“We’re kind of like an asteroid,” says guitarist Mike Haliechuk, the brains behind Toronto’s most celebrated punk export Fucked Up. Sitting in a stairwell at the Village Underground in Shoreditch, he looks up from his phone and adds: “All the hipster kids think we’re a hardcore band and all the hardcore kids think we’re a hipster band.” It’s a brief sojourn, and almost instantly his head is down again, eyes glued to a touchscreen.
Fucked Up are in London for Stag and Dagger festival, and their third full release David Comes To Life – a concept album about a factory worker whose lover dies in mysterious circumstances – is due out in June. Sitting with Mike on this shadowy stoop, as roadies pop open Gator cases in the foreground, are guitarist Josh Zucker and bassist Sandy Miranda (notoriously raucous frontman Damien Abraham, along with drummer Ben Cook and guitarist Jonah Falco, is fulfilling press duties elsewhere). In a curiously apocryphal video they brought out recently to promote the new record, the band suggest they’ve finally “learnt how to become a band after ten years,” but nothing in camp Fucked Up is quite as it seems.
“I think it’s a concept album in disguise,” says Mike, although the band composed it in acts and scenes, leaving the music press touting it as a ‘rock opera’. “It’s just an album about love and relationships, and we’ve never really done that, so we kind of said it was a concept album to have something to hide behind. It’s our way of dealing with making an album about our feelings.”
Serious, or not, the record is definitely a departure for the six-piece. Since the release of the critically acclaimed The Chemistry of Common Life, they’ve spent the last three years letting mixes, compilations and collaborations – with artists as diverse as Kurt Vile and Nelly Furtado – flow freely. But why the conveyer-belt approach to putting out music? “It’s like the law of inertia,” says Mike, who cites the doo-wop singles culture as an inspiration. “Once you start doing something, it’s hard to stop.”
Since they formed (a manufactured attempt to create the most dysfunctional “fucked up lineup” ever, they insist) the band have created an environment of misinformation. The provocateurs hide behind self-mythologies, one of which, perhaps, manifests as their larger-than-life frontman. “We’re like the guys who work in the office,” says Mike, “and Damien is the mask.” Always half-naked, usually bleeding, the iconic screamer has taken venue orienteering into a new realm. “You have a lot of stuff to hide behind when you’re in a band,” says Josh. “Music is one thing, instruments are another. There are lots of different layers that separate you from people.” Sandy pipes up: “When we’re playing and people are freaking out, I’ll just look at them and think, ‘Why?’ I feel like they’re looking at a mirror and I’m on the other side.”
Fucked Up like to tell tales that stimulate conversation. “This album is a story, as opposed to songs that are just monologues about feelings,” says Sandy. And although their lyrics often draw on biblical imagery, they aren’t linked with any member’s beliefs. Josh explains: “Biblical metaphors are good, because they’re really just ancient stories that everyone knows.” At this, Mike looks up again: “Yeah, that’s what the record is; a very simple tale of redemption. But it’s kind of the ultimate story.”