After rehab, Zac Carper leaves FIDLAR party onstage, but it's still wild

After rehab, Zac Carper leaves FIDLAR party onstage, but it's still wild
Dressed as "Office Space" characters for the Beach Goth festival in Santa Ana are, from left, FIDLAR singer-guitarist Zac Carper, drummer Max Kuehn, lead guitarist-singer Elvis Kuehn and bassist Brandon Schwartzel. (Steve Appleford / Los Angeles times)

The young dudes of FIDLAR came to do business. They arrived on an outdoor festival stage in Santa Ana last weekend in matching office attire: blue dress shirts with white collars, red ties, suspenders and wire-rim glasses, and the thrashing garage rock quartet quickly worked up a sweat.

It was the weekend before Halloween at the Beach Goth festival, and the band's boardroom look was modeled after the comically insincere boss from the movie "Office Space." It hardly slowed down singer-guitarist Zac Carper, who unleashed a frenzied guitar riff before stepping to the mike to sing "No Waves," a manic party tune from 2013.


"I feel, feel like a crackhead / I feel, feel like I'm not gonna make it no more," he wailed, "Cause I'm on the floor / Just pick me up and give me some more."

He then grabbed his tie and yanked it up like a hangman's noose, signifying a life of playful self-destruction as the afternoon scene erupted with flailing musicians, tumbling crowd-surfers and splashes of water.

On the Los Angeles band's new album, "Too," the songs go even darker, with lyrics that examine a life of excessive partying and an ocean of drink, drugs and far too many casualties.

"That's basically how the last seven or eight years of my life has been," Carper said after FIDLAR's set, seated alone in the band's small dressing room trailer. But the noose is further away than it's been in years.

The popularity of the band's wildly inventive garage-punk songs has been expanding nationwide after the release of "Too," with the second of two sold-out nights at the Regent scheduled on Saturday. Carper is sober, and he's given up cigarettes. Now he does yoga every day.

On tour, Carper still performs the party anthems "Cheap Beer," "Wake Bake Skate" and "Cocaine" from the first album, without hesitation. "It takes a different light now," the singer explained. "It's like a character that I have to get into."

"What the new record is about is, 'Dude, life for me is ... hard and I use drugs to get over that,'" he said. "Now you take the medicine away, which was drugs, then I'm like a crazy person. I'm like psychotic now. I have mood swings. The only way I can deal with it is to write."

The storyline has shifted as his life has changed, but the musical energy is the same as ever from Carper, bassist Brandon Schwartzel, guitarist-singer Elvis Kuehn and his brother Max Kuehn on drums. Recorded in Nashville with producer Jay Joyce, the album stretches far beyond punk and garage band formulas, embracing a wide range of influences from across the decades.

"The biggest downfall of punk music is when it became a sound," said Elvis Kuehn. He and Max are the sons of keyboardist Greg Kuehn of the first-wave Southern California punk band TSOL. "It should never be a sound. Punk back in the day, a lot of bands sounded different but had the same aesthetic. We're open to be trying different styles."

The new album opens with the slashing guitars and raging vocal of "40 Oz on Repeat," a song Carper said is not about drinking but his memories of listening to Sublime as an isolated teen. "I would stay home and listen to Sublime because I didn't really fit in that much."

The first song he wrote for the album, "Bad Habits," was sketched out in rehab. The unhinged vocal of "Leave Me Alone" is about the intervention that got him back into rehab.

Most agonized is "Stupid Decisions," recounting the overdose death of his ex-girlfriend, who was pregnant with his child. The full horror of that life experience was revealed in interviews around the album release.

"It's kind of put me in the spotlight a little bit," he said, noting the many musicians he knows going through similar struggles. Fans in need have also responded. "There's kids that send the band emails, 'Hey, I need help.' I always make it a point to say, 'Call this guy; he'll help you out.'"


Carper grew up on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, and left the islands at 19, landing first in Orange County with a skinhead roommate before moving to L.A. and meeting Schwartzel. He got work as a studio engineer for Rob Schnapf, producer of records by Elliott Smith and Beck, and soon met Elvis Kuehn, a studio intern.

They went out for pizza one night and heard a Queens of the Stone Age song, "Millionaire," and got excited. "I was like, 'Dude, we should start a band!' He was, 'Yeah!'" Carper remembered.

The early days of FIDLAR, which is an acronym for a phrase unprintable here, were initially a studio songwriting and recording project. As a band, they began playing house parties and local punk and indie rock clubs. Carper's problems began to change the mood of the band on the road, almost breaking them up, he said.

At an early show opening for the hardcore band Off! at the Whisky a Go Go in 2012, Carper said, he found his way into the bathroom to shoot up. Later, during a tour, he was approached by Off! singer Keith Morris, sober now for decades. "I remember Keith coming up to me: 'Dude, you look terrible.' He knew what was going on," Carper said.

Last year, FIDLAR was playing another festival in this same parking lot, and Carper was in rehab. He needed a day pass to play the gig.

"Bad Medicine" was written by Schwartzel, representing the band's point of view on Carper's problems. The two were roommates for much of that time.

"That song's about what he went through with me. It was a hard song to hear at first, but now I get it. It took me a while to finally go ... 'That must have been really tough for him,'" Carper said. "He quit his bands to get in a band with me, a junkie. But we're better than we've ever been now."


FIDLAR, Dune Rats

Where: The Regent

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $18 to $25