It's well past midnight and LAPD is furious with Fidlar.
And with good reason, as the four-man garage-punk band is responsible for a near-riot in Mar Vista. In front of Timewarp Music, where they are playing an impromptu show, about 50 people gulp beer from cans and loiter along Venice Boulevard. They're punks, underage skate rats, bike mechanics, freaks who look like they just want to hit something. Everyone's drunk, rowdy and trying to get inside, although security has other ideas.
The police have already shut down another Fidlar show earlier tonight, a nearby house party that got out of hand. This version seems likely to get broken up as well. Cop car after cop car pulls up, lights flashing, attempting to disperse the crowd. Eventually LAPD arrests someone with overeager brutality.
Meanwhile Zac Carper, Fidlar's main singer and guitarist, argues with a bouncer who won't let him into his own show, perhaps because he doesn't look like he could inspire all this adulation. Twenty-four years old, Carper is tiny, unshaven, unkempt and wearing a ratty American flag Christmas sweater. A bottle breaks somewhere in the crowd, and soon after the bouncer relents and Carper scoots inside. The opening band is finishing up its set; somebody hands him a can of Budweiser and he pops it open.
He clearly feels at home among these assembled misfits, who aren't overtly political, just lost and pissed off, more likely to be found in a dive bar than at an Occupy rally. Which pretty well describes Fidlar's outlook. Their best song is titled “Wake Bake Skate,” a stomping track about being a self-loathing addict. “I feel like getting drunk / Feel like fucking up my life again with all my friends,” goes a lyric from “No Waves,” off the group's upcoming 7-inch, No Waves/No Ass.
DIYDUI, their first EP, features four fast tracks with screaming whiny choruses. It's music that doesn't take itself too seriously but is tight and extremely listenable. Theirs is a relatable, Descendents-y brand of angst, as if they're saying, “Yeah, we're fuckups, but we're delightful fuckups.”
They sing about their wild lifestyles, but there's no bullshit or postmodern self-awareness, in the vein of other proudly drunk and reckless bands like the Replacements or Dead Kennedys.
At Fidlar shows, which happen everywhere from the Echo to house parties, people have been known to beat the shit out of each other; it's very hard to come away without bruises. Or at least a hangover. “They spell their name in all caps, an acronym for 'Fuck It Dog, Life's a Risk.”'
You wouldn't call them calculated, but they've been savvy enough to draw attention from outlets including Vice and Spin. And last month they signed to New York–based Mom + Pop records, joining such indie giants as Sleigh Bells and Neon Indian. Fidlar's debut album is due out in June, giving them a few months to figure out exactly what they're going to be, a buzz band that plays along or obstinate punk champions who do whatever the fuck they want.
Fidlar's home base is a bizarre little apartment building in Highland Park. Pass through a tiny door adjacent to a whitewashed storefront, and you'll enter into a teen boy's idea of beer-soaked utopia, with surfboards and instruments strewn about. Pretty girls in floppy hats hand you oversized spliffs. The spot contains a recording studio, a giant, soundproofed space where the band played some of its first shows, and a concrete backyard where its set-designer neighbor builds weird structures.
Guitarist-songwriter Elvis Kuehn and his brother Max Kuehn, FIDLAR's drummer, sit on the stairs smoking cigarettes. You'd never guess they were related; Elvis is big and grizzled-looking, only 21, with scrappy facial hair and a beer belly, while Max is a baby-faced redhead just shy of legal drinking age. They've been playing together since they were 10, and their dad, Greg Kuehn, is the keyboard player of Long Beach punk legends T.S.O.L. The young Kuehns started a band called the Diffs when they were 13 and played with punk greats like Adolescents, Circle Jerks and the Germs. They opened for the Adicts at the Key Club.
“Going to their house is weird,” says Carper. “Duane Peters will be hanging out there.”
The Kuehns don't flinch at this comment; for them, being around a punk legend who also helped shape modern skateboarding is no big deal. Through all of this, FIDLAR bassist Brandon Schwartzel remains relatively quiet, observing rather than talking. Though reserved in person, he transforms onstage; his lanky arms flash across his bass as he gyrates with the beat.
The four guys joined forces after the Diffs disbanded. Schwartzel and Carper met at the latter's brother-in-law's birthday party; Elvis and Carper ran into each other at a recording studio where Carper worked. “I was actually living there without my boss knowing,” Carper says. “I just didn't have a place to stay.” He and Elvis would use the studio when it wasn't booked, loading up on beer and jamming for hours.
As you might suspect, Carper has had his share of substance-abuse battles. He spent his teen years in Hawaii, and at age 17 was responsible for a hit-and-run car accident. He narrowly avoided being charged with a DUI and narcotics possession, he says, but was strongly advised to leave the island. “The only reason I got off was that it was such a small, tight community,” he says. “People who cared about me convinced the cops not to charge me.”
He was sober for a couple of years upon arriving in Los Angeles, joining AA, and succeeded in his goal of breaking into the music industry, doing recording work with Ben Gibbard, among others. But he's begun to party hard again; although he knows that for many former addicts opening a beer is like Pandora's box, he feels confident in his ability to keep things under control.
Indeed, though he drinks and smokes pot with the best of them, if he's an addict, he's a high-functioning one. For one thing, he's uncannily prompt for interviews and other press obligations.
One has the feeling that he and the other members of FIDLAR know what's at stake, now that they're on a real label and expected to deliver a real record. The smart money is on their successfully bringing their self-deprecating honesty and good-time aesthetic to a wider audience, without letting the good times derail the whole thing.
Back at Timewarp Music, Carper disappears to set up for the show, as red and blue lights continue to flash outside the windows. The folks inside seem psyched for the show. Sure, booze is in short supply, but folks make do buying beers off a couple of guys toting Modelo 12-packs.
And with that Schwartzel plays the opening chords to “Oh.” It's a simple song about wanting a girl to know you love her, but that doesn't stop the crowd from beginning to hit each other. The police shut the show down before FIDLAR get through three songs.
It makes a certain sense. After all, it's 2 a.m. and the group is onstage screaming: “I. Drink. Cheap. Beer. So. What. Fuck. You” at the top of their lungs. As the fans and the band file out, heads appropriately bowed, Carper shrugs his shoulders. “Fuck it.”
FIDLAR play the Echo Sunday, March 4.