With each release since Hidden World, the same questions have dogged Fucked Up: Has the band peaked? Can they possibly become denser, more cerebral or more experimental? And can Fucked Up, considering the breadth of their musical vision, be considered a hardcore band anymore? (The inevitable answers: No, yes and yes.)
Indeed, Fucked Up’s multi-faceted songwriting can be attributed to the fact that, well, they’re brimming with top-notch songwriters. Bandleader Mike Haliechuk, before Fucked Up, penned songs for Ontario hardcore mainstays Ruination. Drummer Jonah Falco, meanwhile, had critic-adored projects in Mad Men and Career Suicide. And Damian Abraham is, well, Damian Abraham.
Yet Fucked Up’s most fascinating — and multi-talented — songwriter might be guitarist Ben Cook, a.k.a. Young Guv. Here’s why: His old band, No Warning, released one of hardcore’s all-time greatest LPs in Ill Blood. His basement projects, from Marvelous Darlings to Roommates, have landed on labels as diverse as the ever hip Deranged, to the Linkin Park-sponsored Machine Shop, to twee-cum-shoegaze behemoth Slumberland. He’s toured with Snoop Dogg. Earned props from Fred Durst (who, in an answering machine, called Cook’s music “hard and phat”). And to top it off, he calls Fucked Up “not the most creatively satisfying train for me... Mike’s the visionary for the band, and we can’t do an R&B pop song with Fucked Up.”
Indeed, whether he’s penning NYHC, power pop or Top 40 fare, Cook — who might be responsible for some of Fucked Up’s pop conscience — has proven to be a startlingly elastic songwriter, and most every one of his projects is worth investigating. Here are several that have flown under the radar.
For Cook completists, the rarest of gems might be a Smegheads cassette — they were the pop-punk band Cook started at age 13. He says his mom recently found a stash of old tapes; we’ve never heard ’em, but word on the street is that they’re Ramones-indebted pop punk with a juvenile streak that’d make Mean Jeans blush.
“I remember, even this early on, hating the idea of a cover song,” he says. “I remember putting my originals on tape and hustling them around at Rotate This. [Toronto’s eminent record store.] I wrote, like, ska-punk songs, a song about Pamela Anderson’s implants and something about leaving Earth because we’re destroying it.”
AS WE ONCE WERE
The proto-No Warning hardcore act that hinted at Cook’s true songwriting potential. Playing a brand of pissed-off, Warzone-indebted hardcore, Cook’s signature punchy, concise songcraft was evident in its embryonic state. Consider AWOW’s demo eBay gold.
“We were very angry kids, and we were laughed at,” says Cook. “This might sound corny, but we’ve always tried to go against the grain. [Even at the time] I liked to feel like we weren’t doing something cool, and working towards the goal of making people appreciate it. I always thought people hated us.”
The first post-No Warning act, helmed by Cook and ex-No Warning guitarist Matt Delong. They only released a demo — which is readily available on PureVolume — of over-polished, squeaky clean Oasis worship. Cook likens Surplus Sons to the awkward transition between post-secondary and the working world.
“When you’re in a touring hardcore band, the last thing you want to listen to in the van is hardcore. So [the shift] towards Surplus Sons wasn’t that strange,” says Cook. “But it was the weirdest time in my musical career. It’s like being 25 and not knowing exactly what you want out of life. I knew that I wanted to be touring with a band, but it was a confusing time.”
The Darlings are, audibly speaking, Cook in his comfort zone. Featuring Delong and his current roommate, Marvelous Mark, the four-piece released stacks of power-pop singles indebted to The Boys, Pointed Sticks and Teenage Head. Their Deranged-released 12-inch compilation LP, Single Life, is essential listening.
“After Surplus Sons, we were like, ‘This is really weird.’ We were punk and hardcore dudes caught up in the corporate rock world,” says Cook. “So we said, ‘Fuck it.’ It was a natural project between me and Matt, and it’s when I got into the vinyl singles, DIY world. It’s also how [the solo recording project] Young Guv started.”
Cook’s latest project, which recently released the Nonnavera mixtape. Featuring prominent synths and drum machines — which Cook learned to program over the winter — he says Yacht Club’s songs are written from a “Top 40 perspective.”
“Yacht Club isn’t necessarily going to be an ’80s throwback thing — I mean, it’s a good place to start. We were trying to write clean pop music from a hit perspective, because I’ve never known how to do it. Because in the ’80s and ’90s, there were some Top 40 songs that were really, really good.”
SIDEBAR: Five Questions with Ben Cook
We understand you starred in the television series adaptation of Goosebumps. Is that correct?
I used to think it was the worst shit ever, but now, I think it’s kind of cool. I’m 30, but my girlfriend is 24, and all her friends totally got scared watching Goosebumps as kids.... My child acting always comes up in the weirdest ways. I used to have Geocities fansites made by über-Christian people, and when No Warning surfaced, they claimed I was going bald because I was swearing and screaming about evil shit. [Cook used to shave his head.]
You’ve received offers to reunite No Warning. Would you ever do it?
The only way I’d do it is if we toured Europe with an imposter singer acting like it was me. And we’d film it, documentary style. But then we’d get in trouble with DMS or some shit.
You’ve written songs for Hedley, too. How’d you manage that?
I wrote songs for Sum 41, too, but I won’t mention which ones. I got [the Hedley assignment] because I’m friends with Greig Nori. I helped write Hedley some songs, one which was on the radio quite a lot. They even called me while they were doing vocals when I was getting drunk at a bar. I freestyled some lyrics that ended up being on the record. But it’s so cool! I’ve contributed to one of the worst Canadian bands ever!
Aux.tv debunked a long-standing rumour that you were related to actress Rachel Leigh Cook. How’d that start?
That was really weird, and I can’t believe Aux picked it up. They must’ve been really jonesing for music — Canadian music must really be boring. That was some rumour I made up 10 years ago, when I was fucking around in an interview.
For some of us, “Do You Feed (The Curry Song)” is the best three minutes of tape Fucked Up’s ever recorded. What’s your curry of choice?
Oh, good question. Probably a lamb vindaloo deglazed with vodka.