“I drink cheap beer. So what? Fuck you.”
This is the chorus of the first song of the first album by L.A. skate punks FIDLAR, and as far as mission statements go, it doesn’t get much clearer than that.
Of course, cheap beer is the mildest substance that FIDLAR ingests over the course of that record’s 36 minutes. There will be lines of speed, an eight ball of blow, and a half pound of weed. And not to belabor the point, but all of that happens before the band even reaches the first chorus of the first song of its first album. The closing track is called “Cocaine”. It’s followed by a hidden track called “Cheap Cocaine”.
Fuck it, dog: Life’s a risk. FIDLAR. There’s another mission statement for you.
This cavalier attitude extends to footwear, as well. When I call FIDLAR’s Brandon Schwartzel earlier this week, he’s in the frozen tundra of New Jersey and facing the consequences. “I’ve come to find out that having Vans with holes in them isn’t great for the snow.”
FIDLAR is not built for the snow. “We’re, like, L.A. boys. We’re definitely not used to this kind of shit.”
But when the Pixies ask you to open for them, you lace up your holey shoes and risk the frostbite.
FIDLAR visits the Strathmore this Sunday. How’s the Pixies tour going?
It’s been insane. It’s just so crazy to watch that band every night. We’ve had three shows with them so far and it just keeps getting better and better. I’ve watched the whole set and been like, “Oh my god! This is crazy!” It’s pretty cool.
Had you been fans of the band?
We all are. They’re one of our favorite bands. It’s pretty insane. I grew up listening to them, stealing my older brother’s Pixies CDs.
Best Pixies record?
[Sighs] I go back and forth. I mean, it’s definitely… Ah, man. If I have to pick, I’d probably say Surfer Rosa. That’s probably my favorite. But I definitely go back and forth a lot. There’s a war inside me.
This tour has been one of several big opportunities since the record’s release a year ago. What have been some highlights for you?
Man, it’s crazy that it’s only been a year – it feels like so much shit has happened. I mean, a lot of shit has happened. Just the album coming out was kind of a big deal. None of us had ever put out an album before – with old bands or FIDLAR or anything. That was definitely a moment for us.
We went to Japan twice. We went to Australia. We went to Europe three or four times, which is just insane. Australia was probably the biggest highlight, because I never thought that I’d ever go there, and it was really cool. And this Pixies tour is just insane.
What has surprised you most?
It’s all been really surprising. The four of us have played music since we were kids. We’ve all been in bands before. But I was in a band that tried to get signed. We were trying to get on tour. It was all of those things that you think about when you’re starting a band. It’s weird that once we stopped trying for those things, everything took off.
FIDLAR got together for fun. We started recording songs together because we liked playing together, and, like, writing about the stuff that we wanted to write about – being kind of raw and honest in our approach. It’s just insane that that’s what took off. Every time that a new opportunity comes along, it’s, like, the best thing ever. It just keeps coming. We’re like, “Oh my god! What’s going on?” It’s really cool. And it’s rewarding, because we did work hard on making our music and our merchandise and our videos. We’re very much still a DIY band. It’s not like it just kind of happened. It’s cool to see it getting out to as many shitty punk kids as possible. [Laughs]
Do you think that people undervalue that effort?
We definitely get that slacker-stoner title tagged on to us a lot, which makes total sense, because of the song content and everything. We’re not like, “Why would anyone ever think that?!?” It’s, like, we have songs called “Wake, Bake, Skate”, you know? But it is something that people tend to focus on more than actually realizing the work that we’ve done as a band. You can’t be a stoner-slacker and produce your own record in a studio that you built in your house after making three hundred shirts for your tour. We’re not all “up and at ‘em” – we’re more, like, productive fuck-ups or something. [Laughs] We’ll get stoned and be like, “Let’s make a video!” Or we’ll get stoned and record a song, whereas other people just look at the TV screen. I mean, we do that too. [Laughs] We try to be as productive as possible.
Why build your own studio and handle production yourself?
We started in the recording studio. We used to sneak into a studio where Zach and Elvis used to work. That’s how they met, actually – working at that recording studio. We would sneak in after hours and record songs together. This was before we were like, “Let’s start a band!” It was just a matter of whoever could be there, we’d all get together – the four of us and some other friends – and record songs. We really liked that part of being in a band. We like the recording part. For our first album, we didn’t think of it as something that we chose to do. It was like, “Why would we not?” It naturally happened. It was like, “Of course we’re going to record it in a studio that we’re going to build. What better way is there?”
You said in the fall that the band was hoping to write and record in November and December. Did that end up happening?
Well, there was a little bit more writing than recording. We had a short break [from touring] from the beginning of November until we started this Pixies tour, and we all just needed a break. We realized that we had we been like, “Yeah! We’re gonna go home and start on the next record!” And then we got home and were like, “We just have to get back to real life a little bit.” We hadn’t been for more than two weeks in a year. We all have family and friends.
There’s definitely been some writing – more separately than collectively. But we don’t have anything planned for after this tour, other than being back home and starting to work on the next record. Once this tour ends, we’re going to hit the ground running. At the end of 2013, though, we need to kind of chill out, which was good, because everyone is really excited to get back to work now. It probably wouldn’t have been a good idea for us to dive right into it. I think we all need some space.
How does the band take to life on the road?
We all feel pretty lucky to go on the road and go all of these places that most bands – or even people, in general – don’t get to visit. We definitely try to soak it in as much as we can. Sometimes it’s hard, because you roll into town and you’re at the venue for, like, the show and then you have two hours after the show before you pass out, and then you leave the next morning. You do the best you can, I guess. It’s definitely nice when you get a day off in a town, where we can actually go and check it out.
It seems like you get along pretty well.
Yeah, there’s no tension. Me and Zach live together, and we have for years. Max and Elvis are brothers. And we’ve all been best friends for four or five years. We get along really well. We’re kinda all like brothers – we know when to be like, “Alright, maybe I shouldn’t hang out with this person today.” We’ve learned to find each other’s space and be respectful of it. That’s kind of a rare things in bands – that we all get along and vibe off each other so well, and know when to engage and when not to.
Given the physicality that the band plays with, have you sustained any injuries?
There’s definitely some wear and tear. I’ve gotten a few black eyes from shows. There’s general soreness. I have bruised ribs at the moment. Zach has been hurting. There have been twisted ankles. It’s nothing major, like a broken leg or hand or something. Our shows get wild, but it’s a fun wild. It’s not a violent wild where kids are getting hurt. We like playing with as much energy as possible and we want the crowd to have the same energy, but we also don’t want big, tough guys beating up each other. That’s just fucking stupid.
The band has shown a softer side on occasion – the “Awkward” single, “Gimme Something”, the Elliot Smith cover. Is that a direction you’ve considered exploring further?
We never give ourselves rules or a file when it comes to songwriting. Our band is what it is, and we just write the songs that we’re feeling. Sometimes you feel like you want to play a fast punk song, and sometimes you want to do something slower or acoustic. We’re very much a band that’s in the moment – that’s how we approach everything. Sometimes you just don’t want to play as loud as you can all of the time. [Laughs] Maybe you want to do something a little more vibey. I don’t know if we’ll explore it more or less. It also sometimes based on the song. [In an exaggerated stoner voice] Sometimes the song writes you, man. [Laughs]
Why was “Awkward” left off the album?
That was a song that we wrote after the album was kind of done. What ended up becoming the album was already set in our heads. “Awkward” was a song that was written later, at a different time for the band. That song was written when stuff started happening, and we were just like, “Meh. Maybe this song is just better as a single.”
Maybe it’ll be on the next album. It just kind of played out that way. We were like, “I don’t know – let’s just put it out.” We just don’t really think about this stuff too much, to be honest. [Laughs] We don’t have tons of strategy in our band. It’s just whatever we feel like doing when we feel like doing it.
What’s the story behind the “Cocaine” video?
That was Nick Offerman’s whole idea. Elvis and Max have been family friends with him for a long time. Elvis had been e-mailing him, like, “If you ever want to be in a video, let us know.” He had sent him our music and was showing him our record one night. I guess [Nick] listened to it, because he e-mailed back that whole idea. It’s the fucking funniest e-mail that I’ve ever read in my entire life. It was so perfect, too. He was just describing in the e-mail about how he wanted to have a fake penis and piss all over Los Angeles. We were like, “Uh, yeah. That’s perfect. When do you want to do it?” We shot it all in one day near where Zach and I live, and that was it.