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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.