“Come inside, he said, I’ve got just the thing to cheer you up. This is an album by a new band from El Lay. They’re called FIDLAR,” he gravely intoned. As he produced a 40 from the fridge we sat down to listen to a band that he thought might take the rocanrol world by youthful, skated-out storm. He was right.
FIDLAR (Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk) features the confessional, post-addiction poetics of front man and rhythm guitarist Zac Carper backed by the punk but poptastically informed playing of Brandon Schwartzel (bass), Max Kuehn (drums) and Elvis Kuehn (lead guitar). In case you wanna know, the Kuehn brothers are the progeny of T.S.O.L. keyboardist Greg Kuehn. They’re on tour this fall, promoting their second album Too, demonstrating that life, while risky, is a grand affair to be lived voraciously no matter one’s age or accompanying tribulations.
Alibi spoke with Elvis as the band prepared for a show in Houston. They’re on the way to Albuquerque in a van filled with people, music equipment and verve. They’ll gig at Launchpad (618 Central SW) on Thursday, Oct. 15.
Alibi: Your new album is a departure from previous recordings, more complex and complete. What sort of changes resulted in this evolution of sound and intention?
Elvis: At first we debated whether to do it ourselves, but during the writing process we decided that we wanted to work with a producer. We weren’t really sure who, but we knew it would be interesting to add another person to the mix. We decided to work with Jay Joyce, who has worked with The Wallflowers, Emmylou Harris and Halestorm. It turned out to be really cool. We came out to Nashville, we were out of our comfort zone.
How does the new album sound to you in retrospect?
A big thing for me is that I feel there’s more dynamics. The first record was loud all the time. Real loud and heavy. There’s more push and pull, more variety, an ebb and flow of songs, rather than just being “on” all the time.
What about lyrical development? You guys were known for being ensconced in the LA party surf and skate scene. How has that changed?
A lot of that came from Zac, who recently went through getting sober. For me, I have been trying to think more about writing stuff that’s about personal experience. Before I was focused on getting a riff and the lyrics were secondary. There’s more of a focus on the songwriting process.
What’s FIDLAR’s songwriting process like?
With this record, it was kinda separate. Say Zac has an idea and makes a demo in his bedroom or I do something on my own. What happens is we listen and play the results live as a group, and the result has a life of its own. Once we get everyone in the band playing, with Max doing different drum patterns, it gives the work a new feel. Brandon comes up with bass lines, we kinda mess with the demos as a band. Writing-wise, the music and lyrics are done separately. When we recorded, we did the basic tracks live. There’s a good deal of overdubbing, but it’s great to lay down the tracks live, it really captures the moment, something we didn’t have the luxury of doing in our own studio.
How do you feel about being categorized as the next generation of skate-punk music?
I feel like, no matter what, people are going to label us. They can call it anything they want. We’ve never had one sound. It’s a mix of different styles. It’s rock and roll, at the end of the day. No matter what we write and play, it goes through the FIDLAR filter and it sounds like us. The best thing you can hope for is to be a band that sounds unique enough to be recognized and identified as singular. The worst thing is to be compared to other bands, for someone to say, “that’s the band that sounds like…”
Speaking of influence and sounding like something, what are you listening to?
When we were writing, I was listening to a lot of Kinks, Velvet Underground, Brian Eno. It kinda goes all over the place. Right now I’m listening to On the Beach by Neil Young. Also some Kris Kristofferson and Credence (Clearwater Revival).
Did you get that wide-ranging aesthetic from your old man?
Yeah, totally. That stuff is in my blood. And the LA punk stuff. That’s what he exposed me to … T.S.O.L., Adolescents, Germs, X. So all of that. The Kinks are really overlooked in the history of rock music, but they have really amazing songs. I really connect with the emotion they have in their writing. All of us are really interested in great songs. I try to find stuff that resonates with me, that moves me. We cover “Lodi” by CCR. The song “Give me Something” on our first record has that CCR feel.
How is your audience responding to all this evolution, influence and growth?
For us, it’s just another tour, some work. We’re about a month in, we’re sounding pretty good. We’re playing longer than we had been because the crowd reaction has been so good.
Have you ever been in Albuquerque?
I’ve never been there, but my grandparents met there in college at UNM. So we’re excited to play there. It’s a small world, right? I can’t speak for our audiences, but we’re very energetic and fun. We’re doing stuff off the first record too, so it should be a great experience for everyone who comes out.