It’s getting to be that ever year is a banner year for Toronto’s Fucked Up. But hey, we’ll say it anyways: 2011 was a banner year for Toronto’s Fucked Up. The band followed up their Polaris-winning sophomore record The Chemistry Of Common Life, with the insanely ambitious David Comes To Life, released this past June. No less than an double-LP rock opera serving as the zenith of the band’s long-gestating “mythology” (hitherto worked out largely in interviews and the cryptic liner notes of 7-inch releases).
This year also saw the band score a movie live, open for the Foo Fighters, deal with speculations about their break-up and, as 2011 comes to a close, see David Comes To Life topping all kinds of year-end charts. Now, to cap off the banner-iest of banner years yet, Fucked Up is presenting a two-day benefit festival at The Great Hall in Toronto. Tonight, the band will be joined by Quest For Fire and P.S. I Love You, for a show that will see Fucked Up performing all four sides of David Comes To Life, in its entirety (which they recently pulled off for a two night stint in New York). On Dec. 21, Bonjay and Ohbijou will open for Sloan, who are taking a page from Fucked Up’s book and playing all of 1996’s One Chord To Another. And all the profits go to COUNTERfit’s drug users memorial project and the Barriere Lake Legal Defense Fund, which means you can feel not guilty about having all this fun.
We talked to Fucked Up guitarist (and former vocalist) Josh Zucker (a.k.a Concentration Camp, a.k.a. Gulag) about playing their magnum opus record live, how the band has grown in the past year, and what it’s like getting all that good press.
The A.V. Club: You guys played all of David Comes To Life in New York last month. Was that the first time you’d performed the record, front-to-back, for an audience?
Josh Zucker: It was, yeah. We did two nights in a row: one night in Manhattan, one night in Brooklyn.
AVC: How did those shows go?
JZ: They were really good! The first night we played this interesting venue where we were in the round, so the crowd was all around us. We also had this string quartet, who we first met in person that night, who had learned a bunch of the acoustic guitar parts from the album and the intro song as well. They performed that. It was really fun. People were excited. It actually went by really fast.
AVC: David Comes To Life is a pretty complex record, that it seems like it’d be tricky to pull of live in its entirety. What goes into this?
JZ: I guess we just take it one song at a time. We had a bunch of guitars, so that helps. It somehow comes off. The way we record, and write, is over a long period of time. We’ll kind of have to re-learn the songs after we record them, because they’ll change. So we’ve been slowly incorporating songs into the sets, since the record came out. But there were still about nine songs off the album that we’d never played live before. So there was a lot of rehearsing, and arranging, and cutting little bits here and there.
AVC: A couple months back, you guys performed a live soundtrack accompanying the film West of Zanzibar at the Toronto Underground Cinema, without Damian. That seems like kind of a precursor to an endeavor like playing all of David live.
JZ: I don’t know if it helped us for the record, but it helped us as musicians. We wrote an hour of music in three weeks, which for us was a lot. So we really gelled as musicians. It was different because, we were writing songs without lyrics. So as we were writing it, that was how it was going to sound when we played it live. It’s different because when you’re something that’s on a record, you don’t really have to figure out all the parts and how they work right now. The Zanzibar thing, it did help us with our arranging. But it’s a lot different.
AVC: David Comes To Life feels so complete as a record that it almost seems odd hearing the songs out of context, like when you played “The Other Shoe” on Strombo’s show a few weeks back. Was it hard, picking out what songs you’d play outside of the context of the whole album?
JZ: A little bit. I think the first four songs on the record became the first ones we played live. They’re the poppiest songs on the record. But it’s weird. When you play a song live for like 100 shows or something and then go back and listen to how it sounds on the record, it sounds like a completely different song. And that’s the case with older records, too. I recently went back and listened to some, and the way we play them live is so different now, at least in my mind.
AVC: What changes?
JZ: I’d say for a quarter of the songs, we just cut them down—songs with really long bridges, or repeating choruses. And we also try to tie songs together too, live, so there’s not hard breaks between them. So we might throw in a different chord progression at the end so it just moves into a different song. Stuff like that.
AVC: David Comes To Life was the clearest articulation of this long-standing Fucked Up mythology that you guys have been working with. Does the record conclude that, or can we expect to see characters like David Eliade popping up again, say on the Year Of The Tiger 12-inch you’re releasing?
JZ: No, he won’t be on that. There may be a spin-off. Damian has an idea of doing a Veronica-themed record; so considering the story from the perspective of the female lead instead of the male lead. So that would change things up a bit. I think right now we’re kind of all tried of the David story. Or not tried of it, but ready to move on. So it was a culmination, in a way, but I think we’ll keep him around.
AVC: How did you guys cook up this Christmas benefit show?
JZ: For many years we did a Halloween festival in Toronto, and that kind of stopped a few years ago because we were away touring over Halloween. We’ve done one or two benefit 7-inches, or performances before in Toronto. It kind of started as a replacement for the Halloween thing. This is kind of the two things coming together: doing a Toronto-centric show over a couple of days that involved a bunch of different bands. I think it’s a way of keeping in touch with a lot of Toronto bands that we miss, being out of town so much. And the benefit thing is almost a responsibility for bands. If you’re able to make a living off a band, you should be able to give some of that back.
AVC: The bigger Fucked Up gets, the more haters come out of the woodwork saying that you guys have sold out or grown up and don’t give back to Toronto, but these benefits seem to stand in total contravention to that.
JZ: I hope so. I think it’s fine, too, for people to decide what they want they’re scene to be, and who they want included. We’re not really part of the Toronto punk-hardcore scene as an active band anymore. But we certainly have plenty of personal connections to bands and different types of bands too, which I think is obvious from the bands who are playing the [benefit] shows.
I find that playing in Toronto is one of the most stressful places to play. You know a lot of the people who are going to come out, and you always want a show in your hometown to be really strong, and kind of a reflection of where you’re at as a band. You get obsessed with controlling shows we’re playing in Toronto, and controlling events or benefits we do in Toronto. So this is our way of having ultimate control. We’re the promoters of the show. We decide who plays and when, and all that kind of stuff.
AVC: Year-end lists are coming out and David Comes To Life is topping a whole bunch of them. Obviously Chemistry Of Common Life was huge, but is there any anxiety about being able to top an album that’s as well-received as David was?
JZ: Yes and no. I think we’re not really arrogant about the stuff that we do. Any accolades that we get are really flattering, but we’re also in disbelief about a lot of the stuff. We’ve had this thing with the last two records where we get a lot of critical acclaim, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a fan following. It’s still the same thing. We get a good dose of reality touring, when we’re not playing to many more people than we ever have. The critical praise is great, obviously. I don’t think anyone could ever say that they don’t care, or are above it or something. We’re all really into music and respect music journalism. It’s really cool to see that stuff.
AVC: Speaking of the crowds, how was the response when you were touring with the Foo Fighters?
JZ: It’s been interesting. It definitely hasn’t been a roaring success. We don’t have 50,000 people singing along to our songs. Not that we ever expected that we would. But [the Foo Fighters] been really cool. And we were honoured to have them ask us to open for them. We’re getting a pretty good reception from the crowd. It’s not overwhelming. But I think we win people over. Even if it’s in very small chunks.
AVC: As far as the band’s future, there are all these rumours circling around about break-ups and split-ups and hiatuses. But then you just mentioned this Veronica-themed album. What’s going to happen with Fucked Up, going into the new year?
JZ: We’re going on a three-month hiatus. Although, that just means we’re not doing a lot of touring. We’ve still got a bunch of one-off shows, and Year Of The Tiger coming out. As far as a full-length record after that, we’re going to regroup in 2012 and see what we want to do. So yeah, it’s still kind of up in the air. But I think everyone’s feeling really good about where we’re at.
AVC: It must be daunting not only because of the critical success of David Comes To Life, but because of what you’ve accomplished with the record musically, as a band. After making a double-LP concept album, where do you even go? A 14-record thematic song cycle or something?
JZ: Hopefully not. I think we still have songs in us. That’s the main thing you need to justify your existence as a band. But I don’t know. We still have some tricks up our sleeves.