Zooming in from his girlfriend’s place in Los Angeles, singer and guitarist Zac Carper of the SoCal punk band FIDLAR explains how the pandemic caused him to go down a dark path. “The pandemic happened, and I went hard,” he says, wearing a black sleeveless T-shirt with the words “I Not Late” emblazoned across the front. “It was one of those things where I could have either got my life together or completely destroyed it. I kind of went the latter.”
Inspired by attending a DMT ceremony in Malibu, Carper implemented his DIY psychedelic therapy on himself with decidedly mixed results. “After that, it just got me into this crazy psychedelic trip,” he continues and laughs. “I started to microdose, but I realized I was just getting high the whole time. I wasn’t doing it right.”
That experience led to Carper writing the new FIDLAR song “Taste the Money,” one of four new songs that will appear on an upcoming EP to be released in March of this year. The song initially comes on like polished pop punk before some thunderous riffs ensue that recall the pummeling punk anthems from their 2013 self-titled debut and lyrics that ask, “am I tripping or is this trip tripping me?”
The confusing period of societal upheaval around the pandemic also led FIDLAR to question its very existence, says drummer Max Kuehn, who is on the same Zoom call from his apartment studio. “What is even a band?” he says he thought after the pandemic caused stages to become silent in 2020. “It was this thing where is music ever going to come back? Is this even a tenable career anymore?”
Carper says that the pandemic temporarily took away FIDLAR’s reason for existence. “All of the stuff for FIDLAR, everything revolves around playing live,” he says. “That’s why we wrote music, to play live shows. When that got taken away, it was like, what do we do now?”
Thankfully Carper, Kuehn and bassist Brandon Schwartzel decided to press on while founding member and guitarist Elvis Kuehn—Max’s brother—had no desire to return to FIDLAR’s frequently grueling tour schedule. “He was like, I am just kind of over it,” Kuehn says. “I feel completely opposite. I want to go and fucking tour again.”
Elvis’ departure left a noticeable absence in the group that FIDLAR has decided to fill with new guitarist Michael Crain—who is in Dead Cross with vocalist Mike Patton among other projects—during their shows. “Michael is playing guitar live because I don’t think Zac could shred and sing at the same time,” Kuehn says.
“I can’t hack it, man!” Carper exclaims.
The other two songs that have been released from the upcoming EP explore the extremes of the band’s sound. “FSU” is a lurching grunge song about substance abuse, while “Sand on the Beach” is a sunny, smirking pop punk nugget. “I think those are our two modes,” Carper says. “It’s kind of yin and yang in that way. I love fucking poppy, really simple shit, but I also love to scream.”
The EP was recorded at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La Studio and produced by Grammy-winning producer Dave Sardy, who has a dizzying amount of album credits to his name, from LCD Soundsystem to the Who to Oasis. “I think good producers just instill this confidence in the musician and artist,” Carper says of working with Sardy. “I think he nailed that part.”
What is apparent from FIDLAR’s new songs is that they are taking a more straightforward approach than on their last album, 2019’s overstuffed Almost Free. That final offering found the band straying far from their punk rock roots on songs including the Beastie Boys-inspired “Get Off My Rock,” the instrumental title track that employs horns, and most notably, the pop duet “Called You Twice,” where Carper sings with Grammy-nominated vocalist K.Flay. “I know it’s pretty polarizing,” Carper says of Almost Free. “People that really like our first two records don’t like that record, but then it also gained us this new level of fans that don’t really care about the fucking punk rock cred thing.”
Almost Free was more of a studio confection, while the band’s newest songs were written to be played live. “It [the new EP] was all about using the limitations that we have, which in general is where we shine,” Carper says
With the new EP coming out in the spring and a mini tour of 10 West Coast shows kicking off with their performance at The Catalyst on Feb. 17—before a brief run through Australia and New Zealand—FIDLAR are slowly gearing up for their next chapter. “We’re microdosing being in a band now,” Carper says. “We’re microdosing some tours right now. Then we’re going to macrodose.”
FIDLAR (Liily and Reckling opens) performs Friday, Feb. 17, at 9pm. $27 plus fees. The Catalyst, 1101 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. catalystclub.com