Despite sporting a single record of fourteen loud, raw punk songs that scream lines like “I DRINK CHEAP BEER, SO WHAT? FUCK YOU” and “All I want for breakfast is my good cocaine,” the young man who picked up my phone call was surprisingly tame and level-headed – not the laid-back, carefree drawl of an experienced partier, as I expected. No matter how I poked, joked and prodded, Max Kuehn, drummer of four-year-old garage punk band FIDLAR, didn’t break his professional demeanor for even a second.
“I can see how people can come to those conclusions with the lyrics [in] some of the songs, but at the end of the day, if you’re a touring band and you’re making records – you’re producing your own records, recording your own records, touring and doing all this shit – you really can’t be a slacker,” Kuehn said. “It just doesn’t really apply.”
Formed in Los Angeles in 2009, FIDLAR (which is an acronym for “Fuck It Dog, Life’s a Risk”) has been a touring band for just four years but already has played for audiences in Japan, Australia and all over Europe with bands like The Hives and The Pixies, with whom they are currently touring the U.S. The band has put out several EPs, but their first full-length record FIDLAR dropped just last January.
It takes a little digging to see where these lyrics and – as a quick Google search for FIDLAR interviews will show you – the reputation for debauchery come into play. Behind the calm, formal mien is a history of wild nights of booze and music. Kuehn explained that most of the songs off that record were based on the experiences they had before becoming a band – drinking, partying and “trying to figure shit out.”
“That’s how we got started – we would just drink and hang out and record songs and stuff and just party all the time,” he said.
Moreover, however, he revealed there was an overarching musical goal behind the band’s formation, a sort of lash back against the popular music of the time:
“At that time – and now, too – it was a lot of really shitty bands with synths and stuff. I mean, I like synths in music, but in a certain way. It was just a lot of really lame, over-thought stuff, where it’s like people are listening to too much Radiohead and having these crazy things where they need to make everything super complicated and have all these crazy parts and stuff. When we started, it was more like, ‘Let’s just fucking do a rock band with a guitarist, bassist and drums, where we just write fun songs.’ So it’s not this super complicated, over-thought thing. … It seemed like at the time when we started, there was a lot of people trying to one-up each other with their auto-harps and shit. I mean… just play.”
Still, according to Kuehn, he and his bandmates never had very high expectations of the band, considering its humble beginnings just jamming in a garage. It was only after playing the CMJ Music Marathon in 2011 that the boys realized they had something great brewing between their instruments. After that, it was what Kuehn called a “snowball effect”: Suddenly they had huge gigs, managers and record deals with a slew of labels, including Mom + Pop Music here in the U.S.
Despite seemingly low expectations, however, Kuehn admitted that playing music was always his goal. His dad, who was also a touring musician, taught both him and his brother Elvis, who plays guitar and sings for FIDLAR, to play instruments from a very young age.
“There’s a picture of me on my first birthday playing a drum set,” he said. “It wasn’t really a choice, but it wasn’t something I was bummed out to be doing either. It wasn’t forced down my throat or anything, but it was just always there.”
He added with a laugh that if he weren’t playing music, he’d be “probably working at The Coffee Bean or something.”
Perhaps the only kiddish thing about him was that Kuehn didn’t seem to have any concrete plans for the future – he hadn’t a clue about the band’s next record (from “once we get back from this tour” to “I actually really have no idea”), let alone where their careers might take them in five or ten years – but he also didn’t seem too worried about it. Not in the careless way, but in the way that requires a substantial amount of confidence and maturity.
“It’s already gotten so much farther from what we initially thought the band was,” he said. “I just hope that we just keep doing what we’re doing and nothing changes. … As long as we’re paid and having fun, it’s all good.”
For our Jersey readers, FIDLAR will be making up a postponed show here opening for The Pixies on Tuesday, Jan. 28, at the Prudential Center.