Headed back to town alongside SWMRS for an all ages set Thursday night at Metro, I spoke with FIDLAR frontman Zac Carper about Chicago as the backdrop for a life changing event, the depth of FIDLAR's relationship with SWMRS and why it's so difficult for a punk band to establish longevity in the music industry...
Longevity - specifically the idea of a sustainable career - is rarely something we associate with punk rock.
Perhaps more so than in any other genre, punk musicians are subject to stereotypes and expectations that often become self-fulfilling, if not crippling.
Musical growth or experimentation is frowned upon and virtually any level of mainstream success is quickly dubbed "selling out."
It's not "cool" to get old.
And that's why we don't see a lot of aging punk rockers. Many die young, the result of trying to hang onto some semblance of punk rock "cred."
FIDLAR nearly became yet another in the grand tradition of punk rock cautionary tales.
But following nearly half a decade of nonstop touring, frontman Zac Carper was ready for something different heading into FIDLAR's second album. "I don’t want to sing about getting f---ed up because I’m not getting f---ed up" said Carper of the mindset that would ultimately come to define the group's sophomore effort Too upon its release at the end of 2015.
While the buzzsaw guitars and catchy, anthemic choruses that fans have come to expect from FIDLAR remain intact on Too, Carper's lyrical approach signaled a shift away from the ideas that previously pigeonholed FIDLAR as a "party band" and was indicative of his growth as a songwriter.
It was a type of raw honesty that fans embraced as Too cracked the Billboard 200 album chart - nearly unheard of for a punk artist on an indie label.
With a newfound sobriety, an eye on the future, a love of the studio and the idea of music as a potentially sustainable long term plan, Carper started producing for artists like The Frights and SWMRS (both of whom open for FIDLAR on this tour).
Producing Drive North, the February release from SWMRS (the band's third record and first under the direction of someone other than Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong), cemented Carper's strong bond with the young group at a time when he needed it badly. "Those guys are like family to me... I was at this weird place in life where I was just really lonely and going a little kooky in my head. That gave me some kind of focus" Carper said.
Performing as part of an all ages Thursday this week at Metro, I spoke with Zac Carper about how Lollapalooza became a life changing moment for him earlier this summer, the unique relationship FIDLAR shares with SWMRS, musical misconceptions and why we won't let punk rockers grow up. An edited transcript of that phone conversation follows below...
Q. Earlier this summer FIDLAR performed at Lollapalooza. What was it like coming back here and playing the main stage at that festival after years of club shows?
Zac Carper: I can say that that changed my life. Definitely.
Lollapalooza has always just been great to us. They’ve always put us on great bills. The first time we were in Chicago was like the first time we played Lollapalooza. I think maybe the first time we were in Chicago we played with The Hives at the Vic. That’s a pretty sick first time, you know?
I mean, you gotta understand that I grew up [spending] half of my life in a f---ing van. I don’t really come from much. Seeing that many people out there watching us – I mean, we were on the main stage so it was a main stage [size] audience. It was insane. I don’t even know how many people there were. I purposely told our managers not to tell me.
That’s what Lollapalooza did for me. It was definitely a different high playing in front of that many people. Chicago’s just kind of been one of our biggest shows. It’s weird how that works. We’ve always had some of our best shows in Chicago.
And we’ve always gotten into a lot of trouble in Chicago too. That used to be kind of an ongoing thing: “Alright, put your seat belts on. We’re going to Chicago. Something weird’s gonna happen.”
Q. You guys are back on the road for a full tour with SWMRS. FIDLAR has done shows with them before plus you produced the latest SWMRS record Drive North. What’s it like heading out on the road with those guys?
ZC: Those guys are like family to me. So I can say that they’re complete idiots. Basically, I want to whip them into shape.
Hopefully, we’re going to be working on some new stuff while we’re out on the road. I’m just exhausted.
Those guys are family though and I love them to death. I’m just gonna do my thing and hopefully they’ll do their thing. I just think it’s a great combination of the young and the... not that young anymore.
Q. They are young. Is there almost kind of a mentor role here for you touring with SWMRS now as they make their way into some of these bigger venues and experience stuff your band already has?
ZC: Well, I think, to be honest, those kids are experienced like crazy. They’ve been in bands and they’ve been a band – not as SWMRS but as Emily’s Army and other bands - for a very long time.
The thing that I’m pushing moreso for – I guess it is a mentoring thing – is the discipline. Like, when you’re making a record, I remember just figuring it out. I [remember thinking], “Oh, my god. This is a f---ing hit, man!” And it’s like, yeah… But you’ve got so much work to do before it becomes that.
To be honest, it’s also just about having fun on this [tour]. These are pretty big shows for us – a combination of big and small shows – and I was like, “I want the SWMRS boys with us!”
It’s weird how that works. We’ve always had some of our best shows in Chicago.
Q. SWMRS was here in March and I spoke with [vocalist/guitarist] Cole Becker about working with you in the studio, your influence on their album and the difference for them between working with you versus Billie Joe Armstrong as producer. What was it like for you heading into the studio with them? Drive North was one of the first records you produced, right?
ZC: Aside from the first FIDLAR record. I [also] produced this other band called The Frights which is also on tour with us.
It’s funny that you ask that because [SWMRS] just re-released their record. They got it remastered and everything. I hadn’t listened to it in a while but I went home and I listened to the whole record. I full on cried. It totally transported me back to that time.
It was just kind of... I don’t have many material things. I have a guitar and a computer to make demos and stuff. I don’t have a house. I don’t have a car really. I don’t have many material things. But I have these records that I’ve worked on. And it just kind of transports me back to that time and that feeling.
I was very grateful that I got to do it. Because I needed it at that time. To be honest, I really f---ing needed it. I was at this weird place in life where I was just really lonely and going a little kooky in my head. That gave me some kind of focus.
Q. You’ve done a lot of production since. Does working with other artists like that kind of expose you to new sounds and help to expand your palate a bit to so to speak?
ZC: What it does is it exposes me to different personalities. That’s the main thing.
The only reason why I’ve produced these bands is because I like these people. And also because I’m really into the music. The demos that the SWMRS guys... I just flew up there to listen to Cole sing and play the guitar and I was just like, “This is amazing.” Same with the Dune Rats and The Frights: these are really catchy, hooky songs that I want to make... I want to be that second ear for them.
It’s definitely got my chops back up with communicating and explaining things. The studio is kind of more where I live. I love touring and I love playing shows but there’s something about the studio. That’s where I kind of thrive more.
Q. I’ve read that you’re working on new FIDLAR music. I think you guys did a really terrific job of not caving to expectations last year on the second album [Too]. How do you think navigating that successfully will impact the band moving forward as you continue to create?
ZC: I think it’s not just writing songs now. There is that factor of writing songs but it’s more like – the second record was more like, “Ok, I don’t want to sing about getting f---ed up because I’m not getting f---ed up.” So you dig deeper and find the other s--t to sing about.
Then there’s the whole idea of, “Ok, I’ve gotta write a bridge. I don’t even know how to write a bridge. How I do write a pre-chorus?” So it was just the challenge of it. That was a big part of it.
The FIDLAR projectory, or the climb, is we’ve just been getting bigger and bigger - but slowly. So what’s tripping me out is that people are actually listening to what I have to sing about. Which is kind of weird to me. Because I’ve basically got a little social anxiety stuff and just... I don’t really talk to people in real life that much.
For now, when I’m starting to write, I’m trying to dig deeper in the broader spectrum of the world instead of it just being about me. And that in turn makes me feel less lonely. When I can go and play to like three thousand people, and they know the lyrics or they like a song and connect to it, it’s like, “Oh s--t. I’m not the only one feeling like the world is f----d up right now.”
I don’t have many material things. But I have these records that I’ve worked on. And it just kind of transports me back to that time and that feeling.
Q. When I interviewed John Doe from X, one of the things we talked about was how, initially at least, upon its inception, punk rock was an attitude - not necessarily a sound. Bands like Talking Heads and Blondie don’t sound like the Ramones but they were all considered part of the same punk scene. Today, I think people hear the word "punk" and expect a certain sound. What, for you, is the biggest misconception about “punk?"
ZC: I think the misconception of punk right now is style and sound and making things sound like DIY. There’s nothing wrong with DIY. But there’s a sense of collaboration that I bet in the 70s they had with punk rock that we don’t have. I guess it’s the way that the music industry works: a lot of bands become competitive with each other because they have to be.
I do agree that punk is an attitude. Some of the most indie or folky artists that I’ve met are the most punk people in the world. Like, my f---ing lawyer is the most punk rock dude I know. Which is f---ing insane. It’s just the attitude you take – you don't just fall in line.
That’s the whole thing for me. I don’t know… There’s definitely too punk and there’s definitely falling in line. And that’s kind of the grey area.
Q. I think that expectations and stereotypes make it harder for punk bands to try and age gracefully, and actually go about establishing a career, than groups in any other genre of music. With two albums under your belt now, what’s your mindset looking ahead to the third and beyond?
ZC: It was never really meant to have a career. That’s the thing.
I’m going through something with my singing. I’m having a hard time singing that much every night for four nights in a row. Because it wasn’t meant to – second record, third record? It’s not meant to have [that].
Look at these punk rock dudes... a lot of them die. A lot of them are dead. It’s a live fast kind of mentality because it’s the attitude of just go for it.
- Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )
(Details on Thursday's FIDLAR concert below)
Thursday, November 17, 2016
Doors open at 6PM
Show starts at 7PM
Also performing: SWMRS, The Frights
$21 in advance
$23 at the door
Click HERE to purchase tickets *** SOLD OUT ***