Fucked Up and the Futility of Defining Bands
A lot can happen over the course of a decade. Even the punkest of punk bands aren't immune to the curve balls life can throw.
Toronto's Fucked Up definitely falls into the category of "punkest of punk." Since its inception in 2001 Fucked Up has done just about everything possible to build a wall between itself and the mainstream. The band's members go by fake names like 10,000 Marbles, Pink Eyes and Mustard Gas. They've made sometimes outrageous, sometimes just silly claims in interviews that no one in their right mind would believe.
And of course there's the issue of the band's name. But even a band with a moniker a lot of publications won't print has to grow up sometime. For Fucked Up, that evolution has made for some very interesting music.
"It was a little more direct when we were younger," says Jonah Falco, the band's drummer. "The music was influenced by other hardcore bands we liked."
Over time, however, Fucked Up began to make music that not only challenged the punk form but also its own history. The band didn't even release a full-length album (the blistering Hidden World) until 2006, then quickly began to spread its wings with an elaborate concept album (The Chemistry Of Common Life, 2008) and a full-blown rock opera (David Comes To Life, 2011). This is not a band that is comfortable resting on its laurels.
"A band has it's own personality," says Falco. "It's separate from the six personalities of the people in the band. The band is its own entity, this public thing. You interact as a group. All of [our records] have sort of tended to be an aberration of the band's personality."
That brings us to 2014 and the release of Glass Boys, Fucked Up's fourth full length and a noticeable step backward in grandiosity. Instead of continuing to build more elaborate song structures with more tracks and increasingly odd instrumentation, Glass Boys sees Fucked Up returning to its roots, sort of.
"We always felt we have to do something that steps up and upsets the band's image," says Falco. "With Chemistry, I'm not sure it was a surprise to hear bongos on that record. With Glass Boys, there's nothing like that on there, so it upsets that idea of who we are."
That's not to say the band has a preconceived strategy to constantly remold itself. Most of the changes the band goes through, Falco says, simply happen.
"It would be owning up to too much if I said it was entirely calculated," says Falco. "Fucked Up gets analyzed in post. The nature of it is to adapt and to change. I think notions like that always occur as an afterthought, and not because they're not important. When it's done you have to make sense of what you've done or how it fits in to what you've done in the past."
While the rest of the band took a step back for Glass Boys, Falco used the opportunity to expand the record's sound by creating two completely different albums, one with the drums at regular speed and half-time drums in the background and another with just the half-time drum track. Falco insists the concept isn't purely a thought experiment, nor is it meant to be a gimmick.
"This isn't a disruptive effort," he says. "It gives you options. It breaks the monotony."
On the road he says it's not feasible to play the regular album version because it would require two drummers (although they have done that once with producer Leon Taheny joining Falco on drums) so he's begun to combine the slow and fast versions of songs. It's not a completely genuine live reproduction of the album and Falco acknowledges some people might not understand what he was going for in the fist place. But creating it, he said, was the important part.
"The process is essential to the record but not to the listening process," says Falco. "The conceptual and the perceived don't always line up. There's a lot of thought that goes into all the stuff we do but it's perfectly acceptable to just let it wash over you."
As to what's next for Fucked Up Falco says it's always hard to say. But it's clear it probably won't look exactly like anything the band has done to date.
"It's important not to be passive in your relationship to music," says Falco. "The only constant in Fucked Up is it's a game that changes as you play."
Fucked Up play the Bluebird Theater Sunday, Sept. 7 at 8 p.m.