FIDLAR

FIDLAR
INTERVIEW WITH ZAC CARPER
INTERVIEW BY JEFF HO
PHOTO BY ALICE BAXLEY

The spawn of T.S.O.L.’s Greg Kuehn, as well as the son of world-class surfboard shaper, John Carper, along with Kuehn’s nephew, have collided to form FIDLAR, one of the fastest growing skate punk garage bands in America. Jeff Ho has been following the group, which includes: Zac Carper, Elvis Kuehn, Max Kuehn and Brandon Schwartzel, since its early days and he decided it was time for their Juice Magazine debut. Jeff sat down with lead vocalist, Zac Carper, to find out what attributed to their meteoric rise to the top.

Hello, Zac.
Hi, Jeff. How are you? Is this THE Jeff Ho?

Yeah. It’s me.
This is pretty surreal. I’m a big fan of your work.

Oh, thanks. [Laughs] I’m a fan of your work too and I wanted to ask you some questions about how you came to be in the band. I know you’re from Hawaii.
Yeah. I was born and raised on the North Shore in Haleiwa. My dad is a surfboard shaper, so I grew up in the surf world. My dad is from Redondo.

Right on. Yeah. How old are you?
I’m 27. I moved to California when I was 17. I was just getting into so much trouble. Haleiwa is so small that it was one of those things where everybody knew everybody and I literally had the police telling me, “Okay, you need to get out of here or you’re going to end up in jail.” [Laughs] I had moved to Honolulu for a little bit and I used to live on Kapiolani and then I got into a really bad car accident. I was really into batu over there and I got really wrapped up into that whole Hawaii drug scene. I would always score at Aala Park, and we would twack out and go skating at Aala Skatepark. Finally, I was like, “I need to change my life around.” So I moved to California when I was 17.

What year was it when you came to the mainland?
That was ten years ago in 2005.

Did you ever hear of a band called 86 List?
Yeah. Josh86. Josh Hancock. I know Josh really well. I used to live right next to him. I know Josh and his brother, Travis, and Lucas. We used to always skate together. Otto was in that band too.

I knew Josh and I knew he had that band. I was wondering if you were in that crew. Are you a little bit younger than Josh?
Yeah. Those guys were a little older, but those were the bands that I grew up with going to shows. There were a bunch of bands from Hawaii that were punk or pop punk and there was the reggae thing going on too. Those bands were really influential to me, growing up on the North Shore, where you’re just kind of secluded from the entire world. Being able to see any kind of band live was a very rare thing.

That’s really interesting. So you made your way over to the mainland in 2005. How did you hook up with the Kuehn brothers and form your band Fidlar?
Well, when I moved to California. I interned for a recording studio and, eventually, I got a job there. I was secretly living at the recording studio without the owner knowing. I would be the first one to open up and the last one to close, so I was just crashing there for a while. Elvis started interning there and I just remember a day when nobody was recording and we were both really hung over and we smoked a joint and just jammed for five hours. It was super fun. That was the beginning. We were like, “Maybe we should start doing something.” Elvis was already in another band. I was living at the recording studio and writing songs and teaching myself how to use the gear, so I had all these songs that I had written.

Do you guys record yourselves?
On the first record, we did. On the second record, we wanted to work with somebody, so we had someone produce and engineer it. It was one of those things where I wanted to learn more about that world and I wanted to experience that. We did the first record ourselves, and I was like, “Okay, we’ve done that already. Maybe it’s time to try something different.” [Laughs] It’s a lot of work, man. I made myself go nuts on that first record because I was engineering and producing and I wrote the songs and I was singing. It was just overload for me.

Did you do the music and the lyrics?
Mostly both. That’s how it usually works with our band. I’ll come up with the song structure and then present it to the band and they’ll add their flavor to it. There have been some moments where we have created songs out of just jamming. Our songs are pretty much songwriter kind of songs with three chords. There are some guitar shreds and stuff like that, but it’s pretty structural. It’s all songs that are written sitting down with an acoustic guitar.

Crazy. They are interesting songs. I listen to your first album a lot and I got to listen to the second album that just came out. That’s why I asked about the recording because the second album seems a little different. It wasn’t quite as fast and there was a lot of harmony in the singing.
Well, there was this whole aspect of the second record that’s the same as the first record, where I love using the studio as an instrument, and the studio includes Pro Tools. [Laughs] With Pro Tools, I look at it like a canvas for a painting, so I use Pro Tools to do weird edits and I kind of use it as an instrument. I really wanted to get that aspect on the second record, so the producer and I used plug-ins to get a certain sound, like an acid trip. On some of the songs, I wanted to make it sound like a kid tripping on acid in a meth house or something. I’m all about feelings for songs. I feel like music has to portray feelings.

Have you ever listened to Lou Reed?
Oh yeah. He’s my top favorite. Growing up in Hawaii, there was not much of a selection of music, but Lou Reed was one that I listened to. My sister’s boyfriend was in this band called Buckshot Shorty and he gave me a bunch of music. He gave me a Velvet Underground CD and it kind of changed my life. I don’t know if it was in a good way, but it definitely changed my life. [Laughs] There’s other stuff that I listened to because I was growing up on an island. I listened to a lot of Sublime growing up because it was such a beach culture.

Did you surf and skate growing up and which one did you do first?
I skated first. I built a half pipe in the backyard, me and my neighbors. Travis used to come to it sometimes to skate. Travis had a mini ramp too. It was one of those things. Everybody surfed, so there was a crew of us that were like, “We’re going to skate.”

Did you ever go to Cholos?
Yeah. Steve is like family. His bowl is sick. We used to go to parties up there. They threw mental parties. It was crazy.

So you grew up skating and surfing.
Yeah. We skated and I grew up surfing because my dad was a pro surfer and a surfboard shaper, so it was pretty prevalent in my world. Growing up, I was always going to contests and I hated it. I was like, “Oh, god, I have to go to the U.S. Open.” It’s because it was something that I was forced to do as a kid. It was almost like a soccer dad kind of thing. When I turned 12, 13 and 14, I got super into it.

That leads to the family question. Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Yeah. I have a sister.

Does she surf or skate?
No. She does most of our photography and stuff like that. My dad is the only one that surfs. My mom is from Tokyo, so she still speaks broken English.

I didn’t know your mom was Japanese.
Yeah. I’m half hapa and half Irish.

I met your dad a few times.
Oh really? Wow. Oh yeah, that makes sense.

I used to live in Pupukea in the ‘90s, and the early 2000s. I had a spot up on top of the hill by the Heiau and then everybody had to move down to the coffee plantation by Waialua, so I lived in Waialua for a minute.
That’s where I grew up. Kukea Circle.

Wow. Who taught you the most about music?
It was records mostly. My grandpa taught me how to play piano. Ever since then, I just knew that I wanted to play music, even though I surfed a lot as a kid.

Do you still go in the water and surf a lot?
Oh yeah. I surf more than I skate now.

What was your first punk rock show?
It was probably 86 List when I was ten. Wait. I saw BS 2000 and Le Tigre at Pipeline Cafe and it changed my life.

Pipeline Cafe. Wow. Right on. What was your first job? Did you have any jobs when you were a kid?
Yeah. I worked on a pig farm in front of V-Land. I worked all kinds of weird jobs. I worked at the school. I did construction on those houses right by Foodland, going up Pupukea Road, by Shark’s Cove. I used to shape boards for my dad too. He would pay me $12 a board and it took me four hours to make a board. [Laughs]

Really? Was that down in Waialua?
That was at the Sugarcane Factory, at the mills.

Nice. Let’s talk more about the band. So you met Elvis first?
Well, I actually met Brandon first, the bass player, but we were just partying. He was in different bands and then, when the band came about, he was like, “Yeah. I’ll join the band.” That was cool.

How long did it take you to write the songs for the new album?
Well, I just kind of write songs as I go through life, I guess, but it took about two years. The first record came out and we went on tour for about three years and I would write on tour. When it was time to write the second record, I focused my energy on writing.

Did you ever lock yourself in a room or were you out on the road thinking about stuff while you’re cruising around?
This is what is pretty funny and it’s cool to talk about this with you because you get this. Writing the second record, I wrote a lot of songs for it, but a lot of them became really bad songs. I was getting really frustrated and I was like, “Why am I writing these shitty songs?” I took a road trip to clear my head. I put my surfboard inside my Volvo station wagon and I had a mattress in the back and I went up the coast in summertime and crashed on the beach and went surfing every day and crashed in my car. I was listening to a lot of music that I listened to growing up in Hawaii. I listened to a lot of reggae too because that was a big thing in Hawaii growing up, even a lot of that really bad Jawaiian music.

Kualoa Ranch… the Smoke Out.
Exactly. [Laughs] I wrote most of those songs on that road trip with an acoustic guitar. I was mostly writing in my head as I was driving. It was a lot of just thinking about songs. This new record, a lot of the melodies were thought about in my head first before I had the guitar and I’ve never really done that before. Usually, you get a guitar and you get some chords and you base some melody around the chords, but this time I just thought of melodies and then based the chords around the melodies.

What about the songs that you wrote and threw out? Do you still have those somewhere?
Yeah. I still have those. It’s funny because the longer that I spend away from them, I start noticing the good parts about those songs and they’ll start appearing in other songs to make one good song. If I have ten bad songs, I can focus my energy and probably make one good song out of those ten bad songs. [Laughs]

Right on. I’ve done shit like that. I put stuff up and then I’ll revisit it later. Do you ever surf or skate when you’re on tour?
Yeah. I skated a lot when I was on tour. I got hurt a lot.

Do you live in L.A. or Orange County or what?
I’m kind of a vagabond to be honest. I just move around. I don’t really have a place yet.

That’s cool. You get to go do whatever you need to do. You’ll be going on tour with this new album right?
Yeah. We’re going to be on the road with this new album for like a year straight pretty much.

That’s great. I plan to go see some of your shows. Going back to surfing. What is your favorite surf spot?
I grew up in front of Leftovers in Hawaii. Chun’s Reef was the spot where I learned how to surf and I loved Chun’s Reef. I remember there was this little baby tiger shark that used to come around and we would call him Tony the Tiger. He’d swim by and pop his little fin up and we would be like, “Oh, look, there’s Tony.” I would say Chun’s was probably my favorite, but it’s super crowded now. Have you been back to the North Shore lately?

No. It’s been a little while since I’ve been back there. I meant to go back for the last few years. I still have a spot there on the North Shore up by Sunset, closer to Hancocks.
Sick. Hell yeah.

I have some team rider guys that live down by Waialua and Allen Sarlo has a place right at Backyards. I hope to go back again soon. Why? What are you saying it’s like there now?
It’s just super crowded.

I heard there was a stoplight now at the bottom of the hill by Foodland.
Yeah. It’s gotten next level crazy. I went back at Christmas time to see my mom and dad and I was pretty blown away by it. It blew my mind a little bit. It was pretty sad actually.

Wow. Let me ask you what your mom and dad think about what you’re doing.
My parents have always been like, “Well, Zac is going to do what Zac wants to do.” I guess from growing up on the North Shore, it was pretty open. It’s a different world out there. I didn’t really have to go to school. My dad was like, “If the waves are good, you don’t have to go to school, Zac.” They are really stoked now actually. It just took a while to gain my friendship again with my parents because I was kind of a mess when I was a teenager.

Well, the lyrics in your songs speak to the youth and I believe that your lyrics are timeless throughout all the eras.
Thanks, man.

They’re really good. Here’s a question for you. You’ve had a lot of songs appear on TV shows and video games. Which are you the most stoked on?
My friend, Adrian Adrid, rides for this company called Heroin Skateboards and he used one of the covers I did of a Bob Marley song on his part of the skating and I thought that was really rad. He was this guy that I grew up with in Hawaii and he’s killing it in skating now.

Right on. You guys started out screen printing your own t-shirts. How did you learn how to do that?
We started out screen printing over other people’s t-shirts and we just upgraded to buying blank t-shirts. [Laughs] We just forced ourselves to learn it. The internet is a pretty amazing tool and we just got emulsion and a screen and we turned the lights off in a dark room and started screening. Growing up in the world of surfing and skating, you get a lot of clothes from trade shows and things like that, so I collected a bunch of clothes. I got all these Hurley and Quiksilver t-shirts and we’d screen print over them, so it would just say FIDLAR over them. We would just sell them for $1 or give them out for free. It was just someone else’s shirt with the word FIDLAR over top of it.

[Laughs] Yes! That’s great. That is so funny. That is outrageous. Who is the most sarcastic dude in your band?
It’s probably me. I kind of like fucking with people a lot, so I’ve had some problems actually. I like getting people riled up sometimes.

I do too. [Laughs] Okay, whose idea was the name FIDLAR?
Actually, FIDLAR was a skate crew before it was a band. I was living with this guy, Elijah Berle. Well, I had a place and everybody was crashing on the floor. It was Elijah Berle, Adrian Adrid, David Bowens, Sam Muller and all these L.A. skater kids. We were all just partying a lot and we would say “FIDLAR” all the time. It was like a thing. It was like, “Come on, man, bomb that hill. FIDLAR. Go for it, dude.” I kept telling these kids that we needed to make FIDLAR a skate company or something. We’d always go to parties and roll around together and I kept trying to get somebody to do something with that name, but it’s just like every 19-year-old skater. It was like, “Yeah, totally, man,” and then nothing happens. Finally, I started a band, and I needed a name for it and no one was doing anything with it, so I was like, “I’m going to call the band FIDLAR.”

That’s cool. Who does most of the films and edits on your videos?
That’s my brother-in-law, Ryan. It’s a family operation.

That’s the way to do it. With your song “Cocaine,” what didn’t make it into the music video for that song? [Laughs]
There were a couple of things. Because of where we live, in the ghetto of East L.A., when he was going out and pissing on stuff, there were some crazy gangster dudes walking by like, “What the fuck!” [Laughs] There were some crazy reactions that we didn’t use. It was funny. We spent our entire budget on a fake penis for the music video. The entire budget went to a fake penis that shoots out water at a ridiculous length. We had to make it specifically to do that.

I saw that and I was like, “Wow. He can’t be peeing that hard.” [Laughs] I was just busting up. Where was your first FIDLAR show?
It was at Culver City skatepark.

Are you serious? I heard the lyrics on one of your songs and you were talking about Culver City and I was like, “What?”
It was at that skatepark over there in Culver City. We would set up and they had an outlet by the bathroom, so we would put all of our amps and the PA through that outlet and then we’d play shows.

Were these organized shows or did you just roll up to the skatepark and plug in and play?
It wasn’t really organized. There were these bike rides where people would stop through there. We would wait for them to come there and we would play and leave right after.

So you know the guys from the Shrine.
[Laughs] Yeah, we do. We started out with those guys. Those guys are all cool.

What kind of guitar do you like playing most?
I play a Telecaster. I like Telecasters. I also like really simple guitars. I like guitars with just one knob that I can throw around. I don’t like anything too complicated or too nice. I don’t like fancy expensive guitars. I like really shitty guitars, so if I break it, it’s fine. Squires. [Laughs]

In your opinion, who is the greatest rock n’ roll showman of all time?
I don’t know. That’s a hard one. I’m a big Jackson Browne fan, but he’s not really a rock guy.

Jackson is cool though. Okay, what is the most ridiculous thing that you’ve ever gotten the audience to do at one of your shows?
I make the audience sit down. That’s my new thing. At the end of the set, before the last song, I’m like, “Everybody sit down and chill out.” I’ve gotten like 1,000 or 1,500 kids to just sit down. It’s pretty amazing.

[Laughs] That’s great. Tell me about the Mom and Pop company.
Oh, they’re great. They’re the best record label around. They let us do whatever we want, which is a rare thing.

Right on. Some bands complain about the internet and not getting paid for some of their music. What is your take on that?
I like the Internet. I’m all for it. Make it work. Adapt. It sucks that bands don’t get paid as much, but you have to adapt.

Sometimes you guys DJ at parties and shows. What is your DJ name?
My DJ name is DJ Spotify because I use Spotify to DJ.

[Laughs] Okay. Clippers or Lakers?
Lakers.

What movies do you like to watch over and over again?
I watch “That’s Life” the skate video, more than anything.

That’s cool. Best tattoo you ever got?
I’ve got a tattoo of Hawaii on my wrist, so I like that one.

How many tattoos do you have?
I have a couple.

Who is the most creative tattoo artist, in your opinion?
[Laughs] All of my tattoos are done by me, so I’d have to say that I’m the most creative tattoo artist around.

[Laughs] That’s good. What’s the deal with Elvis’ side project, Small Wigs?
They’re great. It’s him and his girlfriend.

Nice. How does it feel to come home to L.A. after you’ve been out on tour?
It’s very trippy. L.A. is the best place in the world.

 

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