Of Mohawks and Crack Hos

The F-Ups conquer the world, stop at Wal-Mart

Who the fuck are the F-Ups?

That's the obvious question. And until this summer, the answer was pretty basic: a bunch of 18-year-old high school dropouts from Rochester, Minnesota with outlandish hair and punk-rock dreams. Until May, the zenith of their popular impact was playing Rochesterfest.

Now, however, the F-Ups are something slightly different. They are, as best can be determined, the only band from Rochester ever to sign a major-label deal. Earlier this month, the band's self-titled debut album was released on Capitol Records. In June, they joined the Vans Warped Tour, playing alongside such rock luminaries as Bad Religion and NOFX before throngs of people. Their website now features a message board on which fans respond to queries such as "Would you like to hook up with a f-up?" This week, the group will return to Minnesota when the Warped Tour unloads in the Metrodome parking lot.

"They're living their fucking dream," says Brynn Arens, of local rock band Flipp, who produced the record. "They're living in a van. They're rocking and rolling every night. Literally they're having the time of their lives."

The backstory of how they went from being a bunch of f-ups to the F-Ups is pretty much the clichéd rock 'n' roll fairy tale. The band started playing together in junior high. Travis Allen writes all the songs, sings lead vocals, and plays guitar. The rest of the lineup consists of Chris deWerd (guitar), Taylor Nogo (drums), and Andy Collett (bass). They were originally known as Mister Completely and were lucky to score a gig at a pool hall. Then in 2002 they entered "Teenage Rampage," a talent contest put on by Flipp, and took home top honors. Later that year they became the F-Ups.

Since then, Arens has helped shepherd the band to potential stardom. He got their music in front of a friend at Capitol Records and subsequently produced the F-Ups debut. The album throttles ahead with three-minute pop-punk anthems featuring scream-along harmonies and equal doses of angst and swagger. Despite the old school, Elmer's-enabled mohawks sported by Allen and Nogo, the band's aesthetic is more Green Day than Dead Boys. They charm rather than menace. And as might be surmised from a band that censors its own name, the F-Ups shtick is largely PG punk rebellion. (But as Allen points out, there was already a Norwegian hardcore band named the Fuck Ups. "We don't want some Fuck Ups fans coming to a show and going, 'What the fuck is this?'" he says.)

The opening track sets the tone for the album, with Allen and company repeatedly declaring, "We are the lazy generation!" amidst compact, frenetic guitar riffs. The band's first single, "Look at Your Son Now," further develops their primary areas of sociological inquiry: booze, dope, the dopiness of parents, and--most importantly--chicks. My favorite track is the hilarious "I Don't Know," featuring call-and-response verses in which Allen poses big questions such as "When will I get to cop a feel?" The answer, naturally, is "I don't know." Honorable mention goes to "Crack Ho," the tale of a trailer-park tryst gone awry--complete with "hoooo" harmonies. Spit-shined production aside, at its best the album brings to mind Stink-era Replacements or the Dead Milkmen. It's the sonic equivalent of strawberry Boone's: It might not age well, but it goes down easy for now.

In order to hone their live performance before the Warped Tour, the F-Ups booked a slew of club gigs that took them from Oklahoma City to Rochester, New York. On the last night of the junket, they played a set at Stubb's BBQ in Austin, Texas, for exactly one paying customer. "It's basically a paid practice," concedes Allen, speaking on his cell phone from somewhere in Arizona in late June. "It's a little harder to get into it."

The very next evening they were playing for throngs of kids at the Smirnoff Center in Dallas. But as Allen describes it, life on the Warped Tour is not much different from hanging out in southeastern Minnesota. "We're pretty boring guys actually," he insists. "We basically go to Wal-Mart just like we do when we're in Rochester."

 
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