Fat White Family

M meets Fat White Family, the UK’s scrawniest, most exciting new band.

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 11 Feb 2014
  • min read
Chaos and column inches go hand in hand so it’s unsurprising that one has led to the other for Brixton’s Fat White Family.

This loose-limbed collective of ramshackle music makers from South London have got music industry tongues doing some serious wagging after a slurry of raucous live gigs and confrontational way with words. In many cases, bluster only goes so far - but thankfully their guitar heavy sound is as deliriously intoxicated and ragged as they look in their gaunt press shots.

Debut album Champagne Holocaust - 11 tracks of primal country, soul, rock ‘n’ pop - was one of last year’s most promising while EP Wet Hot Beef is almost as tasty. They sound like the Birthday Party and Captain Beefheart slugging it out in the New Cross Inn but with more of an idea where the pop hooks are kept.

We quizzed guitarist and singer Saul down a crackly phone line on the power of their unholy sound and why playing at this year’s SXSW will be a dream come true…

Which records inspired you to start writing music?

I bought a Rancid/NOFX split record when I was about 13 and me and my friends started a band as a result. That was the first initial inspiration but it didn’t make me want to start writing music - more like just be in a band. Be in a gang. I didn’t really care about the music.

How would you describe your music to the uninitiated?

It’s really varied - at the moment, we’re going for a cartoon, industrial sound. Machine kind of noise. Tinny, guitar riffs. Discordant. Psychedelic. There’s elements of old country and blues in there too. Stuff like that. It’s a mad mix of all the things we’re into.

Which artists inspire you?

We don’t really look to other artists for inspiration. But we’re into loads of other bands and artists. Loads. The Monks. The Fall, Captain Beefheart, The Birthday Party, the Dead Kennedys. A huge mix.

Have you got a favourite venue?

We play at the Queen’s Head all the time. It’s our base in Brixton. You’d think it was our favourite venue the amount of times we play there but you’d be wrong! The Windmill in Brixton is a cool place to play. It’s a bit of a local institution.

How does the creative process work?

It varies – sometimes Lias the singer will write songs and bring it to us to play on an acoustic. Then we’ll work on it and write an arrangement together. But a lot of it, I’ll write, mostly in my head on the way to band practices. Humming it. Humming - that’s how we write songs.

Where do you record?

We made the album in New Malden in our label’s studio. We could only go in there one day every two weeks. It was really spaced out and took ages to do. That’s why it sounds so different. We haven’t really recorded anywhere else.

Does the setting have anything to do with your sound?

The depressing area of New Malden? Maybe. Not consciously. But I imagine it probably did have some influence on us. It does sound like New Malden.

Which songs should those who don’t know you listen to first?

Wet Hot Beef - I’d point people towards that. If you like that, then you’ll like the rest. If you don’t like that, then you probably shouldn’t listen to anything else we’ve done.

What are you working towards with the rest of 2014?

We’re working on our second record now. We might be doing another single and we’re going to America and touring the UK. Just loads of stuff - we’re really busy.

We’ll be at SXSW this year thanks to getting a PRS for Music Foundation grant to go. There’s no way we would be going without the financial support from them. We did a pledge music thing - which has nearly reached its target. With the grant, we can go over and do a little tour and play at SXSW. It’s a dream come true for us.

Are you feeling any pressure being so widely tipped by the industry?

I’m a bit sceptical about all that to be honest. I don’t feel any pressure. It’s designed to make you feel like that. It’s a bad thing. It destroys bands. People start believing their own press, and once you start believing that shit you’re doomed.

It’s nice that people say nice things but really it’s meaningless. You just keep working at it. There’s also a competitive element to it which I disagree with. We didn’t set out to make music because of that.

What’s your most memorable gig?

We run our own night at the Queen’s Head. Loads of those have been really memorable because they started out with ten people - and now they almost always sell out. Loads of crazy gigs - you can kind of do anything you want there. One of the best ones we did was where there were only three people in the audience and we played for hours and hours. That was fucking great. We've also played some good gigs in the Lexington, supported Lydia Lunch there.

Why do you think music is important?

I don’t really. I can’t really answer that. I’m not sure that it is. In the grand schemes of things, whatever helps people get through their lives is important I guess. Things are pretty miserable, so if music can take you away from the misery of everyday life, then that’s a good thing.