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28 Mar 2018

Maturing Punk: Coachella Band FIDLAR's Days of Singing About Skateboarding Are in the Past—but the Music Remains Gnarly and Chaotic

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Punk-rock band FIDLAR released its self-titled debut full-length in 2013—creating a wild party that seemed like it would never end.

FIDLAR’s songs—with lyrics paying homage to wild partying and skateboarding, all with a psychedelic/surf-rock feel—were a breath of fresh air, and paid tribute to the original days of Los Angeles punk.

Then came follow-up Too in 2015. Frontman and guitarist Zac Carper was singing a different tune with a new perspective after a stint in rehab—although the songs sounded just as gnarly and chaotic.

The Los Angeles outfit, whose name stands for “Fuck It Dog, Life Is a Risk,” also features Elvis Kuehn (guitar) and Max Kuehn (drums)—both of whom are sons of T.S.O.L. keyboardist Greg Kuehn—as well as bassist Brandon Schwartzel. The group will be performing at Coachella on Sunday, April 15 and 22.

During a recent interview with Schwartzel, he said the band members were amused that they were finally offered a Coachella slot.

“Funny enough, we never thought we would ever get to play Coachella,” Schwartzel said. “Bands that we knew or played with were playing it, and we were like, ‘What? Why don’t we get to play?’ Then we kind of just figured, ‘Fuck it; it’s never going to happen, so let’s just not even think about it anymore.’ Then when we stopped thinking about it, it happened. I don’t know how it happened, but we were like, ‘OK!’ That’s par for the course for our band: As soon as we stop caring, shit starts happening, and we get the thing we were thinking about.”

FIDLAR had been busy after the release of Too.

“We had been touring for a while before and after the record came out, until early 2017,” Schwartzel said. “We took a minute just to be human beings again and live in the apartments that we pay rent for. We kept busy doing a few shows. I worked on a lot of artsy video shoots for other people and arts-department kind of stuff, keeping busy. Half the year passed by, and we started working on new material that we’re finally starting to finish up.

Too had a lot of lyrically heavy songs about sobriety and a new sober perspective on life from Carper. I asked what’s ahead on the third record.

“The first record was where we were at as an individual collective; that was the vibe of partying and getting fucked up,” Schwartzel said. “On the second record, Zac had gotten sober, so a lot of it was us and him collectively dealing with that. The third record will be about what’s been happening since then. It’s always very in the moment. We’ve been a band for a while now, and now people know who we are, and with that comes a lot of different things. We’re not four dudes living in the same apartment anymore. We’re not dealing with Zac getting sober anymore. It’s just about life now, dude.”

On Too, there’s a song called “Stupid Decisions,” on which Carper screams: “And I took too many drugs, and I drank too much. Yeah, I made some stupid decisions!” I asked Schwartzel if he feels like the band is maturing as the members get older.

“I think the biggest thing we joke about is that we wish we didn’t start playing live as high-energy as we did, because now it’s a lot more exhausting than it used to be,” he said. “You go from being 21 to 30, and your back hurts; your neck hurts; and you start to feel it a lot more. I think that’s the biggest insight to getting older so far. We’re still who we are at the same time, so we’re not completely changing who we are.”

The subject of what, exactly, is or is not punk rock has been thrown at FIDLAR before—and Schwartzel has an interesting perspective.

“It always comes down to: ‘What is really punk?’ That’s something that we’ve always had trouble defining for ourselves,” he said. “We have an attitude that’s very punk, I guess. We’re not a super-agro ‘fuck the government’ punk band, though. When it gets genre-specific, there are electronic artists who are more DIY than the most-DIY punk bands, but it just sounds different. I feel like (the members of) Die Antwoord are the most punk people out there, because they just do whatever the fuck they want, and are wild and weird.

“Who fucking knows what punk is anyway? There’s nothing more freeing than creating stuff. You get good at it and don’t have to worry about having to pay a bunch of people to make a bunch of mediocre shit for you.”

Skateboarding and surfing have been the subjects of FIDLAR songs in the past—but probably won’t be in the future.

“None of us really skateboard anymore,” Schwartzel said. “We’re in a band that tours all the time, and we can’t afford to get hurt. We can’t play through a 10-week tour, break an ankle, and do what we do.”

Being one of the few rock bands at Coachella this year is not a problem for FIDLAR.

“In a way, it’s kinda tight, because we don’t have much competition in our genre,” Schwartzel said. “If there are any rock people who go to Coachella, hopefully they watch us play. Hip hop is the new rock, or something, and it’s cool because it’s different. We’re not all like, ‘Fuck, we need more rock bands out here!’ We just happen to be a band that plays loud rock music.

“I’m stoked to play with Beyoncé. Hopefully she’ll come onstage during one of our songs, and we’ll try to work it out. But I’m stoked to see her, and I’ve been a long-time Beyoncé fan. It’s cool that there are no scenes or genres anymore. Everyone listens to everything, and that’s cool. You just like the music you like.”

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