BY AMY HABEN
Iggy Pop announced Fat White Family as “Everybody’s favorite family, ” recently on his BBC radio show. Ironically, our friend Danny Fields, who managed Iggy & The Stooges, said singer Lias Saoudi “moves like Iggy onstage.” Sean Lennon has been a friend and fan of the band for years, even letting them use his upstate recording studio. The great thing about these guys is that none of this hype gets to their head.
A freshly married Lias Saoudi and his quirky, younger brother Nathan sat down with me at the Broome Street Bar about a week after their U.S. television debut on The David Letterman Show.
Amy: First of all introduce yourself.
Nathan: Hello, I’m Nathan…
Lias: And what do you do Nathan?
Nathan: Not very much.
Lias: True. True dat. Hello, I’m Lias, and we are members of The Fat White Family.
Amy: So tell me about the David Letterman experience? I heard it went really well.
Lias: Uh, yeah, it went good. But I mean, It wasn’t, uh… the perfect scenario.
Amy: Because you were tired?
Lias: No, not because I was tired. I mean, I think you can always get yourself into the right frame of mind to do something like that. You can be completely exhausted and still do a show because it’s required of you, you know? But, I mean, Saul couldn’t make it. because of his lost passport, which is a real bummer. Ahhh, it caused a lot of agro back home, and it put everyone on edge a little bit and we had to get a stand-in. But, other than that it was great. You know, it was kinda surreal. He’s got very soft hands.
Amy: Ha ha!
Lias: It’s a nice theatre. It’s a nice space. It’s got a big blue floor and you can fuck about. The sound was really great as well. The sound was spot on.
Amy: I can imagine because Paul Shaffer is his right hand man and he’s been in the music industry for a million years.
Lias: Yeah, I mean they’ve had everybody on there. It’s a great honor to be asked to do it at all.
Amy: Yeah, usually I feel like bands get their start on Conan or Jimmy Kimmel, or some of the shows that aren’t as big of a deal here in America. And eventually, then they get to do David Letterman. You guys just got to go straight to Letterman which is a big deal.
Lias: Yeah, it’s weird. Especially since we haven’t been allowed on the tele in England yet.
Lias: Nobody’s asked us on TV. But there really isn’t that much on the tellie. Yeah, we’ve never had a live slot on the tellie.
Nathan: There was some London television interview.
Amy: Was it like a public access channel?
Lias: Yeah, it wasn’t international.
Nathan: It was a regional TV show.
Lias: I mean there was some of our Glastonbury performance broadcast on BBC 3 briefly, or something like that, but nah, generally we haven’t had any telly in England. But there aren’t any shows there. You guys have got these chat shows, where you have all this weird shit going on. David Letterman has all sorts up there doesn’t he? He’s got a history of putting stuff on that’s new and a little bit out there or whatever. Something that might be newsworthy. But in England, we don’t have that. We have the same, old, tired, pop stars going around in a rotation.
Lias: Just Olly Murs and fucking Paloma Faith every week. There isn’t a slot for bands there. There used to be shows but they’re all gone now. There’s just Jules Holland, but he’s a cunt.
Amy: Jules Holland, right…
Lias: Yeah, he’s like a fucking Tory. He’s exclusively not having us on his show I think…
Amy: Oh really?
Lias: I’m guessing so, yeah.
Nathan: We don’t want to play his show.
Lias: Fuck his show! Yeah…
Amy: It’s weird that there aren’t more entertaining talk shows that would have good bands.
Lias: All people want in England now is cooking programs and reality TV and they deserve the drudgery that they’ve asked for to be quite frank.
Amy: It’s similar here.
Lias: It’s similar but it seems you’ve got more options. There are places you can go to get a break on the network. But in England, it just doesn’t exist. There aren’t any shows, there used to be, but they’re all gone now.
Amy: So is Saul going to be able to make it for the U.S. tour?
Lias: Yeah. It wasn’t a visa issue. He just lost his passport.
Nathan: He loses his passports by like the week.
Lias:Yeah, he’s incapable of holding onto small objects. Like the phone, passport, keys; those are the three main ones. You know, even if he’s at home drinking tea, it’s just gone. There is something about small objects in his pockets just don’t fucking work in his brain.
Lias: And the stupid bugger lost his passport like eight days before we had to come out here and we needed to get visas and the new passport and it was just impossible.
Amy: Yeah, I went to your show on the 2nd and I definitely missed him. The sound was completely different without him there.
Lias: Well the show at the Mercury was always gonna be a fucking mess because we had to get up at 4 o’ clock to do Letterman.
Nathan: There was a rehearsal with the new guitarist the night before.
Lias: Then we wanted to get kinda high for the Letterman thing, so we started drinking early in the morning so by the time we got to the Mercury Lounge, everybody was just fucking drained, you know?
Amy: Right. Yeah.
Lias: Everybody was kinda celebrating.
Lias: Saul was gone and… you know, he’s an essential part of the group. I mean he kinda is the group to an extent. Do you know what I mean?
Amy: Yeah. I don’t play guitar but I’ve been told by a lot of guitarists that he’s one of the best. He seems really talented…
Lias: Yeah, yeah.
Amy: What’s the name of your new album and when is that coming out?
Lias: Well we haven’t gotten an official title for it yet. Um… so it’s a bit of a project. It’s about 80% done. We will probably release a single or an EP before summer and release the album in like September. So we’re still getting on with it, but like I said we’re so busy with all kinds of shit that when you finally get a couple weeks off in London most people want to go their individual ways. You’re not like eager to get into another windowless room and record and argue about fucking like lyrics and guitar picks… You want to forget about the Fat White Family for a minute. It’s been intensive. By September, end of the summer. My guess is that we are going back to work on it this week, next week back over to Saul so something like that.
Amy: Then when do you start the American tour?
Lias: I don’t know. Well, there’s an issue with us playing in Boston.
Lias: Yeah, because one of our guitar players got really drunk and started doing vile things on the stage. He got a bit carried away that night and I think he offended some people up there, but seriously.
Amy: So you have to stay away from Boston in general?
Lias: Well I got wind that yea,h we have to stay away from Boston, which is a shame.
Amy: Well Boston kind of sucks. You’re not missing much.
Lias: It didn’t seem like the best place. It was a gnarly gig when we were there. I think we’re going down the East Coast and across a little bit. Actually no that’s bullshit, I think we are going down some of the East Coast to Washington then we are going up to like Chicago round about Minneapolis maybe as well and then we are going to Toronto then down to Arizona, then the West Coast. Somewhere in that trajectory. Have you ever been to Arizona?
Amy: I’ve been to Arizona. Sedona is the best part of Arizona to go to because they have these big red clay like mountains. But I was in a Jacuzzi actually with Legs and Gillian at this Five Star hotel in Sedona and all of a sudden I see these things diving towards us while I was in the Jacuzzi and I was like “What the fuck is that?” Bats get really close to you because they are looking for bugs. So Sedona’s cool but other parts of Arizona like Tucson? Kind of shitty.
Lias: I think we are going to Tucson.
Amy: I think that some of the most interesting, coolest kids come from Tucson because its so crappy there; I think it breeds cool people.
Lias: What else is like that? Extremely shitty places with a high, extremely high concentration of cool people. Ireland is generally like that– its sort of shitty, drab. Manchester I guess is similar in that way. Lots of influential artists that came out of Manchester.
Amy: Are there any bands that you guys like that are going on right now in England?
Lias: In England?
Amy: Yeah that you are actually fans of, that you would go see.
Lias: I’m a big fan of a band called Meat Raffle. Yeah, they’ve got a song called “Nice Young Guy, Nice Young Girl” and there’s another one called “Aurora.” Both of which are really great songs and the album will be coming out soon on Trashmouth Records. But they are really worth checking out. I’m not good at descriptions, just check them out– they are just fucking cool, like no one has heard of them yet. It’s really underground at the moment. I like Sleaford Mods.
Amy: Oh yeah, I saw them recently in Brooklyn. I liked them a lot. It was funny because a guy threw a pint on the singer and he got pissed. He’s kind of big, too– and intimidating.
Lias: Yeah, he is big.
Amy: He was like, “I did not fly four thousand miles to get a pint thrown on me,” and he was staring down the guy. Everyone was saying, “I wouldn’t fuck with that dude.”
Lias: Yeah. he seems like a gentle soul but I wouldn’t want to fuck with him really. He’s obviously been in a few scraps hasn’t he. But I love their stuff. Their stuff is great and I think it’s really refreshing.
Amy: Yeah! It’s really different. It’s nice to have something like that going on. I think what’s refreshing about Sleaford Mods and you guys is that you are really down to earth people, there’s no pretention or that “rock star” sort of persona.
Lias: We had a bit of that in the group. We sort of chopped it out now. Well, we had a drummer Dan, a really fantastic drummer, but he was always jumped up on coke and doing all this coked up rock n’ roll rock star bullshit y. And Joe, you know he was just in it to party, he didn’t give a shit about music.
Amy: So they were in it for the wrong reasons.
Lias: They did it for the wrong reasons but now we are just about the music and the writing. That whole sort of rock star thing has hopefully died by now. I mean, none of us have any money so its easy to stay grounded even when we do these big tours. We go back to England and we stay on our island at our parents house.
Amy: I just think that there are a lot of bands that aren’t even successful, that aren’t even good that have that kind of attitude. I just think its ridiculous and it’s a turn off really.
Lias: Lifestylers. For that particular breed of shit I think it’s the best way to put it. You know its like they look at the idea of being in a band and all of the things that that entails. The parties, the associations, you know the fame obviously being a big part of that. Not necessarily alluring to myself but there’s a part of you as an artist when you’re playing in a shitty basement starting out that having people interview you about what you are doing and getting some recognition… I think any artist who denies having a hunger for that is kidding themselves. It holds a certain appeal for the wrong kind of people in a way. You say well I can’t be on reality TV well maybe I can be in a band and when we started the group that really wasn’t the objective. If you would have told me 3 years ago that we were going to be on the Letterman show, I would’ve said that was absolutely totally out of the question; preposterous. There’s no way anybody is going to ever listen to this music outside of South London.
Amy: Yeah, the old men that come to your shows.
Lias: Yeah, a couple of old dudes and I’m pretty fine with that. That was ok. It was what we were doing and we would all go back to someone’s house afterwards. Then we would all go back to our jobs. I was the only one who ever had a job though. I’d get a bar job and then these guys would just show up and there would be a two month period of grace, then I’d get fired. I’d have to move from bar to bar, These fucking vultures, they’d follow me around getting free drinks. Then they would get carried away, then they’d have a fight. Then it would be done. We put our music on Soundcloud and left the country. We didn’t send it anywhere, we didn’t think anyone would listen to it. That really wasn’t our game. We’re not like fashion kids or scenesters, we are quite proud losers.
Amy: Nathan has a nice suit from the 60’s that he says was very cheap.
Lias: You’re a lifestyler.
Nathan: I’m drinking a Margharita!
Lias: You are drinking a $14 Margharita. You are a fucking rock star.
Nathan: I’m on holiday!
Lias: Just because you are not at home doesn’t mean you’re on fucking holiday, man. What about when Buzz Aldrin was on the moon? He was not on holiday.
Nathan: Yes, he was. Ha ha!
Lias: Definition, so when you are not at home you are on holiday? So what about when you are at war, in Afghanistan, are you on holiday?
Amy: So just out of curiosity, you and your brother are indigenous people?
Lias: We are Berbers from a Region in Algeria in Northern Africa.
Amy: So what language do the Berbers speak?
Lias: We speak a language called Kabyle (pronounced Taq-bay-lit)
Amy: Are you guys fluent in that?
Lias: Nah, fuck no its all like… Its all weird throat sounds. They speak French as well because it was a Colony. Yeah, well that’s where my Dad is from and we have been there a couple times. We went there with our band the Saoudi’s.
Amy: Who was there?
Lias: We went there. There aren’t a lot of foreigners there and it was like the hotbed of terrorism for a long time. They had a civil war during the 1990’s, where hundreds of thousands of people got murdered there and it’s got a really bloody history. So we went over there with a punk band with a couple of boys from London, and people were staring at us on the street but it was really friendly. We never encountered any animosity. We were a shit band from South London, so we thought we’d go to the middle of the desert and stay with my family to learn how to write songs. We came up with a couple of good songs over there. We would have a gig and didn’t expect anybody to show up and the whole town would come. Men you know…
Amy: Women weren’t allowed at bars?
Lias: They weren’t bars– they were like these old Soviet block kind of cinemas. They were the same in every city. It would be full of people. Going out to the stage there were five to six hundred people– men.
Amy: Sounds like a sausage fest.
Lias: They were like really going crazy in these small mountain towns. They were like what the fuck is this. Shouting at people. We weren’t the most professional outfit but it’s a really beautiful place. I would actually like to go back there to do some more writing and recording.
Amy: I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never even heard of it!
Lias: We are the original North African people before the Arabs or the Muslims came in. Berber’s are people who had been there for thousands of years.
Amy: You guys look very similar. Do the other people from your village look like you guys?
Lias: No, they are not quite brutally inbred. God bless them though, if they are poor and there is no work you might have to marry your cousin. It’s a beautiful place but it’s a hard place. Not everybody looks exactly like me. Lot of them are kind of weird looking; they are not into the exotic mix.
Amy: Nathan was telling me that he’s going to get a theremin, get his nipples pierced and attach them so he can play on stage like that.
Lias: He mentioned this yesterday to me as well.
Amy: I think that would be a great addition to your live show.
Lias: I like the idea, the thing is I don’t have an instrument. There’s a few really good singers. It would be nice to take a break. He’s already got an instrument, I want an instrument to hide behind. They’ve all got these instruments and because of that they all think I’m some kind of prick.
Amy: You’re a prick because you are the guy without the instrument?
Lias: Yeah, like you’re the only one that’s not really a musician. Even though I can play, just not very well. They’ve got like equipment and stuff.
Amy: And musician talk.
Lias: Right. They go into the studio and jam. For a singer jamming is kind of an odd thing. Stream of consciousness thing, you write.
Lias: We just played a bigger show in the UK, like playing academies where there are thousands and there are barricades. The smaller the shows the more intimate it is the better. Obviously it makes sense, when you sell two thousand tickets you’ve got to do what you got to do which is a shame but no, that does not bother me at all. I quite like having a bit of interaction with the crowd. They took my belt the other night.
Amy: They did?
Lias: It cost me three dollars.
Amy: But did you love the belt? Was it cool?
Lias: No, actually the belt was not that great. It was the principle you know, it was my belt.
Amy: They are taking something for themselves. It’s the principle.
Lias: Yeah, they are taking my things!
Amy: That’s fucked up
Lias: Well, it’s weird.
Amy: Who knows? You don’t know what is going to happen with that band they might be able to sell that belt for like fucking a half a million dollars.
Lias: Yeah. Probably, hopefully one of us dies and then our band will sky rocket. It has to be the guitar player. Usually guitarists, the odds are on the guitar players. Some singers have died, like Jim Morrison. If both the guitar player and the singer passes who knows.
Amy: I mean, Janis Joplin, Stiv Bators from the Dead Boys.
Lias: Brian Jones…
Amy: Do you think Brian Jones was murdered or do you think it was all just an accident?
Lias: I think he popped himself. They tossed him out. He was a bit of a control freak wasn’t he? And then the band that he was exercising this wild power over …
Amy: …decides to rally against him.
Lias: To me that makes sense. They sacked him, he couldn’t make sense out of it and he took himself to death.
Amy: Yup and now the Brian Jonestown Massacre have a great name. Do you like the Brian Jonestown Massacre at all?
Lias: They have that one sort of okay song. I think that all of the lyrics are kind of shit. They put out all this stuff. I’m incredibly anxious about putting out our stuff and I think that Saul is the same way about putting out good stuff. I don’t think that they have quality control, Anton? You know… What was that really good Brian Jonestown Massacre song? You know the one (to Nathan) (they sing it, sort of).
Amy: You know that Anton is from my hometown of Orange County and he sings with a British accent.
Lias: I think that its kind of weird that Yanks go the other way, but I think that Brits going that way it’s perfectly fine. Singing in an American accent, culturally if you are British whether you like it or not you are growing up kind of schizophrenic. Half of what we watch on television is American where I grew up. So I figure its my right to sing in an American accent.
Amy: Do you feel like it’s an American accent that you sing in?
Lias: I think it switches in and out. On the record it kind of is mid Atlantic, that’s what they call it. I don’t really have a place that I can call home. I’ve been to Northern Ireland, Scotland, my Mom is from northern England, and my Dad’s Algerian and I’ve been in London for the last ten years so I couldn’t say that I was Scottish. I couldn’t say that I was Irish and I couldn’t say that I was Northern English. I feel entitled to singing in whatever accent I feel like singing in at the time. Sometimes I feel confused about that, you want to produce things that people can relate to without the colloquialisms and that’s often the route. Some flag waving, I am from HERE and sometimes I think that I would like to be able to do that but not really. With music I can express myself.
Amy: You probably never had voice lessons.
Lias: No, I’d probably like to get them now but like I figured…
Amy: But I don’t want that to ruin you. I think your voice is great the way it is.
Lias: Thank you very much, but its like a strain. I would like to learn and get better. People that go around with their screaming and shouting music are fucking themselves up. I had all kinds of health problems last year and it was a nightmare so I don’t mind learning some new things and I don’t intend on going around screaming at people forever. Its about what I do now, but I would like to do things with a little more tenderness.
Amy: You were a teacher, you were telling me. What did you teach?
Lias: English to foreign people. I did it in China first for six months. That’s where my big brother lives.
Amy: So did you stay with him while you were over there?
Lias: I stayed with him while I was over there. It was really easy to get work doing that. I kind of hit rock bottom in London I couldn’t even find a bar job, I mean there was nothing. It was like the depression, things were bad here. I had to go to this shop class from 9-5pm where they told you to wash before an interview. We were trying to get this band together, me and Saul were just fighting and scrapping so I was just like fuck this and went to China. Ended up doing that and it was great for me because it was like a proper job, a little bit of responsibility. I was with teenagers and I felt like I could do a job, a normal job. I found a little bit of self-respect doing, I was a teacher all of a sudden. I had convinced myself that I was such a loser in London. Going was really a good thing.
Amy: Is there anything else that you would like to tell me about the band?
Lias: Just touring… recording…. It’s a lot of pressure. It’s weird making stuff knowing that people are gonna actually listen to it instead of just making it for your own amusement. I guess everything hinges on our ability to negate the situation successfully. And work with what is now a dialogue, what was once just a sob screaming at the walls is… now there is someone at the end of the line. You have to be savvy enough to play with that. Write that into the writing, people’s idea of you and their characterization of you that they’ve got built into them from the press or by shows they’ve heard about. There is already an identity that they’ve bought into to a certain extent and you can shift that one way or another and generate some kind of surprise hopefully or some kind of surprise out of it. The problem with most bands is that they quickly become a characterization of themselves and a machine. I don’t want that to happen to the Fat White Family. I think we can record any type of music, no matter how loud or quiet and take in any kind of subject matter. That is the crux of the thing with anyone who has been really successful, is they kept shifting. You’re in charge, you dictate the terms.
Amy: With the public… yeah.
Lias: As long as you’re still calling the shots and if you can do that and people are still willing to receive, even though it’s not what they’re expecting, then you’ll be a success. For me, that’s my main anxiety. What I worry about the most.
Amy: You can’t ever listen to bad press. You gotta be true to yourself.
Lias: Yeah…. It’s weird. You always feel like you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. For me anyway, regardless. It’s absurd that people have shown interest in it. I mean, it’s like little notes that I’ve scribbled down in a book and then I try to attach them to Saul’s melodies. It’s all fragmented and riddled with insecurities. I’m always alarmed that anyway wants to listen to it. I’m always surprised to see an audience waiting for us when we go out on stage that never changes. Four years of being on the dole and working shit jobs and given a life that was mundane and dull and there weren’t any prospects, to all of a sudden being flown around the world and getting to stay in New York City. Which a few years ago would have been a fantasy. So there is interesting stuff going on and you don’t want it to stop, but you know if what you do is shit next then you will have to go back to the drudgery. But then that won’t be so bad because you will probably get some good songs out that kind of failure. It’s a good place to start as a songwriter… rancid failure. A dedication to failure.
Amy: I always think that the 1st and 2nd albums are the best for most bands. Because they are still scraping at the bottom. They’re still trying.
Lias: Yeah. Instead of losing what gains you’ve just made. So you think about it obsessively.
Amy: What song would you have played at your funeral?
Lias: I had Phillip Glass at my wedding. So for my funeral maybe “Father of Time” by Paul Gascoin. I know that Saul would have “Going Underground” by The Jam. He’s frequently said that. Which is classic London Saul.
PKM: “Going Underground,” that’s so perfect. Hahaha!
Lias: Nathan, what about you?
Nathan: “It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere” by Jimmy Buffett.
Lias: That would bring tears to many eyes. Memories of all those early day drinking sessions.