Interview with Black Lips’ Jared Swilley

Black Lips’ Jared Swilley discusses covering the Beatles, the importance of music videos and radio for connecting with fans, and the band’s upcoming venture into country music.

Atlanta‘s Black Lips have proven to be a resilient force in the tumultuous and challenging world that is today’s music industry. Despite numerous changes to their lineup, the band is known for seemingly endless tours which established their reputation for rowdy live shows (including a 2012 tour of the Middle East). Meanwhile, production on their own records with assistance from big-name producers such as Mark Ronson and Patrick Carney from the Black Keys haven’t managed to slow down a band that’s been in the garage rock scene since 1999.  After 8 full-length studio records, a live record recorded in Tijuana, various side projects (The Almighty DefendersThe Gartrells, and Crush, to name a few), and the creation of a new genre dubbed “flower punk,” the band’s legacy and influence upon younger musicians is undeniable.

Now, almost twenty years since their inception, Black Lips seems like a completely different beast. Only two founding members remain (bassist Jared Swilley and guitarist Cole Alexander), the wildness of their live shows has been toned down considerably, and the band has now set their sights on releasing their interpretation of a country album. Despite the group’s departure from the violence and rebellion of their younger days, the punk ethos which Black Lips was founded upon still shines through in their work.

KCR’s Andrea Renney recently spoke with vocalist and bassist Jared Swilley in advance of their November 13th show at the House of Blues San Diego. The following interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

KCR: So your next tour starts next month. I was kind of surprised to hear that you were co-headlining with [Danish punk band] Iceage, since Iceage isn’t really a band that I would associate with Black Lips. How did that come about?

J: Well, we’ve known each other for a long time, and we have some mutual friends. We had met them in Denmark before. They were going out on tour around the same time as us and I like them a bunch. I kinda like going on tour with bands that are a little different; it just changes things up. We don’t really have the same sound at all, but I think they have a really great live show. Every band that we end up going on tour with is just from us hanging out and talking and saying “Oh yeah, we should tour sometime.”

KCR: I guess Kesha’s a good example of that; not someone that you would necessarily expect [Black Lips to tour with]. But I do think that there is a certain similarity there. I know Kesha has her roots in Nashville, and she is, despite being so pop, kind of rock and roll. It was something that was surprising, but at the same time, it made sense.

J: Yeah, she has really good taste in music. I was surprised when I first met her years ago; we started talking about music and I just thought she was this pop star or whatever. But she was really into Dead Moon and all these bands that I like… We’ve been on tour with bigger bands that are rock bands, and we’ve gotten heckled by their fans. Their fans didn’t really like us. But with Kesha, it’s all really young kids that are really stoked to be there. They’re just there to have a good time.

KCR: I think Black Lips are the perfect band for Kesha’s fans. Like you said, they’re just there to have a good time.

J: Yeah, they were all real sweet.

KCR: It’s been over a year since Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art? came out, so I’m not gonna ask a bunch of questions about that. I feel like you’ve already discussed that record at length. But I do have one question — I wanted to know about your cover of “It Won’t Be Long” [by the Beatles] and how that kind of came about? Did Sean Lennon [music producer and John Lennon’s son] approach you guys with doing a cover, and was it that one specifically?

J: I never would have been like, “Hey, can we cover one of your dad’s songs?” but he really wanted us to do that. When we were playing it at the studio we were doing it exactly like they did it, but obviously they do it a ton better, and ours just sounded like a carbon copy of it. So we kind of started messing around with trying to make it sound like an evil version of it. I would never in a million years have thought to bring that up or try to do that, but [Sean] did a lot of the arrangement. We didn’t try to do a Beatles copy, we just did a sinister version of it. I was happy with it. And Yoko gave us the blessing to do it so that was real cool to hear her say “Yeah, you should do a Beatles song.”

KCR: Yeah, absolutely. What an honor, really.

J: Yeah, that was pretty cool. Overall, it was pretty surreal. But it was awesome.

KCR: On the topic of records: Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art? came out last year, and now all I’ve really heard is about your forthcoming new country record. I haven’t heard too many details, but is that still the plan?

J: Yeah, yeah. The whole thing’s written and we’ve already done a couple songs. We did a session in Berlin this summer with King Khan [of King Khan and the Shrines, The King Khan & BBQ Show, and other projects], and we did another one at Oakley [Munson, the current drummer for Black Lips]’s house. But yeah, the whole thing is written. We’ve got tons of songs, and we’re just right in the middle of finding what label’s gonna put it out and what studio we’re gonna go to. But it’s definitely gonna be out by spring next year.

It’s not, like, serious country. It’s definitely all country influenced, but it’s kind of our take on country. It’s different, but we’ve always been into kind of twangy, southern style stuff. For this one, we’re more focusing on that. There’s not gonna be synthesizers on it or anything.

KCR: I know that some people were surprised about the whole country record thing, but I feel like on every record you’ve ever done, there’s always at least one song that’s pretty obviously influenced by country. On the last record, “Rebel Intuition” – that’s pretty country. And songs like “Workin’’’ [from 2005’s Let It Bloom] and “Drive By Buddy” [from 2014’s Underneath the Rainbow] – definitely. So to me, it seemed pretty natural. But what made you decide that now was the time to do this one?

J: I guess just because we’ve done so many garage rock records and stuff like that. We just kept talking about it, like, “Yeah, let’s do a country record.” It kind of worked out real good with having Jeff [Clarke, also of Demon’s Claws] in the band, because he’s great at writing songs like that. He’s really good at playing those kind of things. So it just felt like a natural thing for us to try out. Kind of like us doing our “mature” country record. But it’s not all that mature.

KCR: Growing up and becoming country stars.

J: It’s easy to age gracefully in country music.

KCR: Definitely. While we’re on the topic of changing sounds: you’re still in Atlanta as far as I know, but Cole and Zumi [Rosow, saxophonist] are in LA, and you said Jeff’s from Alberta, while Oakley’s in New York?

J: Yeah, he’s in the Catskills. And Jeff’s been in Germany for the past couple years, but I guess he’s kinda living at my house in Atalnta. But yeah, everyone’s scattered all over now.

KCR: Do you think that spreading out has been helpful for changing your sound and keeping things fresh? Or does it make it difficult to reconcile all those different perspectives?

J: No, it kind of didn’t change anything… I mean, Cole still has a house here so he’s back a lot to visit his family. But we never really practiced before, like at all, unless we were just about to go in the studio or had new stuff to work on. So really, I haven’t noticed that much of a change. I guess we’re usually in Atlanta before a tour, and then we leave from there. But as far as music scenes, I’m not really all that involved in the Atlanta music scene at all. I don’t go out too much when I’m not on tour. I know Cole and Zumi are pretty involved in the LA scene and stuff like that, but not me.

KCR: Just working on your own stuff?

J: Yeah, I’m mostly a homebody when I’m at home.

KCR: I think that’s pretty typical for people who are on tour as often as you guys are.

J: Yeah, going out’s like… I do that for a big part of the year. So when I’m at home, I hang out with family a lot, friends.

KCR: So, I’ve always loved your music videos that you guys put out. Most recently I loved the one for “Crystal Night;” About music videos though: obviously music television isn’t really a thing anymore. So why do you guys still continue to release videos? Do you think it’s just an artistic expression, and do you still want to keep putting out videos like that?

J: I still like watching videos. If we’re in hotel rooms and stuff, I’ll watch the music video channel. Even in Europe, where I don’t like any of the music, I like music videos. And I like making them. We always direct our own videos. I mean, there’ll be directors, but I did the treatment and everything for “Crystal Night.” And the other one we did was “Can’t Hold On,” and Cole did that treatment. It’s just fun. I enjoy the video aspect thing. It’s harder and harder to get money for that stuff nowadays, because there is no MTV. But we’ve been lucky with Vice [Records], because they have resources to let us do that. And sometimes, like, I think we had Ray-Ban help fund a video for us. But yeah, if we can find the money for it, it’s just a neat little tool to have.

KCR: And I think fans appreciate it too. It’s interesting to see what the artist interprets as the visual side of their music.

J: Yeah, me too.

KCR: I know I mentioned this earlier, but I’m calling from KCR College Radio. It’s the college radio station for San Diego State University, and I think that it’s such a cool thing that we have. So I just wanted to know – obviously music streaming services have kind of become the primary way for consuming music, especially for young people. Do you think that radio is still an important resource for getting your music out to a new audience, even your current audience, and reaching new fans?

J: Yeah, I think it’s still really important and a good thing. In Atlanta we only have half of a college station now – it only becomes music after 7 or 8 now. During the day NPR bought it. And we lost our cool AM station, so that kinda sucks. But there’s still KEXP and KCRW and WFMU. I mean, I still listen [to radio]. I don’t stream music, but I guess I could figure it out. I’ve just never done it. I just pretty much listen to WFMU out of New Jersey because they have everything up on their site. I mean, it’s important for me, but I’m 35 years old, so obviously the kids are listening to something else. College radio was a big thing, especially growing up. I never went to college, but me and Cole had our own radio show, and it’s actually still going on.

KCR: Really?

J: Yeah. We started it fifteen or sixteen years ago, and there’s still students doing it with our same format. So that was always awesome for me – I got my own radio show and I didn’t even go to the school. I was really proud of that. So I think that’s still real important and I think that it makes a big difference. Because people are loyal to their local stations, which is now usually almost always college stations.

KCR: I just joined it this semester, in September. And it’s actually kind of crazy how well-regarded it is. In the major newspaper here, it won best station in San Diego, even against the commercial stations. Like, this college radio station did. So it’s pretty clear that people really do appreciate college stations and even radio in general.

J: Yeah, I love the format. And I think it’s good for record sales and promotion and things like that.

KCR: I did an interview last week with Zac [Carper] from FIDLAR, and I asked him the same question. We were talking about how the cool thing about radio is the curated aspect of it. How you don’t really get that with streaming, or with just finding music on your own.

J: Yeah, you don’t get that at all with streaming, really. I guess you can do the algorithm thing.

KCR: Yeah, but it’s not the same. You know, you can look ahead and see what all the songs are. It loses that aspect of wondering what the next song is gonna be.

J: Yeah. I got into so much music when I was a kid that really turned me on. When I was in middle school and high school, there was this show called “In the Aquarian Age” on 88.5, which is the Georgia State station. At that’s how I got into so much cool, weird, old ‘60s music, through that.

KCR: I think radio’s good for stuff like that, a genre or a time period that you’ve never listened to before. It’s hard to just jump into that. So radio’s great for guiding you and guiding your taste.

J: Yeah, you definitely don’t get that on streaming.

Catch the Black Lips at the House of Blues on November 13th on their co-headlining tour with Iceage, supported by Brooklyn’s Surfbort.

Written by: Andrea Renney
Photo courtesy of: Grimy Goods

FIDLAR at the Observatory North Park

FIDLAR is Zac Carper, Max Kuehn, Elvis Kuehn, and Brandon Schwartzel

FIDLAR brought their loud, SoCal skate punk sound to the Observatory North Park; never-ending moshpits ensued

FIDLAR kicked off the west coast leg of their fall North American tour on October 18th, 2018 here in San Diego at the Observatory North Park. Supporting the Los Angeles punk rock band on this leg were Toronto’s Dilly Dally and Southern California’s The Side Eyes. This would be my first time seeing FIDLAR live, and it absolutely exceeded my expectations.

The Side Eyes had already begun their set when I entered the venue around 8:00. If you consider yourself a punk purist and like the short, hard, and fast songs of the classic punk genre, this is the band for you. Their opening set wasn’t very long, but they managed to get through a surprisingly high number of songs in a short time. The in-your-face attitude of lead singer Astrid McDonald and the band’s energetic stage presence got the mosh pits circling early on in the night.

Dilly Dally was up next, and they offered something different from both The Side Eyes and FIDLAR. The four-piece from Toronto, Ontario (hello, fellow Canadians) have a slower, grungier vibe, and their sway-inducing songs were a pleasant break for us to recharge before the headliner. Their mellower sound didn’t put us to sleep by any means, as mosh pits were still going strong behind me throughout their set.

As Dilly Dally concluded and the stage setup for FIDLAR began to take shape (stacks of old televisions emblazoned with “FIDLAR” in red on their screens, a matching backdrop unveiled at the back of the stage), the crowd began to move in towards the barricade at the front of the stage. Eventually, I ended up dead center and in roughly the second row. I lightheartedly mentioned to my friend that if I had come to the show alone, I definitely wouldn’t be this close, lest I end up sandwiched between tall, sweaty dudes and unable to get out (or see anything). He responded that if that was the case, then I should probably just get out now because he wouldn’t be protecting me. Well, okay. I guess I was on my own. I had flashbacks to my near-death experience at the Frights’ show at the Observatory in August, and braced myself for an even rowdier crowd.

Shortly after, FIDLAR took the stage to an eruption of cheers. They launched right into “Alcohol”, released earlier this year, which sent the crowd into a frenzy. An absolutely perfect opener, with vocalist Zac Carper’s angry, screaming delivery; the unapologetic, “fuck it” attitude of the verses (“And I feel okay and get the fuck out my way/And did you think I wanna hear what you have to say?”), and the eardrum-blasting chorus. I managed to hold my own in the crush of already-sweaty fans, jumping along with them and periodically extracting my ponytail from getting pinched between shoulders. “No Waves,” a track off the band’s self-titled debut record, was met with an even greater energetic response.  I stayed up front for the next two songs before heading back into the actual mosh pit. Being squished in the front is fun for a little while, but I think FIDLAR’s music is best experienced with the ability to jump around and push people.

About halfway through the set, Zac calmed us down for a moment to address something he had been noticing at shows: “sexual harassment, motherfuckers – not cool!”

He proceeded to give the audience permission to punch anyone who was “fucking with [us]” in the face. This was met with loud cheers and nods of approval from everyone in the crowd. Next, Zac proclaimed that there was “too much dick on the dance floor”, and ordered one of the staples of a FIDLAR show: the girls-only mosh pit.

I had been waiting for this. I am a girl, I am a fan of FIDLAR, and I enjoy mosh pits when I don’t feel like someone is going to (accidentally, I think) punch me in the face. This was my time to shine. We girls moved in towards the stage, and the band gave us “Stoked and Broke” for our moment of punk rock girl power. If you ask me, there were still too many dicks in the pit, but what can you do?

New songs from the band’s forthcoming third record, Almost Free, including “Too Real” and “Can’t You See” were well-received by the crowd; everyone already seemed to know the words to “Can’t You See,” a song which had been released less than a week prior. Additionally, FIDLAR played through their well-known favorites, including party anthems “Wake Bake Skate,” “40oz. On Repeat,” and “Cheap Beer.” One of the band’s best attributes is that they know how to cater to the crowd.

As the night (ironically) wound down to “Cocaine,” no one looked any worse for wear. Sure, we were all dripping sweat, shirts had been torn, and phones were lost. Countless shoes had been held up throughout the night as good-natured moshers did their duty to try to locate their owners. And yeah, my friend did have someone else’s blood on his shirt, but you know what? It was all in good fun. This was a FIDLAR show after all, and if you left in the same condition that you came, did you even have fun?

Written by: Andrea Renney

Interview with FIDLAR’s Zac Carper

FIDLAR is Zac Carper, Max Kuehn, Elvis Kuehn, and Brandon Schwartzel

FIDLAR’s Zac Carper talks new music, the benefits of college radio, and getting recognition as more than just a “party punk” band

Los Angeles punk rock band FIDLAR is well known for their songs about beer, skateboarding, and drugs. Their live shows are loud and raucous affairs, a place for kids to work out their aggression and energy in the mosh pit (including the band’s famous “girls only” mosh pits). However, despite the hard-partying image they’ve cultivated (the meaning behind their name’s acronym, “Fuck It Dog, Life’s a Risk” is a skater’s version of Nike’s “Just Do It”), the members of FIDLAR are not the slackers many make them out to be. The band has released two records (2013’s FIDLAR and 2015’s Too) amidst years of constant touring, while their third record, Almost Free, is slated for release in early 2019. On top of all this, they’ve managed to keep the same original members, while facing personal issues such as drug addiction and death. The fun-loving, party band reputation may not be entirely undeserved, but their work ethic and dedication to sticking together is something that ought to be admired.

KCR’s Andrea Renney recently spoke with lead singer and guitarist Zac Carper in advance of their October 18th show at the North Park Observatory. The following interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

KCR: So you just finished the first leg of your fall tour at the end of September, over on the East Coast. Then you’re about to start the second leg on Thursday [October 18th] here in San Diego at the Observatory. How was the first leg of the tour, and how was the response to your new music?

Zac: It was super fun. We tour a lot, you know. We haven’t toured America in a long time. We were doing Europe for a little bit and I just forgot how fun it is to play in America, you know what I mean? Especially bigger cities like Chicago, New York, Philly. And the band that we took on tour was super fun, this band called NOBRO. They were awesome. And this band called Dilly Dally. So it was just a good time, good vibes, and everybody was getting along.

KCR: Awesome. Dilly Dally’s coming on the second leg too, right?

Z: Yeah.

KCR: And what was the other band that you mentioned?

Z: NOBRO. N-O-B-R-O.

KCR: Okay, cool. Are they gonna be on the second leg?

Z: No, they’re from Montreal. We were doing the East Coast, which is closer to them, so it would be easier for them. And then for the West Coast we’re taking this band called The Side Eyes.

KCR: Right.

Z: But NOBRO is this all female punk band from Montreal. They were hilarious, they were awesome.

KCR: Oh sick, that’s really cool. I’m actually from Canada myself, but I’m from Vancouver, so the other side.

Z: Ah, other side, other side.

KCR: Yeah, west side. So other than that, you’ve been releasing some new music throughout 2018. I know “Alcohol” came out earlier this year, followed by “Too Real”. Now “Can’t You See” just came out last week, and you’ve got your new album [Almost Free] coming out in January, is that correct? Next year?

Z: Yeah.

KCR: So, I mean, it’s been three years since Too came out. Has this album kind of been in the works for that entire time?

Z: Unfortunately, yeah (laughs). It just takes a long time now, man. You know, I always say the shitty part about DIY is you have to do it yourself.

KCR: Yeah, I feel it.

Z: And that’s kind of the reality of it. We’re not on a major label, we don’t have those kind of budgets to rent out fancy studios and go work. Like, for us to pay our rent and for us to sustain a living, we have to be on the road constantly, you know?

KCR: Definitely.

Z: And being on the road is kind of like a different shift of the brain. You have to focus on the road. Sometimes I’ll write on the road. Like that song “Alcohol”: it took a while to write that song. I think I wrote some of the vocal melodies and lyrics in Australia, so it’s kind of like piecing things together. It’s just a different way of doing things nowadays. And on top of that, when Too came out, the first year we toured we did something like 32 flights, and 12 of them were in Europe. In one year. You know, it’s just a lot. It’s a different thing. And this was before we were really doing things comfortably. We were still touring in vans every now and then and just going for it.  So we didn’t have the comfort of having a bus and being able to play guitar on it. We were just stuck in this van.

KCR: I get that. Coming off of tour and then going back to the studio and back and forth for years, I can imagine that it would be hard to sort of switch between those two ways of living. It makes sense that an album would take a bit longer when you’re having to go on tour all the time.

Z: Yeah. And we wanted to change it up, too, you know what I mean? I feel like sometimes time just makes you change things up, you know?

KCR: Oh, absolutely. Moving on, would you say the new album is going to be quite different, to the point where people are going to notice it?

Z: I think so. We’ve only had two records out, but those two records are pretty different from each other.

KCR: Yeah, I would agree.

Z: I mean, that’s kinda the whole point for us. We don’t wanna stick with one thing too much, you know?

KCR: No, definitely. I feel like that’s pretty common, not even related to music. Everyone changes, it’s a way of life. And kind of as an example, I know that you produced The Frights’ last two records. Those two records are very different. So there’s another band that’s very much reinventing themselves and always changing.

Z: Yeah. I think for fans of music, there’s two sides: where they don’t want the band to change, but then people also get mad when the band doesn’t change. Because then it’s just the same thing over and over again. And there’s no winning in that scenario. That’s something that I’ve had a conversation with Mikey [Carnevale] from The Frights about. Like, you can’t think about that shit because then you’re not writing music for you anymore, you know what I mean? You’re just trying to please an audience, and that just doesn’t last long.

KCR: Yeah, absolutely. Then the music probably isn’t gonna turn out that well and it’s really not genuine if you’re just trying to please people. You just can’t win. I’ve definitely felt that before with bands and I feel bad about it but, you know, sometimes you just form a bond with a record and then the next one’s different, and then you’re kinda sad. But you have to be happy for the band.

Z: I know (laughs). I’ve done that since I was a kid. I remember when Modest Mouse came out and I was like, “This is the best!” Then another record came out and I was just like, “I can’t do it anymore”, you know? But I still support them. You know what I do? I go back and listen to the record that changed my life. And that’s the thing that I present to people that call us out for changing. It’s like, what are you guys complaining about? Just go listen to the record you like!

KCR: Right? It’s still there!

Z: Yeah. It’s basically free on Spotify, go for it!

KCR: You don’t even have to pay for it, we’re not even getting money!

Z:  What else do you want from us, man? Like, what do you want… It’s just funny.

KCR: I agree. So I read that you worked with Ricky Reed to produce this new record, is that correct?

Z: Yeah.

KCR: Who, as far as I know, is known more for producing kind of pop-oriented stuff. How was that experience, and what do you think he brought to the table regarding the sound of your new record?

Z: It was extremely weird because when I met with Ricky, I didn’t know he wanted to do a FIDLAR record. I do some writing sessions on the side, so I thought that he wanted me to work on some pop stuff. I was like, “What am I doing here?” and he was like, “Oh, I wanna work on a FIDLAR record,” and I’m like “Why?” (laughs).

KCR: So he approached you?

Z: Yeah. And he’s just one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. The way he works is just so unique. The past year I’ve produced a couple bands, so I know how to record and I know how to do the production aspect, and he was willing to just use the demos that me and Elvis have been creating, and then build on top of that. So it was just a different way of working, a different style. He taught us that there are no rules in this thing, you know? Like, most of the stuff I wrote was on my laptop. I got into drum machines and stuff like that, and he was like, “Yeah, why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you try that stuff?” It doesn’t always have to be guitar and bass and drums and vocals. Let’s get weird, let’s try stuff. We even got into adding horns to songs.

I know people label him as a pop producer but I think he’s just one of the most brilliant producers in general. And he’s the most fuckin’ punk rock dude I know, man. He’s the most humble person ever. There are a lot of producers in LA, you know, and a lot of them are pretty sleazy and flashy. They all drive fancy cars and are just kinda weird. That motherfucker’s driving a fucking beat up Prius that he still has, lives in a super modest house, has an amazing family. The way that he does everything, I was like, I really respect this guy and I feel like we can get on a level, you know? And when we started hanging out, literally all we were doing was cracking each other up. And that was kinda the point. All the other people that I’ve worked with, everything was so serious. I’m like, I don’t think you guys are getting what FIDLAR is. FIDLAR has always had that humor to it, that we have to keep because I don’t wanna take this shit too seriously. We do take it seriously, but… I’m not fuckin’ Tom Yorke here, I’m not trying to fucking reinvent the fucking wheel, you know what I’m saying?

KCR: Yeah, you can take things seriously but also still have fun and not take yourself too seriously in the process. To me, that’s the perfect way to be.

Z: Yeah, so that’s why me and Ricky got along really well. Presenting him to the band, they were all like, “Ah, he’s a pop producer, how is this gonna work?” But then once they met him they were like, “Oh my god, this is awesome.” It was a cool thing, it was very unique.

KCR: It sounds like it ended up being a perfect match.

Z: Yeah. And even with our second record, the producer we used was a pop/country producer, so it’s kinda always been a weird FIDLAR fashion to be like, okay, maybe with the last couple producers, it made the most sense to use that guy. But then at the same time, we’re already a punk rock band, you know what I mean? What if we offset it with something different? And something cool would come out of that.

KCR: Exactly. And, again, you don’t want to just keep making the same stuff. You should be trying new things and seeing what comes with it – why not?

Z: Yeah. See, you get it (laughs).

KCR: Yeah, I think I get it. On the topic of FIDLAR always being kind of humorous, the song “Too Real” seems pretty serious to me, pretty political.

Z: Yeah, I know. People in interviews, they’ve been asking me questions about that song a lot. The thing about it is it’s not choosing one side or the other. It’s not talking shit on one side or the other, it’s literally just saying what I hear going on. All this input that’s been happening over the past couple years, whether it be politics or social media or the left and the right movement, I’m just kind of writing lyrics that point those things out. It’s not like I’m taking a side or anything. It’s just like “Yo, you guys, you all sound fucking ridiculous”. That’s what this is. And that’s me included, you know what I mean? We’re all fucked up.

KCR: No, absolutely. And I think that comes through pretty explicitly that this isn’t some right-side bashing song. It’s commentary on the state of the world.

Z: Exactly.

KCR: Was there a specific incident where you thought, “This is messed up, I need to write this song,” or was it more of a general response to the government and our society focused on things like social media and always being politically correct?

Z: You know what, I don’t really quite remember what it was. I do know that I made the music of it, like the beat and the track of it, after doing a session with these guys called GTA. They’re an EDM duo. And I was blown away by how they work, how they use their laptops. Their laptop is like their guitar, you know? I was like, I wanna learn how to do this stuff, so I went to my studio and just made this beat, and that’s what that whole track is basically. Then I think I just let it sit for a while and then I had to lay down lyrics for it, and… I think I was probably fighting with my girlfriend at the time or something (laughs).

KCR: It’s funny that it kind of stemmed from that EDM group, since you have that line in the song pretending that EDM never happened.

Z: I was talking to them about EDM, and they’re like a huge EDM band, you know? And they were saying musicians and bands don’t treat them like they’re musicians. I totally understood that, and I felt that when FIDLAR started. I felt like people weren’t treating us like musicians because we would just get drunk and play three chords and yell. So “let’s pretend that EDM didn’t happen at all” is not a bash on EDM, it’s like a bash on-

KCR: The people saying that EDM isn’t music?

Z: Yeah, exactly. It’s the old people, I call them “rockets”, as in they only like rock music or a certain thing. But that’s the whole point, like “let’s pretend that EDM didn’t happen at all” –  that song is basically an EDM track (laughs). I used the fucking kick sample, the drum pack – all the samples are from an EDM pack. So that was kinda the joke about it, but I don’t think people got it. I think they just think I’m talking shit on EDM.

KCR: Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Z: Yeah, yeah.

KCR: Well I’m glad I know that now. Anyways, let’s move onto some trivia. On the topic of a song like “Too Real”, where it’s a bit more serious, you’ve said yourself that other musicians wouldn’t really view you as musicians. You’re just getting drunk, a “party band.” But “Too Real” is a great example of a serious song, while even something like “Stupid Decisions” is pretty personal. Do you think that FIDLAR is misunderstood in their reputation as a party band, and is it something you’d like to change? Or are you kinda just okay with that?

Z: I mean…look. Half of it’s our fault, writing songs called “Cheap Beer” and “Wake Bake Skate” and “Cocaine”, you know what I mean? Like, okay, I get it, we get it. Half of it’s our fault. And maybe it’s the name of the band, or our whole image or whatever – the goofiness of it – and for us in the media we really try to go for this party punk band, slacker punks, burnouts, that whole thing, you know?

The reality is, we wouldn’t be where we are if we were slackers or burnouts. We work really hard at what we do. Elvis [Kuehn] and Max [Kuehn] have been playing music since they were so young. I believe Elvis is a once in a lifetime musician, you know. He’s one of those savant dudes. He plays piano, he plays every instrument so well. So I feel like we do get discredited a lot for being musicians. A lot of people have labeled us as this party punk band, but we work really fucking hard at what we do, and we’re constantly working.

KCR: That must be tough. Obviously the music’s gonna get whatever label it’s gonna get, but it’s still unfortunate that you then get that sort of reputation. Like, “Oh, they’re just slackers,” or whatever. But you’ve released two records, kind of on your own. Obviously you’re working hard – this stuff doesn’t just happen.

Z: Yeah. And all while dealing with life shit. That’s the other thing that people don’t realize: we’ve been a band for almost ten years now. And it’s been the same members, the exact same members the entire time.

KCR: Yeah, that’s rare. When does that happen?

Z: That’s fucking RARE, dude. When does that happen, exactly. And it’s like, we have to deal with life shit. I got hooked on heroin, Elvis is going through some shit, Brandon [Schwartzel] is going through some shit, Max goes through some shit. We have to deal with life shit and we’ve had to learn how to talk to each other, and how to settle our differences and build our bond stronger. It just doesn’t really fucking happen that much. Musicians like to blow things up, like “Fuck this, I’m outta here.” But nah, that’s the easy way.

KCR: Yeah. The fact that you didn’t even break up given a serious addiction, and that you’ve remained the same members – I don’t know, I think you should get some recognition for that.

Z: Yeah, it’s been a lot harder than people think it is. And I think the press and media and stuff like to label us as “These guys just like to smoke weed and go to the studio and make music.” And, like, yeah… but we do it smart.

KCR: Yeah, you’re like “We’re doing that, but look at what we’re producing.”

Z: Yeah. We’re doing that every day and working hard at it, that’s what we’re doing.

KCR: Exactly. Everyone does different things, but at least you’re working hard at it. So just last week, “Can’t You See” came out. Can you tell me what it’s about? I was kinda getting the vibe that it was about the superficial side of the world in general, but maybe more specifically Los Angeles these days, with the whole “gluten free” thing and “meditating” and “getting rich quick”.

Z: Yeah, totally. It’s totally about that. To me, that song is like that dude at the party that’s just coked out of his mind. Maybe he’s a musician, or maybe he “makes beats”. He’s a producer or something like that. He’s showing you his band through his iPhone speaker. Like, “Listen to this, isn’t this cool?” And you’re just like, “Fuck, I feel like I’m trapped in a cage right now.” That’s kinda what we were channeling with that song.

That song wouldn’t have happened without Ricky though. Elvis had that riff and he had the verse to it, and in FIDLAR fashion we would’ve made it super loud and grungy. But then Ricky was just like, “Let’s do a song that’s just mellow.” And we were like, “Whoa, we’ve never done that before.” So we tried and we just had so much fun doing it. And we learned something in that process, that it’s actually harder to play quieter. Because you have to lock into the groove more. It’s easy to just turn shit up and strum hard.

KCR: Yeah, absolutely. And if you’re quiet or slower, people might notice mistakes more, whereas when you’re just playing loud and fast, your attitudes shifts into “Whatever, just do it.”

Z: Exactly, exactly.

KCR: That’s awesome. So I have one final question, and it’s related to radio. FIDLAR was somewhat recently added to KROQ’s regular rotation, which is really cool. Congratulations.

Z: Thank you.

KCR: You’re welcome. With music streaming services being the primary method of music consumption these days, do you think that radio is still a really important service for reaching new fans and getting your music out there?

Z: Yeah, I do. I really do. Not everybody can look on YouTube, you know what I mean? I come from a place where the only radio station was college radio, and that was literally where I found all my music. On Sundays, on this radio station, these guys had this three hour block and they played everything from Wu-Tang to Beastie Boys, whatever. They just played whatever and that’s how I learned about music, to be honest. Not everybody has the internet. Most people do, and a lot of people have smartphones and things like that. But I just think there’s something to be said about curated music instead of just having a whole library of shit to get lost in, you know what I mean? Because then you’re just like, “What do I listen to?” Having a DJ or specific songs picked out, I think that’s such a unique perspective.

KCR: Absolutely. And I know you can get curated playlists, but it’s not really the same. You don’t get that personal touch, but you also don’t get the commentary on the songs. That’s why I like listening to radio, for the curated aspect of it.

Z: Yeah, and with radio you don’t get to know what the next song is. I think that’s the joy of the radio thing for me, you’re just like “Oh, what’s gonna be next?” you know? It’s not a fucking list.

FIDLAR’s third full-length record, Almost Free, drops on January 25th via Mom + Pop Music. Listen to their newest single, “Can’t You See”, here.

Written By: Andrea Renney

The Goldmine-In Utero by Nirvana

In high school, my history teacher told my class that history becomes classified as such when 20 years have elapsed from the time an event happened. In that case, Nirvana’s 1993 album In Utero has just crossed that threshold, and as this blog profiles older albums that people nowadays aren’t as familiar with as they should be, I say its fair game. Their final studio record, In Utero was much more hard edged than the band’s megahit predecessor Nevermind. Kurt Cobain deliberately tried to make In Utero less accessible in order to move away from the more pop elements that pervaded the Nevermind album.

The album begins with the crash and howl of Serve the Servants, the change in recording style and the shift to a rawer and more distorted sound is instantly recognizable. Still, this is the type of song that you could find on Nirvana’s earlier work but in different sonic packaging.

Dave Grohl’s drums kick off the next song, the raging Scentless Apprentice. A super heavy track, Kurt Cobain is in full unintelligible-lyrics-leading-to-animal-howling mode. If Serve the Servants did not convince listeners that this album was going to be a different beast than Nevermind this song sure did. It is the only song on the album that credits all three band members, the rest being all credited to Cobain.

The third track on the album is the lead single, Heart Shaped Box. The song retains the quiet/loud alternations that worked well for the Nevermind material. The song has a much smoother sound than the rest of the album, owing to the mixing alterations given by Scott Litt to augment producer Steve Albini’s first mix.

Following up Heart Shaped Box is the completely uncontroversial crowd pleaser of a song called Rape Me. The track was a double A-sided single with All Apologies after the Heart Shaped Box release. It was retitled ‘Waif Me’ on cds sold at Walmart and other department stores that refused to sell the album with the original title. The introductory riff shares a similar structure with Smells Like Teen Spirit.

The fifth song on the album is Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle, the title was inspired by a biography of the actress. Dave Grohl is all over the drum kit, crashing down on the toms in the choruses and setting a super heavy beat.

Following up the heavy and distorted Frances Farmer is the lithe acoustic track Dumb. Kera Schaley provides backing cello as a counterpoint to Cobain’s strumming guitar. Dumb stands out among the other heavily electrified songs with its musical style but also with Cobain’s double tracked vocals.

Clocking in barely under two minutes is the steady rocking Very Ape. The song itself is a conventional rocker with a very danceable beat for Nirvana standards.

Following up the faster and consistent Very Ape is Milk It, which is a much heavier and more segmented piece. The song alternates between halts and rushing sound, with Cobain going from mumble to outright screaming just as fast. Krist Novoselic’s modulating bass is clearly recognizable in the haze of guitar distortion.

The second and final song on the album featuring an acoustic guitar, we make our way to Pennyroyal Tea. The acoustic section does not last long as the chorus begins with a rush of the full band’s fury. Cobain sings about his pains and ailments, on an album with lyrics frequently addressing illness, this is the most extreme. Pennyroyal tea itself is supposedly contains abortive chemicals, but Cobain famously mocked it and its users because he maintained that it didn’t work. It was supposed to be the third single for the album but was recalled after Cobain’s suicide.

In a great display of Cobain’s sense of humor, Radio Friendly Unit Shifter is anything but. One of the dirtiest tracks on the album, the song roars and hums with feedback of Cobain’s guitars, droning over the breakneck pace of Grohl and Novoselic’s backing rhythm.

The eleventh track, Tourette’s, is somewhat of an oddity. It is barely over a minute and a half long and consists mainly of indecipherable screaming backed by a traditional grunge track, if grunge can ever be called traditional.

We finally come to the end of the album with the brilliant All Apologies. Bassist Novoselic backs Cobain on electric guitar on this song, with Kera Schaley again contributing a fantastic turn on cello. The track balances fantastically the melodic and the distorted, with Cobain’s strange and poetic “All and all is all we are” refrain echoing from the speakers as the song fades away to conclude the album.

Nevermind and its collection of hit singles will forever be the album that defined Nirvana’s legacy in the popular culture. It was the album that popularized grunge and proved that alternative rock could be as successful, if not more successful, than conventional rock. However, In Utero may be the band’s best work. They had refined their sound, to an ironically unrefined state, and wrote complex and personally engaging songs. Although it was not intended to be their final studio output, In Utero is a perfect mesh of Nirvana’s raw and polished elements, and a worth cap on their career.