FAT WHITE FAMILY GETS TO THE MEAT OF THE MATTER
I didn’t notice that Fat White Family was cute until I read their interviews. I just thought they were dumb British boys. Saul, for example, is missing a tooth. Lias’s nose looks like it might have been broken. Their skin is pale and grey, and when they’re shirtless in their videos, you can see their bones. Be still, my heart. They’ve created conflict in my personal life because even my husband wants to sleep with them. Hot.
Of course, I liked their 2013 debut, Champagne Holocaust, almost immediately. It was scuzzy, country-tinged garage rock, which is one of my favorite genres. But even though I liked it, I can’t say the sound of the music itself was particularly interesting. There’s a lot of bands that make scuzzy garage rock.
But then I saw what they looked like. Yum. And the more I paid attention, the more the band grew on me. I heard that their live acts are dynamic and wild, featuring nudity, dead animals, and bodily fluids. (I haven’t seen them play because I live in the middle of nowhere.) In interviews, they seem messy and complicated, in a way that’s so refreshing in today’s world, where our pop stars are closer to politicians, and our indie rock sounds basically like easy listening minus the catchy hooks. Fat White Family sings about pedophiles, wears Hitler mustaches in their videos, does too many drugs, gets into fights. On first glance, it might be easy to write them off as juvenile man-babies provoking simply for the sake of provocation, but if you listen closer to the lyrics, or read their interviews, it quickly becomes obvious that there’s something more complicated and pointed under the surface.
Their newest album, Songs for Our Mothers, takes the scuzzy garage rock sound of their earlier record and throws it in a pot with a million other seemingly-disparate ingredients. You can hear elements of disco, Gregorian chants, and a bunch of other shit – all squelching and boiling together into something that sounds wholly unique, something both catastrophic and magnificent.
The band lineup has gone through quite a bit of tumult, changing drummers and bassists and managers, but singer Lias Saoudi and guitarist/backing vocalist Saul Adamczewski have always been at their center. I spoke with the two of them over the phone, right after spending some time in the California desert to relax, and right before their album was released and they flew back to England.
FZ: I watched this YouTube video of you guys asking for money to go to America, and you said you said you wanted to save America. I was wondering what exactly you hoped to save America from.
LS: From itself.
SA: From its starving masses. We said it in the video.
LS: I think we saved it.
FZ: You think America’s OK now?
LS: Uh, no, actually. Not by a long stretch. If anything it’s getting worse.
SA: But we can feel the Bern. We can feel Bernie Sanders on the rise. I think there’s this small chance he might do something.
FZ: So you didn’t save America, but Bernie Sanders might.
LS: Yeah. I think we’re kind of responsible for that, in a very small way. (Lias and Saul laugh.)
FZ: In the same video, I saw you had Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory on the table, and I was wondering what other books you like.
LS: I thought that was a great book, especially when he comes out of the Rainbow Room in New York and he goes off singing and stuff. I like all kinds of books… Jean Genet, James Joyce, history books, Camus. I tend to read quite a bit, when I get a chance.
SA: It’s a good thing to pass the time when you’re on tour, that’s for sure.
LS: It’s a good place to find lyrics to steal and stuff like that.
FZ: Have you stolen any lyrics directly from any writers?
LS: No, you have to shift them about a bit, at least.
SA: I think writers become characters in some of our songs.
LS: Primo Levi’s on the new record. He’s a hero of ours. Usually it’s not exactly the characters themselves, but more the idea of them. The kind of meat of the matter.
SA: Like Charles Manson.
FZ: That great writer.
SA: That literary titan.
FZ: I think it’s OK if you directly steal lyrics from books. I don’t think people would notice.
LS: You can, but I think it will slowly eat away at your soul if you do.
FZ: That’s interesting that you draw the line there, considering how, uh… morally ambiguous some of your songs are.
LS: Morally ambiguous. That’s one way to describe it.
SA: We don’t want to cast any stones.
LS: Yeah, we don’t judge. It’s not our place to judge. We’re not the moral arbiters of our age. We’re simply experiencing it through popular song.
FZ: Is that why you guys tend to ‘push the envelope,’ in terms of the offensiveness and dirtiness and that kind of thing?
LS: We just push the envelope of our natural interests.
SA: The envelope of truth. Our brand of truth.
LS: It’s a questionable brand of truth but it’s the only envelope we have, so push it we will. Spending five years on welfare back in London was inspiring, in a way. Got quite a stockpile of revulsion during that period. Naturally the bleaker side of life rose its head.
SA: You only have to walk outside your house, and if you don’t see the shit you’re swimming in, you’re dead.
LS: I feel like people in pop music, they think it’s not their place to bring these subjects to the table a lot of the time. And I think that’s wrong.
FZ: So the Nazi stuff and the pedophile stuff – the things that people have gotten mad at you guys for – is that why you explore those subjects? The idea that if you ignore the dark side of life, it means you’re dead inside.
LS: Hitler’s reign didn’t happen very long ago. I think we’re experiencing a kind of swerve to the right. So it’s an interesting axis point, and that’s about it. We don’t rule out any subject matter. We happen to have an interest in that period of history, so that’s what shows up.
FZ: What’s so interesting about Nazis? The evilness, or… ?
LS: I can’t understand anyone who doesn’t find that period of history fascinating. Especially the bunker.
SA: It’s basically where we were all given birth. It birthed the world we live in now, and if you don’t see that, you’re dead.
LS: Yeah, we crawled out of that catastrophe—the Potsdam agreement, the set-up of the welfare state, stuff like that. It all came out of that period. So we want to dismantle that. I think it’s relevant, in a way. Not directly, but loosely.
FZ: Is that why you wanted to find tenderness in Hitler’s suicide [in your song “Goodbye Goebbels”]?
LS: There’s tenderness in all things. I think it’s your job as an artist to explore whatever you feel like exploring. There was probably some love in that bunker, so why not sing about it? Why sing about one type of love and not the other?
FZ: The title of your album made me wonder what your mothers are like.
LS: My mother’s very down to earth. Very friendly.
SA: My mom’s a nymphomaniac.
LS: Saul’s mom is a nymphomaniac.
SA: My mom’s a raging alcoholic. And a country music fan, as well.
LS: My mom’s not a raging alcoholic. She’s a moderate alcoholic and a Rod Stewart fan and a lovely woman.
SA: We love them.
LS: We love them to bits.
FZ: Do they like your music?
LS: Not really. I mean, why would they? It’s horrible.
FZ: Are they supportive?
LS: My mum comes to the shows.
SA: They’re proud, they’re supportive, but they’re also a bit worried.
LS: They’re our mothers, you know? Of course they’re a bit worried.
FZ: Saul, is your mother how you got interested in country music?
SA: Yeah, it’s beautiful music – I mean good country music, not the crap you get on the radio in America.
LS: It’s often tragic and quite bleak but also happy sounding and pretty in a way. That juxtaposition occurs a lot in country music. That was always fascinating to us.
FZ: Some of the songs on the new album seem to have almost Beach Boys-style harmonies. Are they one of your influences?
SA: We’ve gotten really into the Beach Boys recently. I think with every album we do, there’s a few nods to what we’re going to do next, and there’s a few tracks on here that are more like more mellow, with harmonies. The next stuff will be kind of like the Beach Boys.
FZ: The class war that you guys have discussed in the past. How do I participate in that? What does a class war look like?
SA: It looks like an angry mob who are going to devastate the avenues of the rich and drop them into butter, whether they like it or not. Eventually it’s going to happen. And there will be fucking blood in the streets. And we’ll be relishing it.
LS: It looks like Donald Trump hanging from a meat hook.
FZ: I don’t think I would argue against that happening.
SA: In fact, you would join in.
LS: I think anybody with any humanity would be quite keen on that occurring.
FZ: So there’s humanity in destroying and killing someone?
LS: Yeah. They had to go and murder all the Nazis, didn’t they?
SA: Mussolini was hung from a meat hook. That was the power of the people.
LS: That was a fine day. I don’t think anyone can deny that. These aren’t people, these are reptiles. Those people need to be purged.
SA: They need to be dead. They’re spiritually bankrupt. They’re just vessels for wrongdoing.
FZ: The cover of Champagne Holocaust, your music videos, the pig’s head you’ve thrown at your live shows… why so many dead animals?
SA: Because you can’t use dead humans. Pigs are pretty close to human beings. It represents how we see a lot of the world. That’s all that’s legal. It’s definitely not the most subtle, but subtlety isn’t really our forte.
FZ: I really like the music video for “Whitest Boy on the Beach,” and I was wondering how much money it cost to make, exactly.
LS: A couple grand, something like that. It’s the first time we had any real budget for a video. Everything we’ve done up til now has been completely DIY, on a shoestring. This one cost like 2000 pounds. People think there’s a helicopter in it, but they’re unaware of the invention of drones.
FZ: Saul, did you have to go to rehab recently?
SA: Yes! Yes I did! It was a disturbing, horrendous, spiritually crushing, and demented experience. But I came out of it alive. I’m alive now, and I am glad I’m alive.
FZ: Did it work?
SA: Yeah, it fucking worked. I guess there’s a price you pay. There’s no easy way to come down from that ridiculous kind of life. You have to walk out of the desert. It was a shitty experience. If you can get through it, then you realize that. But most people can’t get through it. It’s really fucking hard.
FZ: So are you’re no longer participating in drugs and alcohol?
SA: I’m not participating in heroin. I’m also on a bit of a health kick. I like to climb mountains now. I like to walk and shit.
LS: Yeah, hiking and meditating. We’re walkers.
SA: I’ve been eating very healthy. We’re going to start meditating. Who knows what can happen.
FZ: Meditating is weird because you’re literally doing nothing, yet it makes you feel so much better. I almost wish it didn’t work.
SA: It’s kind of like being on heroin. There’s a similarity anyway.
FZ: “Hits Hits Hits” is reportedly about your relationship, and the fights you’ve gotten into. What are your fights like?
SA: We’ve had some pretty brutal fights. I kicked his door in once because he wouldn’t help me defrost the fridge.
LS: It gets a little bit weird sometimes. It gets a little bit hot in the kitchen.
SA: We haven’t had a fight on this trip yet, though.
LS: Not since the treatment.
FZ: So heroin played a role in your fighting?
LS: Undoubtedly. It was probably the biggest divider to date.
SA: Not just necessarily heroin, but drugs in general.
LS: Drugs tend to make you a little bit moody. We’re a little moody to begin with.
SA: I think we have a real interest in not being at each other’s throats anymore. We’re trying really hard to get along.
FZ: You guys are putting effort into the relationship.
LS: We are. We’re not at the point where we have a counselor yet, though, because we can’t afford it. But if enough people go and buy this album, then we can get counseling.
SA: We’d like to say: buy the record and pay for our therapy.
LS: And maybe we’ll be able to make another one without being at each other’s throats.
FZ: Maybe you need to make a YouTube video about that. About how people need to pay for your therapy.
SA: That’s a great idea.
LS: Crowdsourced therapy. We’re going to use that.
SA: We could get a shot of me, rocking back and forth in the corner, biting my nails, trying to get a ball of tinfoil. A shot of me weeping in bed. Please help us, get Fat White Family some therapy.
FZ: By purchasing your album, people are making the world a better place.
LS: Yes, exactly. It’s a selfless act. Regardless of whether you enjoy the music even remotely. We need help. It’s obvious.