Following its critical and (relatively speaking) commercial breakthrough David Comes to Life in 2011, Fucked Up returned in 2014 with Glass Boys, a reflection on aging punks that guttural vocalist Damian Abraham thought would be his swan song with the Canadian hardcore band.
“That record has a desperate exhaustion to it,” Abraham says. “All the lyrics on that record I stand behind, and I'm really happy with the way it turned out, but I would've been content to never sing on stage ever again after that.”
But fan reaction changed that -- and not because followers of the thematically grandiose Toronto outfit were clamoring for more of the same.
“I finished Glass Boys and I'm like, ‘This is the best record we've ever done.’ Then people that liked our band heard it and were like, ‘I disagree,’” Abraham says, laughing. “We don't play a lot of those songs anymore.”
“Glass Boys was just like, ‘let’s make simple rock record,’ but there were some issues with that record; it didn't sound confident,” founder and lead guitarist Mike Haliechuk says. “Glass Boys was maybe a little bit too real -- and not ‘real’ in some pretentious way. But like, if I was a fan of Fucked Up, I'd be like, ‘I don't care what you think about the chronology of punk -- just put fuckin' saxophones on your song and be weird.’”
With the band’s upcoming fifth album, they’ve doubled down on the weird, returning to the labyrinthine storytelling of David with new album Dose Your Dreams (out Oct. 5 via new label Merge). Part of the new album’s narrative is depicted in the music video for “Normal People,” which is directed by Haliechuk and premieres below.
Featuring Haliechuk as a supermarket-browsing clown, drummer Jonah Falco as a businessman in a fruit-and-sausage-strewn bathtub (a reference to The Who Sell Out, not the bathtub bacon from Gummo) and septuagenarian fashion model Judith Maria Bradley as central character Joyce Tops, the motley music video mirrors the album’s breathtaking stylistic diversity, which goes from snarling punk to dream pop to full-on dance music with the title track.
“There's a straight-up disco song on the record,” Abraham declares, almost as if he himself can’t believe it. “[Normally] I would've been like, ‘we can't do that, no,’ but I think for the first time maybe ever in the band, I was just like ‘yes.’ When it came to everything Mike proposed I was like, ‘let's try it, I'm not going to fight you on anything on this record.’”
With Abraham (who has branched outside the band to work on a Vice wrestling show, a podcast, and part-time work with a cannabis media company) taking a backseat both lyrically and conceptually, Dose Your Dreams afforded Haliechuk the opportunity to take on the role of unchallenged architect -- and he approached it with a rather ambitious goal.
“We've been a band for long enough, and I came into this one being like, ‘I want to make a definitive Fucked Up record,’” Haliechuk says.
And Abraham thinks his bandmate (and occasional artistic sparring partner) has done just that.
“When I look back at this record I'm like, ‘Thank God I didn't fight him on any of this stuff,’ because this is his opus,” Abraham earnestly affirms. “This is the Fucked Up opus, I think, in a very real way. I can't believe I'm saying all this nice stuff about him, because we don't get along this well.” With that much enthusiasm for the band's latest, Abraham is no longer feeling “done” with Fucked Up. “It sounds corny to say ‘rebirth,’ but [this feels] almost like a second act. I feel like my role in the band has changed now.”
Of course fans and critics will have their say, but Dose Your Dreams equals David Comes to Life as a creative achievement. Combining the emotional scope of Victor Hugo and Gabriel García Márquez with punk righteousness and ambient pop introspection (various songs bring to mind Cocteau Twins, the Cranberries and Animal Collective), Dose Your Dreams covers -- take a deep breath -- time traveling, anarchy, simulation universe theory, love, existential doubt, self-sabotage, suicidal urges and inescapable corporate culture.
“That's the Dose Your Dreams thing. Everybody has a dream of how the world should work, and certain people and certain companies make their dreams come true,” Haliechuk opines. “Unfortunately, the people that try the hardest to make things happen, it seems their only dreams are about making money and selling things to you.”
With such a hefty breadth of subject matter, Dose Your Dreams is -- not unlike David Comes to Life, whose titular character even appears on this LP -- an overwhelmingly ambitious concept album; still, you hardly need to understand to the narrative to enjoy its visceral and soul-stirring auditory pleasures.
“Me and Jonah walked into the studio for two weeks. We brought our guitars and drums, but whatever else was [already] set up, we used just from whatever band was there before,” Haliechuk says. “There happened to be a few synths and a few drum machines. We would write Fucked Up songs and punk songs for a couple days and we would get bored of that and write, like, straight-up techno songs and fucked around with the keyboards and the synths…. We didn't go into it being like, ‘Let’s make an eclectic record.’ We just all like different types of stuff, and the record's long enough to hold a bunch of different styles.”
With an album that veers from hardcore to techno while telling a love story about a time-traveling revolutionary, one might ask if it’s all too much. And in fact, the band’s primary singer does just that. “How is anyone gonna make sense of this thing?” Abraham asks, laughing. “But I think that's how Fucked Up has been the whole way through -- how is anyone gonna make sense of this thing? And somehow, luckily, there's people that do make sense of it and get into it.”
For his part, Haliechuk hopes the eclecticism will resonate with listeners. “On a record that you want people to listen to for 15 years or whatever, there's gotta be some peaks and valleys,” he says.
"That's what it's ultimately about,” Abraham says. “It's not about trying to be the most popular or the biggest band around; it's about trying to make music that you as musicians or artists find interesting. But also with the people that choose to engage with what you do and choose to spend some of the precious moments of their lives engaging with what you create, giving something back to them [is] rewarding.”
While the vocalist also known as Pink Eyes isn’t exactly putting on rose-tinted glasses -- Abraham says “the communication problems in Fucked Up have not changed” -- he seems to have moved past the “exhaustion” of the Glass Boys era and into a newfound appreciation for his time with the band.
“To see it come together, it really reminds me how much I owe Mike for the kind of life I've been able to lead,” Abraham says. “I feel very fortunate to be on the ride that I've been on with this band and everything that's come out of it. Ultimately I owe it to the fact that Mike is this weird, misunderstood -- in my eyes -- musical genius. I’m lucky that he and I became friends all those years ago.”