There is a pleasing energy to the music that Fat White Family make. Frontman, Lias Saoudi, writes wilfully offensive lyrics that the band back up with feverish, psychedelic garage country punk. The end result somehow manages to sound sweaty; like an audio translation of someone going through cold turkey or experiencing the symptoms of syphillus.
None of the above description would find its way into a record executive’s usual formula for commercial success. Nevertheless, Fat White Family have managed to grow their popularity to the point where they are now able to play a venue the size of the Brixton Academy.
The band’s current success is a far cry from its humble beginnings in a squat in Peckham. From there the band ended up moving in together to a disused Brixton pub only 100m away from the cavernous venue that they’ll be playing later this month.
Having finally managed to get Lias on the phone after several attempts during the preceding 24 hours, I started by asking about this latest milestone in Fat White Family’s progress.
“If it goes well, if everybody shows up, then it will be a real cause for celebration. It will kind of bookmark that period in our lives,” he replied.
“I didn’t think that [playing the Academy] would ever materialise. One does fantasise as you go past.”
Hearing the unexpected note of pride from a songwriter whose main subject is human wretchedness is strangely uplifting.
Lias has an unmistakable Yorkshire accent with an occasional Ulster twang. The latter resulted from spending much of his childhood and adolescence living in Cooktown, County Tyrone. The former is in spite of the fact that he has never lived in Yorkshire. Instead, he “soaked it up” from his Yorkshire-bred Mum.
As an outsider who relocated to Ulster aged twelve from Ayrshire, where his family had lived until his parents split, the legacy of The Troubles was initially perplexing.
“Every town had a giant, big police barracks in the middle of it. Street kerbs painted red, white and blue. Orange marches and all that preposterous shite.”
Lias describes Ulster as becoming “gradually more depressing” as time went on, which led to him taking the first opportunity to leave for London.
Expanding on the decision, he says he’s “got nothing against the good people of Tyrone”, but that “there’s a lot of fucking meatheads” and “bigotry” in that part of the world.
In spite of his desire to get away from Northern Ireland, the province has left some positive influences on Lias. He traces his love of country music to it being a part of his environment growing up.
“I think Johnny Cash and Hank Williams were some of the first things that I listened to as a teenager actually. Before I got into The Fall and all that stuff. That kind of music was kind of around, I guess.”
In relation to The Fall, Lias describes getting to meet Mark E Smith after the near mythical figure poured a glass of champagne over his younger brother, Nathan, Fat White Family’s keyboardist. Nathan then threw a glass of whisky over Smith, which nearly led to a fight between the two bands.
“I was like, “fucking hell, man, we’re going to have a big scrap with the Fall.” I couldn’t believe it, but then it was kind of like an icebreaker and we ended up sitting and chatting. They were all really lovely.”
Less lovely was the descent into heroin abuse that Lias witnessed from many of his nearest and dearest prior to recording second album, Songs For Our Mothers. He describes this period as making his life “a fucking misery”.
He explains, “If you’re in London it can cost you six quid to have a pint down the pub with your mates, but for £10 you can buy a bag of heroin. It’s no surprise that everybody’s sitting at home with rows of tinfoil.”
Nevertheless, he resists advancing conclusions in one direction or another with his songs. Instead, the lyrics to Tinfoil Deathstar, which deals most directly with heroin, simply describe the pleasures & horrors of abusing the drug.
“It’s patronising when some quasi-intellectual art school gimp starts telling you what you should or should not think about such & such a political situation. Nobody wants that… They want tunes & they want things that are relevant, but I don’t think it’s really my position to light the way forward.”
Lias Saoudi darkens the way forward
On Northern Ireland
“Yeah, I’m definitely a Republican sympathiser… I mean it just makes more sense, doesn’t it? I do sympathise… These people have been there for a long time and they think they’re British. There is an argument there, but I think nature will run its course and the Catholics will outbreed the Prods.”
On the EU referendum
“It’s a bit tragic. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I guess it was the masses chewing their nose off to spite their face, you know?”
On Jeremy Corbyn
“I don’t think he’s enough part-lizard to really operate in the world of politics. I think you’ve got to have a guy in there who’s at least part lizard and I think he’s kind of like a geography teacher who’s been thrust into that world. I’m not sure if he’ll really survive.”
On the press
“If the Brexit vote proves anything it’s that the mainstream press still have a huge sway over the voting population. Until there’s some sort of limitation put on the press, until there’s rules on what people can say and who they can support and how much money they can put into it and all that kind of crap, I don’t think we can touch anything. I think it’s going to get worse.
“I think Corbyn’s going to fall totally shy of that. Sure, there’s thousands of people who turn up to his rallies and that’s great, but there’s fifteen times more miserable old gits who just sit at home reading the Daily Mail and The Sun. What are we going to do about them?”
There may be trouble ahead
“There’s a lot of talk about us about to enter into the low end of the cycle. The rise of the right wing. Reactionary kind of strong men. Casual racism. It’s not great, is it?”