“It’s a fucking horrible song; I do not want to hear this today.” So Lias Saudi of the Fat White Family tells me in a pub in Brixton, as the sound of the New Radicals ‘You Get What You Give’ blares loudly through the speakers. Saudi was up until the early hours getting stuck into the cocaine “Studio 54 style” with Randy from the Village People. It’s not quite as odd of a situation as it sounds – Randy is guesting with Saudi’s other band, The Moonlandingz, on their debut album, a project that joins the forces of Saudi and fellow Fat White Family member Saul Adamczewski with Sheffield’s excellent The Eccentronic Research Council. Saudi is alone today, however, with Adamczewski being a late cancellation due to ongoing health reasons and the rest of the band nowhere to be seen.
Since the group appeared seemingly from nowhere in 2013, the Fat White Family have been something of a godsend for sensationalist music writers – their squat-living roots, penchant for drugs, live nudity, outspoken manner, filthy songs and general skid mark aesthetic has been written about as much as, if not more than, their actual music. It’s an understandably appealing tendency – if you’re faced with having to write about bands on a regular basis, who are ostensibly dressed by their sponsors, coming across a band like the Fat White Family, a group so filthy in every way they look, it’s an enjoyable cesspit to dive into. In fact, as we chat over pints and chips there is still a notable security tag attached to Saudi’s jumper, which I’m guessing he’s stolen.
After the release of their debut album, ‘Champagne Holocaust’, and extensive touring, which has seen the group develop into genuinely one of the most exciting and fiery live bands in the country, they return with their second album next month, called ‘Songs for Our Mothers’. The album will, no question about it, offend a great deal of people.
A quick scan of the song titles is enough to indicate that: ‘Love Is The Crack’, ‘When Shipman Decides’, ‘Tinfoil Deathstar’, ‘Goodbye Goebbels’, ‘Lebensraum’. At surface level it looks like shock tactics – an extension of the group’s supposed persona intended to stand out from the crowd, and, as a result, perhaps it’s nothing more than a vacuous bellow intended to stir up trouble and publicity. Truthfully, though, it’s a complex record and one that goes beyond shock value and crass, tasteless offence. Ultimately, it’s an album that instils genuine debate more than it creates recoiled horror – it has a purpose and it’s far more of a personal record than a great deal of the provocative subject matter would suggest.
It’s not long before one of the main areas for potential offence arises: the inclusion of Primo Levi (holocaust survivor, writer and chemist) in a song as a vision, performing oral sex on the protagonist. The song in question is ‘Satisfied’, taken from a session the band did with Sean Lennon in Upstate New York. “It’s about my sexual anxiety, my fear of sex, a sort of vertigo and having visions of Primo Levi sucking your cock,” says Saudi.
I guess the question to propose is why Levi?
“It’s just the image of him sucking marrow out of a bone…
‘My penis was an oblong pebble / My balls two benevolent stones / She looked like Primo Levi sucking marrow out of a bone’
… he’s a holocaust Jew; he was starving for quite a long time. I’ve read If This is a Man and Truce and there’s no direct mention of bones and marrow but you don’t have to use your imagination for very long to get there. I also wanted to lower the tone as far as is humanly possible with that statement… You can use people like historical characters, popular culture characters, icons, whatever it is – they are just different colours you use to paint your picture. I consider everything to be fair game. Absolutely everything, which is why I’ll put Primo Levi in a song about getting head because I just don’t see why I should be held. As an artist I have license and I couldn’t care less if people get upset about it. I’m quite certain I’m not a racist.
“Abusive relationships are a recurrent theme on this record,” Saudi then tells me, “partly inspired by my working relationship with Saul.”
It’s this relationship that really runs through the core of the record. On ‘Love Is the Crack’ (‘… of somebody else’s whip’) it describes Saudi’s feelings of a fractious creative partnership.
“We drive each other up the fucking wall,” he says, “but he’s always been the one who cracks the whip, with me anyway. On this record I’m interested in how that abusive relationship can be a creative thing; how abuse and violence can lead there. I felt like I was under a lot of pressure and abuse and that I was being treated like shit all the time and made to feel like a cunt, but that I had to do this thing anyway. The only way of pushing through would be to create something outside of yourself – a song, basically – and it’s like an exorcism: you can expel this stuff by making these statements, clean yourself, give your soul a good fucking scrub. By writing this stuff and putting it out, it’s no longer yours; it’s everybody else’s. I’m interested in how something awful ends up becoming kind of useful.”
This ties in closely with the track ‘Hits, Hits, Hits’, a sonically tender, sexy and intoxicatingly groovy song driven by a slowed down drum machine beat. It’s a track about the abusive relationship of Ike and Tina Turner, a narrative manoeuvre employed to project Saudi and Adamczewski’s own difficulties into a larger context. “I’m Tina, I’m pretty sure I’m Tina,” says Saudi. “Those videos you see of her playing live, the way Ike struts behind but when she’s singing she’s in the driving seat – she’s kind of a hero. She’s a valid idol for anyone; a heroic character. Everybody loves those records, don’t they? They are universally adored and it was born out of violence and aggression and hatred and someone having the shit beaten out of them. I wanted to get at that and explore that side so I thought I’d take my flaccid emotional state and project into a bigger version of that. It’s an egotistical thing to do, I suppose.”
I ask Saudi about the extent of the abuse in the relationship with Adamczewski and whether it’s forgiving and playful enough to be able to usually move on. “It’s forgiving and playful enough 95% of the time and then there’s the 5% where it gets bad and we can have quite a traumatic relationship and have terrible, terrible fall outs. What can I say? I love the guy to bits but sometimes he can be a right horrible cunt, but who can’t? So can I. We push each other and that’s what’s led us here.”
And how aware is Adamczewski of the material being directly written about him?
“I didn’t tell him directly, I told him ‘Hits, Hits, Hits’ was about Ike and Tina, but Saul’s not a fucking muppet, he knows I write a lot about our relationship… I think outside of my direct family he’s probably the person I’ve been most in love with so in a way this album is like a collection of love songs, to an extent, based on that relationship, if you want the God’s honest truth, and I don’t care if he reads that. For me that’s what inspired it.”
Another key moment on the album that’s bound to cause an affront is ‘Tinfoil Deathstar’, whether it’s because it will be seen to glorify or advocate the use of hard drugs or because of its use of David Clapson as a character in the song. Clapson was an army veteran who had signed onto Job Seeker’s Allowance but as a result of missing one appointment was sanctioned and had his benefits cut. Without that money he couldn’t afford to power his own home, and with no electricity he couldn’t run his fridge and the insulin he was dependent on as a diabetic could not continue to work without the refrigeration. He died with almost no money in his bank, no food in his stomach and a pile of CVs stacked up next to him. In the song he appears as an apparition knocking on the window of a drugs party. I ask Saudi about the meaning of the song as a whole. “Well, it’s about smoking heroin, isn’t it? Of course it is. I just wanted to conjure up these images of young hedonistic situations cascading over each other and I like the fact that it sounds like disco. I thought it would be good if we had a heroin song that sounded like disco. So, you have these young people enjoying themselves ‘there’s glamour in the hills tonight’, it’s all nice and warm, ‘it’s autumn in my loins’, which sounds kind of nice, even though it’s quite tragic really, and then put it up against the image of David Clapson knocking on the window with his CVs like the Ghost of Christmas Future, like this nightmare-ish skag hallucination, I guess… I don’t see why that subject should be taboo as far as I’m concerned.
“I think the drug itself should be taboo – I think it ruins people’s lives. I’ve watched huge swathes of my immediate community descend into complete heroin abuse. Five years ago I don’t think I’d ever even seen somebody smoke heroin and then it was like a big brown cloud came over South London and every fucking cunt you know all of a sudden is hitting the skag. That’s why I wanted to write about it – it’s become a huge part of my life whether I like it or not.”
And the use of David Clapson, other than the right of artistic licence to explore his narrative, what role does he serve here?
“He’s in there as a reference point to the malicious and utterly abusive and disgusting murderous governmental policy regarding welfare. It’s so explicit; the guy was murdered by the government. He was cut out of existence… literally. So, you have these young people partying their way out of existence in a sort of tinfoil bliss and you have this other character who has just been dropped and they’re all getting dropped really. It’s gone to shit. Everything is getting worse and there’s nothing anyone can do about it so I think it’s important to have him [Clapson] in there.”
Saudi becomes more animated, impassioned and angry as he continues to talk about Clapson. “When I read that story it really broke my heart,” he says. “I found it absolutely heart breaking… they fucking killed him, man. They may as well of walked up to him and put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. George Osborne may as well have pulled the trigger. I would love to have that lot lined up against the wall and fucking shot, I would take no displeasure in it; I would like to see those guys fucking hung. I fucking hate them, with a passion, with a fucking passion.”
To state his stance on the inclusion of such controversial characters, Saudi says explicitly and fervidly, “He’s not on there as a joke. Tina’s not on there as a joke and neither is Primo. They’re not jokes, they’re symbols… I think if you find this album shocking then you need to tune in. You need to really tune in.”
Which brings us to our next controversial symbol. Harold Shipman and the track ‘When Shipman Decides’, which is an uncomfortably woozy song, almost intended to place the listener under sedation and in the position of the doctor’s chair as he administers a lethal dose. “He was pumping these old women full of a thing called pethidine, which is basically just smack, and so I wanted to just capture the sitting in the waiting room, you’re getting the shot, passing out to death via bliss in an opiate heaven, so it’s a different kind of drug song. He kills himself at the end, ‘he exits with pride’, he takes himself out. We’re not Shipman worshippers, thank you very much, we have that in the song; he had the decency to top himself because he’s a horrible, nasty, evil bastard.”
I ask Saudi if he would stand by Shipman’s inclusion if challenged by victims’ families?
“My theoretical response would be that it’s my right to say and describe whatever I like, and that as a writer I can tackle any subject, no matter how coarse or difficult, and I’d like to think that we approached it with a whiff of sensitivity and that there’s nothing to get upset about, it’s just a portrait of what’s happened.”
Saudi continues to elaborate on this sort of ground zero that the band have found themselves in, in which everything is fair game and where they genuinely don’t care about… well… anything. “When we started this band it was done with a sense of militancy because we were sick of our own fucking lives,” he explains. “We were sick of feeling like we didn’t have any opportunities because there were no opportunities. We started this band with a sense of fuck everybody, fuck the music scene, fuck even trying to get a record deal, just fuck hope, basically – there isn’t any so let’s just play with anything. So once you get to that point, that low point, then suddenly everything becomes malleable – you can have Primo and Tina and everybody because it just doesn’t matter anymore; it’s all valid. The only power you have as an artist is your imagination and your ability to put things together constructively and in a way that changes people’s way of thinking, so we wanted to do something that would have an impact and part of that is rubbing people’s noses in things that are unpleasant or taboo.
“I think about how disgustingly tame things have become and it’s shocking. The fact that people find our band shocking itself is unbelievable. For fuck’s sake, how long ago was GG Allin? We’re going backwards, we’re going fucking backwards.”
We simultaneously reach the end of our time together and ‘Songs For Our Mothers’’ closing track, ‘Goodbye Goebbels’ – a song that captures the final moments in Hitler’s bunker with his propaganda minister, in what can only be described as a rather tender and loving way. “I wanted it to make you sad, to make you tingle a little bit and think, ‘God, this is tragic, this is horrible,’” says Saudi. “But again, these things happened. For me it’s probably the most romantic thing that ever occurred. You’re talking about guys that have made this worldwide cataclysm; they’ve shifted history from one place to another with this horrible, demonic vision.”
Of course, it’s statements like. “for me it’s probably the most romantic thing that ever occurred,” that’s only going to fuel the accusatory fire, as it has more than a ring of sympathy to it. Rather than skirt around the subject I ask Saudi directly if this is the case.
“I have absolutely no sympathy for those guys, no, of course not. I think that should be perfectly explicit, but I can understand why someone would ask that question if I say that is the most romantic thing that ever happened. The fact that it happened is just so amazing. I mean, can you imagine being in that bunker? I mean literally the entire fucking world are coming to get you and you’re down there but you’re thinking about the good times. There must have been something romantic there between them, talking about the old days, nostalgia, these are real things that must have occurred. There must have been genuine, real love between those two men. Again, I’m not making a judgement but it must have just been one of the most fascinating human situations that’s ever occurred, so why not write about it?”
So, from the title of their debut album including the word Holocaust, through to Primo Levi, a song called Lebensraum (the territorial expansion of the Nazi’s) to ending in Hitler’s bunker, what, I enquire, is the clear fascination with Nazism?
“I don’t understand how everybody isn’t obsessed by it. I’m definitely obsessed by the Third Reich, given that our world was born out of its dissolution – the stuff we love about our world anyway – the post-war agreement. I think it’s a healthy thing to have an obsession about; I think more people should be obsessed by Nazism and Fascism because it’s coming back in my opinion. I think this is stuff we should be reminding ourselves of.”
And was the end of Nazism huddled up in a bunker as the world closed in another thinly veiled description for some sort of end within the band or with Adamczewski?
“I was envisioning the end in a sense, yeah. An end point, at least in this period of our lives, yeah. I don’t know how long our band will last or how long our relationship will last but at that point in time, at the tail end of making the album, it felt like a good idea to have a conclusive statement and what better way than down in the bunker? How much more perversely egotistical can you get? It’s kind of extreme. I’m sure lots of people will give us shit about it. There will definitely be accusations of anti-Semitism without a doubt, but I think, again, I’m going to claim artistic license on it. I’m fascinated by something that happened, it’s real, it’s historical and it’s my right to write about it – it’s not anti-sematic to me to make the film Downfall is it? It’s exactly the same thing.”
And despite the offence that will inevitably come from some (or many) camps, it’s unlikely to deter the Fat White Family from exploring territory – lyrically and sonically – as Saudi clearly states, ending with a thumping message: “People’s opinions I couldn’t care less about. If they’re upset about it they’re fucking morons.”