INTERVIEW

You’d really think they’d be in a better mood. After a year that saw them sharing stages with punk rock legends Keith Morris (ex-Black Flag/Circle Jerks) and the Descendents, as well as festival bills with Kanye West…

Photography by Tom Goodwyn

You’d really think they’d be in a better mood. After a year that saw them sharing stages with punk rock legends Keith Morris (ex-Black Flag/Circle Jerks) and the Descendents, as well as festival bills with Kanye West, a year during which they toured more than at any stage during their career, and a year that marked the band’s 10th anniversary, Fucked Up should be at least quietly content. Instead, the mood in a cramped backstage room at London’s Scala is one of deflation. Bassist Sandy Miranda and guitarist and main songwriter Mike Haliechuk seem tired and distracted, which might be the direct result of the incessant touring, and are curt in their answers. This ties in with their largely static stage presence – they and their colleagues are the professional punk rock machinery to frontman Damian Abraham’s exuberant, huggable school-boy-turned-rock-star character.

They look back on 2011 soberly, the last few months presumably blending into one messy mental scrapbook full of late nights and early flights. But there is also a certain reluctance to reminisce at all, maybe hinting at a relief that the chapter of ‘David Comes to Life’, their fantastic third full-length-album, is about to be closed. That record was a ridiculously ambitious yet fully coherent, barnstorming rock opera about David, a light bulb factory worker whose doomed love for Veronica, a pamphlet-toting activist, first sends him into a spiral of guilt and depression (she dies, possibly as a result of his actions) but then becomes the driving force in his redemption. Bound to feature in almost everyone’s ‘Best of’ lists this month, it could very well be their best album yet. So, to borrow a phrase, was 2011 the year Fucked Up broke?

“Not really”, says Mike. “I think we actually sold less records in England than last time around.”

Sandy concurs: “Yeah, it’s mainly that we’re touring more. The shows are better. They’ve been progressively getting better with every tour. But yeah, I don’t know. It’s kinda the same.”

Their own relationship with the ‘David Comes to Life’ story and its characters is a curious mix of pride and distance – you get the sense that the rock opera idea was something they thought of as the next necessary step in Fucked Up’s line of artistically independent, slightly unorthodox releases (see the series of 12” singles based on the Chinese astrological cycle) as opposed to the storyline dictating the format. They probably felt like a concept album was a Fucked Up thing to do, and because they are Fucked Up, it turned out to be an amazing concept album. But now, after a year of working on it promoting it and touring it, the magic has worn off a bit: “There was no turning back”, says Mike of the recording process. “It was like when you get a picturebook that you have to colour in, and you can’t change the way it looks once you’ve started. Whenever we had doubts, we just pushed on. It was the only record we could have made. I actually thought the plan of the story made it easier, because you had boundaries and limitations.”

Have they, after talking about them in interviews and singing songs about them for so long, learned more about the characters and ideas on ‘David…’?

“I kinda stopped thinking about it once we finished the album,” shrugs Mike. “After putting the final full stop after the last verse, I completely stopped thinking about the lyrics.”

Sandy nods. “Yeah, playing the songs I don’t focus on the lyrics at all, only the music. The only discussion about the story happens when I read an interview or if we ask each other about it.”

‘David Comes to Life’ sounds huge, and the topics addressed are in the same ballpark, size-wise. Among the whirlwind of reverb-drenched guitars and the whipped-up drumming Abraham can be heard breathlessly growling lines about romance and companionship (“He understands all her needs, and for that she loves him eternally/Syncretism is so natural and they’re experiencing something so actual”), but the background and location of the story – a fictional English town in the early 1980s called Byrdesdale – is quite specific. I ask if the atrophy of the union movement that began at that time, which is referred to on the record, is something the band think is relevant today? Again, the answer is “not really”.

“The working class movement in the 80s in England was important for Damian’s part of the record. But we didn’t try to make any kind of political statement. The organisation that is happening now [with the Occupy Wall Street/London Stock Exchange movements], is kind of like post-labour – labour isn’t really part of the equation anymore. But it’s all good, right? Organising is organising. The world is just a different place now.”

The world has most certainly changed during the last ten years the band has been together. Fucked Up’s 10th birthday passed without much excitement (“It registered,” says Sandy), and during the last 12 months there were points where band members were close to throwing in the towel, which is something they’re used to, says Sandy. “Things may get tense,” she says, “and then we’ll all find some reason to think alright, that’s it. But then we keep going somehow, and we’re still together at this stage.”

Maybe it would help if the band toured less?

“I don’t think [the tour schedule] is that crazy. I mean, you’re in a band, so you go on tour. You get used to it, just like you get used to going to work every day.”

Later that evening, it becomes clear what Sandy meant when talking about the band getting better with every show. Despite their tiredness, Fucked Up turn the Scala into a boiling punk rock cauldron, with Damian giving out high-fives, telling anecdotes about Henry Rollins and hosting a costume competition (it’s the night of Halloween). They clearly are a well-oiled machine now, so part of the reason for the break the band are affording themselves early next year might be to become a bit more un-familiar with each other – both personally and musically. On a scale of one to ten, then, how good was 2011 to Fucked Up? “Eight or nine. It was pretty good,” deadpans Mike. Eight or nine out of ten? You’d really think they’d be in a better mood.

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