Fat White Family make mischief stateside
Cocooned in an American Airlines blanket and resembling a dusty Artful Dodger, Fat White Family’s guitarist Saul Adamczewski plops down on an ancient sofa at Shea Stadium, a rough-around-the-edges venue on Williamsburg’s industrial fringes. A disco ball hangs motionless above the stage and behind us, an enormous plastic marlin is suspended on the wall. It’s spring, 2014, and the South London six-piece, who played their first New York gig on the Lower East Side two nights before we meet, will soon turn this innocuous Brooklyn warehouse into a raucous rock ‘n’ roll shambles. This October, the band returns to the Big Apple to play a headline show at The Bowery Ballroom before embarking on a six week tour across the country. On this sunny spring afternoon though, as his band mates straggle in, Adamczewski busies himself ripping into a bag of candy.
“Want a Refresher?”
I must eye him with suspicion.
“It’s a British sweet,” he clarifies, flashing me a gap-toothed grin and popping a pastel candy in my hand. “But you’re Australian, so you call sweets lollies, don’t you?”
“What?” asks singer Lias Saoudi, dragging over a chair, “even when they’re in that form?”
“Any form,” Adamczewski says, mid-chew.
“So if you have a Snickers in Australia, do you call that a lolly?”
“No Lias, a sweet is a lolly. Like Skittles,” says Adamczewski.
“Oh so a Skittle is a lolly. That’s mad.”
Formed in Brixton in 2010, Fat White Family (Saoudi, vocals, Adamczewski, guitar, Adam Harmer, guitar, Joe Pancucci, bass, Nathan Saoudi, organ, and Dan Lyons, drums) is not a band you expect to be sat around eating candy with. Their riotous live shows and contentious lyrics have earned them a reputation as cheeky provocateurs, or, as The Guardian put it “clownish agitators”, but in person, they’re surprisingly docile.
“I mean, we like a party, but we’re not terrifying,” says Saoudi, aghast that I expected anything less than good manners.
“We only ever fight amongst each other. There’s never any trouble with anybody else. We do actually try and get on with people.”
Inspired by post-punk bands The Fall, Birthday Party and The Gun Club, Fat White Family’s squatty mish-mash of punk, rock, blues, rockabilly and psychedelia earned them slots at a string of 2014 festivals including South by Southwest and Glastonbury, while their sexy, seedy track "Touch the Leather" has had regular airplay on commercial radio.
Their debut record Champagne Holocaust, released in the US in August, was described by NME as “a sonic interpretation of a William Burroughs or Marquis De Sade novel, a David Cronenberg film or Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover – willfully artful, but vile and disturbing” and they’re currently working on album number two, to be released on their own label.
Fat White Family got together following the disintegration of Adamczewski’s band The Metros, who were signed to Sony BMG imprint 1965 Records and touted as the next Libertines. Saoudi’s pub rock outfit with brother Nathan fell apart at a similar time, and the boys convened above a pub in Brixton, where they lived until recently, to knock about ideas. Adhering to a no gig policy for a year so they could focus on writing, band members came and went until the current line-up stuck and they hit the South London circuit.
Their fusion of genres and raw energy on stage quickly garnered them a cult following, while their controversialist approach, including the video for "Touch the Leather", which features a nude Nathan Saoudi sailing around on a skateboard in the background, has raised a few eyebrows.
“It’s just our sense of humor,” shrugs Adamczewski.
“We’re not really into political correctness, and I don’t mind if a few people get riled up by that. We’ve definitely managed to upset some of the right people. Also, we were really broke, bitter and homeless when we were writing, so that inspired our music.”
“I find it strange that people think we’re shocking,” says Saoudi, “when there were far more shocking things than the ‘Touch the Leather’ video going on years ago.”
“I don’t know if anybody actually is shocked,” interrupts Adamczewski, “or if they’re just being told that it’s shocking so they’re reacting to that. In any case, I don’t think that’s the stuff that will define us.”
“Want another lolly?”
Fat White Family play The Bowery Ballroom Saturday, October 18.
Photographs by Roger Sargent