T.S.O.L.'s Greg Kuehn Talks About His Punk Rock Progeny FIDLAR: "I took Max Downtown to get a fake ID because I get it, he's an adult, he should be able to hang out at a show at least"
Greg Kuehn and his sons from FIDLAR, Elvis and Max
And yes, you could also make the case that Fidlar's success was meant to be. Even before the Kuehns hit puberty, Elvis, 21 and Max, 20, had already played with punk legends like the Adolescents, the Adicts and the Germs. Now that they've signed a record deal with Mom & Pop, and are hitting Santa Ana for the Burger Records show at the Observatory on Saturday, their dad Greg talks about just how proud he is of his children.
OC Weekly: Here's an easy one to start. Do you like Fidlar's music?
Greg Kuehn: I love it, they're my favorite band in the whole world.
Were you surprised that your kids went into music and are now getting a lot of attention?
I wasn't surprised...it seemed like a natural thing for them to do. They loved music from an early age--they've been doing it a long time already! And I always thought they'd have some success at it because of the Diffs, their earlier band. They're both really talented musicians, so it's great that they're doing what they want to do. It's what we all hope for, you know?
Back in the day T.S.O.L. had a reputation for tearing things up, and now Fidlar's doing the same thing. What do you think of that?
Here's the thing. When I started out in T.S.O.L., I was their age. So it's age-appropriate stuff. We (T.S.O.L.) still play but I do music for TV and movies mostly, and I have other bands. And now, T.S.O.L. is such a little slice of what I've done--and I still love it, I still do it, but I would say that what Fidlar doing is what you should be doing at that age. And my kids have been doing this since they were 11--they toured with the Adicts, opened for the Germs, Adolescents and Agent Orange. They were the hidden secret of punk rock. They were influenced by West Coast punk rock, from 1978 to 1981. They loved that music. And those were the guys that, when I was 19, I was playing in bands with! So Fidlar is the perfect place for them to be. They're having fun, writing great songs, and playing great shows. It's honest youth music.
Do you think T.S.O.L. and Fidlar are very similar?
Fidlar can set up at a party with one plug and play a great show. They don't care, they don't need a big production. And there's a DIY aesthetic that carries throught for both bands. Like, fuck it, we'll release our own records. We'll book our own shows. We'll play a house. We don't need a booker, promoter. We don't need anybody, we can do it ourselves. That's what punk rock originally was, how it was for us in T.S.O.L. That's DIY. We don't need your whole industry, your whole system.
And it's interesting with the change in the record business, they don't even care about all that. They're like, whatever, we'll put out out a 7-inch. We don't care if the industry is crashing, we'll do what we do and figure out a way to make it work. And ironically, they have a record deal! (Laughs.) It's like when you don't care and do it from the heart, cause it matters to you, then things start to happen. They're not calculated, they don't care about making it. I'm really proud of them for that.
What do your friends and contemporaries think of Fidlar?
All my friends love Fidlar. They're universally loved because they're really genuine. And they're a kick-ass punk garage surf band. I love all the boys in the band; they've all been coming to our house even before they were a whole band.
And besides, [with my kids]--we have the same DNA. If they write a song I'm going to like it. That's just the way it is. I'm locked in. When I hear a Fidlar song, I know where they're going with it. It's automatic. But everybody seems to love them. I can't say anything bad about them. They're great! They're my favorite band! I love their songs, I love to see them play, I love what they do. Obviously I'm biased but I can't think of a band I like better--especially not a new band--but I'd rather see Fidlar than anybody.
They're all really good musicians, and they're so good that they don't overplay. That's the mark of a mature musician--there's a lot of guys who can play well and are technical masters of their instrument, but just want to show off. [Fidlar] have been musicians for so long, they just play what's necessary, what the song needs. So what stands out is the essence of the song, and you can hear the nuances of the instruments.
And when they play a show, they're one unit. And that's what amazes me. They're very musically mature. .. it's funny cause they have songs about beer and stuff, but they all really understand music well and they play as a unit together, so when they play, they're locked together and they're like a machine. I admire that so much about my kids. They don't show off as musicians, even though they're really skilled. They show their talents in subtle ways and they serve the music. To have that maturity at such a young age is really impressive to me.
What were Elvis and Max like as kids?
They were really good kids, they played a lot of sports. I play a lot now--I'm in Suedehead too and the Black Diamond Riders, and I have a fun musical things going on, I have that record The Great Unwashed with Duane Peters. But when they were young I wasn't playing a whole lot live. So we did all the sports--soccer, basketball and music. They were just like normal kids. But at some point the music turned on. By the time they were 8 or 9 it was on for them as musicians; they wanted to see live bands, they were digging through my records and listening to the Germs. I didn't push this punk rock stuff on them at all. They just discovered it on their own.
So it wasn't crazy in your house, since you and your kids were in punk bands?
We don't have an anarchic household because we're in punk bands...there's a lot of band stuff going on, but we were fairly strict parents, we keep them on the right path.
It's funny; not a lot of people know it, but Elvis is going to graduate from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in composition. The kid works so hard; he handles a lot of the business stuff for Fidlar and he's a serious composer. He'll be staying up all night writing cello parts, then will be up the next morning doing mastering sessions for Fidlar. And he is a great keyboardist too so he's playing the Hammond organ on someone's record...he's really busy.
And people say Fidlar got so big so fast, but these kids are veterans. They've been in bands since they were 10. That's a serious commitment. They were on tour when they were in high school, with the Adicts. Their childhood might not be typical, but it was still structured. Playing music was so much fun that we did all we could to encourage them.
I suppose you had to drive them to a lot of their shows because they were underage.
[Laughs.] Max is still not 21, and he plays at Alex's Bar and he still can't stay! He's 20! So he'll be 21 in July, and he can't wait. Sometimes a fake ID works but not always. He's a couple--like maybe five--and at some point they get taken away. But I took him downtown to get a fake ID because I get it, he's an adult, he should be able to hang out at a show at least, you know? So I didn't have a problem with that.
But they both live at home and they're older now, so I'm kind of an executive parent in a way. We still talk a lot and I'm still involved in their lives but they're grown men, it's more overview parenting, I'm just there for them, help them navigate in a way. I get to be there and enjoy it all. I'm so proud of them.
Do they ever ask you for musical advice?
My kids are really good. They know what they're doing, and they don't really need me involved. But we do share [what we're doing]--I probably care more about their opinion than they do about mine! [Laughs.] But they're really capable, so they don't anyone holding their hand and telling them what to do.
I'm blessed to be as involved as I am their lives...because just the idea of my parents coming to one of my shows when I was 18, when T.S.O.L. was playing "Code Blue," was scary. I didn't want my parents coming to that!
Fidlar will perform at Burgerama with Off!, Wavves, Strange Boys, White Fence, King Tuff and many more at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. Sat., 5 pm. $15-$25. All ages. observatoryoc.com.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.