FAKE IT BIG "We're a band that reaches for the highest possible point — and scams our way to get to that," says Pink Eyes.
Fucked Up's career is a game of dares they're winning. Over the past few years, the Toronto band have trashed a bathroom on an MTV broadcast, played a 12-hour set in a NYC boutique (with Moby dropping by to cover "Blitzkrieg Bop"), reeled in random notables like David Cross, Bob Mould, and Nelly Furtado for Christmas charity singles, landed their vocalist Pink Eyes (a/k/a Damian Abraham) appearances on Fox News, and won the 2009 Polaris Music Prize (i.e., 20,000 Canadian smackers) for 2008's The Chemistry of Common Life (Matador). What makes this list of accomplishments especially impressive (and unlikely) is that Fucked Up traffic in an arcane breed of huge, woolly hardcore.
"We never thought we'd get out of the basement," Abraham tells me. Spawning in 2001 as an outlet for their mutual fondness for '80s hardcore, the group edged onto some decent bills and planned a bunch of two-song seven-inches. The ambitions stopped there. "We were always going to be a band that no one really cares about, so we were going to have fun doing it," Abraham recalls. "All this stuff happened to fall into our lap."
Beyond dumb luck, two traits have helped hoist Fucked Up from the underground: sheer productivity — their non-album output easily tops 30 releases — and ferocious moxie. Their live shows are tornadoes of strewn bodies, actual bloodshed (Abraham frequently bashes his forehead open with a mic), and social impropriety (he's also unafraid of nudity). But Fucked Up's music remains literate and experimental enough that the surrounding madness doesn't feel like shtick or a distraction. Staying true to hardcore would usually be enough to ensure that few would ever hear them, period; but by turning hardcore on its head, flipping its insularity and taking one artistic risk after the next, they've suddenly got everyone's ear. "We're a band that reaches for the highest possible point — and scams our way to get to that," affirms Abraham.
Their newly released two-disc Couple Tracks (Matador) is culled from seven years of singles and B-sides. Although thin on the near-psychedelic trips found throughout Chemistry, it's rich with revved-up guitars, pummeling drums, and Abraham's burly wails, which sound as if he were perpetually developing an ulcer. From there, the stew surprises: "Magic Word" has a garage/rockabilly stomp with hints of tambourine, "Mustaa Lunta" sounds like an amped-up Ramones track, "David Christmas" is a wild melodic mish-mash, and "Crooked Head" offers both swirling shoegaze and disorienting feedback. Some more traditionally hardcore outbursts touch on the band's very beginnings (the full-throttle "No Parasan" is from 2002), and within that early vigor you can hear the first rumblings of the creative intensity that drags the rest of Couple Tracks around the musical map. Somehow, it all works.
Next up for Fucked Up: a punk opera based on "David Comes to Life" (from 2006's Hidden World), split seven-inches with NOFX and the King Khan & BBQ Show, a bevy of singles, and a songwriting credit on GZA's new disc. (Swears Abraham, "I'm not going to rap on it, I promise.") Charmed as they may be, not every endeavor materializes (M.I.A., Jarvis Cocker, and a Jonas brother couldn't make it to their last charity-single session), but the hunt keeps them ever on their toes.