Nick Ley of Colourmusic quizzes Fucked Up frontman Damian Abraham.



Nick Ley: Congratulations. You’ve made a fucking excellent record. How is David?

Damian Abraham: Ha ha ha! David is doing fine, and that’s the thing about having this transient, imaginary manager that can become at one second your imaginary manager and at the other the lead in your rock opera. It’s a cliché and almost trite to say, but this is my favourite record that we’ve done, and I know that everyone says that, but I didn’t expect everyone to come along for the ride and necessarily like it – y’know, it’s an 80-minute record. It’s not for everyone, and especially when you think about the vocals I have, so it’s been interesting to have been thrust into a situation where my hardcore voice has been brought to a popularist audience. It’s fun when people come up to me after a show and say, ‘Oh, I don’t like your vocals, but I love the music.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s awesome!’

Don’t you find it’s always difficult for musicians’ immediate families to completely grasp where all their time and efforts are spent and how they are “paying off”?

I’ve actually been extremely lucky. My parents have been extremely supportive, and my wife has been like a rock to allow me to do this, because when I go on tour she’s a single parent, so, I’d be lying if I said that my family haven’t been completely, emotionally supportive.

Jonah’s dad hates that his son is in a band called Fucked Up though, right?

He hates that name so much. I’m sure Jonah’s dad is proud of him, but I know that he’d trade everything for his son to be in a band with another name. He kept it a secret from his parents for years, telling them that the band had changed its name to Hidden World, and then we were in one of these weekly entertainment papers here and Jonah’s dad was walking down the street one day and he saw me on the cover, and it just said ‘FUCKED UP’. Jonah was busted.

What did winning the Polaris Music Prize mean to you?

It meant a lot to us because it was almost validation in Canada. We’d experienced so much love from press internationally, who embraced us, but we still felt left out back home in Canada.

Can you remember that moment your name was read?

Absolutely. I was packing up my son in the car seat so we could go home. We were the last band to play, and I was like, to my wife, ‘Right, let’s get out of here before the rush starts’, because I wanted to get our son home. So I was packing him up and they said, ‘The winner is…’ and there was this big pause and I just kept repeating K’naan and Joel Plaskett, because that’s who I was sure would win. And then they said ‘Fucked Up’, and I heard it in a millisecond, but it felt like a minute while I was processing it. I never thought we’d win, because we’d been frisked by the police all night – they’d frisked us just before we played, because it was in the MTV building, and we’re still technically banned from there. But we left that building with our heads held high.

Damian, a few of us have serious beards as well.  How do you react when a drunk stranger starts reaching for your jaws?

Well, two weeks ago I accidentally shaved my beard off. I was going to this big award show at the TV station I work at and I was like, ‘I should trim my beard, because it looks a little unruly.’ And I don’t know what happened, if the setting went funny, but I put this hole in my beard, so I had to even it out, and then I ended up accidentally shaving it off. But I’ve definitely had people tug on my beard. I have a son who yanks on my beard all the time, and I’ve even had people request beard hair, so I’ve torn bits off to give to people. I will literally do anything for positive attention. I am that desperate.

On tour, you can’t love every band you play with.  Can you name a few you really dig?

Oh absolutely. Recently we played with this band called Double Negative, who we’ve toured with before over the years. They’re from Reighley North Carolina, and they’re doing a punk thing, but there’s almost a ’90s noise rock thing to it. They’re probably my favourite band going right now. We also just played with a band, and this name is the only name that I think is more embarrassing than Fucked Up – they’re called Diarrhoea Planet, from Nashville, Tennessee.

Surely Jonah’s dad wouldn’t prefer his son was in a band with that name?

Ha! I don’t know… I think he would. Yeah, I think he would prefer Diarrhoea Planet. But the best thing about that band – and this has kinda been a thing for Fucked Up too – is that you go in with an expectation when you see a band is called Fucked Up or Diarrhoea Planet, and both of those expectations are terrible. So as soon as you deliver anything above terrible it’s amazing, and Diarrhoea Planet being such an amazing band and having such a dumb name, that jump is so spectacular when you see them live.

A few of us teach at music college in Oklahoma and I’ve seen that you have done some work with literacy campaigns. Anything you would care to share with our students about the importance of literature and how it influences your own creativity?

Ok. I think that any person that’s trying to write good lyrics has to be reading from other sources, and that means actual books. Because when you think of the great lyricists of all time – like Morrissey and Bob Dylan and Jarvis Cocker – they’re all very literate. And even people like Chuck D, y’know? For us there’s always been a necessity to keep reading different sources to hopefully deepen the pool that you can pull from when you write lyrics. I love it when you’re listening to a song and someone starts referencing something from a book, like, to go back to Morrissey, when he’ll say, ‘I win, because Wilde is on my side’ [from The Smiths’ ‘Cemetry Gates’].

Success or Progress?

Errr… I would obviously like to say ‘progress’ immediately, but now that I have a son, I don’t want massive success, but I want to be able to provide for him. So progress is still definitely number one, but success is looking a little more appealing.

I get really excited when I see musicians become proud mothers and fathers. There seems to be a myth that you can’t have both a music career and a family.  Any lessons you would care to share?

Technology has really helped. I’d like to say that I don’t rely on it but I do, definitely. Things like Skype, webcams, cellphones, things like that. For me they’re essential in terms of keeping up to date with my son. It’s getting harder to go on tour, though. I wrestle with it every time I leave. So I wish I could offer better advice but I don’t think I’ve mastered it yet, as I think that’ll be the reason why I end up not touring in the end.

Read our Colourmusic interview

Originally published in issue 30 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. July 2011.

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