Finding Sanctuary with Fat White Family

It’s no longer that animalistic, heroin, kind of dirt sound, you know?

On the face of it, members of Fat White Family moving to Sheffield and opening a recording studio in Attercliffe seemed a slightly random move. A band so intertwined in the South London punk scene, and all the grimy debauchery associated with it, relocating to a post-industrial city lying just outside of the Peak District may have turned heads. But, as frontman Lias Sauodi explained to Jess Peace last month, it turned out to be just the tonic needed and has led in-part to their third album, Serfs Up!, being hailed as their most accomplished yet.

Why did you first decide to move up to Sheffield and did this have any influence on the band’s sound?
I guess I started working with Adrian Flanagan from The Moonlandingz a couple of years previous after the gig we played up in Sheffield, the infamous Harley gig. I started using Sheffield as a retreat from all the chaos and the heroin problems that were about to implode within the group and I thought: ‘Well, we’re going to need to find a refuge, somewhere where we can work to get away from hard drugs and all the distractions of being in London and just concentrate on the music again.’ Sheffield fit the bill perfectly for that. You know, it’s not like you’re in the middle of nowhere, you’re still in a city and there’s still stuff to do.

Photo: Duncan Stafford

Have you had the chance to delve into the Sheffield music scene? If so, what are your thoughts?
Obviously there’s loads of Sheffield music. There’s this avant-garde electronic history that Sheffield primarily has for itself, and to weave ourselves into the fabric of that was an ambition that sort of lingered in the background of making the decision to move up here as well.

You opened your own recording studio, ChampZone, in Attercliffe last year. How has that been as an experience for the band?
We found out that we could rent a studio space down in Attercliffe for next to nothing, which meant that we were able to try out new ideas. It also meant that our budget would last a year and a half, not just the two months like it would in London. We learnt how to use a studio and we learnt about different equipment and techniques and stuff like that. Having that space enabled us to communicate with each other in a healthy way for the first time in a few years.

Your third album is out now. How would you say the Fat White’s sound has evolved since first starting out?
It’s no longer that animalistic, heroin, kind of dirt sound, you know? There’s a more happy-go-lucky kind of vibe. It’s rich in melody and reference. It’s more danceable and more synth-oriented as opposed to guitar-based. It’s less sarcastic and it’s more personal. I like to think that it’s slightly more honest – and it’s more fun!

Photo: Ben Graville

What impact did the change of location have on the creative process behind the album? 
Mainly, it was a completely different approach to making the last album we made. It was already kind of DIY, which is how we started, but it’s been a massive learning curve. It was great to be able to have the time and space to record, at any time. We could be in there until four in the morning or whatever it was, there was no watching the clock. It really opened the experience up for us. It meant that we did things in a staggered way. We would do a session for two weeks, leave it for a month and then come back to it fresh. Things were recorded over a longer period of time, because we had the freedom to work that way. I guess that was the best thing about it.

What about the challenges faced?
There was a lot of abusive behaviour around drugs which had gone down between different members in the past, and there were all kinds of problems which stemmed from that. Sifting through was the most difficult bit; it meant we had to deal with the past. We had to build up a big enough wall that would protect us from the infestation of heroin at any point during the recording process. The actual parts where we were laying down music in the studio were a pleasure this time around. Sheffield was our smack fortress, somewhere we could keep an eye on the situation.

Which is your favourite track on the album and why?
My favourite track on the album is probably ‘When I Leave’. I like the slow, kind of throbbing groove to it and I’m really proud of the lyrics on it as well, I think this is some of my best writing. So purely for vain reasons, I’d say that track.

What inspires you the most when you’re writing?
I think it comes down to a combination of personal failures and inspiration from other people’s writing. I like to take ideas from literature and stuff and then reform them into my own image. I guess a big one for this album was Jean Genet, I read a lot of that. Edward Dorm, he wrote things Gunslinger which was really good. Stuff like that I guess is what I take inspiration from.

You’ve just announced a string of live dates. With the new material marking a change in the sound, can people expect a different live experience?
I think people can expect a bit more groove this time but with some of the same old chaos that we brought to the table the first time around. I mean, I don’t want to spoil it for everybody, I think people should come and find out.

What is the most common misconception about Fat White Family?
I think the fact that we’re labelled degenerates. Even though we are receiving glowing reviews for this album, people still refer to us as degenerates. Most people would not normally be willing to relocate en-masse to another part of the country to spend two years developing a set of musical ideals at the drop of a hat. I would say that the common delusion is that we are slackers, when in actual fact we are severely dedicated to our craft.

Photo: Sarah Piantadosi

A fun one to finish. If you could host your own chat show and invite on three guests, dead or alive, who would they be?
I would go for Oscar Wilde for obvious reasons – he’d be good for a bit of a chat. Leonard Cohen would probably be a bit quiet, wouldn’t he? So I dunno about that one, but it would have to be a good mix. Maybe I’d go for Oscar Wilde, Leonard Cohen and Kriss Akabusi.

Fat White Family play Leadmill on 9 May. Tickets and more info available at

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