FROM THE STORIES ZAC CARPER CAN TELL, THE FACT FIDLAR’S SECOND ALBUM IS HERE AT ALL SEEMS ALMOST RIDICULOUS. AS THEY PREPARE FOR READING & LEEDS’ MAIN STAGES, THAT IT’S ONE OF THE ALBUMS OF THE YEAR IS NOTHING SHORT OF INSANE.
WORDS: ALI SHUTLER. PHOTOS: PHIL SMITHIES.
“It was really scary not singing about drugs and alcohol, but fuck it. I needed to do it,” says Zac Carper with matter of fact clarity. You see, FIDLAR mark ‘Too’ might have started saying no to narcotics, but everything else is still met with a resounding yes. “This is going to sound so cheesy,” he continues with a gentle shake of his head. “But before FIDLAR was a band, it was still a thing. It was this mentality we all had, just do whatever the fuck you want.”
It’s an outlook that rages through the band. From their all-caps name, lifted from the notebook graffiti of Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk, through the chaos of the live show, there’s a freedom. Their debut album, self-titled for a reason, painted a grotty picture of drug-fuelled partying and alcohol-induced escapism. And that’s fine for a while but ‘Too’, the band’s imaginatively named second album, is a follow up beyond chronology. Those DIY tattoos can’t be washed off in the morning.
“I really believe in this whole skate culture, punk rock idea. It has an almost religious aspect to me and that’s contagious,” Zac explains. “It’s a very unique mentality but it’s important. Not everybody can be Oasis. Not everybody can be witty and cool or wear those shades and have that look. I wish I could, but our thing is a little different. It’s for the generation of people who just are. We’re not selling music, we’re selling a lifestyle,” he explains before pointing at the door. “Just get out there and do it.”
It’s a confident stance from a man who’s had to be pushed into it. “The thought of being in a band was so far gone to me, I didn’t even think about it,” says Zac. “I had a pretty good job making records for a producer and I was earning pretty good money. I love being in the studio, I love recording bands and I love writing songs, so that was all this thing was,” he reflects, remembering when FIDLAR was just an excuse to stay behind in the studio, get wasted and play around on the set ups of Ben Gibbard or The Vines. Things grew, as they have a habit of doing, and the band took shape with Zac, Brandon Schwartzel (bass) and brothers Max (drums) and Elvis Kuehn (guitar). “I started asking for days off to do shows, to rehearse, to play SXSW,” he continues. “The producer told me, ‘You’re going to have to make a decision at some point.’” The response was a defiant, “No, it’s fine,” but with that FIDLAR mentality in the shadows, the producer made it easy for Zac. “He fired me.”
Forced to deliver pizzas and stay in LA until Elvis graduated from school, FIDLAR coiled. Then, free from any responsibility beyond each other, “it just took off.” Six years later, they’ve yet to come down. “I can’t speak for all musicians,” starts Zac, thinking ahead to the release of ‘Too’ before changing his mind. “No, I can. As much as artists like to admit that they don’t get nervous ahead of releasing new material, they do. There’s something in you that you want people to relate to. You’re putting your fucking heart on audio, and that’s nerve-wracking.”
There’s not just heart on ‘Too’. There’s blood, guts, shame and regret soaked into every summertime garage-punk anthem. It’s more instant than their debut, but it’ll still be there in the morning. “There comes a point with every band where you get to the situation we were in. We were making a living doing it and we could have stayed at that point,” Zac reasons, but where’s the risk? “To take that next step in making a second record is scary. To make that jump is fucking terrifying. The sophomore slump is a very psychological thing. You try not to care, but you do care. It’s just a constant fucking battle.”
“It’s just a different FIDLAR album,” he says of the jump between debut and follow up. “On the first record, everything was on and loud. This one, we learnt that we had to be quiet to be louder, but it’s still just three chords and truth, man. That’s all it is.” He adamantly declares that natural progression “doesn’t just happen. There’s always somebody saying ‘This needs to happen’,” before explaining why it did. “I was fucked up out of my mind making the first record because I was so stressed,” he starts, playing with his hands. “It was recorded in my bedroom and the guys would come in, we would all hang out, get wasted, do drugs, then build on top of all these songs that I’d written. They would go home and I’d still be working, sticking meth up my ass, trying to make it happen.”
The answer was to get someone else to produce the record, but it wasn’t a unanimous decision. “It was dramatic. Some people didn’t want to work with a producer, some did. If that ever happens, you end up working with a producer, just to put it all together.” There was more to it than group therapy though. “Personally, I wanted the experience. If you look at every record that I grew up listening to, they all had producers. They’re clearly doing something right,” Zac explains, before looking up. “It was time to take that step, it was time to just do it.”
“There’s shit in the press of me saying ‘We will always record our albums’,” he continues, mocking his own youthful declarations. “It’s not that we’re growing up, but we are growing up. We’re getting older. If you look at the great bands, they do that. It’s progression. Change is good, change is inevitable and I think it’s going to be fine for us,” he says, confidence flashing across his face. “Working with a producer needed to happen, or we would have just made the same record again. How fucking boring is that?”
It’s all in the name. FIDLAR is their ethos. ‘FIDLAR’ is the “dark as shit” party they found themselves at; and ‘Too’ is the affirmative, excessive degree. It’s simply more. “If we just made another record about getting fucked up on drugs and partying and pizza and blah blah, that would have been selling out. It was scary for a lot of us, but we had to do it.”
The idea of selling out is lovingly taken down in opening track / lead single / glittering mega-anthem ‘40oz. on Repeat’. “I’ll never sell out,” the band spit before asking, their smirks somehow audible, “Wait, how much?” Originally an ode to fellow LA punks done good together PANGEA, “I remember one night me and the singer were totally coked up and drunk out of our minds, getting into these huge long fights about who was a sell out. Next thing you know, they got signed to Capitol Records,” that line also confronts the expected backlash.
“It’s punk rock guilt. Punk fans are the fucking worst,” Zac enthuses. “They don’t want you to get popular, they don’t want you to make money, they don’t want you to get healthy. They just want you to play basement shows, and to keep drinking and getting fucked up. ‘What do you mean you eat kale, you fucking sellout,’” he laughs. “I love some of the poetic shit, but there’s a time and a place. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I listen to so much pop music, I don’t think there’s any shame in that.”
“There’s something poetic in being able to relate. Whenever I hear a Radiohead song, I take a step back and ask ‘What the fuck are you talking about dude’,” he reflects. “There was this one group of kids in Italy and they didn’t speak English at all. I asked how they knew what we were singing about and their answer was ‘Your lyrics are so straightforward. There’s no trying to figure it out, it’s right there.’” Zac pauses with a smile. “I think that just explains us in general, as people.”
The power to relate is an inspirational one, and it’s what FIDLAR want to achieve on ‘Too’. “It’s such a therapeutic thing, writing songs,” Zac explains. “This record is about all these little things that I’ve discovered about myself. ‘Bad Habits’ just goes down the list of all the shitty things I do. It was really hard to access those emotions, to put it on and for everyone to be like ‘Oh, Zac masturbates three times a day’. I’d like it if everybody could take away the idea that there’s no shame in anything you do.”
There are a few notable differences behind the scenes of FIDLAR’s ‘Too’. There’s a producer, there’s pressure and there’s sobriety. “I wanted to make a record that was evident of what was going on in my head at that time,” Zac explains. “I was on a pretty long run of drugs, basically the whole tour cycle for ‘FIDLAR’, so for me to come out of that, I was pretty emotional.” There’s a slight pause before he breaks into a grin. “I blew fans minds. They’d come up to me with a bag of coke after a show and ask if I wanted to do a bump. I’d decline and they’d be like, ‘What’s your problem, you’re too big to do coke with us now you’re in a big shot band?’” He told them the truth.
That sense of confession, that need to stay true, is what gives FIDLAR their edge. “I’ve been to about eight rehabs so I’m very used to the idea of talking about my feelings. A lot of people aren’t, but I’m an open book,” Zac states. “Right when the band started, we went through this period of getting all these interview requests. I was very self-conscious, very worried about what I was about to say and do you know what I realised? The truth is way easier. So I just fucking talk.”
Zac getting clean had a huge impact on ‘Too’. “The first record, if you think about it, is a concept record in a weird way. I was doing a lot of heroin, I was doing a lot of meth, I was doing a lot of cocaine, I was doing a lot of crack. I was hanging out with a lot of weird people, a lot of hookers in motels. It was a very dark, seedy world and this time, when I decided to stop using those drugs, I found myself watching a lot of TV asking, ‘Is this it? Is this really it? Is this all there is to do now?’ So I obsessed over writing songs and transferred my addiction to that.”
“I got addicted to all sorts of weird little things though,” he continues. “I gained a lot of weight, I lost a lot of weight. I went through this period of going to hot yoga every day for three months. I went through a period of only eating raw food for a couple of weeks. The thing is, when you do heroin and meth daily, on a consistent basis, it gets really fucking boring. You can’t go anywhere.
“There was a turning point where I decided I needed to figure this out because the band was doing really well. I want FIDLAR to be the biggest, best band that it can possibly be and that’s not going to be that if I’m strung out, kicking heroin on the road,” he rationalises. “And then overdosing three times in a month, twice in one week, was a shell-shock. Maybe I do have a problem?
“This record, at least the eight songs that I wrote, was based on what I was going through. Fun fact though, I was living with Brandon, the bass player and he’s one of my best friends. He saw me go through all this. I would get off tour and I would tell him, ‘I’m not going to do drugs man, I’m going to be good. I’m just going to drink and do pot man’. And the next thing you know, I’m in my room with a needle in my arm. He saw me go through all this. ‘Bad Medicine’, that’s his view of what went down.
“When he first wrote the song I thought he was talking a bunch of shit on me but now, in hindsight, I realise that it must have been really tough on him. I see Brandon more than his girlfriend. He’s my best friend and for him to see me go through this terrible addiction was probably very difficult for him,” Zac explains before reiterating, this time in a slightly quieter voice, “It’s a very emotional record.”
‘40oz on Repeat’ is about the feeling of coming back from tour and the rest of your band having girlfriends waiting for them. “Everybody’s got somebody, where’s my somebody,” Zac reasons. “Not everybody drinks beer. It’s a song about fucking having anxiety and getting older and still not having any fucking money and growing up.”
On ‘Too’, life’s still a risk but there’s the sense you need to be able to live with that reckless abandon. “I’ve got mistakes,” starts Zac. “’Stupid Decisions’ is about a girlfriend I had for a long time. We were doing a lot of drugs together and she had a drug-related miscarriage. I freaked out. I just split, went on tour. ‘I don’t want to talk to you, fuck you, bye.’ I just ran away.
“She got more into drugs while I was on tour. We were trying to stay sober together, but she was still using and she lost the kid and it was this whole clusterfuck. Then she overdosed while I was on tour and died. I went through a lot of guilt and shame over that. Her mom blames me because I just bailed, and that’s definitely one regret. You write a song about it to try and work it out, to make yourself feel better.“
“You start figuring out life,” Zac admits. “I feel more at home now. I’m homeless, which sucks, but I’m playing shows and we’re in a van together. This is what we do. I don’t feel more confident but I do feel more comfortable. We have a crazy fucking focus now. Now it’s not, ‘Where’s Zac?’ That used to be the phrase everybody lived by. Now it’s, ‘Alright, let’s do this!’ It’s just a different thing now; it’s a different band almost.”
“We all wake up early, we exercise, longevity. We have our moments but mostly it’s about longevity. I think the great thing about our band is there are no limits to what we can do. There are no boundaries and nowadays, with this generation of kids, people don’t listen to one type of music. They listen to everything.
“We’re in this weird pocket. Too indie for the punk crowd, too punk for the indie crowd, and too poppy for them all. It’s just this weird in between. We’re kinda heavy metal, but not really,” Zac grins, before adding. “Genre is an outdated term now. For some reason, the media and everyone has made punk this ‘get fucked up’ thing. It’s total bullshit and that’s why I don’t believe in punk anymore. Punk music should be about doing whatever the fuck you want and accepting others are going to do the same.” Zac slaps his hand down on the table, rattling his now empty coffee cup.
“You know what the most punk thing is now?” he asks. “Fucking EDM. That’s the most punk, DIY thing that’s happening in the world right now. It’s a kid on a laptop. It’s a kid seeing an instrument and saying ‘fuck that’. It’s a kid seeing a band and thinking, ‘I don’t want to deal with a bunch of band members, I’m going to get a laptop. I don’t need a label. I’m going to put this song on SoundCloud and I’m going to tour the world’. Diplo. He’s the most punk rock dude I know. That felt good saying that,” Zac says leaning back into his chair. “You can fucking print that.”
“It’s more of a mentality,” explains Zac. “Change is good, especially in our music and in punk. People don’t like change but change is good, trust me,” he says earnestly. “I want a huge backdrop, I want fireworks. I want to make it like The Flaming Lips. They make it such an amazing experience and we can do that with FIDLAR. We have the resources; it’s just about taking that step which is scary. We’re not used to it,” he admits with a gentle shrug. “We’re used to just going up on stage, plugging in and playing our songs. I just want to progress.”
As the band take to the main stage of Reading & Leeds Festival and beyond, you can bet what’ll be going through their minds. They might be on a bigger stage, there might be more people watching and they might be addressing their issues on audio, but FIDLAR. It’s a way of life.