The Toronto rock band is getting high on their own dreams.
This article appears in AdHoc 26. To subscribe to our quarterly zine—and receive other AdHoc-related goodies—become a member.
Fucked Up’s fifth full-length, Dose Your Dreams, is a captivating 90-minute double-album, one about as genre-bending as the band’s native Toronto scene. It’s a far cry from the layered, driving guitars that define much of Fucked Up’s catalog; synths, sax, and string arrangements courtesy of Arcade Fire’s Owen Pallett turn what was originally another batch of straight-ahead punk songs into a refreshing, yet perplexing, twists that manage to push the limits of punk forward while simultaneously evoking psychedelic Brit-pop. Unlike previous Fucked Up epics, which were anchored in Damian Abraham’s distinctive, gravelly bark, Dose features over a dozen guest vocalists, including Canadian singer-songwriter Mary Margaret O’Hara, Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis, and up-and-coming Toronto musicians like Jennifer Castle and S.H.I.T.’s Ryan Tong. The former’s mournful take on honky-tonk makes about as much as sense here as the latter’s tormented screams.
But Dose Your Dreams, out October 5 on Merge, is also something of a homecoming, revisiting themes from the band’s surreal 2011 rock opera, David Comes to Life, and 2014’s more introspective Glass Boys, an album about growing old in a scene where youthful insurgency is the only way forward. David reappears, now wasting away at an office job; he sees a stage production of his own life, deals with his own crisis of meaninglessness, and ultimately a time-traveler convinces him to get fucked up on narcotics, which is a metaphor for doing what makes you feel most alive. Ahead of Fucked Up’s shows at Market Hotel on November 7 & 8, guitarist, founding member, and lead songwriter Mike Haliechuk spoke to AdHoc about the challenges of writing music for a band known to defy expectations, and how they resulted in what sounds, at least on the surface, like yet another rock album about drugs.
AdHoc: Could you describe what the new album is about?
Mike Haliechuk: [Sighs] I don’t know. I tried to make a big, interesting album. I guess it’s about my life. There is obviously the trappings of character stuff and narrative stuff that happens, but I think it’s about me trying to decide if it was okay to be an adult in a band still. I mean, this will be my life for the rest of my life—living in a world with people who have jobs and stuff, and I’ll always be doing something different. It’s a nice life, but it always gives me [something] to think about.
Where does this album fit within the trajectory of the band’s last couple albums? David Comes To Life had similar characters to this one, but Glass Boys was more introspective, about what it means to be a band.
I feel like this record is like a true return to form, maybe. If there is a trajectory that the last couple records had, this record is a reaction to us trying to make a small album like Glass Boys. We wanted to go back to making some big, bombastic statement.
The last album was so focused on reconciling what it means to Be A Band that as a fan, I couldn’t help wondering if it was a break-up album. Did it ever feel like Fucked Up was coming to an end?
I mean every Fucked Up record since the first seven-inches felt like the last Fucked Up record. It always does, and it always kinda doesn’t. I don’t think we wrote the last record in terms of being our last record. The last record was weird. But at this point, we’ve been a band for 16 years, so I don’t think it’s really an issue. But this last record was sorta the cap on an era, and maybe we’re starting some new thing.
When you were finishing up Glass Boys, did it feel like you kind of knew this type of album was coming next?
No. We kind of just sat around and didn’t do anything for a couple years. We only went back into the studio because we had applied for a grant at a label, and we could use the grant if we started to make something. So we went into the studio with no idea of what it would be and just kept writing and writing and writing. And then, a year later, we had this thing.
When I was looking at the liner notes, I read that you were the main writer for all the songs on this one, instead of you and Damian splitting it up.
Yeah. It just kind of worked out that way. When we started doing a record, [vocalist] Damian [Abraham] started to work on his podcast [Turned Out A Punk, presented by Vans], and [drummer] Jonah [Falco] had moved away and Josh got started working on this other thing he was doing. I don’t know—we just wanted to try something different. Usually we will sit in our dark, dusty practice space and spend the year banging our heads against the wall trying to make songs, and I was just like, “I hate doing that.”
I saw that several of the parts were written by Jonah as well—and vocals, maybe some guitars.
Yeah, Jonah is one of the main songwriters in the band. Every album has a couple of songs that Jonah writes; there’s always at least one song on every record where Jonah has written the whole thing, and he plays all of the instruments on that song and stuff.
This record was sort of done as a duo. He’s always played a lot of guitar on the records, and obviously, he sings a lot. He’s doing a lot more singing on this record, which is nice, and he has some “Jonah special” songs. We also write and produce stuff outside of the band together; he’ll play like all of the hard guitar solos that I can’t play and shit like that.
This record is one of the most varied-sounding Fucked Up albums, at least in terms of the number of vocalists who make an appearance.
I always like to have guest vocalists to spice things up a little. I book a lot of shows in Toronto, and I do a thing called Long Winter, which books like 10-15 local artists every month. I have access to a lot of talented people, and Toronto has a very diverse and big music community. So whenever I have a Fucked Up record to work on, I like to include people. It sounds nice, and we just wanted to try different styles on this record, so we needed to reach different types of people.
I wanted to talk some about Long Winter too. Something that stood out to me at first was that it is very much a Toronto space—not just a hardcore space.
I mean Toronto is a huge city. It’s the cultural capital of the country. You get a lot of people who are the most hungry people in their little town, and they come here, and things happen. It’s very tight-knit; there’s a lot of genre-bending. It’s also small enough to where, like, techno promoters hang out with punks. Something like Long Winter is a product of that.
Has Long Winter been expanding this whole time?
It kinda shrank a little bit. I think we’re on our seventh or eighth year or something. When Fucked Up was playing it, it was like some crazy party. It sorta shrunk to a good level now. I only like really booking smaller, DIY-type bands; we’re not trying to have any huge headliners or big lineups. It’s a very much community-driven thing—a place for artists who are just starting to have their best performances.
Are there any Toronto bands you think people reading this interview should check out?
Go to the show page on Long Winter. Everything’s there; there’s years and years of stuff. All the bands are sick. There are hundreds of bands in Toronto.
I think this was the first time I listened to a Fucked Up record and thought, “You know, I’m not sure if I would have realized this was Fucked Up.” Were there ever points during the recording where you were like, “This might be too weird or different for the band”?
We just went in and would write a bunch of punk-sounding songs and use guitars. There was all of this other gear in the studio; we would fuck around with the synth and the drum machine and stuff. And after a week [of] just writing riffs, we’d sorta hit a wall and take a break, and write something else to get a little bit of perspective—and then sit on that stuff, maybe add a guitar part to something that was a little dancier, or come up with a vocal melody.
But after a year of listening to it all, when [we] put all of that stuff together—like 40 or 50 songs—there ended up being [a sense of], “Fuck it, let’s kinda stitch [it all] together.” The title track, the dancier one, it was the one song where I was like, “This is ridiculous, this is too much.” And then I was like, “Fuck it! This is the kinda record I want to do. I like this song; it’s gonna be the title track.” I think it’s what people expect from us. Also, after writing David, it was hard to listen to loud guitar music for 90 minutes. I know I wanted to make another big record, but it’s like, you can’t make a movie that’s just a 90-minute car chase.
What does the title, Dose Your Dreams, mean?
It’s sort of just like, taking drugs. You should take the things that you want to do in your life like they are substances that make you happy. The things you want to accomplish and your hopes and stuff—they should be so real to you that you would put them in your veins. They make their way to your heart. It’s sorta like this big drug record that really isn’t about drugs. I mean, now is the time to do a big drug record, but, you know, it’s been done well.