Damian Abraham: “When I joined F*cked Up, I was just going out there wanting to bring my pain to everybody”

For over two decades, Canada’s F*cked Up have been reliably one of the greatest, rawest and most creative punk bands going. In the wake of their sixth album One Day, frontman Damian Abraham looks back on a career of pushing boundaries and determinedly doing things their own way…

Damian Abraham: “When I joined F*cked Up, I was just going out there wanting to bring my pain to everybody”
Ian Winwood
Jeaninne Kaufer

Damian Abraham, singer with the powerful yet pliable punk group Fucked Up, is in the back of a rental van travelling south to a distant corner of England. Last night, the Toronto quintet opened their latest British tour with a date in Bristol; come this evening, the first night of the first weekend of spring will be celebrated by a date in Exeter. But with the English winter refusing to cede ground to a more optimistic season, the visitors are required to dig deep into their decades’ worth of experience of hardscrabble touring in a van in colder weather.

“This is nothing compared to what it’s like back home,” comes the frontman’s tidy rebuff.

Not that a day in the south west of England is entirely without creature comforts, you understand. Proffering a beef and tomato Pot Noodle, Damian proclaims the dehydrated meal-in-a-cup to be his “favourite food in the world”. He also rather bravely states that were Fucked Up deprived of the opportunity of coming to England, the band would cease to exist.

Given this, and given that it’s a long way to Devon, what better time than now to take a quick skip down memory lane with their friends at Kerrang!, then?

When Fucked Up formed at the start of the century, in what kind of state were the Canadian and Torontonian punk rock scenes?
“Punk had that whole explosion in the ’90s – with the Nirvana explosion, then the Green Day explosion, and blink-182 – so we were kind of emerging at a time in Toronto, and in Canada, where there’d been a huge groundswell of people around my age that had all got into it through those three bands. Although we’d all been part of the scene, it was almost at that stage where there was a changing of the guard, which every scene goes through, where one generation ages and the zeitgeist shifts to the next crop of kids. And that’s what was happening… We kind of came together from knowing each other from around the scene. But it was small. It was very, very small. The idea of drawing a 100 people to a show was a goal.”

Presumably with a name like Fucked Up, you weren’t imagining yourself as the next Green Day?
“I think that’s fair to say that I’m no Billie Joe (laughs). But no, careerism was never our intention. I couldn’t sing in the conventional sense of what gets on the radio, melodically; I was very overweight, and was told that all my life by different people; and I didn’t have a lot of self-esteem. Or self-worth. So Fucked up, when I joined, which was about three or six months after they formed, I was just going out there wanting to bring my pain to everybody. I’d cut myself onstage, I’d break a bottle over my head, smash a glass, knock over the audience… eventually these things I did onstage became a lot more playful, but in the beginning they were aggressive.”

Fucked Up seem to have spent the past 22 years pushing hard against punk rock’s boundaries, while at the same time never quite becoming house-trained. Is that a fair assessment?
“Yeah. I think what’s amazing for me about punk rock is that even though people try to codify it and market it, if you look at all the different people who have identified as punk rock, it is one of the most diverse genres in existence. On the one hand you have people such as The Clean [from Dunedin] and all the [New Zealand record label] Flying Nun stuff, searching for the perfect pop song, and you also have bands like Psycho Sin in New Jersey who are making the most atonal music possible. Yet both of them are drawn from punk. So when it comes to Fucked Up, it’s always just been all of us being, like, disciples of the religion of punk rock. We want to bring the whole picture of punk rock into punk rock… I mean, there’s even a Village People punk record. It’s called Food Fight, from the Renaissance record. You gotta hear it. It’s the best song The Dickies never wrote.”

David Comes To Life, from 2011, is a story-based album set in England. Are we to assume, then, that our country looms large in Fucked Up’s imagination?
“Yes. My dad is from Portsmouth, so I grew up coming to England. And Canada being this combination of England and America, culturally – although there’s lots of cultures, of course – the British thing is always such a huge part of the music. So when it came time to tour, it was a case of, ‘Well, do we tour Canada, do we tour America, or do we figure out a way to get to England?’ And that was always the goal in the band at first. It was about getting to England, where we’d be able to buy records, and see amazing bands, and experience all this culture that we’ve worshipped from afar. And over the years it’s just become a place that we’ve loved coming to. We’ve made great friends, we’ve stayed in people’s houses, and it’s been a full immersion in the British DIY punk scene. And I like to think that we as a band grew alongside that. I remember Gallows opening for us and thinking, ‘Holy shit, this is insane!’ And then when we came back three months later, we were opening for them to thousands of people. It felt like things were taking off.”

Meanwhile, back on Canadian soil, you performed two famously chaotic MTV Live performances. Were you ever forgiven for this attempt to bring punk to a wide audience while retaining an element of shock and awe?
“The main corporation that owned [MTV], Bell Media, eventually hired me to be a VJ on the sister station [Much Music], which are now both gone, so I guess we were forgiven. But when it came to MTV Live, they said that there was no way they were ever going to let us play on there again. But the first occasion was fun, they didn’t mind that. And then they wanted us to come back, to which we said no. We’d already done the show, why would we do it again? Then they told us we could play any room in [the Concert Hall in Toronto] that we wanted, so we said that we would on the proviso that we could play in the bathroom. And after that show they called the cops on us and sent us a bill for $10,000 – incidentally on the same day that we learned that [UK teen drama] Skins wasn’t going to put us on the TV show. It was a really big bummer day. Skins were supposed to have a scene where people came to see Fucked Up play, but then they decided not to. It was a really shitty day. But we never paid the MTV bill.”

Given that your most recent album was written and recorded in a day, have you considered what, if any, challenges remain for Fucked Up to tackle in the future?
“We’re working on a plan to work in separate quarters, so there can really be no planning because we’re all separated. Jonah [Falco, drums] lives in England now, so we rarely see each other. Josh [Zucker, guitarist] is moving out to Vancouver, or to British Columbia, so I won’t see him soon. So when I get the music, it’s always a shock to me. And then when I send back my vocals, or my lyrics, it’s always a shock to them. I think what keeps pushing us is that because we’re operating separately, our visions are never going to be aligned. And if they were aligned, we probably would have been more of a band of genre. We’d have been a band that played a particular style. I recently saw Turnstile play and I thought, ‘Man, that is a professional band.’ The way they play, the way they dance, that is professional. That is not what Fucked Up is. Fucked Up is the train that occasionally looks beautiful in the seconds before it becomes a wreck.”

Fucked Up's latest album One Day is out now via Merge Records

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