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Interviews, Music

Interview: FIDLAR’s Elvis Kuehn on growing up, and selling out

By: Daniel Gerichter (@ZenDonut) –

Los Angeles-based skate-punk band FIDLAR.

Los Angeles-based skate-punk band FIDLAR.

P unk isn’t always just three of the same notes over and over again. Just ask L.A.’s FIDLAR. Yes, they’re from Southern California. Yes, they like to skateboard. And yes, they have some negative opinions about pop music. Despite all that, FIDLAR have been very open about their own trials, including singer Zach’s addition issues. Too, their latest album, is about realizing the shit that drove you a decade ago may not be the centre of the universe anymore, but it’s OK if it’s still the centre of yours.

You guys tour relentlessly, and we’ve all heard stories of what life on the road can be like. How do work through that?

That life just gets a bit intense. Especially if you tour the way we tour. You get up in whatever hotel you’re in, you drive to the show, you play the show, repeat next day. It can get a bit monotonous, and when you’re in the thick of a tour, you can’t counterbalance that routine with creativity. I’m trying to work through that by ignoring the fact that I’m packed in a van and just doing my best to write as much as possible. I was reading an article that said you have to numb yourself to your surroundings when you’re doing creative work. All you need is a pen and paper (or whatever) and that’s it. Doesn’t matter if you’re in fancy surroundings, or in the sewer. Just write and get it done.

How did the concept for the video for “40 oz on repeat” come together?

Zach (Carper)’s brother actually directs all of our videos. He came to us with the idea of parodying as many of our favourite videos in one shot as possible. We loved the idea and when we got to talking, everyone had a huge list of suggestions, so part of that was just sitting with my friends and like, prioritizing which of our favourites were going to make it and which weren’t.

How did you decide what artists to lampoon in that video?

There were the obvious ones – videos from bands that were totally iconic like Weezer, Devo, Jane’s Addiction. I’m pretty proud of them using Suicidal Tendencies’ “institutionalized”. It’s just one of my favourite tunes from back then.

Los Angeles-based skate-punk band FIDLAR's new album, Too, is out now.

Los Angeles-based skate-punk band FIDLAR’s new album, Too, is out now.

Part of that song also deals with the concept of selling out. in 2015, when music is distributed a whole different way, how would you define selling out?

Personally, I define selling out as when artists aren’t being true to themselves anymore. If you’re creating music for a very specific purpose, no matter what that purpose is, I think people can tell. When pop musicians go into the studio, their ideas are usually shoehorned into these formulas that will like, guarantee more airtime, or more Youtube plays. At that point, when you’re trying to achieve something beyond just a great piece of music, the whole idea is selling out.

Punk fans use “selling out” to describe artists who have attained commercial success. How did commercial success change your heroes when you were growing up?

The first albums I ever listened to were by Cake and Blink 182. That was about as mainstream as you could get at the time (laughs). After a while though, my brother and I started digging deeper. My dad was in a punk band so we listened to his records, and then we discovered the Damned and Black Flag. Those guys quickly became our heroes and the thing is, they never really became hugely famous. I think I react negatively when I see some person wearing a shirt of theirs at some festival, when they obviously don’t know shit about them. That’s the kind of mainstream success that I think is shitty. Like, just listen to the fucking records. They’re awesome!

I think Iggy Pop said that the more money you throw at a band, the more you guarantee their failure, and I really think that point makes a lot of sense. The bands that influenced me most came from a time where there was no money in what they were doing. They just did it because that’s what they were feeling at the time. The funny thing is, there are punk bands now who are trying to recapture the sound that those early punk records had. And they spend ridiculous amounts of money trying to do it. Those guys had like, single-track tape recorders and broken amps. They weren’t doing that on purpose!

All that said, how do you reconcile that kind of attitude with your own songwriting?

Too is this album that’s about getting a bit older, and realizing the truth, even when it isn’t sexy. We all tackled different topics on the album. I talked about fear and how crazy a world we live in now. Zac talked about his own struggles (Carper has been very open about his addiction issues – especially on the album) and at the same time talked about getting older and dealing with those struggles. We were trying to tell the truths about ourselves on the album. That’s what I liked most about it.

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