The Toronto punk band Fucked Up plays music that’s somewhere between a temper tantrum and a meth-induced panic attack: warp-speed tempos, roaring vocals, and intricate, multilayered melodies. The last year has been a breathless one for the group, including their first album with Matador, The Chemistry of Common Life; tours of Japan and China; a rave in the New York Times and the cover of NME; the coveted Polaris Prize for Music (the Canadian equivalent of the Mercury Prize); and, for the band’s front man, Damian Abraham, a regular, improbable stint on Fox’s Red Eye and the kind of indie rock adulation usually reserved for members of Animal Collective. (Tonight the band plays the Brooklyn Masonic Temple with Andrew W.K., Katie Stelmanis, and the Vivian Girls.) Here, Abraham talks about why he likes to take his clothes off onstage, the band’s name, and what he really thinks of Bono.
You took off all your clothes (except for boxers and socks) at the Polaris Prize ceremony. That wasn’t the first time. What made you start stripping onstage?
I was a fat kid. I didn’t take my shirt off at all, ever, for the longest time. Not even for sex. It wasn’t until we played in Texas in 2004 that I took it off. These two bear friends of mine said you’d look really good with your shirt off. And it was so hot onstage and I was sick and so I did it. It felt so liberating. I cannot perform with my shirt on now. The pants are a recent development. I’ve opened up a Pandora’s Box of nudity.
You’ve worn some deliberately provocative T-shirts when you’ve been on Red Eye: an Obama one, a Manson one. Any wardrobe thoughts for your next appearance?
I don’t know, maybe a “Bring Me the Head of Glenn Beck” shirt.
You must be really tired of questions about the band’s name.
No, not really. Things probably would have unfolded very differently if we had a different name. Like, we applied for a government grant to make a video and we got turned down again. Every band in Canada gets government money and we don’t and I’m pretty sure it’s because of the name.
You’ve used the Polaris Prize money ($20,000) to produce a charity cover of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Who’s performing on it?
David Cross, members of Vampire Weekend, TV on the Radio, Broken Social Scene, the GZA, Bob Mould, No Age, and Yo La Tengo are all confirmed. I’m still waiting on confirmation from Feist, Jarvis Cocker, and M.I.A. We wanted the biggest people we could get. If we could get a Jonas Brother on this, I would get a Jonas Brother.
Did you approach any of the original participants?
We’re not taking on world hunger this time, but something that’s much more marginalized. So I liked the idea of somewhat marginalized indie rockers coming together for a marginalized cause. But if Bono wanted to be on the record, I’d say yes, because, at the end of the day, it’s about raising money and awareness. As terrible as I find his music and as reprehensible as I find him as a person, I would definitely have him on.
Where’s the money going?
We’re doing it for a few different organizations, like Justice for the Missing, that are affiliated with the 500 missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. That number is an old official statistic that the government uses, but the number is probably closer to 3,000. It’s not like cancer or AIDS. Those are worthy causes but they have big fund-raising machines. This is an undocumented, underreported crime that’s been going on for years. And while this is for Canadian organizations, the same sort of thing is going on at the U.S.-Mexico border, with Mexican women going missing, and in Australia, with aboriginal women there.
Why’d you choose this particular coverm though? I mean, it’s been done a few times, right?
There’s a kind of cavalier colonialism to the original, like the West has to go in and help this poor Third World country. But the charities that we’re trying to help are exactly a product of this colonial history. People who have been subjugated and oppressed for so many years are going missing. So there’s an irony to using the song.
Are you writing any new lyrics?
Oh, God no. The lyrics are tasteless enough as it is.
Are you going to sing — or scream — on the record yourself?
Maybe in the chorus, where I can be drowned out by people with beautiful voices. But no, I want to make something listenable.