Teen Angst, Adult Problems: Zac Carper from FIDLAR Grows Up
We talked to Zac Carper of FIDLAR about going hard, growing up, and getting clean.
All photos by Alice Baxley
No one ever warns you about the massive come-down that you get from growing up. This is something that Zac Carper, frontman of the SoCal skate-punk band FIDLAR, has had to learn the hard way. At 28 years old, the recently sober musician found himself the subject of a frightening cliche: the self-loathing rock singer addicted to drugs. "I just wrote songs that were about doing drugs and drinking a lot because I was doing a lot of drugs and drinking a lot," he explains over the phone from LA. Back in 2013, FIDLAR’s drug-fiending punk songs became so popular that just one album sent the unknown band around the world opening for the Pixies and The Hives. After touring those same drop-kick singles for almost three years, the FIDLAR message was pretty clear: Party ’til you fucking die. But according to Carper, the endless partying that became their brand eventually "got boring,” a realization that led the self-destructive musician into rehab for heroin, crack, and meth. If that first record was a rager, then their second, titled Too, is the brutal hangover that follows.
On Too, FIDLAR's combustible formula of quiet-loud-LOUD and Carper’s scathingly confessional lyrics are no longer working towards a gimmicky crutch. While they're fraught with the same anxious energy as every FIDLAR song to come before it, these new songs aren’t gunning for cheap hooks like "I drink cheap beer, fuck you” or "cocaine runs around in my brain." This time, FIDLAR peels off the scabs and gets real. Occasionally, when musicians get sober and recover, the band can’t. But with Carper’s sobriety comes an even more brutally honest FIDLAR, like the same word written with a thicker pen and darker ink. Sometimes it takes barfing on your own shadow to realize that maybe there's a problem lurking. If this album says anything, it's this: You can only sing about abusing substances for so long before somebody's bound to ask you why.
Hey, Zac. Too is the follow-up record to your self-titled debut in 2013. What took so long?
Zac Carper: It’s been quite a crazy ride. We put that record out and then we went on tour for about three years. There’s been a lot of ups and downs, you know. Did a lot of partying. One thing about when you party a lot is that you kind of get bored of partying.
That's interesting coming from a band widely regarded as a "party band."
Carper: I know!
So what happened after that? Did you feel like you needed to look elsewhere for songwriting material once you started to feel that way?
Carper: In a weird way, yeah. That first record was so heavily drug and alcohol influenced, because, well, we were doing a lot of drugs and alcohol. It’s kind of like everybody says, “You made a party record.” It’s like nah, not really. For me, I just wrote songs that were about doing drugs and drinking a lot because I was doing a lot of drugs and drinking a lot.
This new album album has almost everything to do with you getting sober. It shows up over and over in the lyrics. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Carper: More like, instead of me getting sober, 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.
Woah. Meth and heroin are two pretty different drugs.
Carper: Yeah, I know. And you know what’s more interesting is that I did them both at the same time. I would shoot them up at the same time. So I would be this cluster of crazy. I was a fucking mess, man. 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 had to kind of take some time off to figure some shit out, you know what I mean.
Were you writing songs when you were in treatment?
Carper: I was writing a lot during that time and mostly writing on the road. I would say actually after treatment. That was the hard part, once you get out of treatment. 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.
Yeah, you’re safe in treatment but the adult world is another story.
Carper: Well, I remember getting out and I was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. I had a spine injury so I was in constant pain for like at least eight months and then on top of that living life is just different. Just everything.
How did the rest of the band deal with all this? What were they doing when you were in treatment?
Carper: They were doing their own thing. We all needed some time away from each other to be honest. To kind of figure our own shit out. It’s so weird because you start a band and you guys are best fucking friends, you know, and you’re in it together. I used to tell myself I will never become one of those bands where we just don’t get along
That sounds familiar.
Carper: Oh yeah, everybody fucking says that. And we get along, like great actually now. We’ve worked our shit out. But it’s the same thing with roommates, you know what I mean? Like, get the fuck away from me for at least eight months or something.
The material on the new album is pretty dark. Do you want to talk about that?
Carper: Yeah, yeah, yeah let’s talk about that.
I’ll direct you to one lyric: “I got drunk and barfed on my shadow.” To me, that feels like a metaphor for realizing it’s time to get clean. Maybe I’m reading into it.
Carper: No, that happens a lot. It’s a pretty accurate description of my life.
Photo by Alice Baxley
You guys played a couple sets with the Pixies, right?
Carper: We did!
What was that like? You can’t not think of the Pixies while listening to FIDLAR.
Carper: Oh my god. Yeah, that was the one thing Frank Black told me. He was like the first night he saw us play he was like, “Oh, the Pixies. We have the soft/loud thing going on, quiet/loud/quiet.” Then he said, “But you guys are loud/louder/LOUD.”
That’s unbelievably cool. Did you worship the Pixies when you were a teenager like I did?
Something I wanted to talk about was how a lot of your fans are young teenagers. I’ve never seen more teenagers in my life than at your show in Brooklyn. The amount of selfies being taken in the mosth pit was out of control. I got the feeling that for a lot of those kids there, this was probably their first concert. How do you feel about having such a loyal youth fanbase?
Carper: Well, it’s a weird one with the teenagers, actually. I think once they understand the lyrics to the songs, they’re like, “Oh! So that’s what they’re singing about.” It’s weird because a lot of these songs—like you were saying, they’re dark. Even on the first record, they’re pretty fucking dark songs, too. But these kids are at the shows and fucking going off and having a great time, you know? It’s just a funny thing. I like it when kids go off. It makes it much more fun. I remember when I first moved to LA, and even going to shows as a kid. You’d go see The Black Lips and completely mosh your brains out. It’s almost like going to a rave or some bullshit, you know? This insane feeling that you get. I grew up in bumfuck Hawaii. I grew up in the fucking boonies of Hawaii. We didn’t even have a record store anywhere on the island. The only thing we had was actually radio, so I grew up on Green Day and blink-182. Like I didn’t listen to Black Flag until I was 21.
Carper: I had no idea who they were. I had no idea. Growing up in Hawaii nobody gave a shit about that kind of stuff. And where I grew up mainly it was Green Day, blink-182, Sublime. I listened to the stuff that was on the radio because was all I could get.
FIDLAR sounds a lot like a combination of those bands. How do you think Too is different from the record or even the EPs?
Carper: The process. The whole writing process is different. This record is a lot more emotional. I remember playing it for my sister and she was like “God, it’s a fucking emo record dude.” It’s a lot of emotions on this record. It’s a lot of reality. I think the first record was more escaping reality.
Are you sober now?
I am. I haven’t been drunk in a long time.
Good for you. Congrats.
Carper: Thank you. I don’t know. 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.
The lifestyle alone seems exhausting.
Carper: 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.
How much of this record was written when you were sober?
Carper: Probably 90 percent I would say.
LA has pretty interesting skate-punk scene with bands like Wavves, Audacity, and the Orwells. How do you think FIDLAR fits in to that?
Carper: We’re pretty anti-social in weird ways so we don’t hang out with the other bands or anything like that. I like that people are playing rock and roll again. That’s what I really like, especially in this area of Los Angeles. A lot of guitar driven, heavy, yelling loud music is happening again. The one thing that was weird when FIDLAR started and everything was we never really fit into a section, you know? Even with the whole surf-punk shit, and Burger, and all this garage rock scene that’s happening right now—we were too punk for garage rock, but we were too garage rock for punk. It was just this weird fucking in between where we didn’t know where we fit.
Genre is dumb.
Carper: Yeah, I think that’s an outdated thing nowadays. Especially in Europe. Talking to kids in Europe, all these fucking kids nowadays they don’t subscribe to a genre anymore. They just listen to everything.
What’s your favorite song to play live from the new record?
Carper: Well, "40 oz," the new song is really fun to play live. We haven’t really played much of the new songs live. There’s a couple songs. One song “Punks” that we play live, that’s just a fucking jam that’s really fun.
The song “West Coast” feels exactly like a mix of new and old FIDLAR.
Carper: Oh, well that is a fucking blink-182 song right there.
There we go. Full circle, baby!