Fucked Up: Crazy/Beautiful
Blood-splattered gigs. Onstage meltdowns. Airport assaults. Nineteen-minute songs. They're called Fucked Up for a reason. The naked truth behind punk's ballsiest band.
Damian Abraham is a formidablelooking dude — he describes himself, accurately, as “a 300pound balding lead singer, covered in hair in all the wrong places” — and when he steps to a basement studio microphone in Toronto, he resembles a squishy giant preparing for combat. Abraham (a.k.a. Pink Eyes, a.k.a. Father Damian) is the frontman and default spectacle for Fucked Up, and tonight he’s recording the vocals for “Year of the Rat,” a 12minute single in which he doesn’t sing so much as tactically bark. Shoulders hunched, knuckles down and inward, Abraham takes a breath and emits the last line: “HhuurrrRRAAAAAATTTTTtttuuhh,” corrugating the word nearly beyond the point of recognition. Following each take, he teeters on the balls of his feet.
“You get the spins when you yell like that,” he says afterward, climbing upstairs to the studio’s engineering room, where his bandmates have gathered to listen to the playback. Though the members of Fucked Up occasionally augment their live shows with bleeding and/or vomiting, in person they exude a certain gradschool squareness. Each goes by at least one onstage alias: There’s guitarist Mike Haliechuk (a.k.a. 10,000 Marbles), drummer Jonah Falco (Guinea Beat), bassist Sandy Miranda (Mustard Gas), guitarist Josh Zucker (Concentration Camp), and guitarist Ben Cook (Young Governor). The monikers are part of a winking disinformation campaign the band has mounted since forming in 2001, one that includes tales of fake Svengalis and fabricated day jobs. As a result, sorting out the band’s mythology requires constant factchecking. When Abraham mentions a Mr. Pickles, it takes me a moment to realize he’s talking about his cat.
When “Year of the Rat” comes out in January, it will be, by Abraham’s count, the 76th song Fucked Up have released in the last seven years. And like most of the band’s recent output — including the 11 tracks that make up their stunning new album, The Chemistry of Common Life, and the nearly 19minute single, “Year of the Pig,” that preceded it — “Rat” represents an epochal moment, both for the band’s trajectory and for punk rock in general. While Fucked Up’s early material was aggressive and succinct, Chemistry adds swandive psychedelica and unlikely instrumental flourishes into the mix. The lyrics — written by Abraham and Haliechuk — are dense, often hallucinatory treatises on everything from Old Testament theology (“Son the Father”) to metaphysics (“Crooked Head”). It’s blotter punk, making for woozy, epiphanic headbanging — a fourquadrant album, so long as the quadrants consist of former hardcore kids, unrepentant prog lovers, indie aesthetes, and rowdies just looking to get drunk and yell. But for all the dense layering, Chemistry is by — and for — punk purists.
“I really hadn’t heard much hardcore since 1983,” says Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, who, along with such farflung luminaries as Moby and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, played with Fucked Up during the band’s 12hour marathon show at the Rogan store in Manhattan in October. “A friend gave me a copy of their  single ‘Police,’ and it had that same feeling — not totally retro, just enough to make it sound good.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Chemistry — which took nearly six months to record — was both the cause and the consequence of intraband turmoil. In fact, the sight of all six Fucked Up members in the studio tonight is an anomalous one, as Chemistry was completed in separate shifts so that the members could maintain a level of amicability.
“I don’t want to play it up,” Abraham says, “but we really don’t get along.” In the past year alone, the group has endured onstage meltdowns and midtour skirmishes, including a recent incident at London’s Heathrow Airport that ended with one member throwing punches and another almost being tossed over a railing to his likely death.
But things are better now. Sort of.
Read more about Fucked Up in the December 2008 issue of SPIN, on newsstands now.