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FUCKED UP - Damian Abraham

Fucked Up

Toronto Hardcore Titans Seize the Day (Literally) 

by Johnny Papan

Photos by Stephanie Montani

For some, a day can feel like a second and for others, an eternity. For a Fucked Up fan, any given moment in the pit at one of their shows can feel like both at the exact same time. The Toronto-based hardcore band has a reputation for inciting chaotic scenes at nearly every venue they’ve played over the last 20+ years. The band’s boisterous sound is as blaring as it is intricate and finds a way to seep into the primal subconscious of their fans, causing those who listen to act out in unruly ways. Bloodshed and physical damage to private property are common occurrences. Whether it be performing in and literally destroying an MTV studio bathroom with the help of his fans, or bulldozing his burly body around Massey Hall while opening for Iggy and the Stooges, frontman Damian Abraham has built a career transcending his own inner-madness onto those willing to watch and take part in the anarchy.

But he leaves that all on stage. Off-stage, the 43-year-old punk rock dad is a relatively chill self-proclaimed nerd who loves his family, professional wrestling, cannabis, and, of course,  punk rock. Optimism radiates from his voice when he talks about these subjects. While most popularly known as the singer of Fucked Up, you may have seen Abraham across various other platforms over the last two decades. He was a VJ on MuchMusic’s The Wedge and is a host and writer for VICE. His most prominent side-project is being the face of the popular punk-rock podcast Turned Out A Punk.

Abraham logs into the Zoom-room from his basement studio where he records episodes of that very podcast, one which features conversations about the genre with notable figures in punk history as well as celebrity punk fans like Jack Black and the late Anthony Bourdain. Guests such as Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath have tipped their hat to Abraham’s astounding knowledge of the genre, from its history and relics to cool projects, supergroups, and useless information that even Nardwuar wouldn’t touch. McIlrath once affectionately called the Fucked Up singer a “punk-rock encyclopedia.” 

This time, however, the often infectiously positive demeanor seen in Abraham’s podcast is absent as he streams into the call. His body language is downtrodden and his voice is melancholic. “It’s been kind of a weird morning… my cat just passed away.” 

Mr. Pickles was 18 years old and the last of four pets to pass on. Abraham still hadn’t had the chance to break the news to his children and anticipates a difficult night for the entire family. “Luckily, they got to say goodbye to him and [his passing] was very peaceful,” Abraham says. “It’s just part of life, obviously. But it’s certainly one of those things that when it happens you’re like, ‘why do we have pets?’ There’s no reason to bring this sort of pain into our lives.” 

This passing is tragically on theme with Fucked Up’s music. Abraham often covers topics like loss and grief as he tries to find meaning in this great question we call life, often analyzing his own relationship with it and understanding of it. 

“I think we ultimately do all the things we do in life just because we know that as amazing as this experience is, it’s finite,” he explains. “That’s why I collect records. I’m filling a void because I’m scared of death. The worst part about it is you never know when it’s going to end. Of all the things you don’t have control over in life, the finality of it is truly the period in the sentence.”

Perhaps this understanding of the definite end has a conscious or subconscious affect on Fucked Up’s continuous creative explorations. Whether it’s playing with new musical stylings, releasing a continual album series based on the Zodiac or putting themselves through creative challenges like writing the 24-minute epic “Year of the Snake,” the band continues to, perhaps somewhat-masochistically, push their own envelope. This trend continues with their new album, One Day. 

Photo: Jeaninne Kaufer
Photo: Jeaninne Kaufer

In 2019, Fucked Up guitarist Mike Haliechuk proposed the idea to record an entire record in 24 hours, breaking his studio sessions into three eight-hour days. He challenged the rest of the group to remotely record themselves in similar fashion, with only 24 hours to complete their parts for the album. Abraham was supposed to write and record vocals in Vancouver under the same parameters until the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way. This caused a two-year delay in the recording of One Day. Abraham continued to write during this time, although his approach and mindset was much different than previous albums. 

“I felt like it might be the last time I make a record.”

“I felt like it might be the last time I make a record,” he says. “I felt we would survive [the pandemic] as a species, but what I was concerned about on a selfish level is what I do for a living. What I do to get me through life might not come back in the same sort of way. I felt like it was all gonna fall apart. The band might break up or something is gonna happen. There was this feeling of ‘I have to get this out before the end comes.’”

With every Fucked Up release for the last several years, Abraham seemingly had a nugget of fear or doubt that would appear in the back of his mind. Thoughts that each release could be the band’s last record, or that the band might break up. With the world being in the state it was in during COVID-19, this was the first time these fears felt most justified. This is why, lyrically, One Day became a love-letter to Abraham’s family. 

“I wanted to express love to my kids and my wife,” he explains. “I wanted to talk about things I might not be able to ever get a chance to say to them. If this was going to be my last record I thought ‘Fuck it, why not say weird shit that I probably would have been too guarded to say otherwise.’”

Photo: Jeaninne Kaufer

Behind the deranged and burly figure he plays on stage and the loveable version of himself on podcasts, it’s apparent that Abraham is a sensitive soul. He admits that being the face of a punk band isn’t always easy and the criticisms that come along with that can be tough to swallow. At the same time, it’s an addictive lifestyle fuelled by the search for self-worth.

Your ego is your instrument when you’re a lead singer. As soon as you stop believing you can fly, you’re gonna crash to Earth like Icarus…”

“I think being a lead singer, your identity becomes the band in a weird way. You’re almost the mascot for the band. And you’re forever linked to that band,” he says. “So when people criticize the band, a lot of times they criticize you. It becomes an attack on you as a person. I think the thing that makes you want to get up there and fill that space is that kind of longing and neediness that you have as a person. Your ego is your instrument when you’re a lead singer. As soon as you stop believing you can fly, you’re gonna crash to Earth like Icarus because the only thing that keeps you up in the air flying is the belief that you can fly.”

He continues: “I think you have to have this sort of fucked up sense of exceptionalism to be willing to get up there and expect people to sit there quietly and hear you recite your poetry, or yell your poetry or sing your poetry, whatever. Why do you deserve to be up there doing that while everyone else is watching you? It’s because you’re delusional. And you’ve tricked people into believing that you’re special.”

In spite of these bouts of self-doubt, the pandemic has given Abraham the chance to reframe his outlook on life. To be more vulnerable to those around him. The writing and recording process of One Day seems to have sparked new life for the punk rock frontman. 

“It was liberating to say all these things,” he concludes. “It made me want to write more. I think for the first time in a long time, it doesn’t feel like the last record for me. There were so many things that I was scared of happening with Fucked Up that kind of came to fruition during lockdown. I came out of that experience with total gratitude for not just being in a band, but being at shows and experiencing music.”