Fucked Up frontman Damian Abraham is seated in a vape lounge in Toronto’s Kensington Market, fiddling with a dab rig in front of him as he discusses the precarious nature of his freelance media work. “It’s weird to be in this modern era and look at the attack on labour that’s happening on every level,” he says, glancing over from his set up. He’s clad in a black ball cap and a pale blue PJ Harvey t-shirt which reads, “The Community Of Hope.” “You go to the grocery store now, you go to the automated check-out. That was a decent job for someone. Your apps, the rideshares, those are jobs. People fought for labour laws.” Now, he groans, those protections have been eroded. “I feel like an old man yelling at a cloud because that’s the way it is now, and you can’t stop it from being that way.”
When I meet guitarist Mike Haliechuk the next day, he’s reading a copy of New Yorker, earbuds dangling from the neckline of a blue and white striped shirt. He’s arranged himself in a booth at the Dufferin Mall food court. Around us, the thud of feet, muffled conversations, music from storefronts, and phone pings combine to create a dull cacophony that hangs in the background. At one point, our conversation turns to the idealism that underlies youthful anti-capitalist activism.
“When I was 15, I decided that this world was fucked, in that simple teenage way,” he explains. “That decided the whole course of my life. I met people who thought… they were like, ‘We’re doing this until the revolution happens, then this is what our world is gonna look like.’ People really thought that all of this,” he gestures around at the shops and blinkering signs and televisions, “would disappear because people were fighting for it to disappear. I’m not a young person anymore, but…” He pauses and looks out, and the hum of the mall intrudes again. He circles back to his band’s upcoming album that releases this Friday, Dose Your Dreams. “This is just sort of a reminder to myself that I used to be a person that thought everything, the whole world, was malleable, that the things I wanted from the world could happen if I tried hard to make them. Hopefully that’s still part of the agenda.”
Bandmates Abraham and Haliechuk, along with bassist Sandy Miranda, guitarist Josh Zucker, guitarist Ben Cook, and drummer Jonah Falco, are readying the release of their fifth studio record, Dose Your Dreams. It’s a sprawling, hour-and-a-half concept record that follows a cast of fictional characters both old and new. David Eliade, the protagonist from 2011’s David Comes To Life, is back in the saddle. But Haliechuk explains that David is just a pawn in this record. “It’s actually Joyce’s record,” he asserts.
He’s referring to Joyce Tops, an elderly radical who happens upon a jobless David and sends him on a journey to discover essential truths about the nature of modern life. These truths are often horrible; Joyce’s partner, Lloyd in the Void, was lost to them, and failed to return from his voyage. Joyce is the omnipotent adhesive that connects the record’s many moods and sounds and experiences.
“Maximalism is a good word for it,” says Haliechuk of the record’s composition. “This was trying to be the biggest thing we could make.” Haliechuk and Falco wrote Dose Your Dreams, only summoning the other four members to the studio when it was their turn to record. Haliechuk notes that the other members “crushed it” in the studio, but that he and Falco handling the bulk of the writing worked out well on a pragmatic level. “If we’re doing it in a practice space with the band, the band will guide the arrangement of the song, but I hate doing that. I hate spending six months practicing a song, and writing in a space, and then waiting six months to book the studio, and having to relearn it again.” It is not inaccurate to call this Haliechuk’s record. He exclusively handled the narrative side of Dose Your Dreams. “This is the first time I never contributed,” Abraham shrugs, though he connected so much with Haliechuk’s lyrics that he accused his bandmate of trying to write from his perspective. “I was genuinely, and still am, kind of in the dark about a lot of the actual mechanisms behind this record.”
“I wasn’t committed to the vision until, honestly, I heard the record. Now, I’m like, ‘Thank god I didn’t try to put my shit all over it.’”
This is a switch-up for Abraham: he didn’t want to make another record at all. “For me, David Comes To Life was the penultimate statement, and then Glass Boys was like things I thought I should clarify,” he says. “I can remember the day we peaked as a band,” he continues, recounting a day opening for Foo Fighters in New Zealand, playing to over 40,000 people. At the time, Fucked Up was on the cover of SPIN, and Abraham hosted a show on MuchMusic. “From a really crass commercial standpoint, that was my peak,” he says.
Abraham felt he had said all he needed to say. Haliechuk felt differently.
“Mike was like, ‘I’ve got one more record I wanna do,’ so he started writing it,” explains Abraham. He contributed to a few sessions but felt uncommitted, instead focusing on other projects. Then Haliechuk announced he had written all the lyrics—Abraham simply had to come in and sing them. “My normal reaction was, ‘Fuck no,’” he deadpans. “Then I thought about it like, the only reason that I’m afforded [career] opportunities… comes down to Fucked Up. I had a moment of self-awareness, which is rare for me, where I’m like, ‘I owe it to Mike to see this through.’ For the most part, it’s exactly his vision. I wasn’t committed to the vision until, honestly, I heard the record. Now, I’m like, ‘Thank god I didn’t try to put my shit all over it.’” For Abraham, studio time with Fucked Up has traditionally been stressful. “The way we record is not necessarily the most positive experience,” he sighs, noting he feels anxiety when going into the studio. He says that on previous Fucked Up records, he performed more passionately on songs he penned than ones he didn’t. But without a personal stake in the record, he felt he could deliver strong, undistracted vocals across the board. “This time, it was all in,” he says.
Haliechuk’s vision is expansive and complex and indulgent, but Dose Your Dreams, with its demanding runtime (“It’s bloated in a way that I kinda want a record to be,” Abraham grins), manages to be musically compelling the entire way through. It develops and builds within itself in a way that previous Fucked Up records weren’t concerned with. It also benefits from a diverse cast of collaborators, with Lido Pimienta, Jennifer Castle, Miya Folick, and Ryan Tong contributing lead vocals on various tracks.
Opener “None Of Your Business Man” opens with a gentle-then-steep incline similar to Chemistry of Common Life’s “Son The Father.” It bursts in with major-key radiance, enlivened with sax melodies that run behind Abraham’s trademark roar on the chorus. It’s followed by the similarly jubilant “Raise Your Voice, Joyce,” which brings gang-vocals on the chorus to supplement Abraham’s voice.
But these two are, for the most part, a warm and recognizable welcome. Not so typical are tracks like “Dose Your Dreams,” with its dark nu-funk shuffle and disco strings, or the snarling industrial throb of “Mechanical Bull,” which finds David ensnared in an array of nightmarish capitalist clutches. Then there are cuts like “House Of Keys” or “Torch To Light,” which heave and pulse with synth flourishes and piano breaks before snapping into semi-acquainted space with dance-punk choruses or Abraham-led screeds on the verses. Haliechuk’s story draws these disparate genre pieces together. It’s unabashedly hopeful, almost strangely so for a notoriously cantankerous punk band that’s nearing 20 years of existence. “I brought out the old textbooks from age 18 to write the lyrics,” he grins.
In person, an uneducated party might expect this from Abraham: he is warm and genial, quick to dole out a hearty chuckle. But Haliechuk, so often positioned as Abraham’s foil, is comparatively reserved and guarded in conversation. It is, at first, tough to reconcile this exterior with the optimistic tale that runs through Dose—one that details the hunt for joy and purity in a capitalist society where all are complicit. “It’s all just the way I feel about things,” he admits about the album’s thrust. “This is about our feelings about consumerism and social media and all the touch points that I think people are dealing with now.”
Chief among these concerns is a thread that indicts the monetizing of our most precious commodity: time. Haliechuk cites Raoul Vaneigem’s “The Revolution of Everyday Life” as an influential text that talks about “how time is a product. Time is either something you own, or you have to pay for. It’s leisure time, or how you spend your time working, and how much money you need to make to mitigate free time, and even the way you experience it…” He trails off, as he frequently does in our conversation.
It is humorous to host these conversations in a mall food court: a space initially conceived as public, but ubiquitously encroached upon and dictated by the private. Haliechuk observes that it’s virtually impossible now to live outside of these systems. “Our social relations now are governed by companies. You use a program that was designed by an algorithm that was designed to make sure you keep using it.” Even that time which we think we have carved out for ourselves isn’t free from these mechanisms: “If I’m sitting and relaxing, reading a book, I’ll have my computer open in case any emails come in, and then I’ll have my phone on the other side in case something comes in there. It’s hard to experience anything now because you’re just waiting.” We’re addicted to “the potential of something.”
“The memories you have of this era will be your photos you took, the angles you got, the filter you put on the photo. It’s all there, but it’s not what really happened. The record is about that. It’s about how you forget that… life wasn’t always like this. Our social life became this way because people decided it was going to. This is a consequence of somebody wanting to make a profit.”
“I know who buys Fucked Up records. It’s people that need help, people that listen to music for a reason, because they feel lonely or they need some kind of connection.”
There is an obvious darkness to these assertions. Haliechuk notes that a specific facet of this unrelenting machinery is that it numbs over time. “I don’t live my life really depressed about all of this because you just forget,” he sighs. It is easy to wax rhapsodic about these issues. But Haliechuk’s ramblings aren’t the edgelord dorm-room anti-capitalism of Fight Club. They’re an earnest assessment of his reality. And for all of Dose Your Dreams’ acerbic grumblings, it’s a record genuinely and wholly committed to giving hope. It is a record that seeks to revive the flame Haliechuk felt when he was young, one unsullied by profiteers.
It becomes increasingly clear that there is a sort of fatalism tied to Dose Your Dreams. These words aren’t so much for Haliechuk; he will not witness a radical change to the establishment in his lifetime. They are for young listeners who might be spurred to action. In many ways, Dose Your Dreams is a rather tender and gentle record, encouraging people to pursue their idealism, no matter how foolish or impractical. It clashes with the cool pragmatism of Fucked Up’s recording process, but it reveals the admirable end to which the means aspire: some sort of fucking change for the better.
There are two songs sung by Falco that come on the record’s second-half. One of them, “Love Is An Island In The Sea,” spools out over mellow, tired-sounding guitar and keys, and towards its climax, it speaks with clarity: “Make your stand at the end of the miles you’ve come/And then you will be free, the freedom comes in being like a stone there at the bottom/Not afraid to stand against the waves/And then another stone, and then another, and soon the biggest ships and tides will come and crash against the hem you’ve built.”
“I wanted to make those songs where it was as if we were whispering them into the audience’s ear,” says Haliechuk. “I know who buys Fucked Up records. It’s people that need help, people that listen to music for a reason, because they feel lonely or they need some kind of connection.” He glances around at our surroundings again: “This is all stuff to keep you scared of thinking that you can achieve it in a real way. Those two songs are specifically to say, ‘Listen, we know what this is like for you. We were like this. There’s things you can do, and things you can feel, to feel better and to have some hope in this dark world.’”
Abraham, in his own way, bookends this sentiment: “If you go out there and you believe in your idea, and you luck out and you find the right friend, you can make anything happen. Fucked Up is proof of that.”
Luke is on Twitter.