By Chad Swiatecki
Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 5, 2013
Fidlar have gone from the bowels of the Los Angeles punk and party scene – gathering the personal fuel for songs like "Cheap Beer," "Cocaine" and "Stoked And Broke" – to playing just about every festival out there over the last 18 months. In November they preceded the release of their self-titled debut album with a set at Fun Fun Fun Fest, and on Friday we talked to band members Elvis Kuehn (guitar/vocals) and Brandon Schwartzel (bass/vocals) after a raucous Austin City Limits Fest set, but before they’d had a chance to empty too many six packs.
This show seems like it had some more rhythmic variety to it compared to the last time I saw you. Am I wrong, or are you changing it up.
Kuehn: That might have been the Nick Cave cover ("Red Right Hand") that Brandon was singing. We had a little bit longer of a set today, so we tried to change things up a little bit.
How long have you been touring?
Schwartzel: We’ve been nonstop on tour since June of last year, so about a year and a half of just tour after tour after tour.
What’s been the most memorable show?
Kuehn: They’re been lots of really cool ones. London was great. Our shows in Australia were awesome.
Schwartzel: We went to Australia for the first time and it was insane. We did like five shows and then did Splendor In The Grass (Festival).
What are Australian audiences like?
Schwartzel: They’re so rowdy. It’s weird to go to a place where you’ve never been before or never played before and it’s like that. Because when we play in L.A. and it’s rowdy, the people there know us. But to show up halfway around the world and the people are, like, going off and singing every word… that’s crazy.
I first heard you before you played Fun Fun Fun Fest and the singles you had out were really dirty and lo-fi. You record, though, it seems like you took some time and gave it a really complete sound. What was thinking, as far as being a fast/loud band making a more polished record?
Kuehn: The others were just demos. We had had a batch of songs and spent time on each one, to build them up. It was more of a process of everyone together putting input in.
Schwartzel: Listening to every instrument and getting the best tones and experimenting where we could. We did it at the place where me and Zac live. We took a month and hashed it out. We were all there every day from noon to midnight just plucking around with different sounds.
That seems like a long time for you guys to work on something. Were you sort of going crazy by the end?
Schwartzel: The unfortunate thing about having your own space to record is there’s no time limit. You’re not paying for each hour so you can get caught up and dissect each little thing. But that’s also the benefit of having your own studios, is that you have the time to make sure everything is how you want it and you can perfect it to a point but not going crazy. Then you hand it over so that it ca get mixed.
When do you know? Is it just a matter of running out of time?
Schwartzel: That’s the struggle to know ‘Is this in a good spot, or should we experiment with it some more?’ You don’t know. You listen to it constantly. We got most of the record mixed by Rob Schnapf and that’s what did it, having fresh ears on the recordings. We’d been in there for a month, just listening to things constantly, burning CDs and listening to it in our car over and over. At that point you’ve heard it so many times that you can’t even tell anymore.
What song gave you guys the most trouble? Or what one changed the most and was hardest to pin down?
Kuehn: There’s a song called "LDA" on there where we were trying to find a vibe for it, because it wasn’t really happening at first. We messed with that for a bit and tried a few different mixes because we couldn’t figure it out. Two of the songs we actually mixed ourselves and didn’t have Rob mix. I think it was "Whore" and "Gimme Something" and some of those sessions we’d started at a different studio and we were trying to work in these old sessions, and that was kinda tricky.
Did you have any misgivings about, as a punk band, doing lots of technology and equipment on a record? There’s some ethos where all you should do is get in there and play quickly, mix it and be done.
Schwartzel: We were definitely limited from working in our own studio because we just used what we had, and that’s not much. We borrowed gear and borrowed mikes and did as best we could. We really wanted to do it ourselves for that first record, where it’s our studio and our sound. We were all sound with how it turned out.
Give me a percentage here; how many of your songs are autobiographical. Because I had the though that ‘Man, if all this stuff is true, these guys have done some (stuff).’
Kuehn: They derive from true stories. A lot of them come from events.
Schwartzel: True events that maybe have been embellished. When we started the band, it’s like that’s what we were doing. Partying in L.A. and we weren’t planning on starting a band when we were doing it. We ended up making songs that were just about that time.