An Interview With Fucked Up's Damian Abraham (Yes, We Discuss SB 1070)

Categories: Interview
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Damian Abraham, lead singer of Fucked Up.
So much has been said about SB 1070 since Gov. Brewer signed the bill into law on April 23. The latest? Al Sharpton weighs in.

The law makes it a crime to not carry proper immigration documents and gives the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. The bill put the state of Arizona on everyone's radars, including Montreal-based indie rock/pop band Stars, who took to their Twitter account to declare that they were going to boycott playing Arizona until the "racist immigration law is repealed." 

This bold statement drew the attention of many, including fellow Canadians Fucked Up and their charismatic lead singer, Damian Abraham. He also took to his Twitter account and even wrote an Op-Ed on Stereogum to properly articulate how he feels about boycotting Arizona and what bands can do as SB 1070 slowly becomes a harsh reality. 

With Fucked Up set to play at Chaser's on Thursday, Abraham took the time to speak with me about Arizona punk, politics and passion.

New Times: It's cool that you like to come play Phoenix. A lot of bands, I think, come play here in between LA and Austin -- if they so grudgingly choose so -- but you want to play here.

Damian Abraham: Phoenix punk and Phoenix hardcore, I love that stuff. The Feederz, The Zany Guys, all the Placebo Records scene I think is some of the most exciting and unique hardcore that came out of the United States at that time period. It really doesn't get the credit it deserves because that stuff to me is like lightyears beyond what anyone else is doing. Bands were introducing power electronics and weird elements to their songs and here are these bands doing songs about really dark things. I would argue that The Feederz are the most punk band of all time.

NT: I can't argue with you on that one -- you know about punk and hardcore much better than I do.

DA: I'm just a huge nerd about it (laughs). It's something that you wear with pride, something that you wear with some self-disgust. 

NT: Well we're like that with a certain genre of music or a series of video games or certain movies. You know, to a tee, all those stupid details. I'm like that, too, and you have to be proud of that.

DA: I like the idea with people being obsessed with stuff -- I like obsessions. Like you said, it can be video games, it can be train sets. I like the obsessions of this world. You know, maybe not religious fanaticism, but I like cultural fanaticism. I really respect, no matter what it is, people that are committed to something. So much of our world today is get in, get out, what's cool, what's neat so I like people that are committed to something -- you know, dyed in the wool.

NT: So obviously you've been a popular topic since whomever it was from the band Stars spoke out against what's going on in Arizona. You had a very well-spoken rebuttal against that. I just recently came across a picture of you just this past April at a literacy event. Not many people, in your genre of music -- I'm not saying anything to that -- attend literacy events.

DA: Well, on one level you're in a band. At the end of the day, you're there for entertainment. With that being said, if you can lend the attention you have or the profile you have to something else -- if you come up with someone positive about it then I am all in favor of that. I think that people in bands sometimes think that just by being in a band it makes them an activist -- that's not the case. Being in a band makes you an entertainer. You can be an activist and be in a band but the two are not intrinsically connected to one another. I think that's the trouble with a lot of bands, a lot of bands start believing their own lyrics and start believing that just through music that they are going to affect change in the world. Granted, the Beatles affected change through music an you could argue that someone like Bruce Springsteen affected change through music. I think, even then, that it wasn't just music that affected change it's people actually doing  real hard work on the ground -- people that are doing the really hard work that actually makes the changes happen.

NT: That's very well-put. It's a profile that both The Beatles and Springsteen had that they earned through their careers that's not quite where the band Stars is at today. They don't need to be so outspoken about Arizona and SB 1070, yet they are.

DA: Whatever someone chooses to do, I respect their decision -- they've chosen to do that, that's what they choose. At the same time, we've played Arizona twice now, we know some people from Arizona who we know are not in favor of [SB 1070]. Why should we automatically paint everyone in [Arizona] with the same brush? If people judged Canada by its laws -- there's laws in Canada that I definitely don't agree with. We have a political party in power in Canada that I did not vote for. There's a political party in the province of Ontario, where I live, which I also didn't vote for. I wouldn't think people were going to judge me based on who's in power now. I disagree with a lot of decisions they make and I act in a way that I can hopefully affect some change in that. I don't want someone to punish me because of the decisions made by of someone whom I didn't vote for. It's so dubious when you judge a people by the elected officials of that place.

Morrisey refuses to play Canada because he doesn't feel like it. It's ridiculous -- he's decided that all of Canada should suffer. He's been boycotting Canada for five years.  All it does is make people upset that he hasn't played there. It hasn't affected any real change in any real way. It's just kind of pissed people off.

NT: There's been a lot that's been said about SB 1070 since its passing over a week ago. I now think that a lot of bands that come through Phoenix and Arizona are going to take about three minutes out of their set to say something about it. It's unavoidable to a point. I would hope bands like yours and other bands would still play, but I can see some bands taking three minutes out of their set to get preachy or what have you. It's inevitable.

DA: You made a good point. Like you said, a lot of bands will play Arizona just because its on the way to Texas or California. People weren't boycotting California when they made the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage (Prop 8). People didn't ban playing California because it's very lucrative to play San Francisco and Los Angeles. I'm not saying that these are the motives that all these bands have. In some cases [Arizona] is an easy place to boycott playing. It's just like, "Well, we're not gonna play to anyone so we might as well just boycott." It's a real passive way. If you disagree with something, it's much better to engage. I don't want to tell people how to live their lives and I don't want to -- being an outsider from Toronto, Canada -- how to they should work to fight this bill (SB 1070) that I don't agree with.

At the same time, we've reached out to No More Deaths, a political rights group, and they are going to do a table, so if people want to get involved and want to find out more information, they're going to be at the show. I think that, to me, is a much more positive way of engaging the people of Phoenix or people at your show -- obviously not the entire population of Phoenix -- engaging the people that come to your show. I think that's a much more lasting way to do it, rather than just say "I'm not gonna play there."

NT: SB 1070 has been a very one-sided thing, its been inherently negative. You can be negative about it and boycott the state, or you can, as you wrote for Stereogum, come out and play shows and get people thinking about it. You don't have to seem curmudgeonly or seem like you're totally self-righteous, just come out and play let these fans who -- for all intents and purposes are vehemently opposed to SB 1070 -- come out to your shows and enjoy themselves.

DA: Exactly. If people want to get engaged and want to get involved, there's always that option. At the end of the day, I'm in a band. I have my opinions as a person but, at the end of the day, no matter what else happens I just play music as an entertainer. I can have loftier aspirations as a person and engage in political activities as a person, but my band's just a band. Everyone who plays in a band is just in a band. 

NT: You have a celebrity, you have a voice. You're in a band and you're using that for a positive influence and you're bringing that No More Deaths table to your show just to try and educate people. Your fans will listen and people who know you're in Fucked Up will listen. I appreciate it, and I know a lot of people in Arizona do, as well, that you're using that voice for a positive effect.

DA: Well, it's something that we've done before in Canada. It's not like "here we are, it's the prime opportunity to do this." We've had aboriginal rights groups come out to shows in Canada and talk. That's the dirty shame of Canada, the treatment of aboriginal people in Canada, the fact that we have between 500 and 3,000 aboriginal women who have gone missing and have been murdered in the last two decades. That's a scary number when it comes to the population. If we can invite people that actually make a real difference, people that are on the ground actually doing the work to affect change to come out to the show to meet some people and provide an option for people to talk to, what an easy thing for us to do.  We played a show recently in Montreal and invited a native women's rights group to come out and they had a lot of volunteers come out of that. Even if they got one or two volunteers out of that experience, that's actually real change that can be made. 

NT: That is something that can help enlighten people, like myself, that didn't really know about the abuse of aboriginal women in Canada. You talking about it has brought that to my attention, and you can help affect change -- get that one or two volunteers, it's change, it's something.

DA: At the end of the day, you're also just playing a show. I think there's a real thin line that bands sometimes get caught on the wrong side of where they think that just because they play in a band, it gives them the right to think that they are forces of change -- that they are political activists in and of themselves because they wrote a song where they poetically talk about something and that is actually doing work. They're not. They can inspire other people to do work, but until you actually volunteer and make a difference in that way, you're not an activist. You're just someone that has used an issue to write a song about or used an issue to promote your band.

NT: You're a charismatic dude. I remember seeing you live a year ago (at the now defunct PhiX). I knew that you looked like and I knew your music, but to see you up on stage interacting with the audience and having that candor with everyone was pretty cool. I appreciate you taking the time to do this interview.

DA: I really appreciate you taking the time to do this interview. A lot of what's been said about my Twitter war or whatever with Stars has been phrased in the fact that I'm going to war with this band, and I'm not. I just disagree with their choice of addressing an issue that they feel passionate about. I don't wish ill will to any band -- they've done what they've done and I disagree with it. 

NT: You prefaced yourself very well with the op-ed you wrote for Stereogum about how you don't wish [Stars] any ill will and you're not trying to rain on their parade, but you also had something to say. They had something to say -- they came out and said it out of nowhere, so you were like "Whoa, whoa hold on." You being Canadian as well, helped show that not all Canadians are out to hate on the state of Arizona. 

DA: Again, it goes back to what I said, I just don't like the idea of being judged by the decisions your government makes, necessarily. In the last Canadian election, less than 50% of the people voted for the Conservative party and they managed to win the election. I would hate to think that people would judge me by their laws. There's definitely plenty of people that disagree with what they are doing and people that are actually working hard to change the  forces at work in Canada. I think the same about Arizona. It's not like I agree with SB 1070 and I support that, because I definitely don't, but also at the same time I can't make any change in Arizona because I'm not from Arizona. I think the people that are going to make change are there working hard, so why should they be punished right now because a band wants to make some cause for them to be about.

SB 1070 is a real divisive issue. I watch a lot of American news and I watch American TV, and there's the Tea Party and Teabaggers and this big cultural shift. I think this is the first piece of legislation that feels to be born of all that. 

Fucked Up plays Chasers this Thursday, May 6.
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