The Tensions of Fucked Up
I am rubbing the glass-shard-filled head of a 300-pound guy named Pink Eyes. Damian Abraham, vocalist for the hipster-punk-baiting Fucked Up, is telling me about a recent bout with a pint glass in Calgary. "Someone handed me a glass in such a way that I just kind of pushed it into my head,” says Abraham. "We played two more songs, hung out for a bit, then decided to go to the hospital.” Abraham now sports a hunk of glass buried just above his left eyebrow; the back of his head boasts a similar set of collected beer bottle shards. "I feel like I wanna follow in that tradition — the Iggy Pop tradition, the Darby Crash tradition — where you bleed for rock’n’roll.”
A day earlier and a little further east, Mike Haliechuk is the quieter half of Fucked Up’s two leaders. The band’s self-professed studio Machiavelli, it’s Haliechuk’s obsessive guitar layering and endless attention to minute sonic details that have crafted the mind-bending hardcore that Fucked Up champion. "Fucked Up live and Fucked Up in the studio are completely different bands,” he says. "If it was up to me, we wouldn’t tour or really play at all.” And here’s where Fucked Up, on the verge of releasing their second full-length record, become something more than just a really good punk band from Toronto. Beyond a brutal live show and an endless string of vital small-run vinyl releases, they represent a tumultuous vision of rock’n’roll that died with the rise of the online age; in a era where the most trivial details of a band’s inner workings are constantly on display, it’s near impossible to decipher the multitude of tiny dichotomies that comprise Fucked Up.
The band came together in April of 2001, a bunch of kids from Toronto’s still-burgeoning punk and hardcore community. Haliechuk, along with then-vocalist Josh Zucker, bassist Sandy Miranda, and drummer Chris Colohan (Left for Dead, the Swarm, Cursed), wrote some songs, played them, and basically broke up; Zucker went on summer vacation and Colohan left the band. Abraham stepped in to sing in Zucker’s absence, Jonah Falco joined on drums, and when Zucker returned he opted to make the move to guitar. The band’s first demo tape came out in early 2002 and marked their arrival in Toronto’s tight-knit scene. After two well received seven-inches on Vancouver’s Deranged Records, they unleashed Baiting the Public, a six-minute epic split over two sides of a single. It was the first sign that Fucked Up weren’t going to play by the rules. They proceeded to release approximately 25 singles in four years.
"The question I get from kids most often is, ‘How did you do that? How did you make that many records?’ And I don’t know,” Haliechuk says. It wasn’t just the band’s output that impressed and galvanized fans and collectors: it was the variations. The series is defined by small runs and regionally-specific artwork; some by mistake and others crafted deliberately by the band in an attempt to generate controversy and collectability. Fans turned records over for hundreds on eBay, aided by the band’s explosive word-of-mouth popularity and staunch refusal to tour. "Honestly, when we started, that was partly just us fucking with people,” admits Haliechuk. "It’s more annoying than funny now. Everyone just complains about it.”
Those singles, compiled on CD for Epics in Minutes (Deranged, 2004), stoked anticipation for a full-length release, an album that would introduce the band’s progressive, psychedelic-leaning hardcore to a world outside of punk’s sometimes-limited walls. Hidden World, released in 2006, was every bit that record; a monstrous (clocking in at 72 minutes) collection of old and new songs tied together by ambitiously varied interludes, it announced the band’s arrival into a much larger world. It topped best-of lists, saw the band perform on MTV (where they did $2,000 in damage), and turned them into heroes in their native Toronto.
It was also horribly mishandled by their former record label, Jade Tree. "They thought we were these ‘crazy punks’, and they’d said shit like, ‘Yeah, we’ll put out your record, but we’ll only put in as much work as you do,’ I guess thinking that we weren’t going to tour or do anything,” says Haliechuk. "But the record came out and we went on tour for eight months and they literally didn’t do anything.” The label stopped returning the band’s emails and left them in contractual limbo for almost a year, stunting the band’s growth outside of the United States, the only place the record was ever properly released.
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