BACKSTAGE PASS: Fucked Up & Wavves
Nathan Williams and Damian Abraham on smoking weed with fans, bonding over bad TV shows, and their bands' new tour.
Nathan Williams, singer-guitarist for the San Diego surf punks Wavves, is a weed-puffin’ bro with a “Life’s a Beach” ‘tude. Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham is a human cannonball who barrels across the stage shirtless, his gut bouncing while he bashes himself bloody with the mic. They’re an odd couple, but they’re close friends — and their bands are currently on tour together. (See dates here.)
Before last week’s kickoff show at Boston’s Royale, the pair sat down with SPIN to chat about partying with college kids, selling out to corporations, Wavves’ Primavera Sound debacle, and, of course, smoking weed, a pastime long enjoyed by Williams — which Abraham picked up after 16 years of being drug and alcohol free. “I started smoking pot last summer,” Abraham admits, a blazing joint in his hand. “It took our friendship to the next level!”
How did you guys first meet?
Damian Abraham: I was one of those people who was reading about Nathan before I met him and I was like, ‘I don’t like this kid at all.’ It was at that point that every time you logged onto the internet, you read about Wavves and the natural hater that exists in me was just like, ‘Fuck this dude.’
Nathan Williams: [laughs!!!]
DA: Then I interviewed [Nathan] at the Pitchfork Festival and I thought, ‘Oh, he’s really chill,’ and we started playing more and more shows together. The first time we really hung out was in England at the 1-2-3-4 Festival — where we smoked a lot.
What do you guys do for fun when you’re hanging out?
DA: Smoke a lot of pot. This is basically a relationship built entirely on pot. In Phoenix, I brought my vaporizer to their backstage area. [Laughs] Nathan and I were just talking about how since I’ve just discovered weed, I’ve now entered this whole new world that most people know to steer away from. Like, when a bunch of kids say, ‘Hey, do you want to come over to our house and smoke pot after the show’? You don’t do it. But I did. I went over to these kids’ house in England. And there’s, like, 23 kids in this room watching professional wrestling. (That’s another problem: I like marijuana and professional wrestling. Most people who share those interests are normally below the age of 25.) And over there they smoke it mixed with, like, 70 percent tobacco. And I start smoking it and all of the sudden I was, like, ‘Ugh, I don’t feel too good in my stomach.’ So I went into their bathroom and threw up. I’m just, like, ‘How embarrassing is it that I’m a 31-year-old father and I’m throwing up in some teenage dude’s dorm?’
NW: There was a night where [Wavves] played a college and we got so drunk that we got kicked out of the backstage area because I peed in the pipe organ they had back there.
DA: [laughs hysterically]
NW: And afterwards, these kids were like, ‘We got weed,’ so we went to their dorm room and it’s Alpha Beta Zeta Phi or whatever. We got in there and all of the sudden I’m having this moment on my own where I’m thinking: I’m 25 years old, sitting here with a bunch of college kids that are doing whippits. I’m just, like, ‘I gotta get out of here. This is horrible.’ College stuff.
So, basically, when you two are together you’re getting wasted with young kids. Anything else?
NW: And we talk about really dorky TV.
DA: Yeah. Dr. Phil. Maury. Trash TV. Nathan and I really gel on the level of low culture.
NW: [Laughs] It’s true.
DA: And bad movies.
NW: [Nathan points to the mini-flatscreen TV playing between them] While Bad Boys plays.
DA: Is this the first Bad Boys?
NW: Yeah, this is the good one.
DA: Bad Boys really fell off at part 2. [Laughs] They really lost the direction of where they’re supposed to take this.
Damian, are you going to share your love for wrestling with Nathan during this tour?
DA: He likes wrestling, too. That was the other thing we really bonded over.
NW: I used to practice the moves on my little brother and he’d cry because I always hurt him. I tried to do Diamond Cutters to him.
DA: How many little brothers and sisters have experienced a Sharpshooter? Probably most.
What led you guys to collaborate on “Destroy” on Wavves’ new EP Life Sux?
DA: Nathan approached me about a year ago and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea for this EP. I want to do a bunch of different collaborations.’ And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ The problem when you’re collaborating with another band though is that your schedules never line up. I think we would have been on tour together sooner if our schedules had lined up. But they’re always in Europe when we’re here or vice versa.
NW: We basically made this tour happen on the fact that, ‘Hey, we get to go on tour with our friends and have fun.’ Fuck anything else that’s going to get in our way. We’re all touring at the same time all of the time, so actually getting two of these things to mesh is pretty fucking hard.
DA: I think the new reality is that nobody’s making money from selling records, so every band is on tour all of the time. So on any given day, you’re playing against a lot of your friends. Like on our last tour on the west coast, we’d be playing against Cults, Austra, Cold Cave, Yuck…
NW: Shows that you would like to go to.
DA: So you might as well go out with your friends and that way you’re not competing against one another.
Can we expect you guys to get onstage together to do “Destroy”?
DA: I think we’ve got plans to. Definitely.
Have you been rehearsing it together?
DA: No [laughs]. That being said, if we were in the same city, we would have rehearsed it together.
NW: But to be fair, [Wavves has] only rehearsed just a couple of times by ourselves as a band — ever. I mean Wavves has probably practiced a total of seven times and, like, four of those times were last month. So I don’t think we’re going to be rehearsing it.
Are you guys going to alternate between who plays first and second throughout the tour?
NW: I’d prefer if Fucked Up played last because it’s a more intense live show than us. Also, I can get drunk earlier.
DA: I will say this, and I’m not just saying this because I’m being recorded right now: You guys have gotten a million times better. The first time that I saw Wavves live was not their proudest moment.
NW: No, it wasn’t.
DA: It was at Primavera Sound. The infamous Primavera set.
What was your perception of that show, Damian?
DA: I thought he partied way too hard. I knew the people he was partying with, too, and I’m like, ‘Whoa, they partied way too hard.’
NW: Yeah… I party-rocked too hard that night.
DA: But watching that set and then following the band to the point where they’re at now is awesome. Wavves have a really good set now. This is going to be the most fun tours I’ve ever been on.
Damian, you’re known for showing a lot of skin onstage. Are you going to take any cues from that on this tour, Nathan?
NW: Nobody wants to see me with my shirt off [laughs].
DA: Oh, yes they do. But there would be like a Justin Bieber moment. If Nathan took his shirt off, the show would be over. He’s only allowed to take his shirt off when they play second because there’s no way that I could follow that.
NW: My stage presence isn’t nearly as big — Fucked Up are a force to be reckoned with. I remember the first time I saw you guys live. It was … Damian, you’re burning your pants, by the way [the ash from Damian’s joint had fallen onto his lap and began smoldering] …
DA: [laughs hysterically]
NW: [Laughs] I was just super, super taken aback by how willing he was to walk out into the crowd and hit himself with a microphone.
DA: That’s one of the benefits I have with being physically huge. It would take a lot for someone to kidnap me.
NW: If I get in the crowd, it’s hard to get back out.
Damian, Fucked Up’s latest album David Comes to Life is a more linear rock opera compared to your caustic past efforts. How do you feel about mixing older material with those new songs during the set?
DA: I want to make sure that the band never loses the plot and doesn’t think that the new material is necessarily better than the older songs. So we try to weigh it evenly. We do want to play more new songs just because as a band we’re less bored playing the new songs than we are with the old songs.
Are you playing the new songs sequentially on the road?
DA: No, no, no. We just mix it sonically. The record is your chance to be pretentious. But when you play live, you just owe your audience a good show.
Nathan, how did you like writing the score for that new MTV show, I Just Want My Pants Back?
NW: It was cool to work on because I’ve never done something like that. It’s like looking at a blank canvas because when they play the scene for you, there’s no music to it, so you’re just trying to take these fictional characters and figure out how they feel in this certain situation and what’s the appropriate mood music to put behind it. It was pretty fun to do.
Damian, how are you liking your gig hosting that music video show in Canada, The Wedge?
DA: It’s interesting. I’m enjoying it. I’m not under any pretense that I’m going to be the next Matt Pinfield or anything. But I do enjoy the fact that I can get stuff on the air that would not necessarily be on the air. I don’t get to play as much music as I would have liked. But maybe that’s better because I don’t have what you’d consider populist taste. I don’t know of anyone except for me who’d like an hour-long TV show that I program. But you get stuff on the air. I’ve had a bunch of my friend’s bands on the air. So from that perspective, it’s great. But the hard part’s been adjusting to a very different kind of corporate structure.
I was wondering about that. Both of you have done commercial stuff — nearly every indie band needs to these days to survive. So I’m curious if you think the term “selling out” means much in the music industry anymore?
DA: It still does. I’ll admit it, I’ve sold out. I’m not saying I’ve sold out to the level of some other people. But as soon as you take money, you are selling out. Like, you have taken what you’ve created and you’re lending it to someone else. That doesn’t mean that you’re a sellout forever and everything you do is now tainted. But you’ve made the decision to take that money.
NW: If you play a festival, whether it’s Pitchfork Festival or Mr. Super Indie Guy Festival, they’re getting money from Red Bull or somewhere. So you’re taking it somehow. So why not just take it when you can get it? I mean, I’m going to fucking have to pay my rent regardless if somebody says you’re a sellout or not. And I’m going to write the same songs that I would regardless if I make money from playing something corporate. But I’m not going to change the things that I say ever.
NW: Regardless of my affiliation with MTV or anybody, I’m still talking about pissing my pants on Twitter. I’ll say whatever I feel like. You just have to make that conscious effort to say these are my opinions, these are not the opinions of somebody else.
DA: I had to change my byline on my Twitter profile to say that these views and opinions do not reflect that of MuchMusic [which airs The Wedge]. I included Fucked Up, too, because I figured that Fucked Up would also appreciate not being dragged out with me. But I had to put in MuchMusic because they were, like, ‘You do talk about some things that, you know…[laughs].’ And it’s not even necessarily people at MuchMusic. It’s the fact that MuchMusic is owned by another company, which is owned by another company.
NW: Right. That’s the thing. That’s where it gets tricky. You’re all owned by Nestlé. Everybody. There’s little to no way of getting around it.
DA: Unless you’re Propagandhi or another band that’s got a built-in fanbase that can afford to tour and make a decent living at it. But at this point, like Nathan said, you’re getting soft money through a roundabout way, like playing a festival. Or there’s direct money, from like playing a party for a skate shop that Nike underwrote, which is what I’ve done. I think that’s the reality. It’s kind of sad that it’s gone this way. But you can’t rewind five years, or 10 years, or now 12 years ago. Not that I would want to because I think there’s been a lot of amazing cultural developments. But you can’t go back and get people to buy records again. We love talking about this kind of stuff but it can get a little heavy.
NW: We had a heavy conversation in the car the other day, too. I was talking about how my grandpa used to kiss me on the mouth.
DA: I kissed my dad on the mouth. You don’t kiss your dad on the mouth?
NW: No, I don’t.
What kind of kisses are you talking about?
NW: Open mouth kisses [laughs].
DA: I kiss my parents on the mouth. There’s no tongue. And the mouth isn’t open. But, yeah, a little [makes a kissing sound with his lips]. ‘I kiss my daddy. You kiss my daddy.’ What’s that Lil Wayne line?
NW: It’s, ‘Damn right, I kissed my daddy. I think they pissed at how rich my daddy is. And I’m his kid, I stunt with my daddy.’
DA: That is the Sartre of our time.