For us, punk is doing what you want to do and have fun doing it
There has been a lot of buzz around FIDLAR, LA skate punks whose name is an acronym of “Fuck it dog, life’s a risk” and rightly so. This four piece band, with Zac Carper on vocals, Elvis Kuehn on guitar, brother Max Kuehn on drums and Brandon Schwartzel on bass, has just released a full length self titled album on Mom + Pop, hot on the heels of the Shit We Recorded in Our Bedroom EP. With a throbbing, deeply punk sound that references everything from early eighties LA punk to the neo garage movement, FIDLAR sings about getting fucked up, shitty pills, and cheap beer, and how these things relate to skating and surfing. Before kicking off their European tour, starting in Berlin, NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION’s in-house Nor Cal representative sat down with four Southern Californians. We put aside our historic rivalry to address important topics like punk ideology, NEIL YOUNG, original versions of songs, and the amazing thing that is the Internet.
Growing up and referencing your LA roots is important to your sound. What key aspects of the Southern California music scene have helped you as a band?
Zac: As far as a place to start, LA is good because it has a lot of houses, and so a house party scene. When you are a new band it’s hard to get a gig at an established club, so we started just playing friend’s houses and backyards and recording what we were working on. If New York has basement shows and San Francisco has warehouse shows, then LA has house shows.
Of all our many inventions and exports, what is the best thing California has exported to the world?
Elvis: LA Punk.
Brandon: Dogtown, and BLINK 182.
[Max is confused because he thinks I said LA exports, and he insists BLINK 182 is not from LA. Once we re-establish what we are talking about, the interview continues.]
You guys are different from some punk bands nowadays in the sense that you don’t have some strict well-defined ideology. Have you ever gotten criticized you aren’t straight edge or political enough or some such issue?
Max: Well, we haven’t gotten criticized, except for those people talking shit about us on Twitter. For us, punk is doing what you want to do and have fun doing it.
Elvis: You know, for us it’s about a sound as much as an attitude. Punk can mean so many things: you have the Minutemen, who were almost funk, then the DEAD KENNEDYS who were political. It’s a broad label. Punk hasn’t gone away, obviously the original era is over but it still exists.
Zac: We found that we weren’t indie enough for indie, garage enough for garage, or just straight punk, so we were left in this weird spot where we can be ourselves.
Signing your contract in Amoeba Records, in San Francisco, what was that like?
Max: That was our publishing contract. We signed our record contract in…
Brandon: … the backstage of the Echo, we had a show it was our first headlining show at an actual venue, so it was a big night. We spilled coffee on it. And then we forget it at home, so we got to the venue to load in and had to go all the way back to pick it up.
Zac: There was coffee spilled all over it and you were like “Should we throw it in the microwave?” and I was like “Don’t put paper in the microwave!” [laughter]
Max: We were probably really high.
Brandon: So we signed it in the bathroom at the Echo.
What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of being on tour?
Max: I think the best thing about touring is being able to go to and see cool new cities, half the places we are going, I think most of us have never been. It’s also like this weird exciting nervous thing, playing in a city like Berlin, we have no idea what our fan base is like here, so it’s fun and a little bit scary to find out.
Zac: It’s nerve wracking.
Max: We’ve had a few shows, like in random places in the UK, where we hadn’t been before and the turnout wasn’t that great, but it’s still fun and exciting.
Brandon: On one hand we’ve been to new cities and it’s been awesome, fun, crazy sold out shows, with people flying through the air. On the other hand, coming off one of those shows, we’re like “Awesome, cool let’s go rock somewhere and kill it!” then we get there and there’s no one there.
Zac: And the type of music we play, it’s demanding. We’re yelling, we’re jumping around screaming a lot and sweating, it’s a big demand physically, and we give our all in each show. You know, for the people that come to our shows, it’s their night to party, and even if it’s a Tuesday night we give it our all.
FIDLAR: “The Internet is the best thing ever!”
What was behind the change in the way that “Wake Bake Skate” was recorded on the full length versus the seven-inch release?
Elvis: The version on the album is actually the original version. We did the other version for White Iris, we went in the studio and recorded it and we just ended up speeding up all the songs.
Brandon: We needed to fit four songs on a seven-inch.
Max: We all prefer the album version, by the way.
Zac: Plus the label White Iris wanted to own the masters. People that are complaining about this, “Aww man the new album version is terrible…” I’m like, okay that’s cool, then listen to the other fucking version, you have the two versions of the same song, how stoked are you guys? You got options, why you do you have to complain about that!
Max: People that are trying to talk shit about the album version are trying to be some kind of elitist, oh-I-heard the original version.
You started pretty much right away putting your songs on your webpage, let’s talk about releasing stuff online as the great equalizer.
Zac: The Internet is the best thing ever!
Max: It’s cool because people who are making music and recording it their bedrooms, who maybe would have stopped because they couldn’t afford to make a record, can keep doing it. I think there is a lot of potential that was lost back in the day.
Brandon: It’s awesome but there is a downside to it, that everyone is a musician.
Elvis: I think the positives far outweigh the negative though. Just that anyone can have that opportunity.
Zac: Put it on the cloud man! Vinyl is temporary, YouTube is forever.
If you need to go back to something, you are too contrived
What are you most afraid of as a young band: growing old and becoming irrelevant or burning out? Burnout or fade away?
Zac: What was that quote, “It’s better to burn out than to AA?”
Max: I think burning out quick probably sucks more, even though so many great musicians do burn out so fast, but it’s like you lose the potential for more great shit.
Elvis: There comes a point where it will feel natural, to end it, and we hope we know that. I mean, when you’re like THE ROLLING STONES, they’ve been together forever but it’s like they’ve made a lot of shitty albums and they aren’t really getting better. It’s kind of a tricky thing, it reminds me of something Henry Rollins said, about when you hear yourself saying you need to get back to your roots, then the band’s over, that’s the death knell. If you need to go back to something, you are too contrived.
Zac: That’s why I love bands like THE FLAMING LIPS, who constantly change and improve or NEIL YOUNG, he’s always had this attitude: I’m going to do what I want take it or leave it. We don’t want to live with that pressure, to feel like it’s just is just a requirement to keep making the same hit record.
Brandon: It’s kind of like your attitude too. We take the different view, doing what you want and live in the moment, not think too much about what will happen years from now.
Along those lines, what is the best way to die?
Zac: Stingray to the heart, like Steve Irwin.
Elvis: Hopefully, passionately. [Let it be known that the band has been clued in to the standard NBHAP final interview question.]
Brandon: I want to dive in front of a bullet saving someone famous. Like maybe Kobe Bryant at the three-point line, and I’ll just jump in and save him.
[Max declines to answer, says he will have to think about that one.]
What do hope and passion mean to you?
[Note I asked this question and then headed to the bathroom, when I came back, this is the best they had.]
Brandon: So far we have Passion of the Christ and Hope Floats [both being movies].
Is that a movie with Sandra Bullock?
Brandon: It’s a movie with Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr., directed by Forrest Whitaker.
Zac: I hope we don’t die.
Max: I hope I don’t have diarrhea anymore, that’s my hope.
Zac: I hope we cure jet lag.
Brandon: I hope we cure cancer with our music.
Max: Hope for a passionate for tomorrow. That’s the most vague, bullshit answer.
In spite of their party anthem lyrics, FIDLAR turned out are energetic, well spoken and pretty informed, without a lot of the pretentiousness and attitude plaguing so many indie and punk bands. If they make it to your city, get to the show, and prepare for some bruises.