Parental Advisory: Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham
Parental Advisory is a new feature on Stereogum where we’ll talk to musicians who also happen to be parents. It can’t be easy to raise kids from a tour-bus bunk, or to explain to your toddler why random people keep walking up to you and asking if you want to get high with them, and we thought it would be interesting to learn how some of our favorites learn to live that double-life. And for our first installment, we talked to lead Fucked Up bellower Damian Abraham, who is a father of two: Holden (3) and Dorian (2 months). (Fucked Up will perform the Black Stage at Fun Fun Fun Fest on 11/4 at 7:55 PM.) Our interview is below.
STEREOGUM: You haven’t had to tour since you’ve had your second kid yet, have you?
ABRAHAM: No. Well, we’ve been away. But it’s just been short one- or two-day things, and four days in Japan. The first real tour is coming up in two weeks.
STEREOGUM: Are you dreading it?
ABRAHAM: Kinda, yeah! Luckily, we have a good support network. My mom and my wife’s dad and all the grandparents have been awesome, taking Holden to soccer or whatever when I’m at work and she’s at home. I think when I’m on tour, they’re going to stay with my mom. So I’m not dreading it as much as I would be, thinking about her dealing with two kids without me. But that’s the hardest part of a tour. It’s the only real difficulty.
STEREOGUM: Does anyone else in the band have kids?
ABRAHAM: Josh [Zucker, guitarist] had his kid about six months ago. So he understands. But it’s weird trying to explain why you want to do certain things to people who don’t have kids, like why it matters if you’re home one day quicker.
STEREOGUM: There’s always a huge gulf there between people who have them and people who don’t. You can’t translate the experience of it.
ABRAHAM: No. The closest experience people have is having a pet. And that’s nothing like it at all! With a pet, you can leave for five or six hours and go do something. When it’s a kid, you can’t. And when it’s two kids, you’re always on with them, at all times. And until you know what that feels like, you don’t know what somebody else is experiencing.
STEREOGUM: Has it caused any conflict with the rest of the band?
ABRAHAM: You know, I don’t think so. There’s been conflict around touring and me wanting to be home, but it’s hard because I’ve always wanted to be home. I’ve never been a big fan of the idea of being away from home, from people I love. Even when I was just married, I never liked the idea of being away on tour, so there have definitely been arguments around that at various times, having to be home for certain dates and whatnot. But everyone in the band, at least to my face [laughs], has been pretty understanding about what it means to have a kid. And especially now that Josh, who’s always been a real centering point in the band, has a kid, everyone understands that it wasn’t just in my head. But even then, people were very understanding about having a kid. During the pregnancy, the band would dry home and I’d fly home. They were like, “You need to be home in case Laura has the baby.”
STEREOGUM: Before Holden was born, did you worry about how you were going to balance being a father and being in this band?
ABRAHAM: No. I honestly thought the band was over before whatever the next phase was, that it would be fine because we’d be broken up by the time I had a kid or got married or whatever. But the band just seems to go on. It’s almost become better as there’s been more things to fight about. Other people in the band are arguing way more, and I’m arguing way less. Maybe it’s something to do with having a kid; I’ve given up my will to fight. Do whatever you want to do; just don’t hurt yourself.
STEREOGUM: Well, that’s something else. You’re known for doing crazy shit onstage, but you don’t bleed as much now.
ABRAHAM: That was something that was coming before the kids. I started changing my ideas when I saw kids trying to replicate my behavior offstage. It’s not that I won’t do it again; I probably will wind up bleeding again. I shouldn’t act like it’s never going to happen again. But I just hit a point where it was like I was relying on this; it was becoming my giant foam-rubber Gwar suit. That’s when I started toning it down. I still love getting crazy onstage, but since having a kid, it’s also given me a weird parental feeling onstage. Before, it was like, “Ah, let them hurt themselves.” Now, it’s like, “No one gets hurt on my watch!” It’s less about aggression and more about trying to make the show as fun as possible. Having kids changes the way I look at another kid in the crowd. It forces me to accept the fact that everyone is somebody else’s kid, somebody else’s responsibility. I don’t want to see anyone go home unable to carry out their day-to-day lives. I felt that way all along, but now it’s much more in the foreground in my thoughts.
STEREOGUM: Holden’s been to some of your shows, right?
ABRAHAM: Oh, absolutely. He met the Stooges! I’ve got three or four things in my back pocket for when he’s like, “Dad, you’re not cool! You’re not fun!” I can be like, “You hung out with Iggy Pop once!” I’m holding that over his head for when he’s older. I’ve got that security device for when they’re teenagers and they accuse us of ruining their lives, unless they find some kind of music that we find abhorrent and not cool whatsoever. That’s kind of what happened with my dad and me.
STEREOGUM: When Holden’s at one of your shows, do you find yourself acting differently onstage?
ABRAHAM: No, no. I’ll normally try and bring him out onstage at some point, and I’ll be very careful then. I won’t really jump around or roll around. I do the best I can to maintain the safest possible environment. But once I get him back to Lauren, the show goes on. The thing that doesn’t change, whether Holden’s there or not, is that other people paid to see the show. I’d feel weird if I was out there and playing to him and ignoring them. I think he knows that, at the end of the day, the reason we’re able to do this lucky stuff is that I’ve made this my job. At certain times, that requires going to work. That’s how I’ve explained touring to him. “You know how we get to do these fun things and daddy gets to be home all the time? When daddy goes away, it’s because he has to, to make money.”
STEREOGUM: Does your wife work?
ABRAHAM: Yeah. She’s on maternity leave now, but she’s a social worker. That’s how we made it work financially. And then my MuchMusic job came along, and that became the way that we make it work, now that she’s on maternity leave. She’s got a cool job and whatnot, but with two kids, people want to be home anyway. And in Canada, you get 50% of your salary when you’re on maternity leave.
STEREOGUM: How long of a leave do you get?
ABRAHAM: A year.
STEREOGUM: No shit!
ABRAHAM: Yeah, what’s it in the U.S.? [Lauren tells him] Six weeks? That’s crazy! Holy shit! It’s the little differences between our countries.
STEREOGUM: When you were saying you though the band would be done by the time you had kids, I guess you didn’t have to worry about health insurance. In Canada, that wouldn’t be an issue for you.
ABRAHAM: It’s funny. When Lauren had her job, we got all of her benefits. We got dental and prescription and stuff like that, and now we don’t have that. But at the end of the day, the thing we do have is that no matter what, the kids are looked after because of the evil of socialized medicine. And actually, I definitely wouldn’t have done all the dumb things I do onstage if I lived in America. That would be so much money owed! I don’t even do that much bad stuff to myself, but I’ve had four hospital visits with the band. That would’ve been costly in the U.S. Whether you have health insurance changes everything. That would’ve been such a huge thing — whether you’re willing to take a lesser job because you know that’s taken care of.
STEREOGUM: What kind of music does Holden like?
ABRAHAM: This is weird, but I think his favorite song is [Fucked Up's] “The Other Shoe.” It’s not because we were playing it for him all the time, but I think family would play it when he’d be around, or I played it for him after we recorded it. I don’t want to seem like a bad parent! But he also likes a lot of stuff that I find completely abhorrent, like Marietta Trench. In America, that doesn’t mean too much, but the guy from Marietta Trench wrote “Call Me Maybe.” That’s the style of music they’re doing — Blink-182 pop-punk crossed with Carly Rae Jepsen.
STEREOGUM: Do you really not like “Call Me Maybe,” though? Really?
ABRAHAM: Every time I turn the TV on, that song is playing. For some reason, I still, out of habit, always go to music television first, to see what’s playing. Growing up, my dad had amazing taste in music. He was into all these great bands in the 60’s, but I still found a way to rebel. My dad was doing drugs and hanging out with Pink Floyd, and I still found a way to rebel, by being a straight-edge hardcore kid. No matter what you do, your kid’s going to rebel and come back at the same time.
STEREOGUM: I’m curious how that’s going to work.
ABRAHAM: So am I! I’ve never once told him, “That’s bad. Don’t like that.” I don’t want him to like or not like something based on whether I do. But every day, he goes to where Lauren and I have our computer and all our records, and he just grabs a 45, based on the cover. It’s usually something terrible that’s in my collection for some sentimental reason, and he puts it on and gives it a chance. Today, we listened to Doomsday Massacre, the old Texas punk band from 1982.
STEREOGUM: Did he like it?
ABRAHAM: He loved it! He likes the fast, hard stuff, which leads me to believe that he might one day like punk and hardcore. But he’ll probably be all into Skrillex or whatever by the time he’s older. Ten years is a long time. 13, at least for me, is when I started finding new things. Then again, not too much has changed in the last ten years. We got the new Bloc Party video at MuchMusic, and it sounds like something that could’ve come out in 2003. Skrillex kind of sounds like electroclash.
STEREOGUM: Is kids’ music — music specifically marketed as kids’ music — a presence in your house?
ABRAHAM: Oh, absolutely. It’s unavoidable. As you expose them to children’s media, they’re going to hear those songs. Lauren and I both took a very firm stance that The Wiggles was not something we could maintain on a long-term basis, so we went with Yo Gabba Gabba! instead. We deliberately change over to Yo Gabba Gabba! when The Wiggles is on, so it’s not even around. And it’s cool that Yo Gabba Gabba! exposes them to other artists. Every once in a while, some band that I’m playing with is on Yo Gabba Gabba!, and it’ll be like, “Oh, daddy’s friend from the show!” We went on tour with Mates Of State. I showed him a picture of them, and he recognized them. The show is a real entry-point to those real pop-culture figures, especially to the music world that I’ve put myself into the last few years. They had Paul Williams on the show, so that’s OK in my book.
STEREOGUM: I saw that video of you dancing onstage at a Yo Gabba Gabba! show.
ABRAHAM: They do that. Every city they go to, they get a music person to come dance onstage. They had Slug [from Atmosphere] do it at one show. My friend called me and asked me if I wanted to, and I said, “Oh my god, yeah.”
STEREOGUM: Does Holden know that “fuck” is a bad word?
ABRAHAM: Yeah, we had to teach him that. Lauren and I both thought that if a word’s not hateful, it’s not a thing. But there certain words that cause other people to take offense, so we’ve got to tell him that. A word that you can say around us, in connection with the band, is not a nice word to say in public. That’s how we’ve tried to handle it thus far.
STEREOGUM: How’s it working?
ABRAHAM: It’s working pretty good thus far. He’s a very understanding kid in a lot of ways, so he’s very cognizant of hurting someone’s feelings. I see that in him. We haven’t had any complaints in daycare or anything. But I think it’s also that we haven’t really had to expose him to parents who aren’t from our mindspace, mostly because of who we associate with. His friends, at this point, are kids of parents that we’re friends with, who know the name of our band. It’s not like he’s hanging out with any sort of religious orthodox kids who would be offended by that sort of language, or parents from the mid-1950s. It’s mostly people who know, or who at least would accept, the name of my band. It’ll be interesting when he goes a little further in life and starts encountering people whose parents might be a little more strict in that regard, how we’ll have to deal with it then. There’s a park near us that has a very community-oriented farmers’ market, and when you go there, there’s a ton of kids running around and parents with dreadlocks. This is not something that I was exposed to as a kid, but to Holden, it’s completely normal. I think I would’ve been frightened to go to communal dinners as a kid. But to Holden, it’s something that he was raised with, so it’s not weird to him.
STEREOGUM: I think about that, too. The experience that we, as parents, are giving our kids is so different from what our parents gave us that hopefully things will just get easier. But I don’t know.
ABRAHAM: I think so, too. That’s what I hope: This will make them happier with who they are as people, when they start getting out into the world.