Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Fat White Family’s Lias Saoudi

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: frontman Lias Saoudi

1
What did Fat White Family bill yourselves as when you held a tribute gig to Arctic Monkeys in Sheffield in 2018?

“Oh man! [Laughs] That was such a terrible move. Was it Shartic Monkeys?”

CORRECT.

“It’s not even a good pun! It’s not even a clever bit of wordplay. It’s a cringe-fest thinking back to that. We didn’t even play any Arctic Monkeys songs either, which was our plan. It’s one of those things you think is hilarious with your little brother for about three hours and then you’ve made a flyer. Did the Arctic Monkeys react? No, they were coolly quiet about it. They maintained a dignified silence.”

We're putting on a tribute night in Sheffield next month in honour of our label mates, local legends, the Arctic…

Posted by Fat White Family on Wednesday, April 25, 2018

2
Róisín Murphy directed Fat White Family’s surreal ‘Tastes Good With The Money’ video. According to the credits that appear midway through, who is its Brexit supervisor?

“Hmmm… That’s a tricky one. I’m going to take a stab in the dark: Phil Tidy?”

WRONG. It’s Nancy Sinatra, while the director is credited as ‘Irish Backstop’.

[Laughs] “Nancy Sinatra was our Brexit supervisor?! That’s nice of her to contribute! Personally, I prefer videos of the ‘Touch the Leather’ variety, when you wrap them up within an hour. It’s difficult to keep the momentum up on something more ambitious where you’ve heard the song so much, you don’t want to hear it again.”

Talking of Fat White Family’s ‘Touch the Leather’, the legendary Tony Visconti hailed it as the “best thing he’d heard since [Iggy Pop’s] ‘Lust For Life’’ and offered to produce you. Do you ever regret turning him down?

“Eeeh… If I start thinking about one regret, they’ll just be a swarm of regrets feasting on my ill-begotten flesh, so I try not to ruminate on that. I guess it might have been nice. You live and learn.”

3
A simpler one now: which musician, who’s immortalised in a Fat White Family song title*, once threw a glass of champagne over your keyboardist (and brother) Nathan Saoudi?

“That’s just too easy! That’s Mark E. Smith. The Goblin King.”

CORRECT. Backstage at Glastonbury 2015, Nathan asked Mark E. Smith for a cup of his champagne. Smith invited him to sit down, then hurled the contents he’d just poured into Nathan’s face. Nathan retaliated by chucking a cup of cider at the splenetic Fall frontman.

“It was like a panto on meth. It was very surreal. I was crippled with inaction and cowardice, but it was out of order. To a certain extent, we were getting the full Mark E. Smith show that day. He relished spreading that magic wherever he went. He was permanently on a wind-up and not remotely conventional – he was a complete force unto himself.”

*The Fat White Family song is 2014’s ‘I Am Mark E. Smith’

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4
Which 2017 film uses ‘Whitest Boy on the Beach’ as its end credits music?

“It’s T2 Trainspotting.”

CORRECT. The 1996 original film is famously about the impact of drugs and excess, and your no-holds-barred narcotic-filled new memoir, Ten Thousand Apologies: Fat White Family and the Miracle of Failure, is similarly bleakly funny and chaotic. In it, you quip that Fat White Family are ‘always a drug band with a rock problem’…

“That’s just a slogan… I don’t agree with that one-liner at all. We’re basically a collection of artists who are all degenerate. Everyone’s got their demons and their drug issues, so I don’t think that’s a fair appellation. The book pulls plenty of punches because I can’t be completely honest until everybody’s dead. In 40 years time – if I live that long – I’ll probably write a far better and more explicit edition!”

5
For what unusual reason were you thrown in jail after a set at Sicily’s Ypsigrock Festival in 2015?

“Well, I was having relations with my guitar player [Adam J. Harmer] of an erotic nature.”

CORRECT. Adam fellated you onstage – just another day at the office for Fat White Family!

“Security took offence to it. Both the crowd and the festival organisers didn’t seem to mind, but I got taken away in a police car to a little police station up in the hills. I felt like Christ on the cross – it was the most Catholic police station you could imagine. But that was a fun night!”

Fat White Family became renowned for their debauched live antics, such as when you notoriously defecated onstage mid-gig, before smearing your freshly-laid faeces over your bandmates. What goes through your mind during that?

“You’re in a state of euphoric thoughtlessness. I considered myself to be a performance artist. We’d had 10 years of landfill indie by the time we came around. It was just poseurs and middle-class borelords from coast to coast. I felt: can’t the stage be reclaimed as a space for confrontation and stuff that’s challenging and how far can you actually go? Because my life was in complete disarray, I had absolutely nothing to lose, so it didn’t matter how badly I disgraced myself: the worse, the better. That was combined with a sudden feeling onstage of: ‘We’re all in the mood for this.’ People relished it. I haven’t done it in years, and I don’t want to return to that carry-on, but I stand by that it was worth exploring.”

Do you see any of Fat White Family’s exhibitionism in pop now?

“The tone has completely shifted in the last 10 years. We’ve drifted into a culture of safety and censoriousness and, at the very deep end, puritanism. Nobody’s allowed to ask the questions I was asking back then – like what are the extremes? – without being garrotted in the digital public square almost instantly. Music is a gentrified place, and the rogue fuck-ups like us with a few guitars and an attitude problem don’t seem to be accepted.”

6
Apart from yourself, name all four vocalists who appear on The Moonlandingz (your side project with Sheffield’s Eccentronic Research Council) 2017 ‘Interplanatory Class Classics’ album.  

Yoko Ono, Randy [Jones] from the Village People….is [The Human League’s] Phil Oakey on there? Oh, and Rebecca Taylor, aka Self Esteem. Quite the cast!”

CORRECT. It was the only act released on your ‘Without Consent’ label.

“It was a lark. We tried to keep a B-movie, trashy vibe. I’m in the middle of doing another one, but I keep getting waylaid with other projects.”

Talking about Yoko Ono, there’s a memorable section in your memoir where you break into her room in your friend and collaborator Sean Lennon’s house while on acid. Breaking in is your second choice after rejecting your first idea of thinking it would be funny to kill him…

“[Laughs] That was one of those ideas that when you’re tripping balls, it makes a strange sort of sense for a moment and everybody gasps at the hilarity of the implications. What can I say? We’re all a horrible bunch of fuckers who thought it would be funny to murder Sean Lennon!”

 

7
To fund Fat White Family’s trip to South by Southwest in 2014, what workshop run by you did you offer fans a chance to bid on?

“It was a workshop in primal scream therapy.”

CORRECT.

“Which nobody took me up on! Sadly! [Laughs] I’m still here and waiting for that call! Most of that shit got bought [including anthologies of rarities and the opportunity to have the band visit your house and cook a meal], which is how we got to SXSW.”

“The whole thing is a tribute to our resourcefulness. It’s all just sellotaped together and barely holds. We’re trying to finish making a vaguely jazzy album but none of us are competent enough to play jazz [laughs]. But we’re trying anyway – that’s our core ethic.”

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8
What did the Fat White Family threaten to do in 2015 if Mac DeMarco continued making music?

“Join Isis?”

CORRECT.

[Laughs] We’re still waiting on that!”

9
What rating out of 10 did NME award your bandmate Saul Adamczewski’s pre-Fat White Family group The Metros’ 2008 debut album ‘More Money Less Grief’?

“Was it one or zero?”

CORRECT. One out of 10. Ouch!

“Only ‘cause you probably can’t give zeroes! I think he’d had some scrape with the journalist beforehand. Not to defend that record, which was made by 18-year-olds in the deep end of indie landfill.”

In the book, that rejection seems to have an effect on Saul and the seemingly dictatorial way he approaches the Fat White Family…

“His bitter cynicism with the entire music industry, the press, was infused with that rejection and experience of being blown up at that age when you’re a teenager and having your head filled with ridiculous promises of cash and cocaine and then it’s like: ‘See you later, pal’. It would have fucked me up for life. Everything that followed wasn’t pretty, but he’s kept making the tunes, which is the best you can hope for.”

Your relationship with Saul is volatile at times. At one point, you shop for a taser – unable to find one, you settle on a pepper spray – to defend yourself against him during band arguments…

“It seemed like a completely rational course of action. Everyone outside of our weird psychotic bubble would think it’s obviously insane and somebody should be stopping this happening. It was incredibly damaging for everybody involved. But within the little kingdom we built, it was just: OK, how do we make it from A to B so we can get to the next show and get paid? And we had no homes to go back to, so it was just a mad druggy death spiral. Everybody half-expected somebody to just croak it at some point and that would be the end of it. Looking back on it now, it’s patently hilarious. The only positive you can draw out of being lost for that long is at least I got some chuckles from it!”

Events reach almost sitcom levels of farce when recording the 2019 album ‘Serfs Up!’  at a smack-free house in Sheffield. You evict Adam for using, who ends up living in a tent in a nearby graveyard. Saul moves into his old room, and ironically is secretly taking heroin there…

“We’re like Frasier on meth! [Laughs] It reaches peak hilarity when we desperately try to impose a moral code. Adam being kicked out is a prime example – but in retrospect it’s so comically self-defeating, because there’s no system that works. Somehow, though, we made the record.”

10
You were immortalised by Cynthia Plaster Caster, known for making casts of rock star appendages, in 2014. What number were you in her collection of  sculpted manhoods?

“Oof fuck! I don’t know – uh, 32?”

WRONG. You’re 77.

“Seven’s my lucky number as well! What higher honour for a person in my line of work could there be?!”

The verdict: 8/10

“All things considered, I think I’ve lost the right amount of brain cells.”

– ‘Ten Thousand Apologies: Fat White Family and the Miracle of Failure’ by Lias Saoudi and Adelle Stripe is published by White Rabbit

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