FIDLAR Experimented With New Sounds on “Almost Free” Because They Got Fuckin’ Bored

The West Coast punks have reached a new level of restlessness on their third album and most interesting collection of songs to date.

When I spoke to Zac Carper and Elvis Kuehn about Almost Free in mid-December, they were already over it. They’ve been done with the album for “fuckin’ forever,” and though excited to put it out into the world, they’re eager to make the next record. In fact, in a way they’ve already started the process.

“I’m kind of always just writing random stuff—recording voice memos and riffs, stuff like that,” Kuehn explains. “That’s the thing with our band, it’s not always like we’re sitting down to write a record. It’s more like there’s these little bits and pieces, and we kind of scatter them together and then they become things later.”

FIDLAR exercised that approach more than ever on their third and latest full-length album. When Kuehn describes the way they made Too, their 2015 sophomore release, he uses words like “sterile” and “routine.” The band had just come off touring their first album and had to jump in the studio to create its follow-up. This time around, they did things their way, at their own pace, and the result is what Kuehn considers a “new way of creating and collaborating that’s exciting.”

Almost Free is FIDLAR’s most interesting album to date, marrying Kuehn and Carper’s myriad influences—from psych rock to the Beastie Boys—and covering some heavy topics, including gentrification, relationships, sobriety, and politics. The band even snuck a K.Flay feature into the breakup ballad “Called You Twice.”

FLOOD chatted with Kuehn and Carper about working with Grammy-nominated producer Ricky Reed, their girls-only mosh pits, and how they’re challenging themselves to write “deeper shit than fart jokes.”

Zac, you’ve said this album is your most collaborative to date. I’m interested to hear how the songwriting process differed between this and the first two albums.

Zac Carper: Before, either me or Elvis would write a song and then show it to the band…this one, like Elvis was saying, is all kind of scattered.

How did everything come together then?

ZC: We were just [consciously] trying different things. In rock music there’s kind of a ceiling, where it’s like guitars, drums, bass. But we just got into a whole other world, where it was drum machines or horns or synthesizers or whatever it is. ’Cause we got fuckin’ bored.

“[The name] ‘Almost Free’ was sort of about music being devalued. People don’t really buy music as much nowadays.”

Elvis Kuehn

You worked with Ricky Reed, who helped find that balance between your different influences. How would you say working with him helped you grow as songwriters?

ZC: I would say what he really brought to the table was an open ear, and some things were just so simple. For example, on one song he had Elvis and I both sing and asked if we’d ever done that before. We were like, “No, we didn’t even think about that.” It’s just so simple, but then it’s just so clutch. He’s so good at bringing everything together. If we’ve got a verse melody, or literally just a voice memo, he’s able to help build it into a whole world.

Elvis Kuehn: I agree with all that, for sure. Personally, as a writer, what he helped me realize about myself is that I could bring different ideas to this band. Songs that I didn’t think fit into a FIDLAR sort of sound. “Can’t You See” was a demo that I didn’t really think we would ever do as FIDLAR. But then when he heard it, he pushed us to all work on it, and we collaborated on that a lot. So, for me, it just kinda helped open me up in a way that felt like there was really nothing we could or couldn’t do as a band. Like, having an instrumental song on the record—that was a big thing for me, too. I would’ve never even considered having [“Almost Free”] be instrumental. Then when he suggested that, it was just a different way of looking at things. There really aren’t rules when it comes to making albums. We were able to blend all these different influences and sounds that we wanted to use.

I’m sure it was liberating being able to break down those walls. And maybe a little intimidating.

EK: Yeah, it’s a combination of you getting bored with something, but also putting yourself in a situation where you’re not in your comfort zone. When you’re trying to get out of that, I think that’s when a lot of cool things start to happen. When you’re trying to push yourself to not just do the same thing.

I think it’s hard in the rock world, too. People associate you with that FIDLAR sound. Does it ever make you nervous, how your fanbase is going to react if you stray too far from your initial sound?

ZC: They did that with our second record. At this point it’s like, “Whatever, fuck ’em.” We’re making music for us. We had this conversation on the second record. For us to just keep making the first record over and over again—to me, that’s selling out, because it’s like we have a thing that works, let’s just keep doing the thing that works. But it’s like, that’s not really why we do this. We want to keep challenging ourselves. It’s the only way to grow; it’s the only way to fly, man.

EK: At the end of the day, worrying too much about what other people think is really just insecurity. We have insecurities too, and it can be scary to release music into the world, but at the end of the day, we want to put out the music that we want to put out. What somebody thinks of it or how they’re going to react isn’t really what’s important to me, and to us.

Almost Free is an interesting album title. I’m really curious about the story behind it.

ZC: You’re going to be highly disappointed with the story [laughs]. It’s actually pretty funny.

“For us to just keep making the first record over and over again—to me, that’s selling out, because it’s like we have a thing that works, let’s just keep doing the thing that works.”

—Zac Carper

EK: Let me just set the scene of where this was happening. It was in the south of France. We’re swimming in the Mediterranean, and it’s just the most beautiful day. And we were like, “Fuck, we need a name for the album.” We were thinking about just calling it “Three.” And then we were like, “What about things that rhyme with three?” So it was like, “Free.” Then it was like, “Why don’t we call it Free?” But then it came out as “Almost Free,” and that one stuck…it was sort of about music being devalued. People don’t really buy music as much nowadays. It just kept sticking with us when we thought about other options, because it has so many other meanings too.

The album covers some pretty heavy subject material—gentrification, politics, sobriety—but with that carefree FIDLAR ethos to it. Was that juxtaposition between the lyrical content and music intentional?

ZC: I think that’s kind of our sweet spot. It’s like the poor man’s speedball—it’s either happy-sounding songs with dark lyrics or dark-sounding songs with party lyrics. It’s this weird area FIDLAR lives in, where you’re like, “Oh, this is a party song. Wait a minute, these lyrics are fuckin’ gnarly.” Or it’s the other way around. So I guess, yeah, it’s a conscious thing we do.

This album seems particularly dark to me.

ZC: It’s probably because you can hear it. You can understand the lyrics. It’s actually mixed well [laughs].

But yeah, I understand that. Growing up, that’s like a thing. When we started the band Max [Kuehn] had just started high school, Elvis was going to college. I guess learning different words and just challenging ourselves to write about deeper shit than fart jokes and shit like that.

Fart jokes are still funny, though. It doesn’t matter how old you are.

ZC: I know, I know. It’s a universal language, the fart.

You’re known for your girls-only mosh pits and bringing bands with female-identifying leads with you on tour. You’re doing your part as allies, but what would you like to see the music industry as a whole do to stand up for gender equality?

EK: A big one is just treating people equally—equal pay for female musicians. My girlfriend is a bass player, and there’s a lot of creepy, shitty guys out there. She’ll be at a club, and some guy will treat her like she doesn’t know what the fuck she’s talking about. In general, I don’t know what could be done to fix that. I honestly think there’s just a lot of guys who are stupid and shitty, and I don’t know how to fix that.

Yeah, there are a lot of shitty guys out there. So thank you guys for not being two of them.

ZC: It just makes sense. It makes common sense. FL

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