THEY'VE been described as "artful," "experimental, "conceptually daring." When they performed on MTV, the channel called them "out-of-control terrifying."
Yet with an unprintable name and hardcore punk roots, Fucked Up has shot to the top of all manner of Best Of lists, gaining universal critical acclaim. To say their discography is tremendous is an understatement: 85 releases since their 2002 demo, only four of those being studio LPs.
How do they do it? By being entirely unpredictable and wonderfully surprising in sound, presentation, and promotion: and they’re damn good at it.
Fucked Up’s sound and album themes have ranged from ambitious punk rock operas about lightbulb factory workers building bombs and falling in love (2011’s David Comes to Life) to the cinematically alluring Zodiac series, a string of EPs the band’s sporadically released since 2006.
Year of the Dog came first, with Pig, Rat, Ox, Tiger, and Dragon following. They’re transformative and unusually beautiful epics: take “Year of the Ox,” which furiously pummels full-throttle before soaring a little past the six-minute mark into a gorgeous, invincible string build. 2014’s Glass Boys was a “return” of sorts to no-holds-barred self-reflection and received wide praise.
Breaking through it all is the distinct and unmistakable contrast of the classic hardcore shrapnel-spewing command of Damien Abraham (Pink Eyes) versus huge, melodic, near-anthemic guitars. It’s contagious stuff.
Year of the Hare was just released by Deathwish Inc. on June 15; the A-side and B-side were recorded in three different studios over two years. On June 3, the band released a music video for the title track online. Broken up into 25 short film pieces, the project repeats an infinite number of times and connects in a random order, so no view is the same. The only instructions: “Use your keyboard to escape the loops.”
At this point, the Canadians are legends of innovative songwriting, marketing, and DIY know-how; on the Zodiac tour, they’ll exclusively play songs from the series of the same name.
We spoke with lead guitarist Mike Haliechuk (10,000 Marbles) on the tour, artistic intent, and the “long game” of creating a discography.
The “Zodiac” series has been released as EPs. Some of them, though 2 songs long, still clock in at the length of some hardcore records—many feel like songs within songs, too, there’s a great sense of movement there. The EP format certainly lets the songs breathe. Is there a kind of freedom in releasing these as EPs?
Mike Haliechuk: Yeah, I mean, that is obviously the purpose of these records. Every time I write one, I think about how easy it would be just to tweak one of these long songs and just have it be the basis of a full-length, but the Zodiac thing is something we're committed to, and yeah, lets us go to weird places. The inspiration is that song "Echoes" on the Pink Floyd record Meddle...it takes up the entire B-side of the album.
It’s nice to have a thing you can work on and get crazy with that doesn’t get the same kind of attention that an album would—you get to make one of those every few years, but we’ve been working at Zodiac stuff constantly here and there for almost 10 years now.
The buildup on “Year of the Hare” (song) is so fascinatingly uncomfortable. You’re waiting and waiting, expecting something to explode, some huge turn...and it’s that tender acoustic guitar. Then again, around the 3-minute mark, that huge breath—it moves like a horror movie. Multiple listens, I’m still holding my breath. How do these epics come together for y’all? Is it a lot of studio experimentation or is it charted out with intention?
With “Hare,” I literally tried to edit it like as if I was doing a movie. I tried to put in weird turns, foreshadowing, etc., whatever. Little flashbacks.
I like a mechanical or like industrial style of producing music—a lot of our work as a band involves arranging—making up a cool part or two and then making sure they are all in the right parts to fit the song.
With “Hare,” I wanted to have a song that didn’t flow—obviously, parts of it make sense as a song, but then it goes backwards, it drops out completely, etc. The intro is just a feedback loop of the live room itself. It’s more of a piece than a song really, I guess?
Like the song, the interactive video seems very circular—like being trapped in a Vine. Tell us a little about the conceptualization of it.
We wanted to think of a way where we could premiere some of the music from Hare without just having it be a stream of the song, since no one is gonna stick on one website for 20 minutes listening to some new song.
The Vine thing I never thought of, but that kind of makes sense, and I think that’s how we should have released it now. But we just wanted the film to have the same confusing sense of direction that the song does, and have it relate to the lyrics, which are about this simple guy getting stuck in simple problems until they overwhelm him in a surreal way.
How did the “Year of the Zodiac” tour come together? Why DOOMSQUAD for collaborators/extra bandmates?
DOOMSQUAD have been our friends for a while and it just made sense. They have their own great thing and are kind of on the furthest end of the spectrum that we’re part of, but they are great onstage and gelled with us very quickly.
As I understand it, you were working on Year of the Hare the same time you were working on Glass Boys; while everyone associates Fucked Up with innovation and the unexpected, Glass Boys definitely felt like Fucked Up's more "traditional" sweeping, melodic hardcore. Both albums have a real unifying beauty to them. Do you consider the Zodiac series to be separate from Fucked Up's "usual" work?
Kind of? A part of me hopes that 20 years after we're done that people look back on the Zodiac stuff as our defining contribution. But when we are in the studio, we're always working on a handful of things beyond the album we're recording. You get sick of working on one thing 16 hours every day, so it's nice to have other songs to do and switch up the vibe a little bit. When we were working on David [Comes to Life], I was also recording Tiger, etc. Pig came out at the same time as Hidden World, maybe even on the same day?
An article from that satire site The Hard Times popped in my Twitter feed this morning: "Fucked Up To Release New EP On Ancient Clay Pot." How do you balance the line of excess, i.e. having four drum tracks on Glass Boys or releasing 40+ singles? On paper, it could seem excessive—but in the end, it works in this wonderfully immersive, non-pretentious way. Is there any regard to possibly "overdoing" things? Are these the results of six different players' concepts and musical ideas merging?
I guess? I mean the great thing about consuming music is you get to consume just the amount of it that you want.
No one who likes FU has to get every record. When we started the band, we were all record collectors, so I think we look at our discography as a very long game—it’s less important that every record is consumed now than it is to have a really big cohesive discography for all time.
It’s kind of a slog, because people get annoyed and people make stupid jokes on the internet, but it’s more about the kid who is gonna discover FU in 20 years who gets to wade through all these records and not have to worry about the context they were all released in, like whatever internet stuff or bad reviews or shit talk.
Like, when I was a kid, my favorite band was Poison Idea, and part of the reason was because they had an almost endless discography, so I was able to be engaged with them as my favorite band for years, because it took that long to get all the shit they put out.