If you believe what you read in the music press, you could be forgiven for thinking The Fat White Family are a bit of a shambles; a rag-tag mob of squatting, swearing and sensationally entertaining fuck-ups.
Some of that, naturally, is true enough.
There’s no smoke without fire; or, in the Fat White’s world, without a severed pig’s head being chucked around in the front row of your gigs.
But the South London five-piece are much more than the shambolic, hedonist cartoon they are occasionally portrayed to be. They’ve got smarts, balls and a natural mistrust of the music industry.
And in 2015, they’re going to prove it.
Last year, The Fat Whites, with their manager Nigel Templeman at Red Light, made the bold move of launching their own record label – in partnership with [PIAS].
They did so not because of a lack of music biz interest, but rather in spite of it.
They had whipped up a huge storm of hype in the industry, thanks to their electric live performances and much-acclaimed debut LP, Champagne Holocaust.
But they didn’t ask for it, and they didn’t want it.
The Fat Whites were inundated with both major and independent record deal offers (and, no doubt, the cheques to go with them), but opted to go it alone.
This year, their record label – Without Consent – will release The Fat White’s hugely anticipated second album.
Without Consent is no vanity project; in addition to issuing their own material, the band want to use it to give a leg-up to the weirder, darker side of today’s indie music underground.
The Independent Echo caught up with guitarist and songwriter Saul Adamczewski – one of the architects of The Fat Whites alongside frontman Lias Saudi – to ask what we can expect from the new LP, and why the band has chosen to remain completely independent.
The Fat White Family headlined the first ever, sold-out [PIAS] Nites in London on Monday, January 26, at The Village Underground in Shoreditch.
Why did you take the step of launching your own label? We can surely assume that there was lots of interest from more ‘traditional’ labels?
One of the main reasons was that we’d end up owning our own songs, which is obviously a good thing. It gave us total freedom to do whatever we wanted.
It also meant we could put out other bands, which we intend on doing; we’ve already got one album ready to come out and we’re going to be reissuing some other stuff.
It’s just a great, really interesting thing to do. And I guess nowadays, the more traditional record labels are becoming increasingly irrelevant, really.
Did you have interest from the majors?
Yeah, we had interest from majors and indies. But there were no labels in the UK that we really liked. There was no-one who were were like ‘wow’ about.
In America we signed to Fat Possum – they go through [PIAS] as well. That’s a label we genuinely love. But in the UK, there wasn’t anyone we had that respect for.
We’ll see, hopefully [Without Consent] outlives the band, ideally.
Did you take any of the meetings at the offices of major labels? Because if you did, that’s an image I would enjoy.
Nah man. We didn’t even really entertain it – not as far as records went. Where publishing was concerned we had a few dinners with some people I can’t remember.
What’s happening with your publishing?
We signed to Domino in the end. They’re nice guys.
Can you tell us anything about the acts you’ve already signed to Without Consent?
They’re called the Eccentronic Research Council. They are essentially a duo; two guys from Sheffield, Adrian [Flanagan] and Dean [Honer].
Dean used to be in I Monster and has done loads of different things; he was in The Fall and a band called Kings Have Long Arms who were really good.
So it’s a collaboration between them and an actress called Maxine Peake, who’s pretty famous – she’s won a BAFTA. It’s quite hard to explain, but it’s basically a concept album about a woman stalking the lead singer of a band.
Within the album there’s this fictional band, called The Moonlandings, and me and Lias are playing the lead role.
Lias is the singer of this pretend band, called Johnny Rocket, and Maxine Peake is stalking Lias in this fictional town up north called Valhalladale. It’s all very weird.
That sounds like more than just an album!
We’re going to do a Moonlandings EP, then we’ll do the proper [ERC] album as well. It’s really cool, it goes through this whole story with all different kinds of musical styles.
“No-one on major labels is given a chance to develop or build. [Signing to one] wasn’t ever a decision we were going to make”
You probably wouldn’t get to do that on a massive label.
No, not at all. The thing about those kind of labels is there’s very little leeway.
If you don’t sell – and these days, does anyone ‘sell’? – or come up to what they want you to, you get dropped.
No-one’s given a chance to develop or build themselves up. It’s pretty cut-throat, especially at the majors. That wasn’t a decision we were ever going to make.
What kind of acts are you looking to sign to Without Consent?
We’re not looking for any particular kinds of acts, as such.
There’s a few people we’ve been talking to that we’re interested in doing projects with; we might be doing a record with a guy called Jeffrey Lewis from America – an ‘anti-folk’ singer.We might be reissuing some blues stuff from Fat Possum. There’s a weird busker we want to do some stuff with.
There’s always these projects that other people who are ‘in the music industry’, I guess, find it hard to take gambles on.
But we’re not really ‘in the music industry’. We don’t want to be.
We’ve read that you’re working with Sean Lennon on the new album – how’s that going?
We’ve worked with Sean on some of it. We got about four songs done in the sessions with him it was great getting to work with him.
He’s a good friend of ours now – he’s got a good ear and a really nice studio. But he’s not the only guy we’ve been working with; we’re also working with the same guy who produced the first album.
I’ve done some production too – we all kind of produce it together.
Are you ready to release it? Do you know when it might be coming?
We’ve got about 15 songs done now, which is a bit much for an album so we’ll try to whittle it down to the best of those.
We’ve recorded everything now so we’re just finishing the songs and then we’re going to start mixing it. I was hoping to get it done in the next couple of weeks, but it’s looking unlikely.
The idea was to get it released either before the summer or after the summer. There’s no point releasing anything during the summer. It looks like a September release at the moment.
Where around the world do you feel at home? Where are people starting to ‘get’ you?
Well I feel most at home… at home, which is in London. But we’ve started to do much better in America.
It looks like we might be playing the Letterman show, which is pretty good. It was a bit of a cold reception at first but it seems like [the work] kind of paid of. They’ve started to warm to us.
Then we’ve got a European tour starting [in February]. Things are always good for us in Europe. We haven’t got to Japan or Australia yet but hopefully we can do that this year.
Are there any bands out there you really like at the moment?
Yeah, there’s loads. Meat Raffle; we’re massive, massive fans of theirs. They’re on the label we were on before, Trashmouth.
I quite like that band Bo Ningen – I saw them play recently and they were pretty amazing.
There’s a band called Claw Marks that are friends of ours that we really like too. There’s lots of weird music being made everywhere, always. But it always seems to get to a certain level, but [no higher].
I know so many fucking great bands that are completely underground, playing in small pubs to 10 people. People are starting to know who Bo Ningen are, I suppose.
They’ve certainly reached a ‘Pitchfork’ level of success – music fans know who they are.
Yeah, but a lot of that Pitchfork kind of stuff is so arty and serious. It’s like you have to take yourself so seriously, and people are always following each other; a lot of the music I hear is so derivative.
“We like projects that people in the music industry find it hard to take gambles on”
It sounds like everyone’s trying to sound like Ariel Pink or the next thing – I like Ariel Pink, but you know what I mean.
Is that underground, playing-in-a-pub type of band the sort of act you’re looking to help out with the label?
To be honest, what we hope to sign is a mixture. There’s a couple of things we’ve been looking at that may have more of a commercial success [potential] – essentially people who make more pop kind of stuff.
Really, we’re hoping to use it as a way to put out things that are to our tastes. And our tastes tend to be pretty weird. So I can’t imagine filling any stadiums any time soon.
At one end of the market, we have vinyl – a format you’ve definitely embraced so far – and at the other, we have Spotify and streaming. How do you feel about the vinyl revival? And how are you getting on with Spotify?
Personally, I think [Spotify’s] a good thing. It’s a troublesome thing for some people. I had this conversation with Sean [Lennon] recently actually – this whole thing about people not paying for music.
I have to say, the people who usually most vocally complain about it are those who stand to lose the most; and they’re also the people who already have the most.
Look at the people who have really complained – people like fucking Lars Ulrich. Cunts like that.
[Lars Ulrich and Metallica stayed off iTunes until 2006, then remained off Spotify until 2013.]
What did you make of Thom Yorke’s position on Spotify – removing as much material from the service as he could – then releasing his latest album through BitTorrent?
I don’t know. I don’t ever keep up with anything Thom Yorke does. In fact, I try and avoid anything that guy does.
What’s he doing now? Letting people pay want they want for his music again?
Yes, kind of. [Fans could download part of Yorke’s album on BitTorrent for free but had to pay for the full bundle.]
Right. Well I bet loads of people would pay loads of money for that.
Personally, I wouldn’t pay anything. In fact, I wouldn’t even download it if you paid me.
You’re clearly not a fame-hungry ‘career band’. So what’s your aim with The Fat White Family?
The Fat White Family is just a platform for me and Lias to release the songs that we write at the moment.
Hopefully, we’ll be able to do some more good records and tours, then move onto other projects at some point – me and him doing something new.
Hopefully it’s just a stage in our lives and we’re not still doing this in 30 years time.