Fucked Up’s Mike Haliechuk—who occasionally goes by the name “10,000 Marbles” (mostly in the band’s liner notes these days)—is not an easy interview, as The Aquarian learned after a scheduling conflict with outspoken frontman Damian Abraham—“Pink Eyes” (his stage name, not the cause of the conflict in question)—led to a conversation with the far more reserved lead guitarist. Haliechuk is polite enough, but his answers are concise to the point of suggesting that he has better things to do with his time than chat with another self-important music critic.
The Toronto-based band’s progressive expansion of hardcore’s rulebook by way of psychedelia and high-conceptualism—for which Haliechuk is often credited (or blamed, depending on one’s devotion to hardcore traditionalism)—indicates that this may be entirely justifiable, and really, who the fuck am I? Haliechuk once fabricated an elaborate autobiographical story about working in a lightbulb factory during a 2007 interview, but even such willful obfuscation would have been preferable to the astonishing brevity of this interview. (Sample answer: “Yeah.”)
Fucked Up just released a 78-minute, honest to God rock opera called David Comes To Life, and if my verbosity is pushing you to skip the rest of this article (I know, I know, who says verbosity in a feature on a hardcore band?), then at least know that the album is incredible and you should go buy it right now, even if you don’t like hardcore punk. After all, Fucked Up are the first hardcore band to garner this much interest from non-hardcore-types since Refused put out The Shape Of Punk To Come in 1998, and odds are you will find something to enjoy about David Comes To Life, even if Abraham’s gravel-throated barking isn’t your thing. At the very least, your hipster friends—who are, as I type this, commandeering even black metal for their own purposes via Liturgy’s Aesthethica—will think you’re cool. Or maybe they, like the hardcore faithful, are already over Fucked Up. (Haliechuk, by the way, doesn’t care whether or not Fucked Up is still a hardcore band, and he probably doesn’t care if they’re hip, either.)
David Comes To Life is about a chap named David who works a soul-sucking job at a—what else?—lightbulb factory in 1970s England. David falls in love with a protester named Veronica, and the two hatch a plan to bomb the factory. However, the plan goes horribly awry and Veronica dies in an accident, leaving David to deal with his loss (and the authorities, apparently). Also, David’s ex-girlfriend Vivian does some meddling, and the narrator attempts to inject himself into the story; it’s not your average Broadway play.
Though the complicated plot is one of Fucked Up’s most grandiose undertakings to date, many of its more psychedelic instrumental leanings (see “Golden Seal” or “Looking For God” from The Chemistry Of Common Life) have been trimmed from the band’s sound for this album, which enables Haliechuk to claim, “I think we set out to make a more streamlined record,” in reference to the 78-minute opus without sounding audacious. “The last record was cool but it felt like it was all over the place. This time, we set out to write a set of songs all together, and that’s why it sounds like it does.”
Though the artsy pauses-for-breath have been excised from the album, the songs are smeared with more shoegazey haze and Sonic Youth-indebted squall then ever—and then all that noise is slathered in hooks. Lots of ‘em. At its heart, David Comes To Life is an arena-ready pop album, drawing Fucked Up ever closer in comparison to Hüsker Dü, who long ago (okay, the 1980s) tempered the speed and aggression of hardcore with classic rock-influenced songcraft and pop sensibilities. Plenty of music critics have made connections between David Comes To Life and Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade, mostly because both records are concept-driven double albums from a genre that eyes such things with suspicion and disdain. But David Comes To Life is far nearer in spirit to New Day Rising: an album that finds its creators gambling with the goodwill and interest earned by their former efforts and emerging as pop geniuses (arguably) and major players in the increasingly mainstream world of indie rock (indisputably).
In addition to the album itself, die-hard collectors can track down David’s Town, a compilation of fake punk and pub-rock bands from the titular David’s fictitious U.K. hometown, Byrdesdale Spa. On the compilation, Fucked Up and friends masquerade as legit-sounding ‘70s British bands with names like Wonderer, Animal Man and Gacy And The Boys. Haliechuk says it was mostly an excuse for the band to try its hand at some different styles without alienating their fanbase. “It was just this fun little thing we wanted to try. It only took about a week to write all those songs and record them. So it wasn’t like this burning ambition we had, we just thought it would be a cool accompaniment that people could get into on a collector level rather than on a musical level.”
The band hasn’t had much time to rest between readying the album and hitting the road. “It’s a lot of work,” Haliechuk says. “We’re playing in Texas this weekend, and then as soon as we come back, we have two record release events. We have to go straight from the airport. And then we’re doing press and practicing for a week, and then we’re going on tour again [with JEFF the Brotherhood]. Time is gone already.”
Before said tour will be a one-off show with Dinosaur Jr., Henry Rollins and original Black Flag/Circle Jerk vocalist Keith Morris’s newest band, OFF!, at Terminal 5 in NYC on June 23. If Fucked Up’s performances continue as normal—tight, exhilarating, and with a proclivity for bloodshed and/or nudity on Abraham’s part—it will be the sort of thing one wouldn’t want to miss. Interestingly, Fucked Up will be the only relatively “young” band at a show that would be a wet dream for most bands of Fucked Up’s ilk—and may very well be for Fucked Up, though Haliechuk does not say. He has greater things on his mind.
Fucked Up is playing Terminal 5 on June 23. More info at myspace.com/epicsinminutes.