Silence Is Easy: Fat White Family Interviewed
, January 21st, 2016 07:47
Lias Saoudi of Fat White Family talks to Anna Wood about monsters of the past, how to lower expectations, chances of a socialist future and learning to revel in misery
The Fat White Family's second album, Songs For Our Mothers, is rich and fascinating, lyrically and musically. At live shows, they are wild, livid, smutty, loud – just the right side of terrifying; on record the terror accumulates almost without you noticing, under cover of lascivious melodies, taboo-tickling lyrics and creepy sing-along choruses.
On this album there's camp garage-horror stomping, swirling and raging disco, sunshine-y stoner wigouts, and an extraordinary closing ballad. There are threads that might remind you of The Monks, The Cramps and The Fall but also Delia Derbyshire, Primal Scream, Latin medieval chants, Kurt Weill, Bob Dylan, The Shangri-Las, Goblin, and the bit in Jaws where Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw sweetly and drunkenly sing together on the boat.
Alongside allusions to fascism, there's fury and horror enough here for contemplations on Harold Shipman, heroin casualties, austerity and the death of David Clapson, as well as a track that's ostensibly about Ike and Tina Turner's abusive relationship. It all coheres into a deeply, delightfully enjoyable whole. There's a sense of pleasure and a sense of humour, and a sense of revelling gleeful in bleak and sticky horrors.
The band formed five years ago, with Lias Saoudi and Saul Adamczewski at the centre, but the line-up has been shifting around recently – Lias' brother Nathan is still on keyboards and Adam Harmer is still on guitar. Saul has been away though and the recent tour had Dale Barclay, previously of The Amazing Snakeheads, on guitar plus Severin Black on drums and Taishi Nagasaka on bass. Lias and Saul have also been working with the esteemed Eccentronic Research Council, on last year's album Johnny Rocket, Narcissist & Music Machine… I'm Your Biggest Fan, and on the ERC's semi-fictional band The Moonlandingz (whose album, co-produced with Sean Lennon, is out soon).
Lias sat down with tQ and some mulled wine over the Christmas break, and this is what we talked about.
Right from the start of this record [with lead single 'Whitest Boy On The Beach'], there's a mix between whispered vocals and roared vocals. It's as if the lyrics are still half-submerged in your unconscious.
Lias Saoudi: What I like to do with songs, at least on this album, is really to get at the shittiness lurking in the core of my own soul, and in everybody else's. To try to push out as much of that shittiness, that base lack of humanity – driven by all the wrong things, complicit in all the wrong things, part of the problem, fundamentally – to drag it out into the light as much as possible. That's my ambition with it.
What kind of wrong things?
LS: The softness that's crept into your own brain. You can be as savvy and as clued-up as you like but you're still the subject of your conditioning, it's inevitable. You hunger after things – with materialism, sexual obsessions, you're part of the whole system and you can either sit on the couch and worry about whether or not it's already in you, or just try and expose it, come clean. When you've got two voices that are very distinct brushing up against each other like you do in that song, it's one helpful way of getting at that split state of anxiety, where it's like, 'God, I know this is all wrong and horrible so why can't I stop myself from behaving in certain ways? You preach socialism and a humanitarian attitude, you're aware of the right things, yet you behave in a way which is outwardly deplorable. You spend all your money on drugs and you drink all the time.' It's like an admittance of defeat.
If it was an admittance of defeat you wouldn't make an album.
LS: Well, maybe not an admittance of defeat. Maybe the first step is to acknowledge that we have a problem. I have a problem and we have a problem. I am shitty and so are all of you, across the board. That's kind of where I'm at with most of this stuff. And maybe if we all have a bit of a sing-song about it we can start to look at it slightly differently. I still have a naivety that you can achieve things with your art, you can achieve a cultural shift, or some kind of shift. There is some kind of hope in it.
I know 'Whitest Boy' was sparked by simply being the whitest boys on a beach in Barcelona last year, but – especially when you watch the video – it's clearly a political song too. Did it become more angry and more political as you worked on it?
LS: It changed dramatically as we were making the song. It had that vibe to it from the word go, it naturally has that ring to it from when it first came out of our mouths. Then it's a case of colouring in the blanks, and it gradually builds into something. You start with a little phrase or the smallest thing and you build from that. With this, that was "Who's the whitest boy on the beach."
And there's your TS-Eliot-in-reverse line about the universe: “It started with a whimper and then there came a bang.”
LS: “And then there came a bang.” It collapses in on its own sexiness. I thought that sounded good in a pop song. I had that idea floating around for a while and I was looking for a place where it might fit. I'll have a pile of material that's disparate a lot of the time. Sometimes I write in one cohesive go and other times it's bits here, bits there, what works, what doesn't.
What are you shouting, in Whitest Boy?
LS: It's the words “de schteiner”, which don't actually mean anything at all. It's all just faux German, all those bits in between are faux German. I wanted it to sound a bit like Scooter, and that was a good way of getting into it. A mixture of Hitler's speeches and Scooter – they're very close, you know. Once Nathan and Saul had got the right arrangement – we'd done about eight versions of the song – then it was just begging for some sort of energetic vocal. I thought it would fit nicely with that “universe” line, it would nestle in nicely between that Eurotrash/plastic-fascist-with-a-megaphone. And in the middle of it you've got this confirmation of… just sex, basically. The background hum of the thing is sex and violence. I wanted them to rub up against each other, to be violent and, like I've said, fascistic. Laibach was the reference point for this one, but also that whole [fascist] package is sort of seductive. I wanted to explore that a little bit.
And then there's the line about Primo Levi and getting head, on Satisfied [“She looked like Primo Levi sucking marrow out of a bone”]. That made me laugh, and think about Freud again – it's not Primo Levi, it's someone who reminds you in that moment of Primo Levi. That thought comes into your head uninvited; it's terrible and it's funny.
It's an actual thought. It's funny. With this album I thought I had licence to be a bit more personal and a bit more graphic. What are people going to be interested in? There's going to be a curiosity about the personalities involved who are making this shit. So I thought, I'll just be as frank as possible. And having that thought is like, Jesus, you know, where the fuck did that come from? You get that, everybody gets that.
Most people don't share that stuff, in case it's just them. It's quite a socially generous thing to do, really, to put it into your lyrics.
LS: Yeah, it makes me look like a cunt. I had a little collection of them. There are blips on the album where they appear.
What's another one?
LS: The bit about the kiwi fruit in 'Love Is The Crack'. Stuff like that. Just when you're in the moment and you start imagining stormtrooper boots on faces. You're supposed to be engaging in some sort of physical bond and you're actually as far away from connection as possible.
This album is more personal but then, as the cliche goes, the more personal you get the more universal it is.
LS: There had to be a couple of steps forward compared to the last album, which is a bunch of angry kids in a flat who just want attention, just sounding off. Let's see if we can upset people, you know. I would like to upset people with this one again, of course - it's always nice to upset the right people - but this album is a bit more thought-through. In being more personal inevitably it leads to it being more universal. Hopefully - that's the idea. It's about being able to straddle both at the same time. Everybody knows about the bunker [where Hitler died] but they don't know about your nightmarish sexual hallucinations. So you put them together in the same thing – you've got a scene and you fill it in. You can be removed from yourself too. It's a song, so it's intensely personal, but it's not officially me, it doesn't have to be me. I can change tack tomorrow and say that it isn't me.
That's an interesting progression between the two albums - upsetting people v upsetting the right people. There's also more enjoyment in this record - it feels more louche, more fleshy and pleasurable.
LS: Melodically it's definitely more sumptuous, more sultry, more enticing. There's a huge juxtaposition between the tracklisting and the way the actual album sounds. That's similar to the first album, but on this one it's a much more extreme division between what it says you're going to get on the menu and what you actually get. I think it sounds a lot more atmospheric and cinematic. Saul's really in charge of the sound - Nathan writes stuff as well, and I'll write some music sometimes, but getting that ambience right is something that Saul's obsessed with.
And the contradictions in lyrics fits with the contradictions in the music - things that are dark often sound so jolly or friendly. Like on 'Hits Hits Hits'. It sounds so relaxed, and there's that pun in the title. There's something so nasty all mixed up in it.
LS: That's it. When I wrote that song it was on banjo and it sounded like fucking Elliott Smith or something like that. Then I passed it on to Saul and he gave it that groove, and it started to sound like Ike's bedroom. That's what I wanted it to sound like, I just didn't know how. I love that it sounds like that. You could probably put it on while you were being intimate and it would make sense. It would be nice for people to fuck to that.
And then suddenly not nice.
LS: And then not, yeah – it's horrible. But that's an important track for me because it's kind of the same thing – we're all complicit in the Ike and Tina story, I think. It's a product of abuse, that music, and you love that music so in a way you love the abuse, don't you? The music wouldn't happen without it.
For all we know, she would have sounded even better without him.
LS: For all we know, for all we know! We can say that, but in my own experience… I mean, that's the thing, this song is derived from my own experience of working with Saul. He's not Ike Turner, but he can be pretty gruesome to work with sometimes.
Does that mean I'm complicit, if I buy this album, with the relationship between you and Saul?
LS: Yeah, yeah, you're to blame. It's personally your fault.
I listen to Gary Glitter and Michael Jackson.
LS: That's it. I don't know. That's it. If Adolf Hitler had made a banging record, would you listen to it?
I'd give it ten years.
LS: Exactly. I probably would. It's like the music of Charles Manson, the music of Gary Glitter, all this great stuff.
I still can't watch Roman Polanski films.
LS: Even Rosemary's Baby? Rosemary's Baby is so good. It's a nightmarish vision. I'm glad I've been able to look into that mind and see what's inside. It's where you draw the line with artistic licence, I suppose. It's about how you tickle those boundaries with this stuff. I'm not trying to legitimise abuse, physical or sexual or otherwise, but it's taken being bullied and pushed around for me to produce things or to get anywhere with this stuff I've been doing. That's my own personal experience. It's taken that kind of treatment and that kind of low to dig anything out of myself that I thought was worth the light of day. That song is just a thinly veiled description of my own working relationship. But if I make it about Ike and Tina, it doesn't have to be about me.
Should I be worried about you?
LS: No, no, no. We have our scraps and things like that. In the early days it was quite funny, you know, he would hurl tambourines at my head if I couldn't get a note right. It was quite extreme making this album, lots of ups and downs, it was pretty nightmarish sometimes, but it had to be done I suppose. It's kind of the way we work. We'll come together, be intensely close, there'll usually be some sort of creative spark there, and then we'll have furious arguments and separate. It's textbook, innit?
That leads us, kind of, to your letter from Hitler to Goebbels in 'Goodbye Goebbels'. First, though, I want to know about the woman talking at the beginning – what is she saying?
LS: That's my friend Candy. We were at Dropout Studios, which is down in Camberwell, and she's just a mate of mine from round here. I don't know what she's saying exactly, I can't make it out. It was an acoustic track and they were just hanging around, that was the way we were recording. I like the way it sounds as if we're at somebody's house.
It makes it sound domestic. It's interesting too that you've taken the women out of that story. [Hitler died in the bunker with Eva Braun, and Goebbels killed himself the next day along with his wife and their six children.] Obviously you don't need to stick to historical fact in your songs, that would be daft, but you've made this a romantic song about the two men and edited out the women and children.
LS: Saul joked about writing a song, a love letter, from Hitler to Goebbels and I think he thought I'd go and write something tongue-in-cheek. But then I just tried to make it as explicit, as emotionally honest as I possibly could. And yeah, all the women are omitted, in the same way all the women are omitted from Withnail And I. It's about that kind of connection, because that's all I know at the moment. I don't have some great affair to write about, the subject matter of my life in the last two years has been this relationship and that was all there was to go on. So I thought I'd make it as bittersweet and honest as possible. And I think, given the rest of the album, it fits as a conclusion, as an end to the film, as a curtains.
It is a lovely song.
LS: It's like, 'Oh god, should I be sad?'
People dying is sad. It was sad, inside that bunker.
LS: It happened, you know, it must have been… Them two sitting there thinking about how they had it all, thinking back to the start, the early days, the nostalgia, the early gigs, you know, and then they're stuck and everybody's coming to get them. The [recording] studio and the bunker are an obvious comparison to each other – windowless, claustrophobic, hours and hours and hours and you still haven't worked this shit out.
You thought you'd have your lebensraum by now…
LS: But you've got even less lebensraum than you started with. I don't know. Somebody got upset by that song the other day. We were playing up in Hebden Bridge, which is a great town, the crowd were great, but one kid got upset about it, started giving us the finger, telling us to fuck off. Then a fight broke out in the crowd, which I hadn't seen for a while. This lad obviously took some sort of offence. We were doing it real quiet, you know – it's a ballad, you can hear all the words, and this fight broke out. I hope not too many people take offence to it, because... You're allowed to write about whatever you want. It's a real thing that happened. I'm a bit of a history geek.
People are worried about racism, maybe that set him off. If you just get half the message, you're going to react badly.
LS: Yeah, that's the thing. Upset the right people, you know. I'm sure plenty of people will get the wrong end of the stick about plenty of stuff on here. I've already read somewhere that it's gutter, trash, belongs in the bin. It's always pleasing to read that kind of stuff.
Why is it pleasing?
LS: Because it's always written by these fucking teenagers who don't have a fucking clue what they're talking about. It's like, Where's your fucking album? Where's your contribution? I know I'm not a moron, but if I lower everybody's expectations of what we're capable of… It's a game of lowering expectations. The lower they are, the higher we point. Some people really don't like us, some people really hate our band.
That “Silence is easy” line has stuck in my head, too, from 'Goodbye Goebbels'.
LS: When I was writing that one, it was one of those times when Saul had a guitar part and a vocal melody recorded, so I've got him in my headphones going 'bah-bahhh... bah bah bah bah-bah', and “silence is easy” were the first words that suggested themselves to me. It came very naturally. I know what it's about. It's about how I was drawn out of silence through that relationship. “Silence is easy” and “You lit up my conscience” – another line which works with the Hitler-Goebbels thing.
And the music goes weird on that line, as if it's recoiling from the romance of the lyric.
LS: Yeah, it drops a little bit down. For me, that's what that was about. It's just a love song, plain and simple. “Your courage was sacred,” all that stuff, it's about having the silence drawn out of you. Is it a political statement? Yeah, it can be construed as such. Everything is going to be a political statement, whatever you write. If you don't say anything at all, it's apathy. If you load the gun, you're either shooting here or you're shooting there. There's no escaping that. Especially when you set your stall out in the way that we have.
Were you conscious of that, did you plan to set out that stall?
LS: When we got into music, there was nothing very sexy, with bands anyway. We were in a failed rock & roll pub-rock band before, and we learned how to be on stage and how to perform – stuff like that takes a while or for me it did. But there didn't seem to be any sex. Not the kind of sex I wanted to hear about anyway, which is, you know, kind of wrong. The anxiety. It was always brushed over. The claustrophobia. It just makes me feel sick sometimes. Sex, humour and politics – those seemed to be the things that were absent. Especially in the indie guitar world, young bands around London. It seemed like nobody had a sense of humour and nobody was even making any political agenda explicit. Whereas we went straight for, "We're communists." Regardless of whether we actually are or not. The further you set the bar out that way… It's like Trump, with his proposed ban on Muslims – all of a sudden all the other fucking fascists seem slightly kinder. They're painted in a slightly gentler hue now, thanks to him. The game is to bring the extreme out as far as possible, and hopefully that's how you influence younger bands coming up behind you. What our beliefs actually are is kind of irrelevant. Why should anybody give a shit? Although we had our first major bit of press with the death of Thatcher, so we definitely sold ourselves on that platform, and proudly so. It was a dead granny that did it for us.
You've talked before about that connection between collapse of fascism in 1945 and that postwar agreement, that looking-after-each-other. This album covers fascism and it's also full of the current failure of that agreement.
LS: That's it. The postwar agreement, the world that we live in - or the bits that still remain, that haven't been hacked off and sold down the river yet - that all came out of that cataclysm. I feel like those monsters of the past are rumbling again. There's a forboding. And it's like, this probably won't get any better, this is probably going to keep getting worse. It's easy for me to write like that because I still don't have anywhere to live or anywhere to go or any money. I've done the bit where you work really hard at something, professionally – I fuck about, I take drugs and stuff, but as a group of people we work really really hard at this. It's taken us eight years, something like that, to get to a point where we'll have a crowd of people at our gig. And every year it gets more difficult instead of easier. More and more things get chopped off.
Like what? You mean national assets?
LS: Well, just on my own doorstep... Half of the venues in Brixton are closed, the Queen's Head is gone, there's no chance of you renting a flat round here, not on your wages. It's despicable. And I can't see any realistic way of turning that tide back. It doesn't work like that, does it? Until it reaches the next cataclysm. I mean, what are we going to do, have a Tory government forever? Are people going to vote for Jeremy Corbyn? Probably not, if he's even still in there. I mean, I will, but…
Corbyn does what you do on this album – he doesn't think in terms of 'goodies' and 'baddies'. He doesn't buy into that idea that some people inherently deserve to be okay and some people just don't.
LS: It's arbitrary, essentially. And it's sickening. I've been in London for 12 years and I'd like to be able to make London my home but I just can't see how that's going to be possible, ever. Even if we did as well as we possibly could with this music, which is only going to [get to a certain level]; there's only so many people who are going to be into this kind of stuff. So I'm never going to be able to live in my self-adopted home. And fuck that, what a load of shit. It's disgusting. And I don't even have it that bad. That's me whining, sat in London, but the rest of the world is even worse. You read about these places where people don't have any rights at all, you hear about factories falling on top of 1400 people in Bangladesh while they're trying to make Puma trainers. It's all connected – it's the corporate world, the new state of affairs, the world we live in. So you speak out, about everybody else's problems as well as your own, and about the geopolitical situation, and you try to be faintly aware of your place within that. I lived in China for a while, I lived in Algeria for a bit because that's where my family are from, and you get a bit of an impression of these other places and what's going on there. It's good to have some perspective, and it's easy to have some perspective when you're from the west. That's why I have so much vitriol for these faux indie bands doing the rounds these days, these packaged indie bands, totally irresponsible, they don't bring anything into account.
What bothers you about that?
LS: They're in a position where they've got access to information, whether it's literature or art or music or whatever, they've got fantastic access to a hotbed of culture and they've been educated – these people are well equipped with these tools, but they don't use them. Because they're scared of not making it, I guess. They're trying to climb an imaginary ladder, a ladder that isn't there in my opinion, a ladder that used to be there.
A music-career ladder?
LS: Yeah, and there isn't a career.
Maybe they're just not that angry. Maybe they're just not that arsed.
LS: Yeah, maybe they're inhumane. Maybe they're just devoid of any empathy or realism. Maybe they're just fucking thick. Or maybe they're complete cowards. It's easier if you just do what people say and play the game. It's easier to make money. We could make an easier record than this that would probably sell easier than this one. If that band fucking Slaves have had a top ten album, you know – you've got to be joking. It sounds like it was made by eight year olds. But that's been fobbed off as new punk. It's dribble. There's so much of that going around and it really angers me. That nonsense. It's just such a waste of time and webspace and bits of plastic. These ridiculously empowered young buffoons strutting around like they're the new priests. We're taking steps back, every time, we're going backwards on the progress we made before in this medium. Rock & roll should be something that is still useful.
There's optimism though in this record. As well as the gentleness and generosity and sweetness, there's a certain amount of optimism, partly just by the fact that the album exists, that you haven't just sat there…
LS: We haven't decided to just take drugs.
Yeah, the fact that you're making any noise, and there's joy there, complexity and pleasure and contradiction.
LS: You have to learn how to revel in your own misery. I think that's the ultimate protest, and that's what people find skanky about it and dirty about it.
But it's lovely as well.
LS: It is lovely, yeah, and it's not supposed to be.
There's that earthy enjoyment – loving things in detail, loving things equally, loving them the way they are.
LS: If there is any hopefulness then that's what it is, it's a sensual one, more than anything else. Come hell or high water I shall enjoy my earthly pleasures, whatever they may be.
One song that remains slippery to me is 'Love Is The Crack'.
LS: That started as that chorus line, that core sentiment, "love is the crack", which I came up with about five years ago. It was sitting around in a notebook.
There's something there I can't get a handle on. Which is not a bad thing, but that's what I wanted to ask you about – that slipperiness.
LS: The language in that song, the symbols and the imagery, I didn't want them to be cul-de-sacs. I wanted them to be things that you can hang meaning off and explore in your own way. Little pockets of lyrics, little lyrical scenarios, that start to hang together. It took me a while to write that one, and I wasn't sure what I was doing with it, because it was about having a collection of stuff. I find it quite funny that it reads like a drug song, with that title, but it's not a drug song at all, there's no mention of drugs – although it is a drug song if you want it to be. I wanted it to begin with sex, the reservoir, “Back to the reservoir to wet my lips, good god that water's blue… I'm sick of eating on your half eaten kiwi fruit.” And back again, that repetition, which is kind of what I do, essentially. It slowly grates away at the soul, living like that. And then to flip it completely in the second verse, get the slavery reference in there.
And “the hopeless cripples”.
LS: Yeah, “a horde of hopeless cripples herd around my climbing frame”, which is essentially me on stage.
LS: It's sheer egotism, absolutely. This is what I love doing. “Love is the crack of somebody else's whip.” That's the brief I've set myself and then it's like, now describe that in several ways and try to make it interesting. It's language that's more like painting.
It did make me think of 'Love Is The Drug', but also of that Cohen line, the crack is “how the light gets in”.
LS: I wanted it to sound a little bit Cohenish, Saul had the melody which was a kind of slow latter-Cohen thing. That's in there, I'm a big fan of that. Out of the songs, it's one of the least explicit. I'm not going to draw a map for that one, because there isn't a map.
I don't want a map, I just found it the most foggy of the songs, and I knew there was something in the fog.
LS: Well, “There ain't no black in the Union Jack” – that was a book, wasn't it?
Paul Gilroy. And a racist football chant, I think.
LS: It's a good one, a nice rhyme. A good stock rhyme to chuck in there, a good one to have lying around. But like I said, there's no map for that one. It's a collection of different imagery that, in my brain, made a kind of sense somehow. That's how I like to use words.
And it is quite dreamy again. These things keep popping up and they're looked at without judgement.
LS: Yeah, because it doesn't make any difference. And nothing makes any sense, either, whatsoever. Fundamentally everything is completely mysterious and ephemeral, it's going to disappear. Trying to grapple onto things is pointless but you do it anyway. You punish people and you allow yourself to be punished by people. In search of what, I don't know.
Do you find it easy to write?
LS: I find it hard to write. I find it quite sickening, and I hate to show people what I've done, it takes me ages before I show it to anybody. I'm less like that now, I feel a little bit more confident. Which is why I feel alright about putting a track like 'Love Is The Crack' on there, one that's less easily explained. It's more just a collection of visions.
One track that's the opposite of that, one that's very clearly about two particular things [heroin use, and the death of austerity victim David Clapson], is the angriest song too, I think. 'Tinfoil Deathstar'. Is it angrier because it's closer to home, and more recent?
LS: Both the things in there are very recent, yeah, for me. Saul had this disco idea, the melody was down, and I wanted to write something about heroin because in the past five years pretty much everybody I know has started banging on heroin at some point. That was a new thing – the first album it wasn't around, it just wasn't there. I hadn't seen anybody smoking it, and then very, very suddenly everybody's smacked out all the time. I guess that's people getting older, looking for harder drugs, or the fact it's a tenner a bag. All of a sudden everybody's on smack and you're reading these stories in the paper and it's just like… So that song has these two sections, like 'The Whitest Boy'. There are two voices there – it's finding the right thing to offset the other.
You make an almost physical connection, between the death of Clapson [who died after his benefits were sanctioned in 2014] and people you know at parties, taking heroin.
LS: Yeah, there's some sort of physical connection as well as a socio-political connection, between all these young people who are swamped in hedonism and dirty old drug abuse, and then your guy who's tried everything [to make his life better] and he's knocking at the window, like the ghost of Christmas future or something. It's much more explicit, that one.
And it's explicitly about what's happening in this country, now, not something 70 years ago that's maybe been romanticised.
LS: Yeah. I definitely wanted to get David Clapson on there. I'd written a poem about him and I just cut it out of that. I had a longer version of it. I had the tinfoil thing which I started writing later on, and they just seemed to sit nicely next to each other with that break in sound, when it all of a sudden drops down. That vision. It's writing to the music, getting the tone right. At what point do you introduce the nightmare? That contrast, that ride in the same tune. You're going to a few different places with this song – that's the ambition I had with it.
It reminded me of how complicated and fascinating drugs are, the joys, the horrors, the guilt. It's interesting – culturally we perhaps don't explore that enough because they're illegal.
LS: Yeah, I took some very interesting drugs at the weekend. Do you do DMT? My god. It's incredible the stuff you can experience with these chemicals, and the mixtures you can concoct, the weird weird places and situations you end up in. All kinds of drugs, I've tried everything now, and it's a fascinating realm. Heroin's a bit of a different one though. Heroin should be taboo because it destroys. It kills people's creativity.
Various opium-soaked poets might not agree.
LS: I have this argument with Simon, my old landlord. He says smack's got all the best tunes – I just think that's an irresponsible point of view. The smack is incidental, it's not the heroin that produced the music. It's not the root of the creativity. A lot of people who make music are obsessives, you spend all of your time obsessing over these little things in a little room, putting a lot of pressure on yourself. Then there's the touring, the stress on the mind and the body, so smack is an obvious go-to, it's comforting. It's a very weird way to live your life, in a touring, professional rock band, it's very disorientating.
Have you been moving around all this year?
LS: Yeah, I haven't had a solid place to live for years now. Whenever I come back to London it's always like, where shall I sleep tonight? That's usually when the drugs kick in, when the drugs take hold. That's when everybody crawls back into their respective holes, and if you've got nowhere to stay you're at the mercy of all kinds of people. People that want to hang out with you because they think you're cool because you're in a band, there's always people who want to give you drugs, and it becomes more accessible. It's endemic within music, it always has been. It's to do with the lifestyle. Most musicians I know are manic depressives, I think. One minute you think you're some sort of genius, the next minute you can't believe anybody's actually buying this shit.
Isn't that how most people feel a lot of the time?
LS: With musicians though it gets more grotesque. Thousands of people giving you big rounds of applause and then you go home and sit in a little room and think, "What now?" You're in a big crowd and everyone's going, "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" Then later you're in a Travelodge and you think, What was that about? What do I do with that?
Does that make you more sympathetic to the arbitrariness of who has it good and who's having a terrible time through no fault of their own? People like David Clapson.
LS: I just thought that was one of the most disgusting things I'd ever read. It genuinely made me really upset, it was so sad. Just a sad, sad image. That poor guy. It was really worth writing about. Just tragic, heartbreaking, and that's the time we live in. It's not a protest song, by any means - I don't write songs that implore people to think a certain way, I don't consider that to be my job. It's my job to provide an accurate reflection of wherever I am, as honest a reflection as possible, to offer up as much of myself as I can without losing my mind and/or my friends. What friends I've got left. That's the job and I don't see a lot of people taking that burden on in any kind of way, in the indie rock arena anyway.
It's back to TS Eliot: “Set down this set down this”. This is what happened, we must record it. Journalists do that, but maybe rock bands are more worried about…
LS: They're worried about going to the parties, and having a good time and being young and getting laid and doing coke and staying on top and making sure the A&R guy from Sony gets whatever photoshoot he wants done with whatever fucking magazine. And, you know, a lot of these people come from privileged backgrounds. Not all of them, and I'm not classist. I just think it's a crying shame that people don't make more of an effort.
Do you have chance to be involved on the ground, politically, if you're moving around all the time?
LS: Not as much as we used to, no. We used to be more active, we used to arrange protests, take part in stuff. We ran that Yuppies Out page, which got adopted by a lot of people round here, and we had our Champagne & Fromage protest which was quite a hilarious damp squib because it really pissed it down, but we were giving out Dairylea slices and White Ace in protest at the opening of Champagne & Fromage in Brixton. The anti-gentrification protests. And the Palestine Solidarity campaign, we've raised about ten grand for those guys now, something like that. Now I'm in the back of a van most of the time, worrying about getting this shit done, so I can get an advance so I can afford to keep living for the next however long. It could be a lot worse. I'm in an extremely fortunate position, really, given where I come from. I don't have a musical background. If someone had told me I'd end up singing in a band ten years ago I'd have laughed in their face.
What were you doing ten years ago?
LS: I was at college, at art school in London. That's why I came here, when I was eighteen. From Northern Ireland, Tyrone. A small town, really bigoted. They used to call me ngger, pki, Jew. They were the nicknames, I was the closest thing they had.
Those aren't really nicknames.
LS: They don't really count as nicknames, but up there they did. I fucking hated it. My mum had married this Northern Irish fella. I didn't want to leave Scotland, which was relatively cosmopolitan – the west coat of Scotland, Ayr. I'd got some pals, I was just about to start high school, then off we go to Northern Ireland. I remember very vividly sitting in my first class, sitting there in home economics. I thought, Just don't cry, whatever you do, don't cry. I just wanted to cry. I was thinking, This is fucking horrible, I fucking hate this place. That feeling never really left but it was good for me in a way – it gave me direction and it meant I got my head down while I was at school. I didn't go out, I didn't have any friends, I didn't go to parties, nothing like that. I was a proper geek, but that was good in the end.
Your younger brother was around then?
LS: Yeah, we've always been rolling together, me and Nathan.
Does he help with the dynamic between you and Saul?
LS: Yeah, he's kind of the linchpin in a way. He's really good musically, he's come on a lot. When we first started this band, we broke up the first band, The Saudis. Nathan was the guitarist in that, and we started this one with just me, Saul and Dan. Nathan wasn't in it, and he didn't speak to me for about two weeks. And in those two weeks he'd gone out and bought himself an organ and learned how to play it. He got good at it. And now he can play pretty decent. Yeah, we've always been together, me and him.
Why is this album Songs For Our Mothers?
LS: Saul came up with the title and it stuck. With the themes that are being dealt with on the record, and the quasi-fascistic stuff, and the Freudian stuff, it resonated. When Saul suggested that title I thought, Yes, that makes sense. It's all instinctual. You've got to write an album, and this one was really tricky because we didn't have any time together to just fuck around and make music. It was a lot more harsh, the environment in which it was made. The first one was just us in a house fucking about, it was a lot more organic, whereas this was: make an album. It really is an instinctual process, but Songs For Our Mothers just seemed to make sense.
I'll stop with the Freud soon, but does it actually have anything to do with your mum?
LS: Sure, it's for my mum. I love my mum. I love my dad too, but he didn't have to give birth to me. So why not, it's about my mum, it's for all mothers, it's for mothers everywhere.
What's happening next?
LS: I'm going to Norway to do a bit of recording and get demo-ing some new shit. Might as well get straight to work on the next thing, cos it takes so fucking long.
How long did this one take? Or is it too messy to work out?
LS: It's too messy to work out. Some of the lyrics I've had sitting around for five years. I noticed the same for Saul. Some of the ideas have been there for years and years, but actually compiling and making a whole record that sounds cohesive, that sounds like a record, it takes ages. Unless it feels like a protracted nervous breakdown, you're not doing it right. We had a lot of walkouts and walk-back-ins.
Does working with Eccentronic Research Council and The Moonlandingz, bringing in new people and new ways of working, help calm that dynamic?
LS: In theory it should, sometimes it doesn't. Saul's a weird one like that. It's good to have other outlets, other support, other people. My idea is that you build an umbrella and you invite other people underneath and you have a small creative community to work on things together. That would be the way I see things developing. That seems to make sense. You use each other's resources, there's a bit of a community there, you can protect yourselves a little bit. Sometimes it just drives people up the fucking wall though because they've taken too much on, they've got too much work.
Have you finished the Moonlandingz record now?
LS: I think I've finished recording, literally this week. I was up in Sheffield for three or four days and that was, hopefully, the last two songs. With Adrian [Flanagan] and Dean [Hohner] up in Sheffield, and then they're going to New York and mix with Sean [Lennon]. At the start of this year I was like, Yeah, let's make an album, yeah, fuck it, we'll do it in between festival gigs. Instead of going to London and getting fucked up I'll go to Sheffield and write with you guys, we'll have some fun and make a tongue-in-cheek, B-movie electro-weirdo-pop album. Less like this one, less I-have-to-get-this-right. And it was great, I'm glad I did it, but towards the end it was like, Fucking hell man, going from one to the other one to the other. I haven't had any time to sit and read a book, to just stop doing anything. It's weird, it's really easy to become a workaholic. I'd never have thought that. I spent five years on the dole, but I'm permanently on the phone now and that kind of shit I want to learn to get away from, I have to learn to take some space and time for myself otherwise I'm going to lose my mind.
Do a bit of meditation in the morning. Even five minutes can make a difference.
The thing is, I'm getting to the point where I need to start looking into that kind of thing. It's been really busy, it's been mental.
I find this album quite comforting. I didn't really notice all the sex you were talking about though.
The sex? It's everywhere! You're telling me this is not a sexy album?
Well, it's sumptuous, it's luscious.
Yeah, I guess it's less about sex than the first one. This one's more about politics.
The next one will have to be about death. Then we'll have all the big subjects covered and then we can retire.
Do you think you'll ever have that extreme empathy for George Osborne, the empathy you have for Goebbels? How long would you have to wait?
I'll have to wait until he's firmly…
Until he's shot himself in the head?
Until he's shot himself in the head. That's an interesting question. Could we empathise with George?
Obviously you could.
We could. It would be the most shocking thing we could do now. We could go true blue.
Songs For Our Mothers is released by Without Consent on 22 January