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The giants of philosophical hardcore, Fucked Up, are returning to Australian shores to tour their latest concept album Dose Your Dreams.
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The most ambitious effort yet from the Canadian dreamers urges us to remember what inspired us in the first place. Fucked Up are playing headline shows across Australia and New Zealand, taking in all Australian shows with rising alt rockers Loser. Founding member Mike Haliechuk explains what the hell is going on in the weird and wonderful world of Fucked Up.
Hey Mike, I understand you wrote most of the Dose Your Dreams record and came up with a large part of the concept. When you sat down to write, what were you using to come up with the songs, what kind of instruments etc?
Now we just go straight to the studio, me and Jonah go in the studio, with this record (Dose Your Dreams) we didn’t really have any plans we just had a gear list and just started writing. The record started, Jonah was getting mic levels on the kick drum, he was just doing this repetitive kick and then we just started manipulating the arrangement of just a kick drum and that became, Accelerate, and that’s how we started the record, as soon as his foot pressed the pedal we were already writing.
You kind of wrote the record in the studio?
Yeah, no rehearsal or nothing, we’ve done records before as a full band in the practice space but it’s just such a slog and it takes so much extra time, so yeah just load in start writing immediately.
When you recorded, was it spread out, did you record parts and then come back to it? What was the process?
It was spread out over two years, Jonah and I don’t live in the same place so whenever he was in town, we’d book a couple of weeks, we started with like 10 days, so two years. I didn’t start writing the lyrics until the second year and that took a whole summer, but, yeah, it took forever.
What distinguishes this record from the rest of your catalogue? Thematically and musically what would you say stands out about Dose Your Dreams compared to some of the other records?
I try to make it a synthesis of all our, sort of, disparate styles. People always talk about how we use all these different instruments and different voices and all that stuff, so I wanted to just really blow it out as the full realisation of all the stuff we were into and all the different sounds we liked and really just to go.
Go as far as we could and still make it a hard guitar record, I still think it fits in the catalogue, it’s weird but still a Fucked Up record. But just not to worry about if people were going to complain how long it was, or whatever, just to go and make it as big as I wanted to.
… music still defines people’s whole culture especially when you’re young, you figure out who you are because of the music you listen to.
[ Mike Haliechuk ]
I was going to ask about the song Normal people, to me it really resonated, I’m in my 30s have been involved in punk music pretty much my whole life, kind of thing. It seems to depict alienation in the modern world, maybe getting older, is that what you were trying to do with that song?
Kind of, the point of the song is that everyone thinks that everyone else is having an amazing time and you’re the only one that’s lonely and feeling messed up. It’s sort of like the ‘normal people’ thing is just to say, like, everyone feels lonely and everyone feels like they are the abnormal one, it doesn’t matter your place in society.
It kind of makes everyone feel messed up and when you’re a punk, you know, obviously you spend a lot of time thinking about stuff like this, like society and alienation and shit but it’s just, like, everyone feels like that all the time.
Do you think that things have become so disposable these days, in general? Do you think music still has the same power it had to connect people as it has had in the past?
Yeah, my whole career is just because of music and connecting with people and yes, we’re a small band and we’re, like, a punk band but we’ve had this longevity we’ve had because we try to write music that connects people and says something to them. So yeah, I think although people listen to music in different ways, they’ll listen to a song instead of an album, maybe, but music is huge, music still defines people’s whole culture especially when you’re young, you figure out who you are because of the music you listen to. Music is the main one, it goes through everything.
I want to ask you about the video for Normal People who came up with the idea, it seems like it was quite elaborate?
Yeah, I directed it and I worked with my friend Mia Bansik, who’s a DOP. I had never really directed stuff before but the lyrics I was writing were very visual, I thought, they were sort of like vignettes so the treatment for the video is sort of like, “Let’s shoot a bunch of the scenes from the record.” The long Accelerate lyric sheet has a lot of visual elements in it, so that (Normal People) video and Accelerate were trying to visualise a lot of the passages in that.
It was quick, me and Jonah and Mia just sort of fucked around and we were like, “How stupid can we be?” We just rented some costumes and went to the mall and just, sort of, had fun but then is just sort of coalesced into a story as well with all the characters we had to use.
Tell us about the character of Joyce, it seems to be a theme running through the record. Can you explain what she represents in kind of a broad sense?
So for anybody who has read the comic The Invisibles by Grant Morrison, the first four issues are about the young kid and then this homeless person named Tom O’Bedlam, you meet him and he’s at the end of his life but he opens up this kids–sort of shows him, he takes the veneer off reality and shows him what is really at work.
But then a bunch of issues later you get this guys backstory and you realise he was a revolutionary in the 20s and 30s and he has this whole crazy story, so Joyce is kind of like that. When you meet her she is sort of this crazy person, but she’s crazy enough that she holds this truth and this wisdom and she sets David off on the path he goes, she’s responsible for what he learns on the record and that’s the idea.
In fiction it’s really fun to meet somebody at the end of their story and then understand that they have this whole other story to get there, so we made this companion record about her, we put a “Raise Your Voice Joyce” 12 inch out which is 10 songs telling her story as well.
Do you want to give away what she reveals to David or is that up to the listener to decide?
I mean, yeah, it’s sort of like there is no secret and there is no answer, she’s the person that like finds him in a dumpster and is like, “Yo, there’s different ways to look at the world.” And then 17 more songs unfold and its very loose, it’s loose enough that people can take their own interpretation from it but it’s not like there’s an answer and there’s one thing that she shows him, it’s just, like, you can think for yourself.
The point of the record is just that everybody has dreams and life becomes the process of forgetting what they were. The record is about, “They’re all real”, they all can be as real as the life you have now.
The idea that your dreams can still be alive if you pursue it.
It can be hard for some, the way things are in the world right now.
I guess so, there’s always hard shit, right? The hardest times make for the biggest dreams, I guess.
14-year-old kids know about veganism and how not to be a harasser, about women’s rights and about trans rights. So, the stuff that I had to learn because of really tiny ass punk bands I would learn on the back of some 7 inch, those kind of ideas people learn on the news now.
[ Mike Haliechuk ]
On the theme of modern life, as a performer have you noticed anything different in the experience of performing live now compared to say 5, 10 years ago as technology becomes more and more a part of common spaces?
Not really, like, at our shows, we’ve been a band for 20 years and we see a lot of the same people, people come to the shows and those people are like they are. You have a lot of older people come to the shows so it’s like we’re not really playing to, like, 16-year olds.
What is your audience these days?
I don’t know, it’s hard to really nail down, freaks kind of, I don’t know, we have a really weird fanbase. It’s hard to nail down but it’s not like, we’re not really engaging with the people who are making youth culture necessarily.
Do you think young people are still getting into punk, I mean not that Fucked Up are necessarily a “punk band” but do you think that punk is still sort of relevant for younger kids because sometimes I wonder, it seems like it’s just becoming an old dudes club sometimes you know?
I think that the way that its working now, it’s not like people are like going to see Bad Religion but things are punk now in this way where 14-year-old kids know about veganism and how not to be a harasser, about women’s rights and about trans rights. So, the stuff that I had to learn because of really tiny ass punk bands I would learn on the back of some 7 inch, those kind of ideas people learn on the news now.
You have huge artists like Beyoncé and stuff who are talking about human rights and, you know, talking about things that were niche and frankly only stuff that punk bands would talk about for a long time. I think punk attitudes of equality and stuff, kids aren’t having mohawks, but I think young people are into issues of equality more than young people were when I was younger.
So, I guess it’s more about the attitude rather than the actual music kind of thing?
Yeah and it’s like who’s to say, shit like Billie Eilish, it sounds like its pop music and maybe it’s put together in a certain way but that’s still kind of talking to kids on their level and talking about stuff that’s important. There are just these ideas, these punk ideas and these punk values I think that are coming to kids not just from, like, Rancid or whatever.
Just being cynical for a moment, do you think the entertainment industry has sort of realised that these ideas are emerging, so they kind of just get pop artists that can have these general ideas to engage young people and make money?
Yeah of course, where I’m from the biggest thing in the world right now is Beyond Meat burgers, everywhere you go, every restaurant, every restaurant like McDonalds is like making meatless burgers and it’s, you know, every trend or every value will get sucked up into a corporate entity but it’s also at the same time, this is probably going to be a generation of kids that doesn’t really think it’s cool to eat meat or doesn’t think its cool to harass trans people.
So, whether it’s corporatised or not, in ten years those kids will be voting and in 20 years those people will be like having jobs, making decisions and having their own kids. That’s sort of the only way change happens, is millions and millions of kids can hear about stuff like this and all think it’s cool, that doesn’t happen because they read it on some punk blog.
Do you think there’s still a place for punk bands in that kind of revolutionary sense these days then?
I don’t know, I don’t really think there’s such a thing as a revolutionary punk band and we obviously live in a very co-opted society where change is not going to happen unless it’s economic change or unless it can be expressed economically and that’s just sort of the society we are stuck in. But people’s lives can still improve so what are you going to do?
Changing tact for a minute, how did you come to work with Merge Records and what’s it like working with Mac and Laura?
We had done a record with them we put out Year of the Ox with them like 10 years ago and it was just a single, but it went really nice and we’ve always respected Superchunk and sort of know Mac from seeing him around. They’re all nice people, our contract with Matador was up and we needed a new label, we had always wanted to work with Merge in a bigger way, so it’s been really good, we like them.
Is there a plan after this record, are you working on new stuff?
Yeah, so Australia is sort of the end of this tour, that will be about a year after this record came out. We’ll take a break; we’ll go back in the studio soon we’re going to try and work on more Zodiac stuff because we’re like five years behind. We’ll chill for a minute and then start thinking about the next thing.
Catch Fucked Up with special guests Loser at the following dates:
MELBOURNE // Wednesday 9 October // Corner Hotel
SYDNEY // Thursday 10 October // Oxford Art Factory
BRISBANE // Saturday 12 October // Crowbar