A minute-and-a-half into “Son the Father,” the first track on Fucked Up's new punk opus, The Chemistry of Common Life, vocalist Damian Abraham unleashes a pained, garbled roar, like he just downed a pint of drain cleaner. He sounds like the kind of thug who stalked pits at CBGB during hardcore's heyday. Think Cro-Mags. Think SSD. Think scary.
Couple his intimidating growl with the Toronto-based sextet's infamous live reputation and it creates a mythical vision of madness. With stories of gratuitous nudity, on-stage breakdowns, 12-hour sets with free beer, ceiling-rupturing bathroom performances on live TV and numerous inter-band squabbles, it's understandable how they're a magnet for underground gossip. Moreover, Fucked Up get pleasure by perpetuating the outrageous rumors. They spread misinformation about the band on Wikipedia, but the intent isn't malicious—they just enjoy toying with the public's perception.
“My dad used to call this friend of his ‘The Oyster' because he would take this little grain of truth and make it into a pearl of lies,” Abraham says on the phone from a tour stop in Boston. “Stories are always better when they're exaggerated.”
Affable and disarmingly honest, it's hard to believe he's the same guy that almost killed guitarist Mike Haliechuk during a confrontation at London's Heathrow Airport.
“With the exception of Mike, who's maybe my best friend even though we don't really get along, I never thought I'd be in a band with any of these people,” he says. “It was a social experiment to put six conflicting personalities together and create this explosive live chemistry. Some days we'll get along really well, but other days—” Abraham trails off. “It's like psychological warfare. Mike will go quiet for a week on end and not talk to anyone, which, to me, is almost worse. I'd rather he just hit me, but maybe that's why he does it.”
So Fucked Up isn't just a clever name.
“Some of the people in this band are definitely undiagnosed with their mental illnesses, so when a couple of us get going at the same time, it's not a very pleasant place to be,” he says.
And Abraham knows this all too well. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2000, his bizarre behavior is partly due to depressive or manic episodes.
When he started taking the anti-anxiety drug Ativan,” he says, “I didn't know that you're not supposed to take a lot, and it culminated with me quitting the band onstage.” And that's only one in a number of incidents. “In Barcelona this summer, I just didn't want to put on a show. But I felt really bad and did the whole set again, because I couldn't leave knowing that I ruined all these people's nights,” he says.
Abraham embraces his and his band's flaws and adopts them into a broader punk ideology. He understands why punk was vital in the first place—instead of stigmatizing strange obsessions and awkward behavior, punk made them traits to be celebrated rather than disguised.
“I'm a total nerd. I can't dress it up,” he says. “I did an interview where they asked, ‘What's cool to you?' And I think owning your nerdiness is cool. I admitted my Dungeons & Dragons past and took ownership of it, so what they did couldn't hurt me anymore.”
By appropriating ideas from punk's past, Abraham and the band have established a peerless outlet for their collective anxieties. Informed by French activists Situationist International, Fucked Up challenge and confuse their audience with inflammatory religious and social themes, while the hirsute, 300-pound Abraham makes the perfect focal point.
“It's kinda fun to see what people's reactions are going to be. Be it the Sex Pistols or any other bands that had contradictory imagery… that was exciting to me. Like, what's the history behind the mystery?” he says.
Not coincidentally, the reaction to Fucked Up by the British press slightly parallels its treatment of the Pistols in the late-'70s. “In England, it's a lot different than it is here. There's this fetishizing of celebrity. We now have, like, half a dozen to a dozen complete ‘freaks'—people who steal our clothes off the stage, or people who pay to get in, get our autographs and then leave,” he says.
An underground band that's never toured large venues, Fucked Up's recent appearance on the cover of British taste-making mag NME has caused things to get even weirder, if that's possible. But Abraham's quick to point out that such attention is fleeting, so he's prepared to take it in stride.
“It's blown out of proportion, but it's very few people who are blowing it out of proportion. It's not like we're getting hundreds of people waiting at a hotel for us to come out,” he laughs. “It's more like three old men waiting for autographs after our show.”
Fucked Up play with Mika Miko and The Dabbers on Wednesday, Feb. 4, at The Casbah. www.myspace.com/epicsinminutes.