Change is scary to a kid. For most young people, the subject of growth is just an opportunity for a bad dick joke, and lessons in evolution are protested not only by the religious right but also by an entire generation of eye-rolling, bulletproof adolescents.
But as we all find out eventually, nothing stays the same — not even in punk rock. The music has moved from the garage to glam to the gutter and back, across Generations Blank and X and 182 and beyond. A record enters the world having captured a moment in time, three lightning chords in a bottle, and then a band worth its salt soldiers on, ready for the next step. Some try to cling to a moment forever, but the true artists move forward, keeping close their heart and signature soul while expanding everything around them with a head full of steam. Often, the wastoid wakes up and the slacker un-shirks as the Roman numeral I gives way to II — or, as is the case with FIDLAR, to the almighty Too.
“The second record is always the fucking scary record, I don’t care what band you’re in,” says singer/guitarist Zac Carper. “We kind of pigeonholed ourselves in one style for a while, this ‘garage punk.’ Everyone says, ‘Don’t sell out, don’t make a slick record,’ but to me, selling out would be making the same first record and just cashing in on that scene. I want to expand and get better at writing more interesting songs, and change, you know? I didn’t want us to be labeled a ‘punk rock group.'”
“As a band all you can really hope for is that you just keep progressing and moving forward,” says guitarist/singer Elvis Kuehn. “We didn’t have any specific goal with this record other than to just keep progressing as a band, getting better and exposing the music to as many people as we can.”
Carper, Elvis Kuehn, Brandon Schwartzel (bass), and Max Kuehn (drums) ripped modern punk rock a new one on their 2013 self-titled debut. They paired life-risking antics and attitudes with their full-shred anthems about skating, partying, and honest l-i-v-i-n to put their sound on the map, and world tours with Pixies, The Hives, Black Lips, Wavves, and more opened the gates even wider.
On the second time around FIDLAR are pushing their world forward. The band’s sophomore album reveals them embracing other sides of their brains and exploring additional musical avenues. But while Too finds FIDLAR diving deeper into their bag of tricks — working for the first time with a producer and outside of LA, incorporating some bona fide studio polish — it’s not like they’ve changed the meaning of the “F” in their name to “fiddlesticks.” The “fuck it” ethos still looms large; they’ve just added more ammo to the arsenal and fuel to the tireless fire.
“It’s weird when we get labeled these skater-partier-slacker punk kids,” says Carper. “We skated, we partied a lot, but we also worked our asses off. A lot of kids don’t realize we don’t just get drunk and hit record; it’s me locking myself inside my room or studio for six months and writing and recording and not having much of a life other than that. It’s my therapy a little bit.”
Following the success of the debut record, and amidst five years straight of life on the road (which, for a band like FIDLAR, is a little more toll-taking than for most) since forming in 2009, they decided to pause for a bit in order to iron out some kinks and get their heads clear. They came back after a spell to a friend’s studio with nearly 40 Carper-penned songs, set to once again record it all themselves, but hit a wall. “About 30 songs in, it wasn’t really sounding right, it was too stock,” says Carper. “I realized I needed to write songs and not think about FIDLAR. I was writing for the band but that’s not how the band started — it started with songs that I wrote and we just put them together. So I thought I needed to get out of town for awhile and write.”
Carper tossed a surfboard and single mattress into the back of his Volvo and drove up the California coast, writing songs on an acoustic guitar while revisiting the music he first loved as a kid: Green Day, Sublime, Elliott Smith, Blink. His fresh perspective did the trick, and in the summer of 2014 the band took the resulting songs from those sessions to record with the producer Jay Joyce in his Nashville studio.
Building largely on the vocal melodies and lyrics from Carper’s road-trip acoustic demos and scratch tracks, as well as songs written by Elvis Kuehn and Schwartzel, they completed the entire album in two weeks, recording a song each day and mostly using live takes. Like on their debut, the band perfected and recorded their own parts with direction from Carper, but unlike before, Carper — an experienced engineer in his own right — was able himself to lean on the wisdom of an outside production guru.
“I told Jay from the get-go to do his thing,” says Carper. “You have to admit that you don’t know everything to learn how to do something, and let people teach you and observe. You have to let somebody drive. He would ask about what music I was into, and got all this weird editing and electronic-y elements out of it, which I loved. It made the songs sound as chaotic as they did in my head.”
Meanwhile, the honesty and self-analysis in the lyrics and storytelling on Too show an introspective personal depth that has evolved right long with the music. Songs like “Sober,” “Overdose,” “Drone,” and “Stupid Decisions” show a deeper side to FIDLAR, who, as Carper says, made this album wholly for themselves.
“Anything I do, any song I’m writing, it’s for me, 100 percent, it’s a way I cope with life. On the first record, even on this record, it’s all true stories. That’s how I write, on actual experiences. Recording vocals on this record was a fucking emotional roller coaster. Our music’s not complicated; it’s three chords, four chords, max. I want people to hear my lyrics and understand them, not to have to decipher. I’m not trying to win a fucking poet contest. I like straightforward music, lyrically at least. I’m a sucker for hooks.”
The finished product is a complete package, another unique moment from a unique group — three chords of lightning in a bottle; four chords, max. (In fact, that pretty much sums up the FIDLAR boys: “Three chords; Max.”) The twelve songs here take those ingredients we’ve come to love and add just the right mix of something extra, touching on elements of pop, rock, scuzz, punk, synth, and more. “40 oz. On Repeat” kicks off with power chords and kick- stomp drums, a triumphant confidence to the pace where before was the frenetic thrash of joyful naivete?. “West Coast” has all the sunshine of an AM radio single delivered through Carper’s darkly charming lyrics: “Woke up, you caught me with a smile/passed out on your bathroom tile.” And Elvis Kuehn’s “Why Generation” is a ready-made anthem, replete with a hook-laden sing-along chorus. There’s something for everyone here, but it all sounds distinctly FIDLAR. (“You can take influence, but it should always sound like FIDLAR,” says Elvis.)
“The new record sounds pretty chaotic, especially with the production value,” says Carper. “To me, it’s a very weird sounding record, a very unique sound. The producer dragged that out of us. We’re ecstatic about it. It’s everything we wanted it to be and more. I was so scared about making another stock, garage rock record. We needed it to be different.”
Change, as we know, can be scary. But as the four members of FIDLAR are proving, it’s essential to our growth: as rock and roll musicians, as friends, as brothers, as human beings. The kids will come around.
“It’s true what they say about chemistry in a band,” says Carper. “You get four people together who can write music or play a show, and when it clicks, it clicks — and we click. The performance is getting a lot more professional. Instead of all of us getting blacked out drunk onstage, we’re actually learning to perform. We can still take the piss out of everybody, though. It’s kind of like sticking your tongue out and saying, ‘Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah.’ That actually explains us to a T, ‘Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah.’ But we have a lot more focus now. That point comes for every band. Even 15-year-olds grow up.”