Punk, Rock, and Rehab: A Conversation with FIDLAR



Punk, Rock, and Rehab: Zac Carper on FIDLAR’s Past and Present

Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk

When it comes to going hard and giving every show their all, few bands are as obvious about it or as excitedly into it as FIDLAR. The foursome of “skate punks” who were preaching the YOLO mentality long before it was cool, FIDLAR literally kick and scream all over any and every stage they play, be it at a small club or a music festival. It’s easy to see the band’s passion and dedication, but what’s even more powerful is knowing that they put that same amount of energy into each one of their performances.

There’s a lot going on in the life of a band that most fans don’t (and rightfully shouldn’t) think about. The long drives, the squabbles, the inside jokes, the stressors: There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes living in the twenty-three hours leading up to that hour-long set, and it takes a true performer’s spirit, not to mention a highly professional work ethic, to push everything to the side once you hit the stage.

And once again, FIDLAR go hard. Zac Carper, Brandon Schwartzel, Elvis Kuehn and Max Kuehn have established themselves as a punk/garage band who deliver a high-octane, constantly in-motion set. When they’re onstage, they’re cranked up to eleven.

Insert final hyperbolic statement here.

Too - Fidlar
Too – Fidlar

FIDLAR took some time off after touring extensively behind their self-titled 2013 debut, but they’ve come back in a big way: Their second album, Too (Mom + Pop) was released in September amid a flurry of summer and end-of-summer festival performances as the band shaped up for a huge worldwide tour.

With FIDLAR, there’s never a dull moment. Their second album is proof, finding FIDLAR expanding their sound beyond the traditional boundaries of punk and garage rock while also tackling highly personal subject matter.

I thought that if I cleaned up my act
It’ll help me understand exactly who I am
But I hate to say that it just don’t work like that
Cause I’m a special individual I don’t need no plan

But I got bills to pay, and I got pills to take
Cause I’m born and raised in the USA
And I’ll just scream and shout, that I’ll never sell out
I’ll never sell out, man!
Wait… how much?

Because everybody’s got more money, they got more money than me
Why can’t anybody just give me some more money?
Because everybody’s got somebody, everybody but me
Why can’t anybody just tell me that I’m somebody’s?

I’m gonna lock myself inside my room, with the television on repeat

– “40oz. On Repeat” by FIDLAR

Listen: “40oz. On Repeat” – FIDLAR

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FIDLAR are totally a bunch of punks, but they’re careful to remind us that punks are people, too; they can not give a shit while still giving a few shits about the stuff that matters. Maybe that’s a justification for growing up, but as FIDLAR frontman Zac Carper said, “You see old punk dudes? They’re either dead or sober.” YOLO only gets you so far in life. FIDLAR gets you farther.

Whether FIDLAR take themselves seriously or not is another question. It’s clearly a complicated topic for them, but there’s no doubt that they approach their job with the utmost sincerity. They live for this.

After rocking out to FIDLAR’s Boston Calling set in September, I knew Zac Carper was going to be a fun interviewee. However, I could never have anticipated his intense level of depth and intimacy. Here’s a man who has gone through some form of hell and back, and he is willing to share his story as he continues to do what he loves most.

Warning: This interview is unedited and contains lots of cursing.

FIDLAR © Mitch Mosk
FIDLAR at the Fall 2015 Boston Calling Music Festival; Zac Carper is seated to the far right with his hands in the air // © Mitch Mosk


Atwood Magazine: How did you guys come up with the name 'FIDLAR'?

Zac Carper: Well, “FIDLAR” was actually more of a saying that we had – like, I grew up in Hawaii. A lot of my friends in Hawaii were skaters, and we all moved to LA and lived in this one-bedroom apartment with like, eight dudes in it drinking 40s and eating Top Ramen every night, you know… And we used to say “FIDLAR: Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk.” It was a saying that we had. When I met Elvis [Kuehn], we started jamming and we needed a name. Everybody – Elvis, Max, and Brandon – they all knew me as the “FIDLAR” guy ’cause I would just write “FIDLAR” on my tee shirts. I was trying to get a brand started… But when the time came to name the band, I was like, “Well, just call it FIDLAR. It’s pretty funny,” and it just took off from that.

I feel like it fits the band's mentality.

Zac: It sure does.

You guys definitely have a fuck it, let's do it stage presence.

Zac: It’s just about having fun, really, and doing what you want to do. I mean, there’s a time to be serious – sometimes we’re serious onstage – but with something like this, we goof off. I mean, we’ve got two R Kelly mannequins hanging out onstage with us, so you can’t take us too seriously.

Yeah, how did that happen?

Zac: Oh, that’s Brandon… Brandon pretty much, just one day was like, “Dude, I found some R Kelly mannequins,” and I was like, “Cool! Let’s bring it on tour! Sick.”

So has R Kelly been all over with you guys now?

Zac: All over… One day we’ll have the real R Kelly – when our budget gets bigger. [laughs]

Congratulations are in order though - you have a new record out!

Zac: Thank you, yeah wow…

Too - Fidlar
Too – Fidlar

How do you feel?

Zac: It’s good! I feel great… We’re charting, which – we’ve never “charted” before, so that’s weird, you know… Yeah, it’s called Too, and it was a hard record to make, but it was a necessary push forward. We’re in a very garage rock/punk rock world, that’s like… Sometimes, punk music in general can be very closed off to any other, sort of change – like, the whole selling out, and the whole changing your sound, and stuff like that, they don’t really – punk music, punk fans don’t really like you to do that kind of stuff, so it was a push-and-pull between that, like the mentality that we believe in, and just living up to the FIDLAR name, just doing whatever the fuck you want to do, you know?

How dare you play a festival.

Zac: Exactly – that kind of shit. Oh, we’ve gotten kids just being like, “Fuck you.” You know? Like, it’s crazy! But it is what it is… It would have been selling out if we would’ve just made the first record again, because we’re not those people anymore. There’s a difference between getting fucked up all the time when you’re 20 and 19, and there’s a difference when you’re almost turning 30 and getting fucked up all the time, and being homeless. So… we’re just different people.

FIDLAR © Alice Baxley
FIDLAR © Alice Baxley

It took a long time to make this record - years, right?

Zac: Yeah, yeah. I had a hard time writing it, because I needed some time off. I went to heroin rehab… I was a heroin addict – I had been a heroin addict for years, during the whole, like starting FIDLAR, and I was really into meth and heroin, and yeah, I got sober. So I needed like, a year off to just kind of figure my shit out, and then after that we made a record.

Congratulations on that part -

Zac: Thank you.

This record is all over the place, in terms of social awareness and questioning why us or why not us... There's a lot going on.

Zac: Well it’s, the thing about it is, and this is the fucking press – it was all, everybody with the first record, like, make them think that we were slacker skater stoner punk dudes that got fucked up all the time, and all we sang about was doing drugs. Well the reason we were singing about doing drugs is because we were doing a bunch of drugs, you know?! I was a fucking drug addict, and I just wrote – like, pretty much I would just write sad songs, and try to make them sound happy, because it’s a lot funner playing happier sounding shit live, you know what I mean? And party – like, having a party every night. But with that, I developed a fucking problem – I developed a gnarly addiction, and like, this new record is kind of coming out of that and just being like, “Well, it’s just a different time now.” You know what I mean? Like, it’s still the same – like, it’s funny, the press really latched onto the slacker-stoner-skate punk thing, but we just never got really taken seriously. To us, we didn’t give a shit because we were fucking hammered all the time, and we were like, “Whatever,” you know, so we just kind of went with it. And then this new record is just actually really us in a different way, just grown up a little bit.

I was a fucking drug addict… I would just write sad songs, and try to make them sound happy.

When I listened to the record, I was saying to myself how this isn't anything like the band as they were, like they're taking themselves seriously now - and you can tell. There's something to be said for being yourselves rather than giving into even the pressures of your fans.

Zac: Oh yeah, and that’s the whole – I mean that’s just punk rock in general. You see old punk dudes? They’re either dead or sober, you know what I mean? Like, they’re either dead or working in a fucking Subway. And that’s not bagging on those guys, or anything like that – they do what they want to do, which is punk rock. For me, it was like, I just didn’t want to be strung out anymore. I didn’t want to be twacked out on meth, I didn’t want to look like I’m done. The band members were just like, “What the fuck are you doing with your life?” I wanted to change, and with that change, I started being like, “You know what? I want to challenge myself to write different songs.”

Watch: “Leave Me Alone” – FIDLAR


So where have your musical influences been these days?

Zac: I listen to a lot of crazy shit now. [laughs] It’s crazy. I grew up in Hawaii, so there wasn’t a punk scene or anything like that. All we had was a radio, so I just listened to radio music – Green Day, Blink-182, Sublime – all alternative, Everclear – I loved Everclear growing up. So now, I listen to just anything that’s catchy. I love catchy – I’m addicted to that, like make me feel good thing. What was I just listening to? I love Bully… I really love Bully. I love this band called SWMRS, they’re really good. There’s a bunch of bands, younger bands that I’ve been listening to, but mostly, honestly I listen to a lot of electronic music right now. I’m going through an electronic phase, or something.

Do you think that'll make it into the next album?

Zac: Ehh… The thing about FIDLAR – what we’ve told ourselves is like, there’s absolutely not rules, right? We can have anything – anything that like, you know we’re like, “Hey, let’s make a hip-hop song!” It’s like, “Alright! Let’s fucking do it.” There’s no rules to anything, and… It might! Who knows? It might! The thing I like about the electronic stuff that’s becoming out lately is that all it is, is just hooks. Nothing – there’s no song structure, it’s just like catchy little things. You’re just like, “Ah! That’s tight – ah! That’s tight!” It’s like ADD, you know?

Just a little shot of dopamine every five seconds.

Zac: Yeah yeah yeah, they really – and you know what? The electronic musicians in general, they’re doing it the most DIY way possible. A lot of them are just doing single licensing to labels – the labels won’t own anything; they’re doing it super DIY, and that’s tight. They’re saying fuck you to labels – “We’re going to collect our money, play these huge festivals, make bank, and cash out.” But at the same time, it’s like, this is kind of like what happened with disco, so you never know…

Yeah, it could be quick.

Zac: It could be quick, yeah. It doesn’t really seem to be going down, though – that’s the thing.

Watch: “West Coast” – FIDLAR


How did it feel to be at this Boston festival? There were a lot of people there for you guys.

Zac: It’s great! It’s very trippy – I used to live down the street… It’s trippy, it’s a different thing, a different Zac definitely. I was a different person – I was like 17 or 18, so it’s just crazy. Every time I come to Boston I’m just like, “Wow. Still here.”

You see old punk dudes? They’re either dead or sober.

Do you feel like it's changed a lot since then?

Zac: No, I don’t feel that at all. Every time I come back, I’m like, it looks like Boston to me. I’ve noticed that Cambridge is a little bit nicer… But I loved living here, it’s great! Got fucking hot in the summer, man! Oh, it was hot here. I got into a fight – I got into a lot of fights in Boston. This one guy, drunk dude – because I’m Asian, when it’s hot, I start looking really Asian, like I get darker and darker. This one drunk guy came up to me in a bar, and was like, [shrill, mocking Chinese voice]  “Haiyaaaaa,” doing that, you know? I had a cup of coffee, and I just flung it on him… What else was I supposed to do? I was either going to get my ass kicked, or do something.

You had to defend yourself. So what's happening for the rest of the year for FIDLAR?

Zac: It’s just the beginning, you know? We’ve got Jimmy Kimmel, our first – debut TV. Just a lot of Europe – we’re doing great in Europe right now, Australia… We’re on a three-month tour right now, so after that, I fly out to Australia – I’m recording this band called the Dune Rats – I’ve been producing bands… The guys meet me in Australia, we do a tour of Australia… Go to Japan, Europe, back in the States, do another tour – it’s just very… For the next two years, like I’m homeless now! I don’t have a place.

That feels like a whirlwind.

Zac: It is. It’s kind of like 0 to 100 for us, because we did this same thing – you know, we did like a three-year album cycle last time, but this time it’s just more. The bigger you get, the more you have to do.

The bigger you get, the more you have to do.

Everybody hyped FIDLAR; everybody hyped the new record. You had a lot of support.

Zac: We had a lot of support – it was great. We had a lot of unsupport, but that’s to be expected.

You have a lot of new fans, too - this new generation that's discovering you.

Zac: Exactly. The thing that I’ve noticed, just in touring and talking to fans and younger people in general, is that they don’t really give a shit about you sounding lo-fi, or not being like – they don’t give a shit about that. All they care about is just songs, and they listen to everything. When I was a teenager, you’d go to Tower Records and you’d look at the rock section, the alternative section. But now, they just don’t do that. They’re just like, “kip! Oh yeah, that sounds cool!”

I like that, I'll listen to it. There's no - the culture has shifted a little bit, there's no, like you can listen to electronic and folk and punk, and be a person and not be rejected by society.

Zac: It’s crazy – it’s great!

It's a different world.

Zac: I love it.

Well thank you for your time - you guys kicked it out there.

Zac: We drove overnight to get here, so we were sleeping in the van, and it was like, “Alright! Get up, plug in and play.” We’re so tired…

You love the live performance, don't you?

Zac: Yeah. That’s my new drug right there, man. Are you kidding me? Fucking hooked on that shit.

Watch: “40oz. On Repeat” – FIDLAR


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