Vice Squad: Is the world ready for a clean(er), sober(ish) FIDLAR?

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FIDLAR
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FIDLAR’s brash, abrasive and boastful version of punk rock finds full form with the band’s sophomore LP, Too. While not as loud as their self-titled 2013 debut, yet undeniably progressive from every musical angle, the record shows a band flourishing in all the ways a fan would want a band to flourish with a sophomore effort. The snotty songs are snottier, the sassy songs are sassier and the bombastic tracks are louder than ever before. “We could’ve made the first record again,” says FIDLAR frontman Zac Carper, “but that just seems so boring to me. We wanted to challenge ourselves.”

For those who haven’t heard FIDLAR, it’s kind of like the Beach Boys meets the Blood Brothers meets Dookie-era Green Day. It’s loud, melodic, fun punk music, plain and simple. While the first LP focuses on a central theme of drugs, partying, alcohol and surfing—the chorus of the record’s opening number, “Cheap Beer,” is “I drink cheap beer. So what? Fuck you!”—Carper says he looked for the band to push past that mold on Too, while also pushing the band’s sound to be better. “[When] people talk about the first record [they say], ‘You guys sing about a lot of drugs and alcohol,’” Carper says, “and that’s probably because we were doing a lot of drugs and alcohol. [With] this new record, I wanted to challenge ourselves with trying something else. If you party too much, it gets really boring. That’s kind of where our heads were at, ya know?

“When I was writing the material, I was trying to deal with my problems without the help of things that God has left us with, like drugs and alcohol,” he continues. “It was a definite change of trying to figure shit out.”

The sound of FIDLAR doesn’t just fall into one music scene—it’s nearly impossible to pigeonhole. Some tracks off Too, like “Sober,” fit perfectly with a surf-rock crowd; others, like “Punks,” ooze the essence of raw rock ’n’ roll; “Why Generation” and “Stupid Decision” wouldn’t be out of place blaring through the PA to a crowd at Warped Tour. It’s like there’s a little something for every fan of guitar-driven music to embrace about FIDLAR, and that’s never been more evident in the band’s career than on their new record.

“Somebody said to me one time, when they listened to the songs I was recording in my room, that it’s ‘kind of like a mix tape,’ and that’s just because we all listen to different stuff,” Carper says. “When we started, we were too punk for the indie crowd and too indie for the punk crowd. We weren’t a part of any scene because we just fit in this weird area.

“When that happened, early on, we couldn’t get any venue shows,” he continues. “That’s why we played all these house parties. Because nobody knew where to fit us, ya know? For me, personally, I found a comfort in that.”

Carper says he sees the cross-genre punk-backbone stylings work at shows. “I think the one thing, too, about FIDLAR, is we have a pop sensibility with our melodies. That’s one thing I learned early on when we were writing songs. I grew up in bumfuck Hawaii—the only thing we had was the radio. And we only had one station and it was the pop station. So all I listened to growing up was pop music.”

The band took a nearly a full year off from touring before diving back into the studio for Too. Carper says the new songs were initially written on an acoustic guitar before being taken to the rest of the band and producer Jay Joyce, who spent a whirlwind two weeks in Nashville recording Too. Carper says Joyce—who has worked with everyone from Eric Church to Cage The Elephant—is the most eccentric producer he’s ever worked with. “[In every] true sense of what a producer is, he lives it and breathes it,” Carper explains. “He is the real fucking deal. And I picked that up when we met him. The guy is in his own world, and I love that about him. It was tough doing it in 14 days, but we somehow made it work. It’s pretty fucking incredible, man.”

The announcement for Too came via a clever music video for “40oz. On Repeat” parodying fan favorites from decades past. Spanning mostly ’80s and ’90s pop music, Carper dons multiple personas—from Missy Elliott to Britney Spears to Eminem and beyond—throughout the clip. He says the influence came from wanting to replicate videos he grew up watching, like Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” Sugar Ray’s “Fly” and Oasis’ “Wonderwall.” The most impressive part? The video was shot in one day.

“My brother-in-law, who shoots our videos, and I were like, ‘Let’s just see how many music videos we can make on our budget,’” Carper recalls. “And we came up with 15 music videos that we just replicated in our own style. We filmed it one day. It was kind of a long day.”

Although dressing up as a convincing parody of Britney Spears a la “…Baby One More Time” puts off the aura that FIDLAR is all fun, Too shows a more serious side. “Overdose”—which Carper confirms was born out of a period in his life when he overdosed three times in one month—is gripping, dark and provocative. “I’m literally whispering the whole song—which is weird for FIDLAR, because we usually yell the whole time,” he says. “That’s a pretty heavy song for me. It was one of the hardest songs to record because it took me in this weird headspace.”

Juxtaposed to “Overdose” is the lighthearted and poppy “Sober.” Its infectious chorus, which climaxes with the line, “Life just sucks when you get sober,” shows the peak of how musically and emotionally fun FIDLAR can be. “Sober,” in all of its whimsical glory, is a song destined to translate well into the energetic show the band brings.

“I was listening to a lot of Eminem [when] recording that song,” the singer admits. “It’s pretty much just me having a temper-tantrum. I’m excited for people to hear that.”

So what’s in store for the band after Too is released and beyond? “Just a lot of touring,” Carper concludes. “We’re trying to step up the production [of our shows] and maybe we’ll get a tour bus one day; you never know.” He pauses to laugh. “Shootin’ for the stars here.” S

A version of this piece was published in Substream #47.