Interview: Fucked Up @ MFNW – Polaris Prize Winners
Over the 3 days of the MFNW (Music Fest Northwest) in Portland, Oregon last week, I was given access to behind the scenes,(thanks Nike and MOG) and was able to meet the band Fucked Up, a Canadian based Hardcore/Punk/Experimental Rock group whose lead vocalist and front man Damian Abraham (aka Mr. Damian, aka Pink Eyes), took the time to meet with me for a very relaxed discussion about the band, the music industry, as well as some of his views and opinions in general.
INDY: With the growing popularity of the band is there any influence to change or conform to reach an even broader audience? For example, changing the name of the band or changing your onstage antics?
Mr. Damian: When the band first started we never dreamed that we would have to worry about how we would have to say our name on TV or the Radio. That was not even in the realm of possibility. We are the band that are going to be playing basement shows so when people ask us if we are worried our name is going to hold us back we are like, well no none of this is suppose to happen to us. Although our hometown of Toronto is a big city, up until recently, hardcore and punk rock was a very marginal scene. It (hardcore/punk rock) was just growing up at the time and a huge show would be like an American band would come through and there were be like 300-500 kids there but then a local show, there would be like 25-30 people there. So, it was never considered by the band that we would have any mainstream attention. We don’t feel that our name is holding us back because none of this is suppose to happen so everything we are doing, by extension, is a gift. That being said, we are playing the Polaris Prize Award 2009 this Monday, which is like the Canadian Mercury Prize, and we have a really bad reputation with the sponsor of the show, MTV in Canada.
INDY: Was that reputation due to the MTV Live Bathroom experience that was posted to MOG some months back (by me actually) but has now been removed from the net?
Mr. Damian:: Yes, the video and the band were banned from the media via MTV Canada. There were interests within MTV Canada that saw that they could exploit the energy of the kids there and it would make good television. Well, it went too far on that particular show in their opinion. We were fined for the behaviour that occurred on that set and banned. However, the upcoming Polaris Prize awards are taking place at MTV Canada. They have had to lift the ban in order to allow us to play in the show as well as we are a nominee for the Polaris Prize Award. So they want us to come back and play and have a police escort the whole time to make sure we don’t do anything….
INDY: So, is there anything new coming up tonight? (for MFNW) and are you working on any new material?
Mr. Damian: No, its going to be all about the last record as this is the tail end of it. We are working on new material. We are doing a song with Chism from the Wu-Tang Clan. We are writing a song for them. We are doing a song with a split with King Khan and BBQ.
INDY: We hear the band has a manager that never comes to the shows?
Mr. Damian: Oh yes, David Elliad. He may or may not be real. We lucked out early on and realized it’s good to have someone to make the tough decisions even if that person is not real. So, when someone calls to ask you to do something, its not you that says “No”, it’s David Elliad.
INDY: What do you think of the changing music industry?, ie many
bands are now self managing and albums are free or dirt cheap.
Mr. Damian: Yes, many bands in Canada, for instance, will sign to a label in America, and then they just do a distribution deal with another label in Canada but they start their own imprint. Ya, its like its really changed, for a band like us, the music industry, although not shrinking, but things are getting smaller as far as sales and how big a band can be. And, because of that, smaller bands like us, are starting to appear slightly bigger. We have definitely benefited by that contraction in the industry. I don’t think we would have ever received the same amount of attention if it wasn’t for that. I mean I am 30 years old and I lack all musical ability. If you put a gun to my head and told me to play “Smoke on the Water” on that guitar you’d have to blow my brains out because I do not know how to do that. I can not do the simplest thing (musically) but I can be in a band. I’m living proof you do not need any ability to play in a band.
INDY: So, you were not the front man originally in this band?
Mr. Damian:No, Josh our guitarist was. He played two shows, then he decided to do some train hopping across America and during that time I was asked to fill in for him for two shows and it worked out. Josh came back and he was asked to play guitar. We’ve done shows without every member of Fucked Up, we can exist without someone not being there but if someone left the band we would fall apart. We don’t get along. We know each other but we certainly don’t hang out with each other. Jonah and I, and the band were talking one time, and you have these bands like the Clash and the Rolling Stones who say they are a gang, you know, this gang mentality in a band. We’re not. We’re “conscripted soldiers”. We don’t want to be here, we want to be at home, but we have been called into battle, so we are going to fight this war.
INDY: Can you describe your music for me? Would you say that it’s hardcore with classical undertones using instruments like the violin?
Mr. Damian:I believe it is definitely still Punk, sonically there are elements of hardcore. Hardcore is one of those things that is defined by others. You are “other-ed” into hardcore. I think we are still a hardcore band, I love hardcore. I think the band stands the way it is today is because it is six people that have very different tastes in music all trying to make the same band work. So that means that someone who is into Techno brings a different approach then someone like me who is into like the Circle Jerks or Jonah who is into like some obscure 60’s band.
INDY: So, any bands in the MFNW you have seen or would like to see?
Mr. Damian: Well, we just flew in (this was Saturday – festival started on Wed night) so we haven’t been able to see any yet but right off the top of my head, there’s this band, Despise You playing and they have done only six or seven shows ever and I have been a big fan, I remember buying their Discography CD, in 1998. I probably got their first record in 1996 so that is like thirteen years and I’m finally going to get to see them tonight. I remember reading about them and pouring over their lyrics. I’ve always thought they have has such a cool aesthetic. I never thought I’d see them and here I am in Portland thirteen years later getting to see them. I also want to see Team Dresch tonight, Trash Talk, who are friends of ours I’d like to see tonight. Actually, El Mariachi Bronx, I want to see tonight. I really like the record and really want to see them play. I’ve never seen them play live. Titus Andronicus, I’d really like to see, and Riverboat Gamblers, and Effect Defect.
INDY: Those are bands that were not on my “dream schedule” but hey, they might be ones I’d like? I went to see Sunny Day Real Estate, and before last night, I didn’t know much about them. They were a big discovery for me.
Mr. Damian:Ye, the drummer from SDRE, used to play in a band called Brotherhood. Also, the dude from Foo Fighters (SDRE bass guitarist), was in Brotherhood. Brotherhood broke up and these two guys started SDRE. But Brotherhood was such a huge influence on me when I was a kid in high school. I wish I could of gotten to meet them. That’s the thing about these types of festivals, there are millions of different types of bands and there are millions of different types of people. And every single band here has a person who thinks, this is my favorite band. Last night I would have loved to see Mudhoney, Pink Mountaintops, the Zero’s, Softpack, Bad Brains, Japanther, or The Arctic Monkeys. It’s great when you play at festivals like this but it’s bitter sweet that there is so many bands you want to see but you know you’re going to miss seeing some of them.
INDY: I am really looking forward to seeing you tonight and was hoping to take some photos, will that be an issue?
Mr. Damian:No not at all, I think bands should help people love them. So many bands seem to get in the way of liking the band. It’s ridiculous. Talk about David Elliad, our manager, bands deliberately put people up as obstacles to separate the band from the people who like the band and I don’t think it should be like that. The band is the kid watching the show, and that kid watching the show could be in the band the next week, you know? That’s the one thing that came out of Punk that I believe should carry over to all music. Maybe not sonically, I mean I don’t think every band should sound like Punk, but I think that ideology that its cheap, its easy, go start your own band- I think ‘that’ can be applied to any form of music from heavy metal to rap to soul music.
INDY: Personally, growing up in the 70’s I liked bands like The Who but you would never think that you could approach them they were like Gods, this incredible mystique surrounded them.
Mr. Damian:As much as I like the rock and roll bands musically during that time, that path that rock and roll took during that time drives me nuts, that was kinda the birth of the superstar. The rock star is God, the “Kiss” mentality and I hate that. What got me into music and what I prefer is to be able to meet the band being like a normal person that wanted to make some noise and that is what music should be. I think it should be anyone and everyone should do it, or rather can do it ya know?
INDY: I know exactly what you mean. In my experience as primary blogger on You Are the Music (YATM) blog we seek out those type of bands who have passion, no matter what type of band, or what they are called, or what genre they fall into or don’t, what matters is their passion and intensity, and how they connect with their audiences.
Mr. Damian:Yes, and I think so much of music industry is about stripping that passion away and turning it into this antiseptic, boring thing. It’s like the band’s managers and agents, etc. think, well, if the band does the same performance every night, we know they will be consistently average. And granted, if a band doesn’t do that, some nights they might be bad, but at least they will be honestly bad, and some nights it will be “unbelievable”. It seems that they try to make them, the bands, not human, but an industry unto itself. When that happens, it loses its excitement.
INDY: Well, I see the you are about to go onstage. I’d like to thank you for your generosity and time and for sharing your thoughts, insights, and ideas about music and the band, Fucked Up.
Update (9/21/09) As Damian mentioned in our discussion, the ban from MTV Canada was lifted and his band got the opportunity to perform at the 2009 Polaris Prize ceremonies at MTV Canada’s studio.
Not only did they play, they walked off with the 2009 Polaris Prize!
Well Done Fucked Up…