Onstage, Damian Abraham is a bald, shirtless beast of a man who shrieks incessantly and often inflicts bodily pain upon himself in the name of entertainment. In person, he’s the nicest dude you’ve ever met. We spoke via phone about Wikipedia, his band’s lawsuit against Camel cigarettes (for involving the band in an ad without their consent), sailing the seas of vomit between Osaka and Shanghai, and Abraham’s former role on Fox News.
So you just toured a little bit with Jeff the Brotherhood.
Oh, they’re amazing. It’s weird, because so much of music is like a put-on. It’s like a character you’re playing. And before I met those guys, when you think of that kind of rock-and-roll image in Toronto, you always think, “Oh, it’s a put-on, it’s a put-on.” Then you meet those guys, and they are two of the most authentic, nice people in the world who are playing in a kick-ass rock band. We got along with them really well. We always try and take bands that we like on tour [laughs] so we don’t have any bands we don’t like. And I think it was the first time that we’ve liked a band and that almost universally they’ve been liked by the people who came to see the show. Other times, we took Kurt Vile out and the Vivian Girls out, and there’ve been some negative reactions. I think [Jeff the Brotherhood] went over well every single night.
Nice. They just came through Seattle a couple months ago and it was great.
And they are such wicked, wicked people, like, super, super nice guys. And we got to meet their dad and see where they get it from.
He’s written some hits.
Oh, yeah absolutely! That’s the other thing: When you go to Nashville, you kind of forget that if you went to, like, Detroit or surrounding areas—at one time, I guess not so much anymore—everyone would work in the auto industry. So when you’re in Nashville, every single person works in the country music industry.
Have you read Fucked Up’s Wikipedia page?
I have [laughs]. I’d say it’s like 70 percent accurate, maybe even less. My dad had this friend who would always describe some other person as a pearl—there’s a little grain of truth surrounded by this pearl of lies. And that’s kind of how our Wikipedia page is, too. I think there’s some sort of actual basis for everything in there, it’s just the actual facts of it are fudged—in some cases, to protect certain parties involved. Like Josh [Zucker] going to jail for eating a cop’s ham sandwich is, you know, not what he really went to jail for, but rather than saying that and risking someone reading it and getting pissed about it—you fudge the facts enough and it shows up on your Wikipedia page. I don’t know if it still says this, but at one point it said that we won the lawsuit against Camel cigarettes, which is very much not true.
Yeah, what happened with that?
We rolled the dice in the judicial system and came up on the other side of… say, Casey Anthony, I guess. We won the first time, but then we lost an appeal. And our lawyer was like, “Well, as much as I like working for free, I have a job and I’m going to go back to working for my money now.” So I guess we could have fought it and gone on with it, but I think we proved our point.
Did they use a First Amendment defense?
It got really complicated. A lot of magazines wrote in and said, “You can’t make a landmark decision about this, because it’s going to prevent us from operating as we normally do”—which is not something we wanted to do. I just felt that at the time we were being taken advantage of as a band… And as time went on and it got drawn out and everyone kept saying, “It’s going to last forever,” it really did last forever. Eventually, we got this e-mail saying, essentially, “Hey, so if you guys don’t sign this agreement that you’re not going to sue them ever again or attempt to sue them ever again, they have the right to come after you for legal fees,” which were like $300,000.
What’s going on in the Toronto music scene these days?
It’s good. It’s weird because Toronto, historically, has been a very small scene—especially [with] punk and hardcore. And as time has gone on, it’s gotten a lot bigger. And as it’s gotten bigger, it’s begun to faction off into little subscenes. Which is never a good thing when that starts to happen. Because it means the music starts getting bland and it means that the shows start getting bland and smaller and things like that. Maybe I’m a little underqualified to talk about this because I’m always on tour now. For years, there was a scene that was like 25 people. So if a group of five or six of them went away, that would be a huge impact. But now, I don’t think anyone notices that Fucked Up is gone, that we’re not playing shows [there] anymore, because there’s this whole new wave of local bands that have come up. And there are a lot of great bands from Toronto and surrounding areas. There’s a cool compilation right now on High Anxiety Records of local Toronto/Montreal bands, because it’s a scene that goes back and forth. We’re five hours apart from each other, but that’s relatively small in the grand scheme of hardcore distances that people travel for shows and whatnot. So, yeah, it’s a cool scene. It’s a good scene. I feel like the scene that birthed us and Career Suicide and Brutal Knights and Haymaker and all these bands that we started with kind of died out. And now there are several new scenes. That was the cool thing about when we started playing: There was No Warning that was rooted in a New York hardcore kind of sound. There was Career Suicide that was doing an old-school, fast, hardcore thing. Brutal Knights were doing a more garage-rock take on it. Haymaker was doing a thrash thing. Our War were doing a youth crew thing. But we would all play together. You would go to the show and see one type of band, and then two seconds later, there would be another type of band. Granted, they’re all within the milieu of punk and hardcore, but still, it’s so much better than when you go and you have to sit through five thrash bands that all sound like they’ve got the exact same records in their collection, because that’s so boring. In the same way that five bands that sound the same is boring in any genre. I think that’s one of the negative things. And I think that’s bound to happen. Scenes are always in ebbs and flows.
Right. Any names that you suggest we check out?
Molested Youth I think are great. Urban Blight. The School Jerks. I think it’s funny, because people always talk about how “the Fucked Up show is crazy! They do a lot of crazy stuff!” But then it’s amazing how there’s always the next wave of bands that has to take it up a notch. Compared to the singer of the School Jerks, I look like I’m fronting the Fleet Foxes. You know, he’s shitting onstage and wiping it on his face. But they’re great. The music is awesome. Then the Omegas from Montreal just put out a phenomenal LP, and they’re a great live band as well. Slobs from Montreal are great as well. Commando from Toronto are kind of good, too. I’m trying to think of some other bands that I’ve seen recently around Toronto that are good. Unfortunately, when you’re on tour, the last thing you want to do when you come home is go to another show.
I hear you.
You lose touch with your local scene. I was actually thinking about this the other day as I was walking home from work. I’m becoming the same thing I hated as a kid—a guy who’s making a living being in a punk band who doesn’t go to local shows and loses touch with a lot of things that are going on around him. I hated that! I was like, “Fuck those dudes! Fuck that! Why would you do that? Why would you do that to yourself?” As time has gone on, I realized that people do that because they wind up having to do that, because life is just in the way. The last thing you want to do when you have a family, and you’ve been away from them for three weeks playing shows every night and seeing bands every night, is come home and leave your family again to go to another show. It took me until I was in that situation to understand why. That’s not to say that people don’t get in bands to become dicks and deliberately lose touch. But I think you will lose touch a bit as time goes on, being in a touring band and away from your local scene.
Okay, I have to ask: How did your nickname Pink Eyes come about?
Well, I played in this other band called Pink Eyes, which was originally going to be called I, Misogynist. I majored in women’s studies in school and I wanted to do a project band examining misogyny. I wanted to make this super-misanthropic band. It was a very negative time in my life. As Jonah [Falco]—our drummer in Fucked Up—was working on the songs, and as we went forward with this project, we realized that doing a concept record about misogyny might not be the best thing. Because it kind of limits the band’s growth in the future and also might come out weird if you’re trying to get people to sing along to the songs. So the lyrical focus took a different path, and we came up with a different name, but it was still—in the crux of the songs—going to be about misogyny and society. I worked in a video store at the time, and we would get these crazy catalogs in from all over the place for videos that we could order. And we used to get adult catalogs in, like—you would not believe… like, each to their own. People can be into whatever they’re into. Um, there are some videos in there that really make you question how someone could get turned on by the contents. One that blew my mind was the Pink Eye video series, which is men ejaculating in people’s faces—really disgusting and horrific. And not in faces, sorry, specifically in their eye, like an open eye. And they were called Pink Eye films. And so we decided to call the band Pink Eyes. And then Mike [Haliechuk]—as a joke in the record—started calling me Pink Eyes because I refused to pick a nickname. And now I’m stuck with this incredibly offensive nickname [laughs].
So you guys toured in China a couple years back.
Yeah! It was spectacular. It was a really, really interesting experience. We got offered a lot of money to play this show in Japan and decided, “We’re going to have a lot of money. Why not go to China and try and tour China?” because we knew we wouldn’t make any money there. We thought, “We’ll use the money we get paid for this Japanese show to fund our Chinese tour.” And we did. We took a boat from Osaka to Shanghai, which was 48 hours of the roughest seas I could imagine. Everyone on the boat was throwing up except for Jonah [laughs]. He was literally the only person other than the crew in the restaurant on the last day of the boat ride, as everyone else was throwing up. Luckily, we sprung for the first-class cabins, which weren’t that expensive, thank God we did that! Because in the cabins we originally signed up for, it’s just like a bunch of floor mats. So there’s people vomiting and then people rolling into the other people’s vomit. We got to China and just toured by planes, trains, and automobiles. Gibson lent us free guitars, so we picked up the guitars over there so we could sneak in, because we didn’t have visas—we’d never be given visas with a name like we have. So we snuck in and toured, and it was a really fun experience. And you get to see the universality of punk and hardcore music—kids in China relating to music in the same way kids in the United States or Canada do. The only places I find that people relate to music differently—at least in a concert setting—is in Japan and Germany.
I think in Japan there’s almost a very strict formality to the way the show is presented and the way you’re supposed to react to the music—not in a negative way at all, because I love Japanese punk and hardcore. But I just found it definitely different. There was a distinctly different relationship between the performer and a person at a show than there was in China, or there is in Canada, or in America. Like going out after a show with people at the show is not something you really do. We were asking kids for advice on restaurants, and it was like, “Why are you asking us this?” And in Germany, it’s almost the inverse. You’ll play this show—you’ll be worn down—and the first thing you’ll hear is, “Oh, that was good, but it was better last time.” It’s like, “Oh man, I’ve failed you again.” And this is nothing against both of these places. I love playing them both.
Are you still appearing on [the Fox News program] Red Eye?
No. No. It’s actually really weird. The last tour we went on in the US was the first time I ever had people coming up to me and going, “Hey, I heard about you guys on Fox News on Red Eye.” To me it was just so alien that someone would be watching Fox News and be like, “[I’m watching] this Fucked Up band that Greg [Gutfeld, host of Red Eye] is talking about.” But yeah, it was a really neat experience. I’m glad I did it. I was as far behind enemy lines as I’ve ever been. I was in the belly of the beast. I was in Fox News. It was great. I don’t want to take anything away from the people at Red Eye. They have a good sense of humor and Greg is a really cool guy. And I learned that you can love the same music as someone and definitely, diametrically be opposed to their politics. And he and I get along. And I think it’s the first time I’ve had someone who’s a very openly right-wing figure [with whom] I’m like, “This guy’s my friend! And I’m hanging out with this guy.” It’s really weird. I haven’t been back on, and I don’t know if I would, because I don’t know if I ever had a chance to use it in the way I should have. I made a couple jokes that I think were hopefully funny and poked fun at the right targets. I don’t know if I would ever have a chance to have a live mic where we wouldn’t be talking about music, where it wouldn’t be forced, where I could say some of my feelings on various topics that they talked about earlier in the show when they were talking politics. And once again, I don’t want to make it seem like I don’t like the people at Red Eye. I don’t ever want to be the person who cools up something that I happen to think is not cool. I’m not under the illusion [that people are thinking,] “Oh, I love Fucked Up. Oh, they’re supporting this Fox News thing. I want to check this out.” But by the same token, having a band like us on [the show] adds a countercultural cool to the station. But that being said, who knows? Because I did really enjoy hanging out and talking with those people on that show and talking about music. But these are all sorts of things I never really had to worry about [laughs]. It’s like the same idea behind why Camel cigarettes and Rolling Stone would have done that “Indie Rock Universe” and included Fucked Up. It’s weird to think, “Oh yeah, you have to think about these things now.”
One last question for you. Do you think irony is a crutch?
Absolutely! Especially ironic detachment. Because I think ironic detachment allows us to enjoy something without having to confront the realities of it. And for me, that’s something like liking Odd Future. And I know that there’s an ironic detachment that allows me to be a privileged white male and listen to Odd Future and enjoy it, but at the same time be upset when someone is homophobic or sexist or racist in front of me. So yeah, I’m definitely leaning heavily on the crutch of irony. I could use irony to justify a lot of records in my collection. And I don’t want to single out Odd Future. It’s funny—yesterday I was telling people at my work, because they had never heard “One in a Million” by Guns N’ Roses, “Here’s this song with racist, homophobic, incredibly xenophobic lyrics, that was [by] Guns N’ Roses.” And, granted, there was a bit of a hubbub back then, but people forget. People talk about Odd Future like this is the first time this kind of stuff has happened. But it’s happened before. And believe me, I still can listen to Guns N’ Roses, so I definitely lean heavily on the irony.
This article has been updated since its original publication.