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Q&A: Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham

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Damian Abraham (the dude in the Zero hat)
Annie Zaleski

Growing up, did Matador Records have any special significance to you?

Oh, absolutely. At the time, I was definitely a huge fan of Superchunk, and I definitely loved Pavement and Yo La Tengo. But as I look back on the catalog, they put out a Chain Gang record, they put out some Unsane records ... It’s one of those labels that strangely mimics my taste in a weird way, except for some of the massive missteps they made in their history of signings (laughs). Those are not going to be commemorated at Matador at 21. I was thinking about having, you know, the same weekend, doing an alternate festival with all the bands that Matador signed that they regret. Matador at 21: The Missteps, in Reno. It would be, like, Jaguar Love, and MC Paul Barman and Non Phixion. Just bring back all the records that Matador was like, “Oh yeah, I guess we did put that out.”

What do you think the label stood for? It’s probably different now than it was back in the day, but what did it represent to you?

I think it’s still probably the same. It’s an alternate-postmodern label. It’s a label where taste is put before anything else. It’s three people mainly doing the signings: Patrick [Amory], Chris [Lombardi] and Gerard [Cosloy]. They all have fairly different tastes, kind of in the same ballpark, but different tastes within that ballpark. Now that I’ve gotten to know them a little bit, it’s almost like I understand the label slightly better. It’s kind of like, “Oh, yeah, that’s why you signed that band.” It’s a label that almost flies in the face of smart business moves. They’ve signed a band called Fucked Up. They’ve signed a band called Fuck. They’re definitely not thinking long-term with those signings.

What attracted you guys to the label?

I remember when we signed, people were like, “You guys signed to an indie-rock label.” But Matador has such a varied history. It gets labeled with the indie-rock tag because Yo La Tengo and Pavement and Cat Power and Interpol, bands that have a fairly storied indie-rock past, or in the case of Pavement and Yo La Tengo, are definitely the forebears of what has become indie rock. There’s also these other bands, these weird signings, that they’ve done over the years, like The Frogs, Unsane, Chain Gang, Guitar Wolf, Tommy Keene. These really kind of weird signings. At the [same] time [Matador also signed] Times New Viking [and] Jay Reatard. Those were two of our favorite bands at the time. Jay’s gone now, unfortunately. [But] it worked out so perfectly.

It’s a label that doesn’t really have a sound, when you get down to it. Yo La Tengo does not sound like Pavement does not sound like Interpol does not sound like Cat Power, and those are the main horses. And now I guess Girls, too. It’s one of those labels that, they sign all sorts of stuff—the failed experiment signing hip-hop artists, the electronic artists they’ve signed over the years. When you see Patrick or Chris or Gerard’s record collection, you really understand why they would sign such a weird range of bands. Their taste is all over the map. Patrick, last time I was in his office, was telling me about African Highlife records and how he’s really gotten into it. And he has black-metal CDs beside them, too. It’s this really weird mish-mash that would only happen in their office.

That must be comforting, to know the label is still run by people who are music fans.

We’ve dealt with so many people that work in the music business that hate music (laughs).

Any albums on the label that stand out for you?

The Chain Gang discography. I guess Pavement Slanted and Enchanted, which is one of the most clichéd picks someone can make of all time. It’s a stand-up record. That’s the record that begat so much afterward, and a lot of stuff it begat was nowhere near as good as what it was. A classic understated record. People pass it off as being slacker-rock, but it’s actually a lot more nuanced than that. I think Yo La Tengo’s last record, Popular Songs, is pretty amazing too. It’s almost, like, looking in the minds of three people that take—and think about—music very seriously. Jay Reatard’s singles collection. He’s one of these guys taken before his time.

Anyone in particular you’re looking forward to seeing this weekend?

I would be lying if I didn’t say I was pretty excited about the Guided By Voices lineup reunion. I kind of feel like everyone’s going to be like, “Oh, I’m excited for that,” and I could try to play too-cool-for-school (laughs). But I really am excited to see that. I’m very excited to see Guitar Wolf, who I haven’t seen in years and years. And I’m really excited to see Pavement. I still haven’t seen them on this reunion tour, so I’m excited to get a chance to see what it’s like now. I saw them a bunch back when they were around the first time, but they’re one of those bands that’s going to be a lot better the second time around. Everyone’s chops are a little better, everyone’s enjoying it a little more now that they know it’s the honeymoon, or the victory lap, I should say. Yo La Tengo obviously as well.

Is it weird to you that the anniversary party is in Vegas?

It’s weird, but it’s also strangely fitting. To me as a Canadian, [Vegas] has always held a mystical quality to it. We finally got to go there last year, but unfortunately went to the worst casino on the Strip. We got seduced by Circus Circus (laughs). We saw it and were like, “Oh, wow, a circus-themed casino! This can’t be bad!” And then we got there and we’re like, “Oh.” and we went to the Bellagio and we’re like, “Ohhh, this is where we should have gone.”

Are you guys working on any new music right now?

We’re recording a new record right now. A 12-inch just came out on Merge, “Year of the Ox,” last week. Three of us are in the studio right now in New York recording. We’re recording with Shane [Stoneback]. He did the Vampire Weekend record. We’re recording a rock opera.

Seriously?

(Laughs.) Yeah, seriously. We’re going to make the record that either blows up in our face and everyone hates, or we’re going to make the record that somehow tricks the world into thinking we’re geniuses.

That’s amazing. Is that coming out next year?

Hopefully. We’re still recording it. And it’s kind of funny, we just confirmed that we’re doing a tour with Arcade Fire and we’re doing a tour with Against Me! We’re in between these tours trying to frantically finish recording this record.

I can’t wait to see how Arcade Fire fans react to you guys.

I know, I’m kind of excited too. Richard [Parry] from Arcade Fire ... it’s so weird, cause I totally remember that guy going to hardcore shows in Toronto. When Arcade Fire first came out, I’m like, “That’s the red-haired dude that I always to see at concerts and shows in Toronto.” Toronto had a really small scene until fairly recently. I’m like, “I know that dude from somewhere. Where do I know that dude from?” Then I’m like, “Oh shit, that’s the guy I always used to stand beside at shows.”

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