Every few years a band comes along and manages to do nihilism right. And with their self-titled debut, the LA band Fidlar took the crown for 2013. The name Fidlar is an acronym. It stands for “F*ck It Dog, Life’s A Risk.”
I was sold on the name, but it was the music that cemented my ardor; these guys brought the goods. Their most popular tune in 2012 was a song titled, “No Waves” a fast paced sing-along, guitar anthem that spoke to me across the generational divide. It begins…
I feel, feel like a cokehead,
I feel, feel like I can’t get drunk no more,
‘Cause I’m on the floor,
Looking for some matches just to cook up a score,
Talk about painting a picture! And the song rocks! I was sold.
But it wasn’t just me that they hooked with that debut record. The 20-something-Fildars also scored minor hits, with songs like “Cheap Beer” and “Cocaine.” They earned supporting slots with bigger bands like the Pixies and the Hives and made a memorably raucous video for “Cocaine” starring Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation”) taking a 3-minute on camera piss. The kids loved them. They were the party band du jour and earned a rep as a ferocious live act. “That first record was so heavily drug and alcohol influenced, because, well, we were doing a lot of drugs and alcohol,” admits lead singer Zac Carper in a recent interview with Noisey.
The band also scored major bragging rights when Frank Black (of the Pixies) said, “We have the soft loud thing going on, quiet/loud/quiet. But you guys [Fidlar] are loud/louder/LOUD!”
Fidlar’s first record is not going to change the course of music history – but who cares, because quite simply, it rocks. It’s not subtle or nuanced. Thematically the songs are basic but relatable. The whole album is passionate, energetic and conveys a range of sentiment, from, “I want to party” to “I’m out of money and hung-over,” and back around to, “I want more drugs and beer.” It’s young men screaming lyrical variations on “What the f*ck!?” while showering in keg beer.
It’s solid, extremely melodic, sing-along-able, guitar-driven, skate punk and as such, it’s a vital cultural resource, especially when done well. And Fidlar does it well.
Fidlar’s brand of unbridled hedonism belongs, for practical reasons, to youth. As that debut record gained speed I watched – and having seen this show before – I suspected there was a train-wreck on the horizon. Humans break. So unless something changed or Fidlar’s antics were somehow for show – a doubtful prospect, as the show looked pretty darn convincing – I knew somebody (or something – as in the band itself) was going to crack. The implicit challenge was daunting.
Cut to two years later and Fidlar has defied the odds with a new record, “Too” that comes out this week. And the first question that comes to mind is naturally, is the party still raging? The answer to that gets more interesting when you consider the band’s frontman Zac Carper is currently sober, having spent time between records in treatment dealing with his meth, crack and heroin addictions. “I was a fucking mess, man,” Zac says, frankly.
The drug combination sent him spinning, “So I would be this cluster of crazy… And you have to get the timing right. The timing was really like a full-time job because you’d be high on speed for a week straight, but you’d come down off of heroin in eight hours. It was this weird balance. And then I would end up shooting more speed than I’m used to and I’d be up for two or three weeks. Oh god, it was a mess.”
I felt for Zac. Talk about a burden. It’s tough enough to get sober, but his band became the toast of the town on the strength of his ability to translate the not so subtle pleasures of full-steam-ahead drinking and drug use into music. The people want more from him. And now he doesn’t use drugs or alcohol! What’s an angst-riddled young man to do? Well, it looks like now that the lights have come up for Zac, Fidlar is going to explore some new ideas with their music.
But will they still be able to move the crowd? Was it the drugs and the alcohol that fueled the mania? That brought the rock?
Thankfully, the answer to that question appears to be, “no.” The first 4 songs on “Too” are pretty great, an evolution as opposed to a rethinking of approach. The first few songs have held onto what made “Fidlar” great while simultaneously refining their unique sensibility. Against the odds, Fidlar was growing up!
Zac says about the new album, the lyrics are less about him getting sober, than “it’s me trying to deal with life and not use heroin and meth? You know what I mean? Those were my crutches on how to deal with life…” While it’s no doubt great fun to sing about your low opinion of fancy imported beer, is it enough to build a career on? Thankfully for us fans, Fidlar has decided against testing the premise.
“That’s the thing. That’s what they don’t fucking tell you in treatment is once you get out of treatment that’s when the fucking craziness really starts… that was the hard part. I took that [the drugs] away and then I had to learn how to deal with life.”
So while the new album’s lyrics are just as frankly confessional regarding taboo subjects as the first – the themes have gotten more complex (and arguably, more adult). For example, self-loathing, loneliness and fear join the band’s evergreen roster of addiction, skateboarding and nihilism. If anything, the quality of the songwriting has improved. Fidlar still rocks.
Too’s first single, “40 Oz. on Repeat” is a bit of a feint. On the surface, thematically it’s in keeping with older songs like, “Cocaine” and “Cheap Beer,” in that it’s undoubtedly about drinking. The approach has changed, however. The joyous revelry found in “Cheap Beer” has turned defensive and the subject of the song is now a balm used to treat loneliness:
Because everybody’s got somebody, everybody but me,
Why can’t anybody just tell me I’m somebody’s,
I’m gonna lock myself inside my room, with this 40 oz on repeat.
Carper addresses the subject of penning lyrics sober head on, “The whole writing process is different. This record [Too] is a lot more emotional. I remember playing it for my sister and she was like, “God, it’s a fucking emo record dude.”” He also sums up the evolution that occurred between the two records, “It’s a lot of emotions on this record. It’s a lot of reality. I think the first record was more escaping reality.”
Which leads to the crux of the argument; There’s nothing wrong with a party band that writes songs about cocaine that make you want to sing along. BUT it’s even better when that band manages to make it to the next record – and make it GOOD (which “Too” is) – with all the members alive and in one piece. Not an easy transition to make for a band that starts out steeped in heroin, crack and meth.
Zac holds his newfound sobriety lightly, “That’s the thing with the whole sober shit. I don’t know if it’s going to stick or anything like that, but there came a point, like I said, you start using a lot of drugs a lot and it gets kind of boring. And it just got really boring to me. Like, I couldn’t fucking go anywhere without be close to a dope dealer. I felt really trapped… Especially for a touring band. Man, there were so many times where I kicked fucking heroin in that van. There are only so many times before you start thinking maybe if I don’t do this, I’d be fine. But that was the hard part. I took that away and then I had to learn how to deal with life. And the way that I dealt with it was I wrote a lot of songs.”
Lucky for Fidlar fans Zac’s solution bodes well for more music.