With their boundary-pushing LP David Comes to Life, Canada’s Fucked Up reignited a debate about what it meant to be ‘punk rock’. As they work on a follow-up record and prepare for their return to the Soundwave festival, drummer Jonah Falco tells HEAVY about pissing people off, and why you don’t want Fucked Up to play your house party.
It started with Black Flag’s My War. The Sex Pistols putting disco songs on the follow-up to Never Mind the Bollocks didn’t count; that was an ironic statement about the band’s commerciality. My War was really the ground zero. It changed everything. After the B-side of that 1984 album there would two distinct, clashing points of view on what ‘punk’ meant. It could be a style of music, an aesthetic, or an ideology and philosophy of artistic rebellion.
Toronto, Canada hardcore collective Fucked Up’s career has been defined by their interaction with modern punk rock’s duality. Forming in the early noughties, the band gained attention for their embrace of the punk rock aesthetic – they released cantankerous two-minute bursts of fury as 7” singles on tiny labels, had their punk rock logo and the penultimate moniker for a punk rock band. They embodied the musical and aesthetic qualities of what punk was supposed to be as they played notoriously wild basement shows and hid their identities behind ridiculous, ever-changing pseudonyms like Pink Eyes, Mustard Gas and 10,000 Marbles.
Then in 2006, on their first full-length proper Hidden World, Fucked Up started to embrace the ideology that punk was a fluid state, where each new work was to be in some respect an opposition to what preceded and surrounded it. The album saw the band eschew the blasts of fury that typified their earlier works to write dense, 10-minute long numbers like Vivian Girls.
Their second LP, 2008’s The Chemistry of Common Life furthered their transition from fire-breathing hardcore collective to alt-punk champions. And this is where the band found themselves thrust into the debate about what it meant to be ‘punk’. Punk bible Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll labelled the able unreviewable, and refused to publish anything about it. The same album won Canada’s most prestigious music award, the Polaris Prize, in 2009. That same debate, about whether not being punk is, in fact, the most punk thing for a punk band to do, or does being punk mean doing the same thing over and over again, followed the six-piece as they released their most ambitious album yet, the 2011 punk rock opera David Comes to Life. As they’re starting to write album number four, I ask Jonah if the band has grown tired the debate that follows the band?
“I’m really glad that people out there whose interests aren’t reflected in Fucked Up’s current state still cares about us enough to think ‘I’m really upset that this band isn’t doing something closer to what I want them to’. So I really appreciate that somebody thinks we’re relevant… I don’t resent the debate at all, because it means that people still think about music in a way that isn’t careless. It’s not a situation that just feels like mindless consumerism. And I think some of the problem of modern music is that if people aren’t making music that means something to people anymore, so I think it’s the highest complement in the world, in some roundabout way, that somebody cares what we aren’t doing or what they think we’re supposed to be doing.”
According to Falco, album number four is coming along after the band powered down a bit in 2012.
“We hit this stage where we all needed to chill out for a minute. So we dialled it back, we played here and there but we took some time to do our own things. I hate to sound like a weenie or whatever, but it was kind of the year of reflecting, and everybody getting better as a musician by not having to be on the road all the time. But things started to pick up at the end of 2012. And we’re writing our new record, and now we’re pulling everything back in to make real songs out of the material.”
The drummer says he hopes to be able to offer up a taste of the new material to Australian fans on their run of Soundwave shows and couple of sidewaves. Known for their notoriously wild live shows, singer Damian Abraham still has a piece of glass lodged in his forehead from a particularly rowdy Fucked Up set, how do Fucked Up approach playing a festival set, where there’s liable to be giant ‘no moshing’ signs on either side of the stage and rules and regulations about what they can and can’t do when they’re working through their inventive brand of punk rock while on stage.
“We’ve never been given a guideline that says ‘you can sacrifice four chickens on stage, but any more than that, and we’re calling the police.’ But the boundaries are the obvious ones, that we’re playing on a stage that’s 20 feet high and there’s a 10 foot pit filled with photographers and security and people are discouraged from going wild. But then, regardless of the venue we’re going to do the same thing onstage. Establish a control over the room in a really positive way, where everybody wants to watch the musicians onstage, not because we’re doing backflips but because the sound coming out of our amplifiers is really good, and then Damian is always going to be in the crowd. And that’s our way of bridging the gap; if the show is separated by a barrier, the show is going to come straight to you. And you’re going to be encouraged to go wild and Damian’s going to facilitate that and you might get a hug and no chickens will be sacrificed.”
But getting back to the debate of Fucked Up’s punk cred, I put to Falco that shouldn’t his band be playing in the living room of some punk house rather than taking a stage at a corporate mega-fest, wouldn’t that be the more punk thing for his band to do?
“I think it’s really unrealistic to even ask us to play a living room because there are six of us and we have so many amps and it’s huge. Your living room can’t handle it! We’ll fall through the floor… And we’re all really pouty and uptight, you don’t want that shit in your living room. You need a good 10 foot barrier so you don’t have to deal with all our lame personalities.”
Photo by Daniel Boud