As the three members of FIDLAR sit around the foyer/living room of Mind Palace — their mid-century modern creative hub, video studio, and storage facility located in the Glassell Park neighborhood of Los Angeles — a lengthy discussion breaks out about the band’s place and legacy in the punk world.
It’s been a full decade since their self-titled debut album put them on the map, and FIDLAR has stood the test of time better than just about any other band from the mid-2000s SoCal scene that birthed them (even before Burger Records went down in flames). They’ve toured the world numerous times over, hit the Billboard charts with all three of their albums, and still sell out shows after an unintentional three-year hiatus.
More from Spin:
- FIDLAR Roars Back to ‘Life’ on New Dave Sardy-Assisted EP
- Watch FIDLAR Act Out Teen Dramas in ‘Sand on the Beach’ Video
- FIDLAR Tease New EP With ‘FSU’ Ahead of Fall Tour
Other bands with that same success may push some faux humility to not appear conceited, it’s clear that while FIDLAR is thankful for that fanbase (the “fidiots”), the band is also wildly uncomfortable with the “icon” status the next generation of punks has bestowed upon them.
“FIDLAR should not be your favorite band,” vocalist and guitarist Zac Carper recalls telling San Diego rockers Sun Room, one of the many bands he’s worked with behind the scenes. “Go listen to Blink-182 or Led Zeppelin or something. This cannot be your favorite shit.”
“It’s wild to see kids who are 18 and want to show us that they have a FIDLAR tattoo,” bassist Brandon Schwartzel adds. “It’s getting to the point where I’m starting to feel a little bad about it, like ‘Do you need help? Don’t do it. Just listen to someone else. Listen to your mom. Don’t go through with it. Are you okay? What are you going through right now?’ Also, I don’t know if it’s just being young and more careless or if it’s a generational thing, but 18-19 year olds now are so down to just come up to you, tell you they love your band, and show you their tattoo. I would have never done that. If I saw my favorite band when I was 18, I’d be peeking around from behind a door, like, ‘Oh my God, are they looking at me?’ I appreciate their boldness.”
Part of the discomfort for FIDLAR likely comes from the fact that when they returned from their longest break ever to play sold-out shows to an even more rabid fan base than they had in 2019. Teenagers who learned about the band through 2019’s Almost Free had to wait nearly their entire high school lives to finally mosh to “Cocaine,” while those who grew up with the first two albums were suddenly old enough to sell out 21-plus venues — a first for FIDLAR.
Of course, it also doesn’t help that the band never meant to take so much time off.
“At the end of 2019, we were like, ‘Let’s just chill for a second because we’ve been touring literally nonstop for 10 years,’” Carper says, playing with a foam roller as he sits on the floor in front of a kitchenette. “We were just feeling a little burnt out and just needed a little reset. So we wiped all of our social media at midnight on New Year’s Eve, and we were going to disappear and figure out an interesting way to come back. And then it was 2020 and the universe decided we were going to be gone for longer.”
The original plan was for Carper to spend about four months in Japan to unwind, and then FIDLAR could reconvene and decide how they wanted to return. Unfortunately, his March 23 flight never happened and the band remained completely dark until July 2022.
Then they returned with a teaser for a new single, “FSU,” and the announcement of a self-released EP, That’s Life (out Friday). For anyone who wasn’t a huge fan of the more-produced classic rock vibes of certain tracks on Almost Free, That’s Life is a return to form. As a band that values their live shows above all else, FIDLAR’s forced time away from the road reminded them what was important — meaning that the new tracks carry the raw energy of a FIDLAR show from start to finish.
“We were on tour a lot when we made the second and third records, so we wanted to do some studio fun trickery stuff on them,” says drummer Max Kuehn, the only band member not seated on the floor, from Mind Palace’s yellow couch. “It was fun to be in the studio. With this EP, it felt like we were in the studio and at home making music so much that we wanted it to feel like a live performance instead. That was the driving force of this EP. It was like, ‘How do you capture us live?’ It’s a loud, live, fun, stripped-down experience. We just played the songs a bunch together and then went into the studio and did everything live in a room in one day, except for some guitar leads and the vocals.”
“It’s easy to get lost in the sauce, which is why I call [recording software Ableton] ‘Disableton,’” Carper adds, his oversized navy blue hoodie sleeves falling above the text tattooed on his forearms. “The past couple of years have changed how music is made and ingested, with this forefront of bedroom pop — or as I call it, ‘streamcore’ — where you’re just making songs to put them on playlists. We went with the opposite approach, where we’re like ‘How do we give this the energy of playing live?’ That’s always the North Star for us. We write songs to play live to sell T-shirts.”
“We hadn’t even played shows yet when we did that, and we still weren’t even sure if that was gonna happen,” Schwartzel concludes, a jacket pulled over his signature overalls and bucket hat. “We just really wanted to play a show, so we thought maybe if we put that into the universe via this EP, then we’ll manifest some shows for ourselves.”
Their manifestation worked out, with the band officially making their stage return in August alongside the release of “FSU.” Although FIDLAR has yet to embark on the kind of multi-month global tour they’d become accustomed to, every show since their return has been an absolutely cathartic experience for everyone involved. (“FIDLAR fans, as well as the live band members, needed to release some shit,” Schwartzel explains.) New songs are hitting just as hard as the classics, entire floors are turning into mosh pits, and teenagers and 30-somethings alike are screaming along to tracks like “Cheap Beer” and “40oz on Repeat.”
And while their live shows haven’t lost a step, the departure of guitarist (and Max’s brother) Elvis Kuehn has meant the songwriting process as a trio is ever so slightly different than before their hiatus. For one thing, dropping to one guitar in the studio means the big solos that dotted many of their songs have gone out the window (“I’m not good enough at fucking guitar to do that,” Carper laughs), but it’s primarily been a lesson in adaptation. Initially, they felt the need to find a full-time replacement, but quickly realized that the piece missing from the FIDLAR puzzle wasn’t going to be filled by bringing in a relative stranger to the equation. It’s a return to basics for the band, and one that fits well with their re-emergence as a self-sustaining independent act without a label backing them.
FIDLAR wouldn’t be the first band to follow a “back to their roots” blueprint when returning from some time off, but everything they’ve done for That’s Life points to a rebirth of the DIY mentality that helped them achieve liftoff in the early 2010s.
As Schwartzel leads the band into the main “studio” room and office at Mind Palace (which he owns along with Carper’s sister and brother-in-law, Alice and Ryan Baxley), he’s quick to point out the giant sheets of paper they used for the “FSU” video and some of the props he’s kept from other FIDLAR videos over the years. There’s a giant paper mache head they made Kuehn wear at one point, and everyone’s still laughing about the ridiculous costumes, hair, and makeup they used for the soap opera-themed “Sand on the Beach” video — the entirety of which was filmed by the Baxleys, with much of it taking place inside of Mind Palace itself.
“[‘Sand on the Beach’] was so much fun,” Schwartzel says with a huge grin. “It’s been fun to rekindle that part of the band and just to have us all hanging out and making shit in a space. We really hadn’t done that since the first record when Zac and I lived together. I’m still fighting for my identity with one of the characters. I’m still not sure who I am.”
“There was one character with tribal tattoos, and after we finished, I was like ‘Bro, I get why people get these,’” Carper adds. “I was really inches away from going to get a tribal belly button tattoo. I felt more Hawaiian, you know? But yeah, it’s been nice to have Ryan and Alice and the whole band together in general. It’s always been important to us to have good visuals to go with our songs because FIDLAR started with a lot of weed and drugs, so the visual is a big fun part for us.”
On another rack sits the screen printing designs the band used for some of their original shirts, which Kuehn remembers spending hours doing in backyards the last time the band was as independent as they are now. The wall next to it holds the psychedelic paintings the band made at The Flaming Lips’ old art complex, The Womb. If ever there’s a time for a FIDLAR museum, Schwartzel’s ready with artifacts from the band’s early years to present day.
Thumbing through a decade’s worth of their memorabilia, it’s a stark reminder of the FIDLAR dichotomy. On one hand, there’s the polished punk band that writes anthems about, almost exclusively, the highs and lows of drugs, drinking, and sobriety, and blows away crowds as the best SoCal punk band under age 50. On the other is the fun-loving trio of friends who doesn’t take anything too seriously — to the point that they managed to turn a joke about their drummer’s lack of coordination (“Max Can’t Surf”) and a chorus of “I drink cheap beer, so what? Fuck you” into two of their career-launching early singles.
“It’s just who we are,” Carper says. “We’ve all dealt with crazy shit in life, but we also like to smoke weed and watch TV and laugh at stupid shit. I think that’s just being human because no one’s fucking deep and sad all the time. Sometimes you’re stoked and you want to be dumb and goofy, and sometimes you need to talk about real shit. It’s the yin and yang, and I need both. A lot of the songs start off slow and sad either on a ukulele or an acoustic guitar — we call it ‘Zac Johnson’ — and then they get to the band and become a FIDLAR thing.”
For anyone concerned about FIDLAR “growing up” and getting lame, the band seems every bit as committed to staying just as immature and reckless as ever. Touring in their 30s means cracking jokes about swapping out the copious amounts of alcohol on their rider for medical IVs and vitamins, while sincerely appreciating that the Baxleys now bring a Theragun massager when they travel with the band. It also means they’re free to make their semi-ridiculous dreams a reality, like an all-Florida mini-tour or growing their presence in the Southern Hemisphere to let them turn their international travel into an “endless summer.”
But perhaps more than anything, FIDLAR’s decade of success means they don’t have to pretend to be anything they’re not. The now-trio doesn’t have a label pressuring them for radio singles or unrealistic expectations of pop stardom. Instead, they can continue doing what they do best: throwing some of the best punk rock parties on the planet and writing catchy songs about booze and drugs.
“There are a lot of people around me that are like, ‘Maybe try not to write a song that’s not about getting fucked up — and I think that 2020 era was really me trying to search for that,” Carper says. “But instead, I leaned more into it. I ended up being like ‘Fuck it, I’m good at writing these kinds of songs.’ Maybe one day I’ll write that political song, but I’m just not very political. I don’t know how to write about anything except my fucking emotions and getting fucked up. It’s always a reflection of what’s happening right now.”
“I think drugs were a theme for a lot of your life, too,” Kuehn adds.
“Yeah, I’m always either trying not to do it or doing it too much,” Carper responds. “I’m always on fucking turbo — like a NOS button. Even when I’m sober, I’m like ‘I gotta go to fucking Whole Foods and get $500 worth of supplements. I’m gonna be the most sober… so sober that it’s gonna cancel out all those years of drugs and drinking.’ But then I’ll reverse and drink 80 fucking White Claws in two days on a fucking bender. I’ve accepted that it’s just part of the journey I’m on.”
“There are other people who only sing about falling in love, so that’s just them being addicted to love,” Schwartzel says.
“Yeah, maybe one day we’ll have an acoustic love song that will blow us up,” Carper laughs. “It’ll be our ‘Hey There Delilah’ — our graduation day song.”
To see our running list of the top 100 greatest rock stars of all time, click here.
The post FIDLAR Tease New EP With ‘FSU’ Ahead of Fall Tour appeared first on SPIN.