a tradition. You’re right. It is something that intrinsically seems opposed, but there were like all these hardcore bands who did concept albums, albums with big ideas… my mind is blanking out probably cause’ I’ve had too much oolong high [tea]… well, there’s no marijuana! I think for us, it was Husker Du who had some records which had concepts running throughout and things like that. So it seemed kind of unnaturally natural in a weird way. I’ve always loved records that have some sort of theme that you trace throughout the record. I like the idea of being able to sit down and listen to a record start to finish and feel like you’ve been on a bit of a journey.

“[We] never once thought how would they say our name on TV and radio.” 

Do you recall your first gig?
Absolutely. Well it’s kinda weird actually. The first punk show that I went too was this band Die Cheerleader who had their album produced by Henry Rollins. So my friends and I were huge Black Flag fans, well, we knew nothing about Black Flag, we just knew a couple of songs but we were big Black Flag fans ‘cause we were 13. So we went to this show and we were thinking, “Well Henry Rollins produced their record, so he’s probably gonna be there with them.” So we went to see Die Cheerleader and Henry Rollins wasn’t there so I don’t really consider that my first punk show… I went to see Alice Donut and Nomeansno, some people may consider Nomeansno as a hardcore band and I definitely would, but I know some people wouldn’t. I think that was the first time I actually felt like I was going to a hardcore show – not just like a kid going to a show, but part of the hardcore community – it’s so gradual from going to those shows to kinda becoming involved. Going from being like a kid who’s going to their first punk show to being a guy that’s helping put on hardcore shows. That was the thing about hardcore that I loved. It’s that, you made your own scene.

Would you be opposed to playing a show for a big alcohol or tobacco brand?
I think, I would be opposed to it, but you kinda can’t help but do it, maybe tobacco is difficult in North America, but like liquor sponsorship, that sponsors every festival. It’s almost like when downloading kind of emerged, this sort of invisible morality code that bands subscribed to, like let’s not be too corporate, let’s not do this, let’s not do that, disappeared. And you had all these bands, you’d be hard-pressed now, see Propagandhi and Fugazi are probably two of the biggest bands that have never played any of those games. But, you can’t help it, you play at a festival, it’s sponsored by a beer company, you play this, it’s sponsored by this or that company, that’s almost like soft money, but it’s almost like hard money also when you do something directly for the company. We’ve never done it for an alcohol or tobacco company, but clothing companies have paid us to play shows, and it’s a real show, you’re playing and kids like your band, and that’s how you justify it. But at the end of the day, you’re like, Fugazi never did this.

“It’s almost like when downloading kind of emerged, this sort of invisible morality code that bands subscribed to, like let’s not be too corporate, let’s not do this, let’s not do that, disappeared.”

You’ve got a lot of symbols in your album’s artwork. Where are they from and what do they represent?
All sorts of places you know. I think everyone, especially Mike, in the band and myself, we have sort of this obsession about iconography, and the power of symbols. And when we first started the band, Mike was super obsessed with sigils, which is the idea of casting magic, that sounds like some Harry Potter sh!t, right? But it’s the idea of casting magic through the creation of symbols and the power of symbols, and I think it’s just something that we’ve always kinda been interested in, be it like ancient symbols from India or Germanic runes. Few things can invoke as much of an emotional reaction as a cross, or a peace sign, or a swastika, something about these symbols which have so much meaning in them, and I think for us it was just expanding on the sort of idea of the power of symbols, and also, we were casting sigils at the time, trying to do magic. Harry Potter shit [laughs].

Are you a Harry Potter fan?
My wife is a huge Harry Potter fan. The third one I though was a phenomenal movie. That was the one by the guy that did Y Tu Mama Tambien. I can’t remember. But anyway, he directed the third one, and that was amazing. But I only read the first book and I got bored. My ex-girlfriend made me read it. I think we broke up because I didn’t like it.

“I’d pass the mic to a kid to sing, and he’d bash his head in with it. I’d be like “why’d you do that?” and he’d be like ‘Oh, cause you do it! It’s cool!'”

Iggy Pop, who invented stage-diving, recently swore to quit it. Do you feel like you might mellow down later on in life?
I have definitely mellowed down. I’ve never stage dived because I’m fat, and I know I’d crush people. I’ve seen what Iggy does, and no one should do what he does, ‘cause he stage dove head-first into seats, full of people. I think you’re bound to mellow down. I hit a point a year ago where we played a show – I used to hit myself in the face with a microphone, bust myself up, bleed everywhere, and kids started doing that in the crowd, like I’d pass the mic to a kid to sing, and he’d bash his head in with it. I’d be like “why’d you do that?” and he’d be like “Oh, cause you do it! It’s cool!” So I think that caused the mellowing, it’s fun when I’m doing it but when someone else does it I feel bad for them. But yeah, it comes with time, it comes with realizing that your body can’t take that kind of abuse anymore, like in Iggy’s case, stage diving with your head must be a health risk.

Why this obsession with hurting yourself on stage?
It’s almost like there’s a blood oath that you swear to the audience. The audience have sacrificed their time, and their money, just to come to see you. So they’re giving you the right to perform for them. Without them there, there would be no one paying you, there would be no one there watching you, so it’s almost like when you get on stage, you owe them a show, you owe them an experience. For me, it’s always when I go to see shows, I like the physical component. Jonah from our band went on a tour with that band Forward from Japan and they were talking about this thing that you’re supposed to have, a hundred percent discharge when you’re on stage, like leave everything out on stage, and I think, that’s what I want to do, be it blood, be it sweat, be it whatever part of my broken bone or something, I want to leave everything out there. Now, I feel weird about doing the blood stuff, but I still want to leave everything out there.

Get F*cked Up at lookingforgold.blogspot.com. More interviews here.

Checkout Damian’s listening room in the vid below: