Four years ago you conducted an entire interview with Stereogum posing as a worker in a lightbulb factory. Did the band put you up to that to test-drive the David character?
Mike Haliechuk: The lightbulb thing was just kind of this random thing, and obviously we adopted it for the story. For the play it kind of worked because you have this poor guy David who’s working in this really dark, dingy place, but he’s making a source of light for other people. So we thought it would be this really cool symbol. You know, like when you have a job where you’re making something really good for someone else, but it makes you feel bad?
You initially put this album aside to make The Chemistry of Common Life, which was considered ambitious in its own right. Why did you feel ready for one epic thing but not the other?
MH: We sort of toyed with doing this one in 2007, but we just weren’t ready. I guess we didn’t want our second album to be this musical/conceptual thing, we wanted to have another real record under our belts. And we didn’t really have the time, we were sort of doing a record at the same time we were figuring out a contract and a record deal so. We didn’t really have a calculated plan for the last record, it just kind of came together. This one, we had a lot of time to think about it and make it properly.
Damian Abraham: I think we were still kind of joking about it at that stage. We didn’t really know what shape this thing would take. So we just kind of went in and made [Chemistry] and it was very straightforward and the concepts weren’t too heady. And I’m really happy we didn’t try to make this record then because it’s a lot more involved and I think would have killed us.
I was impressed with how closely the album sticks to the storyline. Even most famous concept albums have a handful of tracks that have nothing to do with the plot.
DA: We tried to be cognizant of making sure every song had something to do with the story. I don’t like when you listen to a record, especially a rock opera, and it has songs that don’t contribute to the story. I mean, you wouldn’t want to see a movie and have a scene that has nothing to do with what you’re watching!
Did the band ever get shit for these kinds of ambitions among your hometown scene?
MH: I mostly just hear that we’re like, pretentious or something now.
Well, you did open one record with a flute…
MH: We used to toy a lot with the idea of like, mind control and all that shit. And it acts as a reference to kind of a “pied piper” thing, to start off the record with this flute that kind of... draws you in.
DA: We’ve kind of gotten shit the whole way. I can say this because the people I’m talking about are actually friends of mine, but people who hated Hidden World when it came out and are now like, “Man, you guys were awesome when Hidden World came out and now you suck!” But Toronto as a hometown has always been supportive of us. And one of the ways we’ve lucked out is when some people stop attention other people have started paying attention. There’s still punk and hardcore kids but it’s shifted slightly.
Hidden World had whistling and violins, and [Chemistry] had flute and tabla. What other instruments have you been waiting to use on a Fucked Up release?
MH: If you’d asked me that question five years ago I would’ve said a theremin, but now all the thinking I do for writing new music is just making it simpler. I feel like the weird instruments we used became such a thing, and now we just want to strip it down to guitars and bass and drums. But maybe the next thing we do will be in a weird tuning.
One thing I enjoy is how as your albums get longer, the songs themselves have gotten shorter. Are you becoming tighter editors in general or was it just a necessity in this case?
MH: Well, I mean, the next record that’s coming out is The Year of the Tiger, in September or October, and that’s got one 15-minute song and one 25-minute song. Every record has a different character. The next album could be even more ridiculous and even more pretentious. But for this one, we wanted to see what we could do within the confines of this conventional musical style almost.
I’m going to list some reference points that David Comes to Life reminds me of, and you can call bullshit or not: No Age.
MH: Yeah, I like them, they’re cool. We’re friends with them.
DA: Absolutely. Great friends of ours. Amazing Band. Dean [Spunt] started smoking pot just before I started smoking pot. I thought it was super lame when he started doing it, and then I ended up following in his footsteps.
DA: Michael Stipe actually came to our 12-hour show at the very end when no one was there anymore, and we got to meet him and talk to him really briefly. R.E.M.’s a great band that has a real deep history in American indie-rock that parallels American punk rock and American hardcore so I have a lot of respect for them. And “Crush with Eyeliner,” Thurston Moore’s part on that is really cool.
DA: I actually have the first Glenn Branca record Lesson No. 1 on my wall. Certainly, the wall of sound, the wall of guitars. The idea of a guitar symphony is such a cool idea. So yeah, Glenn Branca, but also Kevin Shields and the My Bloody Valentine layering was another massive influence.
MH: I don’t even think I’ve ever heard of that.
Steve Reich, especially Music for 18 Musicians.
DA: Oh yeah, absolutely that too. And with a lot of that… it’s funny because, with Mike too, I never know what Mike listens to when I’m not around. He listens to techno and I make fun of him for that. Maybe I should stop making fun of him and then he’ll tell me.
MH: It’s weird, I used to listen to stuff like that and Kirsty Riley or whatever his name is [Terry Riley? –ed]. But I feel like we tried to get away from stuff like that on this record. We just wanted to make something that sounds like the Goo Goo Dolls or something.
DA: [makes a noise] Yeah, see. But Goo Goo Dolls came from a hardcore background too. So.