By Jibril Yassin
CALGARY — When I get on the phone with guitarist Josh Zucker of Toronto band Fucked Up, my first question was to ask about their living arrangements on tour. For years, I read their blog, Looking For Gold, feasting on stories of finding strange shows while away in Europe and finding themselves in punk squats at the end of the night. But, all that has changed now.
“We’re a hotel band now,” Zucker says, over the phone in Montreal. “We stayed on people’s floors and couches for a good while. Now, we stay in hotels every night.”
It’s safe to say nobody in Fucked Up were expecting to be at this point when they emerged out of the Toronto hardcore scene in 2002. Twelve years, several albums (and far too many EPs and 7”s to count) and one Polaris Prize later, they come across as an almost entirely different band. They’ve made several albums for the big indie label, Matador. Their frontman has been a VJ for MuchMusic. Their name might prevent them from embracing full-on mainstream success but, right now, they’re as close as they can get. Much has changed.
Yet, their adventurous spirit, the same that led them to donning aliases such as Pink Eyes, Ten Thousand Marbles and Concentration Camp, undertaking challenges like a 12-hour gig in NYC, and writing and recording entire rock operas complete with a companion album and a nonstop schedule of 7”s, remains.
Fucked Up’s latest album, Glass Boys, however, is no operatic second curtain. For one, if David Comes to Lufe was a dense and long rock opera with a huge cast of characters — the closest thing hardcore could claim as a musical — then Glass Boys is compact.
“The record’s shorter,” Zucker says, “songs on the whole are shorter than songs on the last few records and also the sentiment inside — not that they’re limited in any way but I think they’re expressing simpler things, straightforward things, where we’re at as a band, where we’re at as people.”
Any sort of a sprawling social narrative is gone. Instead, the magnifying lens is entirely directed at Fucked Up themselves. Glass Boys is an album dealing with the realities of being in an aging punk band, what to do after having accomplished the dreams of your youth and realigning them to your current, unexpected realities. How do you reconcile the ethos of playing in a hardcore band with finding yourself at award galas years later where the emcees can’t even pronounce the name of your band?
Frontman Damian Abraham had this to say to Pitchfork: “There’s obviously a selfishness in playing music, in general, and exploiting it, on a certain level, to make a living — and there’s guilt over that. There’s this idea, like: Have you done right by the 23-year-old version of yourself that led you to realizing all your fantasies by 33?”
The music reflects the themes, too: while Glass Boys retains the hard rock sheen of David, it incorporates the breakneck tempos found in debut, Hidden World, with the maximalism of The Chemistry of Common Life thrown in for good measure. It’s not a culmination of what they’ve done as much as it is Fucked Up reconciling their ambition and more-is-better approach to rock with the sounds of their distant past. Drummer Jonah Falco recorded four different drum tracks to be played through the album and guest vocalists, such as Gord Downie, George Pettit, Kurt Vile and J. Mascis are all featured. With Glass Boys, Fucked Up are ready to make their grandest statement, yet, it’s one about themselves.
“I kinda think of it as a coming of age record. It’s coming off this big David Comes to Life record,” Zucker says. “Damian talks about this a lot, this pressure to follow up with something. I think, for us, it’s kinda like we are trying to prove we can continue to write interesting stuff and this one also is proving we can write a bit more as far as the lyrics go, a bit more personally and honestly. We’re not hiding behind characters that we created in David Comes to Life or esoteric topics that take centre stage on the LPs before that.”
As much as Glass Boys serves as meta-commentary, could it also serve as a blueprint or a how-to for other punk bands who have found themselves in a similar situation?
“No, I don’t really think so. I think it comes down to the people and the music,” Zucker says. “Any time you’re going to follow a blueprint or a 10-year plan, you’re probably just kidding yourself and I think, for us, if we tried to come up with another 10-year blueprint, it would become obsolete within 10 months or whatever.”
Catch Fucked Up at the Pawn Shop (Edmonton) on September 20th, at Republik (Calgary) on September 21st and at the West End Cultural Centre (Winnipeg) on September 23rd.AB, Alberta, Fucked Up, Glass Boys, Pawn Shop, Republik, West End Cultural Centre