When I first began listening to FIDLAR, I was a young undergrad in my first year of university. Naturally, songs about cheap beer resonated with me. Their high-energy punk ballads reeked of fun and sounded accessible, swapping traditional palatability, for familiarity, and cultivating a sound that made it feel like you knew them. A bit like they were just a group of guys (dudes, if you will) you’d run into at parties all the time. In the early days, the California “party rockers” became notorious for their animalistic performances, and open approval for recreational substance use.
As the band now trudge towards maturation and nearly a decade together, they’ve become equally open about vocalizing their desire for composure. On the brink of releasing their third album, Almost Free, FIDLAR warmed fans up with three new singles which take on a recognizable, but more sophisticated, dynamic sound. The tracks signal not only an evolution for the band, but also a response to a world that has changed fast and drastically since their climactic “Too” was released in 2015—only 4 years and somehow, eons away.
Keeping in their tradition of blunt lyricism, “Too Real,” takes an angsty stab at the realities of our generation, posing the question, “And you can blame it on the Left or you can blame it on the Right, no just admit you just like to fight.” When I met with the band at the Dine Alone records office in Toronto last month, I was all too eager to I ask them about the track, buzzing over what specific situations or presidential Twitter meltdowns could have inspired the song’s unapologetic lyrics.
Sitting at a long and stylist wooden table, when I posed the question to them they hesitated for a moment. Immediately, frontman Zac Carpenter, in true FIDLAR fashion chimed in, “‘I drink cheap beer so fuck you,’ is more political than that [lyric] I think, to be honest,” reminding us that first and foremost, he’s a champion of unapologetic working-class politics. “We’re all pretty clear on which [political side] is the worse of the two,” clarifies drummer Max Kuehn. “It’s just that everything is so divided and crazy.”
A lot of [access to political views] has to do with social media.
Since their last album, four years ago—and the length between presidential cycles—the increasing prevalence of Instagram and other social media platforms have continued to influence not only our ability to share memories and ideas, but have shaped our politics and cultural dialogue. As musicians adapt to a world infiltrated by the convenience and the over-visibility of social media, they admit that its overwhelming nature can have wide-reaching effects. “A lot of [access to political views] has to do with social media. Seeing someone mad on the internet feels like a temper tantrum.” Carpenter explains. While not a one-size-fits-all model, they’ve opted to destabilize trolls by challenging them on the platforms they treasure the most. “Whenever someone shares something shitty about us, we just retweet it! It’s one of our favourite things to do.”
It’s this fearless approach to shaking up the status quo that has helped them define their approach to authenticity today. “We’ve never played into fads or trends in music. [We’ve thought] ‘how do we incorporate things that we like?,’” explains bassist Brandon Schwartzel. Refusing to surrender to convention has made FIDLAR an outsider in a scene you’d otherwise expect to find them. “We’ve never been too much a part of one scene,” guitarist Elvis Keuhn adds. There were definitely bands that were “party garage punk” bands that were coming out of L.A., but the real garage rock scene in L.A. didn’t accept us,” they laugh.
With a new, more refined sound, I wondered if the band anticipated a change in their consistently wild audiences. “We hope it calms down,” guitarist and vocalist Elvis Kuehn says. Zac jokes, “yeah, maybe they’ll actually listen to what we’re playing!” A decade in, the group cherishes the freedom of not sticking to one sound, and allowing their music to take shape organically. Writing their new album with no end goal in mind, guitarist Brandon says, “We don’t wanna get stuck in the box of a slacker punk rock band with crazy shows.”
For a band that cut their teeth on the ferocity of their show’s, they’re aware that for fans looking for a riot, we’re in the midst of a torch passing. In an era where rappers have taken up the mantle as this generation’s new rockstars, and chart-topping rap continues to pull from genres as broad as early 2000s alt-rock, and second-wave emo, the band are hyper-focused on the hair-raising energy of a powerful performance is the same holy experience across genres. “We played Lollapalooza Paris, and all the rock guys were making fun of Lil Pump. And I went to go watch it, because I’ve never seen or listened to Lil Pump, and it felt like a FIDLAR show. It was mental. They were moshing. It felt like a punk show,” Zac recalls, admiringly.