Damian Abraham, singer of Toronto's experimental hardcore spazzoids Fucked Up, doesn't fit the mold of your typical rising indie rocker. The hip clothes, uninterested attitude and air of self-importance you find in many of his peers is totally nonexistent. Instead, he exudes boyish excitement, skepticism and sincere gratitude, as he's well aware that the whole thing could vanish at any minute. And he'd be just fine if it did. But when we spoke to Abraham recently, he was more concerned with a more specific challenge: scrambling around Toronto to get all new identification cards after recently losing every form of ID he owned. While shuffling around the city, Abraham took the time to discuss, among other things, the making of Fucked Up's new sprawling hardcore odyssey, David Comes to Life.
Michael Dauphin: You mentioned on your Twitter account that you just recently shaved off your beard. Will your new form of ID feature a beardless Damian Abraham?
Damian Abraham: Unfortunately, it tragically will not. The picture was taken last week, so it features the beard. And I plan on going back to the bearded form. I like to think of this as hiccup in an otherwise completely bearded life. I'm on beard re-growth day No. 1. It's an awkward stage. Hopefully, by the time I get to St. Louis, I'll be in the "rough teenager" beard look.
David Comes to Life is definitely your most ambitious album to date. After the record was completed, what surprised you the most with how it turned out?
I want to be honest with you: I've heard a lot of people critique the narrative of the album saying, like, "Oh, it's so incoherent." It is so coherent compared to what I thought it was going to turn out to be! So to those that think it's incoherent, you have no idea how bad I thought it would be. That's what really surprised me.
I remember Mike [Haliechuk, guitar/vocals], Josh [Zucker, guitar] and I sitting in the food court at the mall writing an outline together. The only collaborative process that Mike and I had to the individual songs we were writing was when we assembled the lyrics onto a lyrics sheet. That was the first time the lyrics had been placed side by side. So when we first put that together for the first time, it all kinda made sense.
I just couldn't believe how easy the whole story came together, or that it came together at all. I remember doing the vocals for "Queen of Hearts," and I barely had all the words, and Mike didn't have all his lyrics. I remember thinking, "Man, it would be so much easier if we dropped this whole story line thing and just made a normal record." I'm really happy we did what we did. If this is my last record with the band, I'm happy with this album.
Were there any songs that were particularly difficult to pin down when you were in the studio? What kind of challenges did you run into?
Well, one issue I always have — and Mike and I always run into this problem — is that when Mike writes lyrics and listens in his head, he hears them in his voice singing, which is a lot different than when I am yelling them. Mike is very wordy, and he's one of my favorite lyricists in the world — love the way he writes. But when I was trying to translate some of the songs in the studio, I almost thought some wouldn't work out. But, to Mike's credit, he's gotten a lot better with adapting to my vocal style. It can still be a challenge, though.
Like the song "The Other Shoe," it was hard for me to get the structure down. I'm not the most musical person in the world. I know what makes a good song when I hear it, but it can be difficult to work it out in my head. But I am so proud of the way things turned out. I have been reading the reviews, and I can understand when people say they don't get this record. That's completely valid. I never thought this band was a band for everyone, and I don't think this record is for everyone.
You have said that you wrote a lot of these lyrics based on personal experience, more so than you ever have in the past. How did that work out, considering the album has a distinct story line and narrative?
I think it's easier when you're writing and you can hide behind people in the story. I mean, I've never done the horrible things that some of these characters engaged in — mainly Octavio. But at the same time, I have had some of these same emotions that led him to do what he did. So it's just a matter of finding a way to enter into that mindset. At the same time, in writing about David falling in love, luckily I have had that experience before. And I have had that feeling of waiting for the other shoe. Like when things are going good, there will be some sort of fall. Things just can't go good forever.
You alluded to it earlier, and you have said in public that this may be your last album as the sole singer of Fucked Up. Could you elaborate on that?
I don't know, I just think that I am hitting a point where I have said my piece in the band. I don't want to leave the band by any stretch, and I will be there for the next record. I just don't know if I am the one to front the next record. I think that adding other people may very well help us go beyond and move forward from where we are at right now.
How did you adapt from riffing over overtly hardcore music to exploring more noisy, indie-rock music? Did you find yourself leaning on different influences compared to what you had in the past?
For me, it was a matter of coming back to more of my older roots. I was by no means born into strictly hardcore music. Growing up, my dad exposed me to bands like Madness and Ian Dury and the Blockheads. We would listen to a lot of music hall bands that had this English influence, and almost a vaudeville sense to them. Those influences really came back to me when I was coming up with vocal arrangements as opposed to just screaming as loud and as fast as I can. Not to say that's not a completely valid form of expression, because it certainly is. But Integrity was a big influence too. Seasons in the Size of Days is probably — push comes to shove — my favorite concept record of all time. When I got into these lyrics, I was really surprised how many punk-rock bands had rock opera-esque songs.