For a man initially painted as a provoke-by-any-means-necessary agitator who may or may not suffer from schizophrenia, Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham couldn't possibly be more charming and eloquent when reached on the phone at a Colorado tour stop. When the Georgia Straight tracks down the hulking frontman for Toronto's Fucked Up, he's also as excited as a kid who's just been given the deed to his own candy shop.
“I'm in Colorado Springs—we stopped here so the people in the band who like soccer can watch soccer—and I just went to this store called the Leechpit,” he practically gushes. “It's one of the coolest vintage stores that I've ever been to. I found a bunch of records. When you're my size, you're not going to find too many vintage clothes, so you stick to the record section.”
The singer admits that he's a dedicated crate digger, his current obsession being hardcore records from the late '80s and early '90s.
“I'm always looking for bands that I've never heard—like regional bands,” he says. “I just got 15 records in total. I could have bought more, but I figured that I would quit while I'm ahead.”
There's a good reason Abraham is obsessed with bands that he's neither heard, nor heard of.
“If you look at '76 to '82, there was stuff that came out of that era that was as good as the Clash, the Damned, and the Sex Pistols,” he argues. “My theory is that, if I go to the period between '86 and '90, I will find records as good as or better than the great hardcore bands of that time.”
That the singer has a thing for groups that flew under the radar is somehow appropriate. For the first seven years of its existence, Fucked Up was nobody's pick to become one of the most salivated-over acts ever to explode out of the Canadian indie nation.
That's difficult to believe today. Over the past two years, the sextet has been among the hottest indie acts on the planet, with major scores starting with, but hardly limited to, taking Canada's high-profile Polaris Prize home for 2008's boundary-exploding hardcore opus The Chemistry of Common Life. There have been appearances at the kind of major music festivals that are invaluable on one's résumé, and enough top-10-album nods to make the members of Fucked Up serious players in the international underground. Along the way the band has garnered no shortage of heavy-hitting fans, with legends like Iggy Pop, Jello Biafra, J Mascis, and Moby among those who have declared their admiration.
“Never in our wildest dreams did we think there would ever be any sort of following for this band, beyond the little community that we were part of,” the singer says. “Even the little following we had in that community—we never thought that would be possible in any way. Now, every six months, something really weird happens for us. It's like we're in constant shock.”
So are most Canadian music fans, even those who consider themselves hot-wired into the Great White North underground. No one can ever accuse Fucked Up of being less than prolific, with their most recent double album, Couple Tracks: Singles 2002-2009, compiling a slew of out-of-print, fast-and-ferocious material for those who missed it the first time around. What's strange is the way that the group managed to remain almost unknown for so long in Canada. Abraham notes that Fucked Up has never messed around as far as churning out recorded material, but didn't exactly make conquering Canada a priority.
“I know so many Toronto bands that have broken up on Canadian tours,” he says. “It's such long drives that you're stuck in the van with each other, so we decided early on that we'd just go to the U.S. We'd sneak in, go down and play a show, and then have a two-hour drive and play another show, a two-hour drive and then play another show. I won't say that we weren't a Canadian band, but we weren't part of the Canadian scene because we felt very insular at that time.”
Funnily enough, if it hadn't been for Canuck punk bands who were willing to slog it out across Canada, Fucked Up might never have existed.
“The first punk bands that I kind of took as my own were all Vancouver bands, like d.b.s., Brand New Unit, and Gob,” Abraham says. “The first time I saw d.b.s. it was a real eye-opening experience for me because they were kids who were only slightly older than me. It changed my entire perception of what it was to be in a band—it showed me that you could be a kid in a band. I was already super into Sonic Youth, the Ramones, Dead Kennedys, and Black Flag, but they were all so much older than me. They didn't act like rock stars, but to me they were my rock stars.”
In much the same way, Fucked Up is now on the verge of becoming larger than life to the generation coming up behind it. Even though it's only been two years or so since the official coming-out party that was Chemistry, the group is now being spoken of in the same reverential terms as fellow hardcore mould breakers like Sweden's the Refused. Abraham is the first to admit that he's more than a little freaked out by that. But, charming guy that he is, he's not looking for sympathy.
“Right until about two years ago, even though we'd put out tons of records and toured the world a lot, we'd always go back home and work in a call centre or the mailroom of a company or something like that,” he says. “It wasn't like this was a real, viable thing we could do for the rest of our lives. Now, we're like, if we do this right—which is not staying in hotels or using tour buses—we can make this work financially. That's when it became real.”
Or, if you prefer, surreally fucked-up in the most fantastic way.
“I mean, you've got Iggy Pop telling me how much he likes the live energy of our shows,” Abraham says with a palpable sense of awe. “That's something that you definitely take as high praise from Caesar. And that sort of stuff is the biggest thrill of this whole thing—all these people who got me through high school telling me that they like our band.”
Fucked Up plays the Biltmore Cabaret tonight (May 13).