“Fuck it Dog, Life's A Risk” might be a brilliant ethos to title your band after, but it's also a hell of a standard to live up to.
Los Angeles' FIDLAR — due in Minneapolis Monday at the Varsity Theater — became everyone's favorite party-punk act of the summer after their careening, beer-chugging self-titled debut broke through in 2013. While it landed the band a larger audience than they could have dreamed of, the whirlwind of touring that followed and constant pressure to behave up to their tounge-in-cheek wasteoid image nearly killed frontman Zac Carper. After several bouts of treatment, including a pep talk from Billie Joe Armstrong, Carper managed to pull himself together and win back his bandmates, rallying to create Too, a dark-in-the-center sophomore album that manages to retain all of the humor of their debut.
City Pages gave Carper a call during a break on the band's long drive through the mountains to talk about the difficulties that stem from being a newly sober frontman of the punk band that built their fanbase around songs like "Stoned and Alone."
City Pages: People are rightfully talking about your lyrics on Too and how your recovery story plays into the narrative of your album, but the first thing I noticed was actually the musical shift. The self-titled kept things pretty grounded in punk, but on Too you’re trying new stuff out and the whole thing sounds much more expansive. What motivated that?
Zac Carper: It's hard to say exactly. I mean, I love punk music, I love that style. But just like with anything, if you do it a lot, you can kind of get bored of it, in a weird way. Even if it's weird experimental music, imagine doing weird experimental music all of your life. You might want to write a pop song after that, you know? When we met each other, we all listened to garage rock and punk a lot, and then as time went on we all got into different kinds of music, but we all were still totally rock 'n' roll based.
CP: Do you think that shift has anything to do with the fact that your band is playing much larger stages and summer festivals now?
ZC: Yeah, I think so. Being from that small show background, we were just so used to those little house party shows and stuff like that and just raging out. Coming from that and then playing Reading and Leeds in front of 30,000 people, it doesn't really translate that well [laughs]. I think it was just a progression, really.
CP: The other thing you'lI notice right away was that y’all really went in on the production aspect of the album. There’s tons of studio flourishes. Why did you decide to do that?
ZC: I like that kind of stuff. Basically, I just wanted it to sound like the [studio] plug-ins were on fucking meth! I wanted it to sound like it was somebody with ADD, I wanted it to sound crazy. During that time, me and the producer, we were playing around a lot with the plug-ins and stuff like that and me and him got really into it. I produce bands also, so I have that degree of knowledge to get things weirder. So it was really fun.
Because of the weird production aspects, it kind takes it out of just rock'n'roll. Kind of puts it into an electronic type of element, which I think is cool because with punk and garage music, sometimes it can be very closed-off. With the plug-ins and of the craziness, I wanted to be like, "Look, it doesn't fucking mater."
CP: One of the things that makes it toughest for artists to kick addictions is the internal fear that your creativity is somehow tied to the substances you’re using. It’s that whole “No junk no soul” gambit that we all unwittingly internalize. Did you struggle with that fear when you were writing the songs for Too?
ZC: Abso-fucking-lutely brother [laughs]. That was the hardest part! I've kicked heroin many times. That was easy to me. But the psychological factor of, "Holy shit, I won't be able to write a song," people will think I'm worthless, I'm gonna become one of those guys where people say, "His songs were a lot better when he was fucked up." But the reality is that some people are always gonna say that, and some people are always gonna believe in that thing. The people that believe in that don't write songs. But it fucked with me.
Basically for me, the hardest part about getting off of drugs for me was that it was a full-on identity crisis. I based my life around being a frontman of a punk band that gets fucked up. There's a lot of punk bands in L.A., and especially the generation before us, some of the older dudes are either fucked up or they're working at Subway, and after a certain point you're just like, "Nah dude, I do not want this in my life." It's kind of an eye opener. So I guess the thing is that I would rather not be able to write a song, then become a casualty of it. I've never tried to put this record out as being about my sobriety or recovery process; it's just something that I was going through and I put it on audio.
CP: What about your bandmates reactions? Were you at all worried that the heavily personal, confessional nature of the songs would alienate them?
ZC: Oh yeah, totally. One-hundred percent. It's hard being in a band, especially because the first record was so party-driven, and was just about what was going on in our lives. Then here I am, I'm the one in the band who fucked up, I started getting into heroin. So the primary songwriter is the one that has to fucking pull through, and here you go guys, here's a bunch of songs about me getting sober. "Uhh ... fuck this?" But in the songs. I tried to make it to a point where it doesn't have to be about getting sober, it just has to be about what I feel, you know?
CP: I’ve read before that you’ve felt some frustration over the fact that FIDLAR got tagged as drunken goons or a party band early on, and that reputation has followed you and made it easier for a certain type of person to dismiss your music. Do you still feel pigeonholed?
ZC: I think this record opens that door up, and gets us out of that world a little bit, to be honest. I mean, you gotta understand, it was never really the intention to become a party band, you know? I'm not gonna blame anybody for doing that. I mean, our fucking single was "Cheap Beer," "Cocaine," and "Wake Bake Skate." I mean, we're fuckin' half to blame here. But it was just really about the shit that I was going through in my life. Now it's weird, going to shows, there are kids that want to get fucked up with me, and the thing I keep telling them is, "I'm not promoting getting fucked up, man." I'm getting fucked up because I'm fucked in the head, you know? But I think it's a better thing now.
CP: Andrew W.K. just came through town up here, and it made me think that in a lot of ways, your audiences probably both have sections of fans that only want to see you play that “fucked up” character. In a lot of ways, he’s stuck with that. Do you ever worry that FIDLAR won’t be allowed to grow or evolve?
ZC: I think with a name that stands for "Fuck it Dog, Life's A Risk," there's probably always going to be some of that, you know? But I think the point of FIDLAR is to be able to do whatever the fuck we want to do. Maybe for the next record we'll write a fucking country record, maybe the next record will be a hip-hop record. But I know what you're saying, it's hard. The press is always going to find an angle, to present us. And I get that, I understand that.
But just like any person in the world, people change. I might not be sober tomorrow, you know what I mean? I might want to make another record about getting fucked up. I think bands are a very interesting thing, and they evolve over time. It'll be very interesting to see where we are in ten years, because there's something fucking cool about four old dudes thrashing up on stage.
CP: You’ve got a lot of shows before you’re all finished with this tour, but have y’all given any thought into where you see the band going from here?
ZC: I know we're going to be touring behind this record for the next two years, basically, and a lot can change in two years. What I really want out of it is ... I want to be able to get out of the scene-y aspect of it and just be genre free. I know a lot of bands say that, but I think it's time for a band to do that. Especially when you start off in the punk world, you know, it's "the earlier stuff is always better than the later stuff," and that's just the way it goes. I think we can get to that point where that shit doesn't matter anymore, you know?
With: Dune Rats.
When: 7 p.m. Monday, September 14.
Where: Varsity Theater.