For a band renowned for their intricately detailed concept records, the premise of the latest Fucked Up album is – by their standards – relatively straight-forward. The group’s primary songwriter Mike Haliechuk gave himself just twenty-four hours to write and record its ten tracks, and when sharing it with the rest of the group, he subjected them to the same constraints. Although written and then shelved in 2019 when the world shut down, the flurry of activity involved in its creation is still palpable when pressing play on ‘One Day’ for the first time.
Ahead of its release Clash spoke with Mike Haliechuk and vocalist Damian Abraham about how the genesis of this record sets it apart from what has come before, and how, after over twenty years together, the band still manage to charge their music with the vitality they are synonymous with. The musical landscape may be unrecogniseable compared to when they started out but the creative process remains as fraught with the same existential questions, perhaps even more so given the sheer competition to be heard. “It’s like all the world is this fire and we are all just endlessly throwing all of our sentences and photos into it,” says Haliechuk. “It’s hard to go to bed at night feeling the satisfaction of having actually done something.”
‘One Day’ marks the first time since 2014’s ‘Glass Boys’ that Abraham has written lyrics for the band. “There is an added sense of vulnerability this time around,” he admits. “I feel I am back in the auteur writer/director chair, and if people don’t like it, it’s like they don’t like my vulnerability. That’s what happened with ‘Glass Boys’. I let people in, they didn’t like what they saw. So I was like ‘well guess what this door’s fucking closed!’” The oddly muted response to that excellent record might go some way to explaining the opus which followed. The sprawling psychedelia of ‘Dose Your Dreams’ was the antithesis to the short pummeling of ‘Glass Boys’. Another impressive addition to their arsenal, it was also notable by Abraham’s absence on many of the tracks.
The Toronto group are often painted as a band plagued by internal turmoil and friction. However there is little evidence of this when chatting to Haliechuk and Abraham. Fights of the past are accepted as having been inevitable and are left there, as Helichuk notes. “A lot has been made of the various strained relationships in the band, which is quite normal when you have such close physical and emotional proximity to a group of people who were assembled in quite a random way.” Arguably, any creative friction only adds to the bands success and both speak openly about future projects that are either planned or already in progress, including a whole suite of records that will make cyclical reference to ‘One Day’.
“I feel lucky,” says Abraham. “I am with two of the best songwriters of my generation in Mike and Jonah (Falco – Drummer & Songwriter). For a long time I resisted it and was going to walk away. But now I want to see where these guys go. I’m just happy to go along for the ride. I’ll be the guy screaming in the back.”
Two opposing figures, Abraham open and gregarious, Haliechuk quieter with an added level of introspection, the pair seem destined – for now at least – to drive the band well into their next twenty years together, bringing their own unique skill set to the table. “Damian was born to be open and truly build community and share things with people,” explains Haliechuk of his formidable frontman. “Which, ultimately, is what music is for. So I am glad he is the singer and I’m not.”
Is ‘One Day’ an accurate snapshot of the person you were when writing it? Personally and creatively?
Haliechuk: I always stray from being as personal as I could be on a lot of the lyrics. That’s not really my thing in the band. I like putting lyrics together but Damian is more of the classic “bare my soul” front person. I was trying to react to a lot of things that had happened in my lif. And I had a lot more time to think about the things I wanted to say about myself and peel back a layer to allow the songs to be about something slightly deeper.
Abraham: I think it’s reflective of that chapter in my life. A lot of those lyrics are about coming home and looking at the world around you, and less about looking inside yourself. Prior to this we had been on tour a lot or I had been at home with the kids and inside my own head. This was my chance to get back out in the city and wander around a little bit and see things. I’m a relatively shut in kind of a person. My grandmother had agoraphobia and that’s always been a fear of mine, whether I am going to end up like that. But I did get out and walk around a lot more to see the world around me and take in how things had changed in the last couple of years. And getting out of my own head a little bit I thought, “OK, let’s write again.”
Given the speed at which it was written and recorded, is One Day a recalibration of sorts after the lengthy process involved with Dose Your Dreams?
Haliechuk: Stepping into it, I was almost thinking of it like practice an athlete would do aside from the actual game; a test match or something. We had come off of a really long tour for ‘Dose Your Dreams’ and generally I plan to do something different or take some time off. But I just got bored. I think I gave myself two weeks of being at home before I booked another session.
I wanted to see how much I could get done in one day. Just as a funny little romantic trick to myself. And now three years later we are going to tour the whole world again on that stupid little idea.
Did you surprise yourself with the quality of what you came away with?
Haliechuk: I thought that I would come out of it with a record. When you play aggressive music the more time you give yourself is just more time to stray from what you are actually trying to create. ‘Dose Your Dreams’ took two years but at the base of that is a lot of short, fast, simplistic guitar music, with two years worth of tinkering and being up in the middle of the night wondering if a verse should have saxophone over the top of it.
The whole genre is an exercise in immediacy and urgency. All of our first records were made in a couple of hours and here we are making a record in essentially the same amount of time, but being slightly more impressed with ourselves.
Were there any surprises when you listened back to the record?
Haliechuk: I honestly have that feeling every time I go home from the studio. That’s what’s so good about it. Everyday you do something that you didn’t know that you could do in the morning. We don’t really bring music into the studio. So by the end of the day you have been witness to some real transformation or creation. I feel like that’s the reason why people create stuff. Chasing the feeling of something new being brought into the world. Giving myself a day to do the whole record was taking that feeling and really ramping it up as much as possible so that I could step away after a day and be like, “woah that’s this whole new record that wasn’t there yesterday.”
Abraham: I think there are always surprises because you get so locked in to looking at a song a certain way. I had to tell Mike, ‘I want you to pick your songs first, or let me pick my songs first.’ Because if I hear a song in my head and start hearing how I think the lyric should fit, it makes recording it with Mike’s lyrics brutal to do.
Has the recording of ‘One Day’ focussed your attention on the passing of time? Or do you ever feel you are in a race against time to do as much as possible?
Haliechuk: We have a lot of constraints but time isn’t really one of them. I think the last couple of years and probably the next couple of years will end up being our most prolific time as a band. And I think that is a consequence of being less busy. Even before the pandemic we were playing a lot less shows than we used to, but I was still very involved in doing projects.
So I have personally traded playing shows for being in the studio and making records. That’s what I want to do with my time. I just really like being in the studio, writing, and being at home and thinking about what the records are going to be like and putting my mind towards that. It’s not really a race against time.
Abraham: For most of the last things I’ve recorded it’s just been me and my friend Dylan, in the studio for hours on end. There was only so much to talk about and I only have so many stories that I end up just repeating them after a while, so we would just end up hammering it out.
Also as much as you need dexterity and stamina for guitars there’s a certain point as a vocalist and as a drummer where your instrument won’t work anymore, especially ‘this’ type of vocalist. So I get about three songs a day that I feel are recording level quality, before I start blowing out my voice. So it changes the way I approach the songs. I go in, do three songs for a six hour period and I’ll still be able to pick up the kids and make dinner that night. Which is perfect.
Having been together over 20 years now, and bearing witness to huge cultural and social changes that have taken place in that time, is it easy to lose track of who you are and where you are heading? Especially given the increase in exposure to outside influences.
Abraham: A lot of outside forces spurned on the bad to exist. We were a band that definitely rode the blog wave. Bands like ours who were very small – especially with a name like Fucked Up – would have struggled for an outlet for people to talk about us in different times. Because of the technology and the times we were in it was amazing for us. People talked about our band, we got a lot of support and we were able to tour the world and do all these sorts of things.
Haliechuk: I’m always trying to do something new, or a slightly newer iteration of what we do. We’ve been a band for a long time but this is only our sixth record. To keep it fresh for myself I always try to have the albums sound different; the recording process is different, and we collaborate with different people to try and stay at the tip of whatever we are doing and not lean back into anything.
Abraham: The planned trajectory of Fucked Up was pre-written by Mike and I. We would sit around and fantasise in the early days when we were room mates of what Fucked Up would be. We wanted to be a band that puts out a couple of seven inches, two LPs , and then we were going to put out a seven inch called ‘Back To The Womb’ and that was going to be the last thing we were going to put out. That was our plan.
We were pure, we’d have been Fugazi level pure as a band if we had kept with the original plan and just done our thing and then disappeared into the either. I think the longer your band goes the more holes you are forced to have in your armour. For Fucked Up that started with the decision to put out an LP on Jade Tree because we weren’t making the decision for the art. We were thinking, we want to do this for the good of us. Selfishly it was a much better decision to do it this way, but it did change who Fucked Up were.
Throughout the record there is emphasis put on the importance of others’ influence on our lives. Those that are still with us, and who have passed on. Are the relationships within the band, and those with your families and peer group part of the reason you are still around 20 years on?
Abraham: I’ve quit Fucked Up multiple times over the years and my support group around me wouldn’t let that happen. Be it the band, or Lauren, my long-suffering wife.
I was lucky. Support from the families of the band is a sliding scale. My parents were definitely very much towards the top of it. And not just my parents but my whole family who let us crash on their floors or insisted on paying to see the shows. Right from the beginning.
There are some people in the band whose parents still wont say the name. So I think compared to them I am very grateful that my parents have been so supportive. Before she passed away my mum would come and see Fucked Up, she never loved the name though.
Haliechuk: I think our longevity has a lot to do with stubborness. There is a lot of weird shit and trauma and stress that comes into it but we’re always chasing something. Fucked Up never really settled anywhere. We never really got incredibly famous, or got to a place where we could fall off from. We’ve just been perpetually chasing, chasing, chasing. Whether it’s a couple more fans, or a record contract, or a new interesting idea for a song.
Personally, I am very stubborn but also very loyal in a weird way. Also, I am a very persuasive person, and I’ve managed to persuade these weirdos to not quit or move on, and that’ll probably be the way for another 20 years.
‘One Day’ will be released on January 27th.
Words: Craig Howieson
Photo Credit: Jeannine Kaufer