Fat White Family relocated to NYC, monthly residency soon; frontman Lias talks sex, drugs & rock n’ roll in BV interview
by Rahill Jamalifard
Fat White Family @ BV CMJ 2014 (more by Chris La Putt)
It's been a week since Fat White Family's first stint at CMJ and still, the feverish feeling remains. Their music is raunchy, fiery, and disturbing. Envision a filthy romp outside your parents' house in the backseat of your unapproved boyfriend's car. It leaves one feeling aroused, soiled and liberated. The band, who recently relocated to NYC, just saw their album Champagne Holocaust reissued by Fat Possum. Folks in Los Angeles, can see them tonight at the Echo, and FWF will return in Austin for Fun Fun Fun Fest this weekend. They're also planning to reactivate their monthly "Slide-In" parties in NYC as well. Stay tuned.
At Fat White Family's savage apex is frontman Lias Saoudi, a man whose stage antics are a seductive mess of freakish behavior and cunning dexterity. He was born to perform and his transcendental journeys sear a lasting impression. Saudi has no inhibitions. More accurately: He doesn't give a flying fuck. He prowls the stage like a lunatic, flaccid penis protruding and available for public onanism. In fact, the furthest thing from Saoudi's mind during his performance seems to be any sort of rational thought. I sat with Saoudi at a restaurant in the East Village and listened as he enlightened on his band, their wild stage show, provocative lyrics, drugs, art, and how to stay dark and miserable in a fucked up world.
BV: Lets start by giving some insight on the birth of the band, how did it happen, when and where.
Lias: It happened kind of in stages over a period of about three or four years, with different members. Originally we were a band called the Saoudi's, which was really crappy ill-thought punk rock. We use to just do a lot of cocaine and listen to Bruce Springsteen, there wasn't much thought in it. That was kind of the genesis of this band. Obviously we didn't get very far with that and the money for coke ran out, so times got tough and we had to figure out how to make decent music. So we started listening to good records, in an attempt at broadening our horizons.
Well, that sort of answers my next question, but was there a vision in the beginning or did the vision manifest as the band developed?
There was a kind of a vision, it was a very unclear, vague, bitter vision. It became more intricate and more personal as it went on, and it continues to do so. There was a general ethos that was kind of like, well, we're not gunna go to East London and try to be a successful band, we're not even gunna do any gigs. So we just sat in this house for a year and a half trying to write songs, and driving each other up the fucking wall. Then, when we finally did start gigging it didn't take very long to be signed to a very small independent label, so this became our proper thing, our grown up effort.
Your lyrics are quite elusive but darkly tinged and seem to inflict repulsion or self flagellation to the filthiest degree, what inspires your lyrical process?
I think theres a few, personal relationships have a part to play in it, the process of making songs has a part to play in it. Lyrics interested me because I knew I was never going to be a very good musician. I didn't grow up with that so I never expected to get very good, but I figured if I could get good at writing lyrics I could go from there. So I tried to work out what was effective, and for me it's usually stuff that is kinda personal in a way, but veiled. It has to be removed behind humor and irony, because you're kind of scared of exposing yourself. If thats what you're doing in a band, it's the scariest bit. You can't make a dick of yourself with a baseline as much as you can with a dodgy lyric, you know? I use to write things in a long big splurge and then pick things out that sound interesting, or wait for a situation where they might fit in, and then other times it all can just pop out in one go.
Specifically on a song like "Cream of The Young", what drew you to write a romantically perverse song from the point of view of a pedophile?
Well, when you start initially, you have a sort of sensationalist kind of tendency because nobody has ever heard of you. So the obvious thing to do is to try and make something that is kind of bright and difficult for people to ignore, even if it does come under criticism for that very reason. The most irritating criticism is people saying oh you're trying to be shocking and stuff like that, but it's not that simple, it takes a certain amount of skill to actually write a proper character piece. But yeah, Saul [Adamczewski, guitar] had a melody and we were sitting around and we just thought it'd be a good idea to write a song like we were a bunch of nonces and make it sexy, for people to groove to. We like the idea of young people fucking to a song about a child rapist.
When listening to the lyrics and the whole attitude of the band I draw obvious comparisons of The Fall, The Monks, and The Country Teasers, and The Electric Eels, are these bands influential to you?
The only band I'm not really familiar with are The Electric Eels, everybody else we deliberately ripped off to some extent. Just before we went to start recording the album I went through a serious obsession with The Fall. So when we went to record, which was the first time I had properly recorded, what came out was a really pathetic Mark E. Smith imitation, so at that point in time I stopped listening to The Fall. But yeah, they are all really important us, and obviously our song, "I am Mark E. Smith" is atonement for that obsession. "Cream of The Young" is very much inspired by Country Teasers, they often did things as racist character portrayals from the first person, but they didn't really do it smoothly, we wanted to make something like that but make it smooth and a little bit lounge.
Do you feel in this homogenized age of internet that it's harder to write unaffected by outside influence?
I think it is what it is, and it's always felt like that. The more you listen to it the more it's already been done and it's even been done whether you're listening to it or not. But yeah some days it feels oppressive and other days it feels liberating. And I think having all that history to draw on is not a bad thing, or else what is the point?
From listening to your music and catching your live show I feel there is a strange relationship between the provocation of your seedy lyrics and vile onstage humor thats mixed with a very pure and honest confession from a mess of disturbed minds, is that accurate?
I think so. Its weird because everything is written before you perform it, but for me as a performer the songs really started to reveal what they were about gradually, over time. When we were first performing the songs, I would perform them very differently, and what they meant to me was different. It took a while of working the songs out and learning to cut loose in front an audience to get the meaning of the songs and thats also when you know if they are any good or not. But yeah, I think there is a lot of self loathing in it, and feelings of inadequacy, combined with a kind of really horrible arrogance. I think everybody is kind of confused, and I quite personally feel like I couldn't admit to a lot of things, but through the music you can. Through the music I can admit I am kind of awful but hopeful at the same time. You have to be willing to humiliate yourself completely and relish that humiliation, and learn to love it.
Are you writing to provoke, or is the material you write provoking?
I think there was definitely an element of that with our first single, which was an attempt to upset people. People said, well thats not too shocking, and I admit that thats true, but just because a bunch of bands thirty years ago decided to say fuck you to everything, doesn't mean that those particular avenues of expression are completely closed down. We're carrying on a tradition of not wanting a major record deal, or not wanting to be in a fashion magazine, because we don't want any of that crap. We aren't life-stylers, we just really like the music and we're really having fun doing it.
Your live show evokes an air of violence and disgruntled angst, is this where you're taken during your performance, or is this your constant state of being?
Naturally as a person I'm very awkward, I'm terrified of confrontation, I'm a massive pussy. I tell lies that get me into more trouble, that are totally needless because I'm terrified of the smallest confrontation with friends, and I've always been kind of shy like that. So I think it's a way of getting it off my chest when we perform. When it got good it was always kind of violent and full of anger, and there was always that feeling of being sick of everything, and being hopeless. So performing felt empowering and good, it felt good pointing at people and screaming at them after years and years of keeping my mouth shut because I was afraid of what people might think, and allowing it to all come out at once.
Your performance on stage is unlike anyone I've seen, where does your inspiration come from?
Personal experiences I guess. It is a transcendental experience for me personally, I can't speak for the boys. I'm not thinking about anything or feeling anything when I'm doing it, and it always seems impossible to me beforehand, i'm always shitting myself, literally, before we go on. Then, afterwards I feel like I've been hit by a car. Right now it even seems inconceivable to me, like I know how to do it, but once the music starts I just kind of black out from there.
Yea, i feel like you are very tapped-in when performing.
Well when you're thinking about it you're doing something wrong. I remember I use to think about it, but there was a time when I did a lot of drugs while playing, I use to do speed and MDMA before every show, and I think that helped me in a way. When i was fucked up I completely would loose myself on stage, but then after doing it so many times I'd remember how you just go about it, without having the drugs. But initially, in order to create that kind of persona I needed to strip it off with the drugs first and then I could go on without the stabilizers.
What about now?
My dream combination is speed, MDMA, weed and alcohol. I'm not sure where the music would go, but as far as seeing a freak show, to have everyone wired to the nines like that you'd really have a spectacle on your hands
Fat White Family has made their political interests very clear, do you feel as a musician it's your duty to bring political issues to your platform?
I think its inevitable. I think everything is political, having a cup of tea is political you know? Somebody somewhere has picked the tea and put it in a bag and shipped it out, and theres all kinds of crap like that involved. Anything you do is going to be political, especially performing in a musical group, that itself is loaded with so much history. I think these crappy psych bands, these hipster life-stylers, these people are political as well, they are endorsing the status quo of this shitty boring, neither here nor there, lets be impossibly vague till we die status quo. I feel its just as politically charged as we are, just because we have a big hammer and sickle doesn't mean we are communists. Its just an object, we are playing with, but its more about having fun, and asking questions, as opposed to telling you what to think. Which I always thought was wrong, I hate when musicians employ you to think a certain way, it's really patronizing, and I'd like to think that we don't really do that. Some people think "Bomb Disneyland" is really crass and vapid, but it's a joke man, you gotta have a sense of humor about it. I think theres a lot of bands out there who should be ashamed of themselves for being so gutless around it, this whole pc, paint by numbers, social awareness its just too easy it's not based in any real experience. It's a complete lack of balls, and I remember feeling that same kind of lack of balls, I remember being terrified of ever trying anything out or saying anything till I started doing shitloads of drugs.
Is the core of Fat White Family, hate, love or apathy?
Well, the core of Fat White Family is like a trinity. There is me, Nathan [Lias's younger brother who plays keys] and Saul [lead guitarist, cowriter]. Saul is a sadist, I'm a masochist, and Nathan is the one who keeps us from going all the way with those habits, he's like the glue. It's a perfect but deadly balance.
What are three current tunes that wont stop playing in your head?
Well, I've been obsessively listening to Lou Reed's Street Hassle, so basically the first half of that album has been stuck in my head.
What do you miss the most about London?
I don't really miss anything about London. I moved out of London before I came here, to avoid getting too fucked up in concern for my health. And I started to feel a bit weird there anyway, like something had changed.
What do you like the most about New York?
Everything seems kind of like Sesame Street. Like it all looks like toys, it looks plastic in an inviting way. Everything is leafy and soft and the restaurants look like cartoons. And I like that a lot of the cliches ring true, like the pizza guys, the delis, and the people who just start talking to you on the street.
You mentioned you use to paint, can we conclude this interview with a self portrait in my little notepad I keep?
It's been such a long time since I've done anything like this, it probably won't be any good but sure, I can draw you a doodle:
Fat White Family - 2014 Tour Dates
Nov 4 - The Echo, Los Angeles, CA
Nov 7 - Red 7 - Austin, TX
Nov 8 - Fun Fun Fun Fest - Austin, TX