FIDLAR: “If I don’t crack up, it’s not good; it’s gone”

A much-needed refresher in how to have fun: it’s the long-awaited return of chaotic punks FIDLAR.

The dumbest thing you could do is take FIDLAR too seriously. The Californian punks don’t do deep. They smoke toads, and argue over 90s pop culture. If it doesn’t crack them up, they’re keeping schtum.

Spending their afternoons sticking it to post-tour sickness, the trio of Zac Carper, Brandon Schwartzel, and Max Kuehn play it cool. Dusting off the cobwebs with comeback EP ‘That’s Life’, the trio say goodbye to founding member Elvis Kuehn and the mad scientist studio experiments of 2019’s ‘Almost Free’ and say hello to three chords and the truth. 

“’Almost Free’ was us reacting to touring so much. It was like, ‘let’s go into the studio and do the studio stuff we aren’t allowed to do’ because we’re constantly touring,” Max says in a rare moment of reflection from the band. “’That’s Life’ feels like a reaction to not being able to tour and being in the studio for too long, where you’re like, ‘let’s make some loud, fun shit that’ll go off live’ – it’s a product of where we’re at and what we’re doing.”

Like snorting speed, the aggro-punk of comeback single ‘FSU’ is a giveaway for anyone guessing where they’re at after a global pandemic and four years away. We think? Zac claims it made the cut first because “that was the dumbest one, gotta set the palate right away”, but for Brandon, it was a way of kicking the door back open.

“Since we hadn’t done anything for a while, if we’re gonna kick the door open, ‘FSU’ seems like the best song to obliterate. It’s the biggest punch we had of just being like, ‘wow, what the fuck, that’s gnarly’,” says the bassist, with Max jumping in to say that “coming out of quarantine, that’s how we all felt – fuck this whole thing, we’re pissed. ‘FSU’ went off at the first couple of shows; it was fucking crazy to see people shout all the words and go off on it.”

Being pissed off is punk-rock 101, but for FIDLAR, it was beginning to feel like they were the punchline to someone else’s joke. Starting with the pandemic slamming shut the doors to their tour bus for three years, it’s no surprise they’re dropping F-bombs in every line of ‘FSU’ like they’re leading the blitz.

“That time was weird because, in January 2020, we were like, let’s just do a reset of our socials; let’s just start afresh. Then the whole world shut down,” muses Max, the irony of closing the ‘Almost Free’ cycle by being locked up not lost on him. “It was like this weird in between – should we work on stuff? Are we even allowed to work on stuff? Do people even care anymore? It was a rough time.”

“It was a weird coincidence that the world shut down right after we finished touring that record and had decided to start fresh. How do you start again when you can’t tour, and you can’t be in a room together – everyone’s telling you not to do stuff. Yeah, it was hard.”

FIDLAR aren’t a band built for difficult conversations. If a song doesn’t have them breaking their backs laughing, they’re throwing it in the trash. It’s an official rule, according to Zac. “If I don’t crack up, it’s not good; it’s gone.” Yet, as the world went back to normal, they had to have one with co-vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist Elvis Kuehn, who decided it was time to duck out. 

“The conversation was like, we’re pretty ready to get going again, and he was like, ‘I’m not there, so go for it’. It was a bit of a shock, but we were all ready to move; we were all excited to book some shows, write some songs, and start the engine back up since we hadn’t been running in a while,” Brandon says matter-of-factly as the question falls to him, the others juggling it like a hot potato. “We were all on team move forward, and he was like, ‘I just can’t do it anymore; I want to do my own things’.”

“You can’t blame him,” interjects Zac, like a friend saving you from small talk. “We don’t blame him for anything. He wants something different, so we just have to accept it. We were like, what does this mean for the three of us? But he made it very clear we could go for it. There’s no ill will or anything like that; he’s always welcome.”

When your co-vocalist calls time on your band, getting the engine back up and running is easier said than done. While their previous two albums tackled their turbulent journeys to getting sober, ‘That’s Life’ came from cracking up and falling back on old habits – only this time, it was like teaching old dogs new tricks. 

Having spent 2020 caravanning with friends throughout the East and West Coasts, Mexico, and Hawaii, Zac culminated the chaos with a DMT ceremony spent in Lake Powell. The psychedelic trip is said to help you separate the gap between who you think you are and who you really are. But for Zac, smoking the toad was like finding his way back to FIDLAR.

“At that time, it was wobbling a bunch, I wasn’t doing anything with FIDLAR – it was this weird time where we didn’t know what we were doing, so I fucking smoked the toad, and it fucking shook my brain, dude, that shit changed my life,” smirks Zac, suddenly springing to life as his bandmates look on in silence. “I was sitting on a fuck tonne of songs, I didn’t stop writing, but a lot of them were just written on fucking ukulele and not really in the fucking thought process of being FIDLAR. 

“Having this crazy brain reset really helped me. Before that, all I was doing was songwriting for a bunch of DJs in hip-hop and all this hyperpop stuff coming out, and then after doing this smoking the toad thing, I realised that none of these people can do what I do, and what we’re good at is playing shows. That’s what that experience made me miss. I was getting lost, thinking, am I just going to write songs for other people?”

It’s as serious as the conversation gets, because when topics turn to the title of the EP, ‘That’s Life’, it’s back to being a band on the run. “Me and Max were just stoned in his studio, and he has a tattoo that says, ‘that’s life’, and it’s a skate video we all grew up watching.”

“It can mean a lot of things. There’s something about the pandemic and Elvis leaving and the band being like, ‘what is even being a band?’ It felt fitting to be like, fuck it, let’s just make these songs and go play some shows, and it’s like what we love doing, that’s life.”

FIDLAR aren’t here to change the world; they’re here to wake, bake, and skate. The plan for FIDLAR 2.0 is there is no plan, kind of. “Just keep playing, keep writing music and putting shit out. It’s that simple,” says Brandon, as Zac drops the elevator pitch. “We write songs, we record them, and release them so people can come to shows and buy our t-shirts.”■

Taken from the April 2023 edition of Upset. Order a copy below. FIDLAR’s EP ‘That’s Life’ is out 17th March.