INTERVIEW: Fucked Up (NXNE 2011)

Announcing an 18-track concept record is bold. Delivering a monumental release that not only intimidates and excites listeners and critics is almost legendary. Though FUCKED UP have been Canadian heroes for quite some time, the hardcore punk outfit have captured even more hearts over the past few weeks with David Comes To Life. In the midst of NXNE, drummer Jonah Falco was able to comment on the record and it’s development, the obstacles that were faced and how their new direction in music could lead to tours that cover the new LP front-to-back.

I’d like to try to get a whole picture of the writing process, from your point of view at least – when did you guys start writing David Comes to Life?

The music started happening, I would say, last Spring. We dedicated ourselves to the practice studio, four or five hours a day. It was really painstaking. I mean, it’s a much more accommodating work schedule than other people probably have, but, for us it meant being locked in a tiny room with each other, which is not exactly the best antidote for a band that tours as much as we do.

We actually started to record this album around the same time – early summer in Toronto. We had a bit of a false start with that, so the writing process was allowed to continue through the summer and while we were on tour, so, it was lucky that we had a chance to finish all the writing and then hone the whole project. We recorded in the Fall – half in Toronto and half in New York City. Two of us each took turns relocating to New York for weeks at a time to go do this. Everything else was just sort of simple commuting within Toronto.
So, you originally planned to do the writing as you were recording?

Well, the “false start” was us attempting to finish the record a lot sooner and maybe have it out by the wintertime. But, the good thing about that is it allowed us to re-approach some of the same songs and actually get better takes and tighter song structures. It was a bit of a blessing in disguise. Also, that same session produced our next Zodiac series record Year of the Tiger which should be out in the next six months or so. What a productive mistake.

If there’s a deadline bearing down on us, it motivates us to finish up. I personally think we thrive under those circumstances.”

How long had you been touring with The Chemistry Of Common Life before you started working on any new material?

We had been touring on Chemistry for an unbelievably distended three years. It was really long overdue that we started playing new songs in sets both for us and for the people that are coming to see us. With all respect to the patience and appetites of our fans who want to keep hearing the old songs and keep loving them, it’s really good to be able to put Chemistry on the wayside and focus on David when we’re touring.
Were you or other members of the band working closely with producer Shane Stonebeck to help achieve a certain vision or sound?

Working with Shane was amazing, but I feel like we didn’t get as much time as we would have liked with him to work on the sound. Basically, Shane had to come with all of his expertise, and we had to come with all of our expectations and smash them together really quickly. It was a pretty combustible environment and a pretty fast one to have to work in. When we originally recorded the drum tracks, we had three days to do 27 songs. That was a half day of set-up and then two-and-a-half days of non-stop playing drums.

That, plus doing production-related things and making sure the takes were as tight as possible. It was kind of a whirlwind experience and working with a producer isn’t supposed to be. We’ve never really worked with a producer, and Shane had to really let us do as much producing as he did. It was a pretty collaborative effort and one that had to happen in a pretty unique circumstance.
Do you thrive under tight deadlines like that?

I personally can’t stand the pressure. I would love a little bit more time to be pensive and get exactly what we want, but I think I’m out-voted in that. Throughout the entire existence of the band, we’ve done nothing but have tight deadlines and extreme pressure and I think that actually is one of the more motivating factors for us. If there’s a deadline bearing down on us, it motivates us to finish up. I personally think we thrive under those circumstances.

Does a song stand out as having taken an extra long time to develop in terms of being written, tracked out and recorded?

The writing process did feel very long; some songs were really hard to put together while others came together within an hour. My favourite part of being in this band has always been the music, and, within that, my favourite thing is getting the shell of the song in the rehearsal studio, being excited about it, and then really putting it together in the recording studio. All of these tracks developed over a long period of time in the sense that their gestation between having been written and having been mixed is quite a broad period of time.

As for songs that stand out as having developed the most, I would say the last two songs on David have both undergone pretty big metamorphoses – particularly, “One More Night”. We’ve done a lot of stuff that’s really kind of simplistic and has this Ramones-y affect to it, but “One More Night” is this humungous, emotional cheesy waltz. It was such an up-hill battle, for me anyways, because I think that we were letting our guard down on it. Now it sounds absolutely massive on the record. When you can look back and understand the development of a song – that’s the greatest part of releasing a record. You can look back on your work not just as the person who has created it but as a listener as well. By hearing these experiments that we feel have worked, I think that it’s opened up new doors for us in songwriting.
Who sang the part of the character named Veronica?

The character of Veronica actually had her voice broken up between two people. The first Veronica is Madeline Follin from the band Cults, this pop duo from New York. The second voice is Toronto’s own Jennifer Castle, who we’ve worked with many times. It was great to be back in the studio with Jen. When we did “One More Night”, I was in the vocal booth writing those parts with her and, as always, it was a pleasure to work with her. She’s got a really unique voice and is amazing to deal with in general. I didn’t actually get to meet Madeline, but she did a fantastic job. We’re happy with two Veronicas.
Who needs a Betty when you’ve got two Veronicas?

Exactly! Can you just say that I said that? That was brilliant.
As a drummer in such a high energy band, do you ever feel at a distance from the action – cut off from the crowd?

Yeah, to be honest, of course I do. The drummer is kind of like the infantry; they have to go in and do the damage and they come out worse for wear; the generals still get decorated but the infantry fights on. Without making myself sound like a whiner I’ll just say that it’s a stoic thing back there. I do feel removed from the action and also I’m so immobile behind the drum kit. Guitar players can jump in the audience and Damian goes wild and I’m sort of stuck watching the action, but it’s nice to be the engine as well. The role of the drummer is to sort of push the band and drive the whole apparatus.

With all its characters and acts and motifs, is it safe to call David Comes To Life a concept album?

Yep. I would definitely call it a concept album, if only because it’s so ambitious for us to have written a musical. It’s a musical in form and it’s a concept in its execution I think; especially with the way the narrative is structured – with there being so many layers and different narrators. It’s a happy medium for us to have entered into such a typical trope as the rock opera. It’s kind of cheesy or a “hack” thing to do in some ways, but I think we’ve combined it with something a little excessive and made a “concept rock opera”.
For the narrative concept of this album, did singer Damian Abraham pick up a thread from the actual song “David Comes to Life”?

Funnily enough, this album, in theory, was kind of supposed to follow the world of the character in that song. We started to create this character of David and Damian used David as an extra member of the band to deal with things that the real people in the band didn’t want to deal with. David had already come to life by the first album. Our idea for the follow up was to do a rock opera about the life of David. At that point it was kind of a lark and a whimsical idea that we didn’t take too seriously. Then we got sidetracked doing Chemistry. David has been a consistent presence in the band’s history, so it absolutely was a conscious effort to carry him over.
How have people reacted to the narrative element of the new album?

People have been overwhelmed by it – and quite rightly, because I think it’s a lot to take in. I think once the story becomes a little more clear to people and once we can present a definitive script, then people will become involved with the story. Right now I think they’re focusing on the record and I think that’s important because, as much as it is a narrative and a story, it has to be a record as well. The two are separable from one another. It’s a record and a rock opera. I’m very glad that people’s first attachment to this thing is the musical aspect of it and the fact that they want to hear the record.

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