When I was first told that I’m going to be interviewing Lias Saoudi, singer of the punky-alt-country-sleaze band Fat White Family, I was apprehensive. Firstly, because their 2013 record Champagne Holocaust was one of the best debut albums of the last twenty years; secondly, because Fat White Family was recently labelled by the NME as “The Most Dangerous Band In The World”. The group is infamous for their unhinged stage presence, obscene lyrics and general chaotic image. However, when I ask about that sort of coverage they get, he’s decidedly unimpressed.
“For them to say that about us is just testament to how truly tame and boring everything else is right now. I mean, it’s not like we’re breaking any boundaries or anything, y’know? People got naked and covered themselves in shit on stage like thirty years ago. It’s nothing new… I don’t think we’re doing anything unique or special.”
That last statement isn’t really said in a self-deprecating way; it seems like he’s genuinely tired of exactly that sort of hackneyed sensationalist journalism. It’s an unexpected start, and indicative of the rest of the interview. His opinion of the general music industry is very low, especially for the other big ‘rock’ bands like Kasabian, Royal Blood or The Arctic Monkeys,
“All those guys have gotta go man, for Christ’s sakes, how long are we gonna tolerate that kind of thing y’know? It’s despicable – it’s an insult to humanity that those guys are allowed to trace the borders as often as they do”
This aggressive humility of his is present in a lot of what he talks about, here again when we discuss the political aspect of the band,
“I don’t consider myself overtly politicised or even particularly well informed in that area you know, but it just seems to have become something you should maybe be embarrassed about, to have an opinion, and I thought that was kind of disgusting and irresponsible… [it’s] the attitude that people should have as responsible human beings, it’s all a bit shitty y’know. How can you not bring an element of that into your work? It’s like these people are dead inside.”
The general attitude seems to be that they were just playing about in the back room of their local and then the industry descended upon them, and they’re still a bit surprised.
“I’ve always found it very difficult to take myself seriously. I never really considered myself a musician, y’know. Cause you know I can play: I can play the guitar or bass or whatever but I don’t really consider myself very good at it, y’know, so it’s always feels like a real fluke to be allowed to do that.”
Their approach to things seems to have stayed pretty much the same, leading the intrusion of the corporate side in a pretty bizarre and unnatural way,
“You wanna be going to the pub screaming and shouting and having a drink and it’s all shits and giggles, and the next minute there’s like guys on phones you don’t even know discussing your shit, what they’re gonna do with it, how we’re gonna sell it to Australian people or whatever.”
The band have been involved in protesting against gentrification, largely focused around the ‘Yuppies Out!’ group, and so their opinion on the state of London is pretty low,
“I think it’s fucking in decline, yeah. I moved here ten years ago and between then and now it’s definitely gone to the fucking dogs man, nobody can afford to live anywhere. You end up paying like £500 a month to live in a room in like West Norwood, and it’s not like you can bust into a squat any more either because that’s fucking illegal.”
The band’s music is pretty unclassifiable, and although they’re frequently labelled as being a punk band, it can seem forced on a lot of their output, and this is something they do actively aim for,
“I don’t think we have a particularly strong allegiance to any genre really, I think that’s one of the best things about the group, is that we’re not particularly tied down to anything, y’know? I guess there’s definitely elements of [punk] in there but I wouldn’t say it was that through and through, more the approach and the attitude, especially when we first started, you could definitely call that a kind of punk think. It was very much a DIY kind of approach… It’s just a case of you don’t really have any money and you can’t really afford to do things in a certain way so you just do them whatever way you can. What comes out is sometimes compromised in a nice kind of way, and it’s nice to see a bit more of that coming through”
So while he’s cynical about the business side, Saoudi does seem to have faith in the actual music itself coming out nowadays,
“I think people get really cynical about the fact that things don’t sound new enough or whatever but y’know, you take what’s old and make it your own, whatever you want, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with process, that’s kind of the way it’s always worked in a way.”
In general it seems they didn’t expect the weird attention they’ve been getting – being looked in on as some uncontrollable gang almost – and it’s certainly affected them musically.
“I wanted to get at that on the new album – the idea of authenticity and who is the arbiter of authenticity. How do you verify that and is it really worth anything? I think, now that I’m in a position where people might actually listen to what I say a little bit, I’m kind of concerned with that. It’s a tricky one, it’s a minefield, but that’s kind of what ‘I Am Mark E Smith’ was about in that sort of way, it’s like it is ok to rip these people off, maybe that’s what they want? But yeah, how your identity can kind of slip out of your own hands without you even realising it.”
This last statement applies to the band in a more than musical sense. With all the coverage they’ve been getting, they’re a band that’s been co-opted as ‘cool’ by hacks in business, journalism and wherever else, and this is evident from his slight reluctance to talk too much about some more controversial issues, like the recent debate about race and appropriation in rap, even though it’s pretty relevant to ideas of authenticity that he is interested in,
“I’m not sat at home listening to Iggy Azalea therefore I’m not reading about Iggy Azalea. I wouldn’t really wanna throw my two bits in on any side of that argument to be honest. She’s like incredibly successful and she’s white doing something which is essentially black. I mean obviously there’s gonna be feathers ruffled. But that’s always what they do, it’s the same fucking thing with like Elvis, they say the same sort of stuff about him. I mean I quite like Elvis, y’know, there you go. Not that I’m comparing Iggy Azalea to Elvis by the way, just in case that came off wrong.” – the words of someone used to being misrepresented. Although, there’s still the truth behind it that leads to the group’s sensationalised image
“It also feels that it could end at any moment because it’s so turbulent within the group. But it’s always the case of, we better do well, give it a good fucking bash, because it all feels like it could fall apart at any minute.” I ask why and he’s pretty nonchalant about it,
“Everyone in the group is a fucking headcase. We’re really short on like normal people in the group, myself included in that I guess. But yeah, it’s not smooth – it doesn’t run smoothly – there’s a lot of friction and a lot of tension and y’know, all that other stuff that makes a band actually sound good I guess when you get them on stage.”
Despite Saoudi’s despair at the fact, Fat White Family are genuinely doing something new and exciting – in simplest terms, they write songs that don’t sound like what other people are doing, they do it authentically and they do it well. Any vitriol they’ve developed from being treated as the latest edgy trend in music is totally understandable, but we can at least hope that they manage to survive the industry onslaught for as long as possible, as they’ve managed to shake things up a lot so far, and that’s exactly what music needs nowadays.