“The state of rock and roll music right now is fucking boring.” Zac Carper, frontman to LA-based punk band FIDLAR isn’t messing around. “In hip-hop, in R&B, these people are making music for the future, they’re not looking back. But modern rock has been looking back its entire existence!”
Attempting to tear that up, their third album ‘Almost Free’ is untethered and unbothered by any traditional rock cliches. Working with super-producer Ricky Reed, it is a riot of sound and influences, a finely balanced mix of garage punk riffs and hip-hop beats, and it launches FIDLAR into a whole new period.
The intervening period between 2015’s ‘Too’ and today hasn’t exactly been a quiet or peaceful one for the world, and the aftermath of those tumultuous times are ever-present in the new record. “There is so much craziness going on in our lives; the world is in chaos. Every time we went to Europe, there was a fucking terror attack in the same country! You end up like, wow, this shit is happening everywhere,” explains Zac.
With mass shootings in their homeland (“It’s almost hard not to get desensitised to it, otherwise how do you get through the day when it happens all time?” asks guitarist Elvis Kuehn), the increase in nationalism and just Donald Trump in general, staying positive day-to-day has become a slog at times.
Travelling the world, the band noticed a pattern beginning to form. The worse it got, the more people withdrew and disconnected from reality, finding comfort in the warm embrace of their phones. That observation informs much of ‘Almost Free’.
“It feels like the internet, and this information age, has caused something,” ruminates Elvis. “It just grows the fear and paranoia about people who are different; it keeps people in their bubbles. You just keep yourself there, see what you wanna see and read only the stuff you wanna read.”
Zac puts it more simply, explaining the album title at the same time. “We’re free, but we’re not free!”
Further compounding Zac’s mood, a relationship break-up caused him to start drinking for the first time in several years, an occasion that led directly to the riotous ‘By Myself’.
“All they had in the studio was fancy cider, I couldn’t even have a beer!” he laughs, the distance allowing him to find the funny side of his relapse now.
Forget what you think you know about FIDLAR, ‘Almost Free’ shows an adventurous side to the band throughout. Album opener ‘Get Off My Rock’ kicks the doors down with a bass Beastie Boys-style beat, a clear homage to a group that are still a huge influence on them – as well as sharing a reputation in their early days for being a care-free party band.
Like them, there is an ease now to their shifting of style and genre, a reluctance to get pinned into one box. Adventurous, yet still stripped back to the bare essentials – as Elvis puts it, “You don’t wanna make something that’s too different, going all over the place to the point where it’s not cohesive, y’know?”
Reed was integral. Zac explains: “He comes from the pop world, but he is one of the most punk rock dudes we’ve met. We take a rock song, and then it’s like, okay, how do we make this different to grow?”
Inspiration was found in the unlikeliest of places. “Before ‘Flake’, I was listening to Gary Glitter. It evolved from there.” Just audible across a transatlantic phone line is the sound of Zac facepalming desperately at this point, “Hey, I can separate art from artists!”
“GODDAMMIT ELVIS!” shouts Zac, before they both fall into fits of laughter.
Zac explains their collaboration with K. Flay for one of the album highlights ‘Called You Twice’. “I had just broken up with my girlfriend, K called and said, perfect timing! We ended up going to a bar next door, got really drunk and came back to the studio and just made it there and then.”
With the two equally excited about ‘Can’t You See’, the first song that features both of them singing, talk turns to the year ahead and the challenges that a rock band, even one as future-facing as FIDLAR, face in 2019.
“Everything is shifting towards grime, pop, that Post Malone-style of music right now,” worries Zac. “There’s not much room for fucking rock bands at these festivals any more, and that’s just the truth. Not just the UK, everywhere in the world!”
This isn’t a case of tired old rock star criticising the festival bookers, just the reality of (in their eyes) a stale rock genre.
“We played with Odd Future in LA, that was cool to find a different audience,” smiles Elvis.
“We definitely need new music,” continues Zac. “It’s like trap music is the new EDM. A few years ago, that was fucking everywhere. Everybody was like, ‘We’ve got to have this sound’, and now it’s all about hip-hop and stuff.”
Fully aware of the risks in shifting their sound on from their established past, it is the bands’ willingness to approach music with eyes (and ears) wide open that has perhaps allowed FIDLAR to keep going where many of their peers have faltered. The final thoughts belong to Zac.
“I think that when people hear this, they might get thrown off at first. Which is fine, we’ve always been a band that people get thrown by!” he chuckles. “But it’s more about growing, and not being scared of trying new shit.”
Free from worries, free from pressure, free to explore – and definitely never, ever boring. FIDLAR have got their eyes on the future, and it’s up to everyone else to keep up.
Taken from the February 2019 issue of Dork. FIDLAR’s album ‘Almost Free’ is out now.
Words: Jamie MacMillan