Fat White Family emerged nearly three years ago from the South London squat scene, and over that time have developed into one of the most exciting live bands on the circuit today. Debut album Champagne Holocaust came out in April 2013, initially receiving little media attention. However, by the end of that year their reputation for sleaze and debauchery as well as the music preceded them. Nevertheless, the ensuing two years have seen them grow in stature, with the line-up having changed a couple of times over that period. Next month - also next year as it happens - will see the release of long awaited follow-up album Songs For Our Mothers. In the meantime, the band currently find themselves playing a short run of low key shows, starting this evening at The Venue in Derby. Beforehand, DiS caught up with amiable frontman Lias Saoudi to talk about changing personnel, difficult second albums and his other project, The Moonlandingz.
DiS: How's this year been for you? What's been your highlight?
Lias Saoudi: It seems like we've had a great year from the outside looking in. We've done Letterman and toured America. They even put us on the cover of the NME so we're up there with Justin Bieber now! We must have made it. In lots of ways it's been quite good but other times it has felt quite brutal. Most of it to be honest. It usually does. A lot of mood swings.
DiS: Has that mostly been caused by the constant touring while having to write and record in between?
Lias Saoudi: Yeah. It opens up beef within personal relationships and stresses characters out. Gets people down. It can be an isolated, and at times very strange kind of lifestyle.
DiS: You've had a couple of line-up changes throughout the course of the year. Was that mainly to do with inter-band relationships breaking down?
Lias Saoudi: And another one tonight. Saul (Adamczewski, guitarist) won't be playing with us tonight. Or on this tour. Dale Barclay from The Amazing Snakeheads will be taking his place up until spring of next year.
DiS: What's the reason behind that?
Lias Saoudi: For the most part, Saul needed a break. Health issues I guess, I'm sad to say. It will be a shame testing the water with the new stuff without him, but we have to roll on. I think when you start off as a band with no real backing or plan and you're quite explicitly a bunch of wreckheads just trying to have a good time making music. Just trying to entertain ourselves down the pub or whatever, you run out of money. You're not going anywhere that's for sure. The pool which you can fish from for new members is not necessarily the right pool. Basically, the only people you get to play with are desperados. So you take what you can get at that point. But then as you move on, start touring and end up trying to do it in some kind of professional capacity - i.e. every day for money so you can live - and people end up cracking into the rider at two o'clock in the afternoon when you're playing a sold out show at midnight in Brussels and everything falls apart. It can't continue, especially when we're trying to establish ourselves. It's a tough world. There are so many bands out there. You've got to be good. So some people had to get the sack. And now it's all dudes that are just in it for the music, so I'm happy with the current line up.
DiS: Would you this is the strongest line up of the Fat White Family so far?
Lias Saoudi: Definitely, especially now Saul's fucked off! (cue heavy laughter) Evil laughter! Benevolent scheming laughter. Purged laughter.
DiS: I've seen you play several times over the course of the summer at various festivals and you've been a highlight every time. I'd probably go as far as saying you've been the festival band of the summer for me. Do you prepare differently for those kind of shows to how you would a routine tour?
Lias Saoudi: We don't prepare for anything.
DiS: Not even the early morning show in Shangri-La at Glastonbury?
Lias Saoudi: No, other than having to take an awful lot of speed before that one. We were on stage at 4am. And they'd scheduled the main show on the Park Stage for 430pm, so it was obviously somebody in the Glastonbury office having a fucking laugh. I can imagine the scene while they were putting the schedule together. "Hey, we've got these caners here. Let's give them a 4am slot here and a 430pm slot over the other side of the festival. That'll show 'em!" Apart from sounding like a cat getting strangled and drowned at the same time I think I did alright.
DiS: You also played the Levitation psych fest event in Austin, Texas. How did that go?
Lias Saoudi: I think that show went great. The crowd reaction was really good. It was a massive crowd, quite full as it happens. It was a really good show, except I fell off stage at the end which was horrible. I was on acid at the time and it was towards the end of the set. So you're going up and down and I went straight down on my knees and fell between the stage and the fence and ended up dragging myself along. I really needed someone to come along and help me up. It was really embarrassing.
DiS: I believe you also played in Paris on Friday 13th November, the night of the tragic events at the Bataclan and elsewhere in the city. What's your recollection of that evening?
Lias Saoudi: Yeah, we were playing at La Cigale. We were pretty near the end of our set when the promoter came out and asked us to stop. Which was very baffling at first so I told him to fuck off. I was just thinking what have we done this time? But then he told us some people had been shot down the road so we thought it was best to stop the set there and then. I don't think 'Bomb Disneyland' would have been appropriate at that moment in time. It didn't seem that strange to me. I wasn't that shocked or nervous at the time. I was knackered from after the gig and just wanted to find somewhere to go and have a drink. I wanted to have a night out in Paris and find somewhere to have a party. I was in Paris for that reason. I was really excited about the night and thought the gig went really well. I think it's terrible about a bunch of innocent people getting slaughtered, but if you're going to carpet bomb the middle east in search of oil people are going to get blown away at gigs. It's a sad state of affairs. We threw the first stone. We started the problem. From what I'm hearing about today's debate in the Commons it's going to get even worse. That's the price of war isn't it. Innocent people end up being murdered.
DiS: The more times I see you play live the more you remind me of the Butthole Surfers. Are you fans of them at all?
Lias Saoudi: Yeah, I quite like the Butthole Surfers so I'd love it if people said we reminded them of that band. Whether that's fair or right I don't know? I mean, I'm sure there'd be a lot of disgusted Butthole Surfers fans out there. But aspirationally, yes. In reality, probably no.
DiS: Your second album Songs For Our Mothers is out in January. How long did it take to put together and record?
Lias Saoudi: 'Whitest Boy On The Beach' came right after we finished Champagne Holocaust. Me and Saul were stood on the beach in Barcelona, cowering in the shade while these strapping young Spanish guys and loved up couples are roasting in the heat. And we were like, "Fucking hell, man." That's when we came up with that. We tried to do that song in many different ways and none of them worked. Then at about the 12th time of asking we came up with the version that's on the album. I wrote a couple when I was recovering from pneumonia last year. I think that's a good time to write because there really is nothing else to do. I was so fucking bored I had to do something. I mean, I'm always writing and coming up with new ideas, adding melodies and choruses then trying to turn them into something cohesive. But at the same time it's also easy to put things off. Dedication becomes secondary when you're too busy fannying around in the pub. But then the fannying around in the pub but can also be a good place to come up with a chorus! It's about getting the right marriage between the two. A lot of the time Saul will write the melody and I'll be on my headphones writing some lyrics to them. So I guess my advice to songwriters out there is try to get seriously ill every two years and your new album will flow out in no time!
DiS: You've described the album as "an invitation sent by misery to dance to the beat of human hatred". Care to explain?
Lias Saoudi: You've got to try and sound as pompous as possible! That's my opinion anyway, especially when you're taking the piss. There's some truth in that too. It's all about abusive relationships. That's the running theme throughout the album.
DiS: Was it always your intention for the album to be based around that theme?
Lias Saoudi: I think that is what I was aiming to write about at the time. I had an inclination more people would listen to this record than the first one when it comes out. I think about seven people listened to the first one when it came out. It took about two years before anyone really paid attention. And also it makes sense to take more risks, otherwise people would just be getting the same thing all over again.
DiS: Songs like 'Lebensraum' and 'Goodbye Goebbels' seem to focus on Nazi Germany. Is that something you're really interested about when it comes to writing?
Lias Saoudi: I'm obsessed with that period in history. I can't understand anybody who isn't obsessed by the Nazis? I can't watch a film unless it's got Nazis in it.
DiS: And then songs like 'Tinfoil Deathstar' and 'Love Is The Crack' seem to be quite personal. Are they about any individuals in particular?
Lias Saoudi: Yeah they're all about individuals. I wanted to write personal stuff. What I try to do is straddle the political and personal angles at the same time so there's some kind of cultural autonomy people can hang there hat on. Essentially. Some sort of familiarity. A scene, basically, for the things that are real. That have occurred within your own world. And then you're suddenly removed from yourself so you're not quite as naked as you could be. So you can write things explicitly about your own life and relationships but under the guise of someone else. I think you've got a lot of freedom because of that.
DiS: Have the individuals specific to the songs heard them? Are they aware the songs are about them?
Lias Saoudi: I think Saul's aware there's a lot of stuff about him on the album. There's a lot of friction in our relationship. We're extremely close but we also have heavy fallouts. We have this dynamic in the studio where he's Ike Turner and I'm Tina. Hence 'Hits Hits Hits'. And I think he's definitely aware of that. So some of it is pretty explicit. Sometimes I'll write everything in one go and have one melody. Sometimes just one or two phrases.
DiS: Sean Lennon produced the track 'Satisfied' and you've also worked with him in your other project The Moonlandingz. Is he someone you see yourself collaborating with a lot more in the future?
Lias Saoudi: I hope so. He was really great on The Moonlandingz recordings. We went up there for a week and he got really involved in that. I think the Fat Whites record was really good for him because we went up there with virtually nothing. No cohesive material to speak of really. The album was at its most primordial stage. It was us experimenting and throwing things away. We wrote the first album in our house then went into the studio and recorded it. It was like that with The Moonlandingz as well. I spent some time writing in Sheffield with Adrian (Flanagan) and Dean (Honer) of the Eccentronic Research Council then we all went over there with a full band after that and had an idea of what we wanted to record. Then it was just a case of seeing how good we could get it with all this cool shit Sean had lying around. So he's definitely someone I'd like to collaborate with more in the future and he's also a good friend. He's been very good to the band in lots of ways and helped us through some tough patches.
DiS: Are there any songs that didn't make the album which might be revisited in the future?
Lias Saoudi: I hope so. There's some stuff I'd definitely like to see released from those sessions with Sean. But that would be down to me and Saul coming to some kind of agreement as to whether they should be or not. Which is a different discussion, so maybe.
DiS: How did you decide which songs ended up on the album? Was it a difficult process?
Lias Saoudi: It was quite natural in the end. For the first two months we thought we were fucked. We thought we'd make tremendous fools of ourselves and end up having to go back to Brixton which would have been humiliating. When we recorded 'Hits Hits Hits' that was the point where we thought we had something decent. Then we had a couple of disco numbers later on, the faster ones. We'd already written a few droney ones which tends to be quite a comfortable area for us.
DiS: You're touring again from next February. What can people expect?
Lias Saoudi: Most of the new record, some of the old record, and then whatever else we might come up with in between times.
DiS: What are your plans for Christmas and the New Year?
Lias Saoudi: I'm going back up to Sheffield for a week before Christmas to finish The Moonlandingz LP with Adrian and Dean. I reckon we should have enough for an EP and an LP. We've got Randy Jones from the Village People guesting on a track called 'Glory And War' and Yoko Ono on another. Then I'll go and see my dad and probably go to Norway and see the owner of the old Queen's Head pub. He's going to buy a fjord over there which sounds very Christmassy.
DiS: What's been your favourite album of 2015?
Lias Saoudi: This year? It's got to be the Meatraffle album, HiFi Classics. Without a second thought!
DiS: Who's your big tip for next year?
Lias Saoudi: Meatraffle!
DiS: What are your long term plans for the Fat White Family?
Lias Saoudi: I don't know. Keep busy I guess. I want to make another record. I think Saul wants to make a solo record. It might change shape and develop into something else. I hope it does. It would be boring if everything stayed the same.
The album Songs For Our Mothers is out on 22nd January through Fat Possum/Without Consent.
For more information on Fat White Family including tour dates, visit their Facebook page.