Das Wasteland caught up with Fat White Family members Nathan Saoudi and Alex White and their current collaborator Kieran Saint Leonard in London to talk about musical influences, the sound of Berlin’s architecture, waterboarding, poker, dignity, the new Saint Leonard sound and Nathan’s side project Brian Destiny, who’s first exclusive release ‘Nothing’s gonna come and save us’ is on Das Wasteland: Berlin Vol 1 and 2.
" That’s the sound. I don't think that the vocoder will ever go out of date. I think it's always in the future and successfully so."
DW: What took you to Berlin?
Alex: We've got a studio in Norway. My friend Simon moved out to Norway and it's fucking beautiful. He’s got a sauna on his lawn out by a fjord and we were there for two months last July and August. Then it started getting cold so we got the boat to Copenhagen and stayed with our friend Elias (Bender Rønnenfelt) from Iceage. We went from there to Hamburg and then we ended up in Berlin. My friend offered us a flat for €200 a month so we stayed.
Nathan: We met Rob Doyle, who my brother knew, because my brother is into books. And he and Rob Doyle ended up doing this advert. My brother recouped all the lost money from Covid on that. It's a no-brainer really. Rob Doyle gets a job on it too, and then we all just have a big session and get smashed and then we met Kieran. We spent more time playing poker than music.
Kieran: We had this legendary poker group. Because it was lockdown, we spent eight hour playing poker and Rob won consistently, apart from once.
Nathan: I won it once.
Alex: I came second once.
Kieran: I came third or forth once.
Alex: We put €15 in. €10 and €5 buy in. It was enough to win and feel good about yourself.
Kieran: But Rob is significantly better than any of us really.
DW: Apart from poker what did you get into?
Alex: Just getting smashed. We were just enjoying the freedom. Personally, I had a really weird mushroom trip that span me out for a week. It happened after this weird first night with this actor, Dan Stevens. There was clubs open and stuff but with restricted attendance and outdoor things happening. On the trip, I just felt like I didn’t belong and it wasn’t for me - I was walking from club to club thinking ‘is this fun?’
DW: Did you find it creatively restrictive having lockdown there?
Nathan: Creatively it was an aid. I got into to a good head space in Berlin, because they don't make you suffer in an undignified manner. But that's probably why we've got better music (in the UK) and America also because there's no safety net. You get better art from that. Berlin, it was good for me because I'm like “Woah, I've got a room. Check this out, I've got a flat in Prenzlauer Berg.”
Alex: If places had been open it wouldn't have been nearly as productive because when we first arrived we just got smashed for three weeks.
DW: Do you want to go back?
Nathan: I do because I’ve got dignity there.
Kieran: You have dignity here as well.
Nathan: Not really. I don’t really feel dignified here.
Kieran: I think you’re a very dignified man, but you won’t feel dignified after the waterboarding.
(Nathan had earlier bet Kieran £1,000 that he could survive over 15 seconds waterboarding.)
Nathan: I will, I'll be more dignified, because I'll probably be someone special in London: “That’s the guy that got waterboarded.”
DW: So you think you can survive waterboarding?
Nathan: Yeah, I know I can. I'll do it every day for a year. After dinner, after I wake up.
Kieran: I’ll up the bet if you agree to be waterboarded every day for a year.
Nathan: That’s side salad. £1,000 of side salad. I do think we need to up the bet.
Kieran: We can film it.
Alex: Brian Destiny promo video: Waterboarding and Taser’ing for 16 seconds and then Kieran hands you £1,000
DW: Where did Brian Destiny come from?
Nathan: My mate in Northern Ireland is called Brian, and my mate saw an Algerian singer called Destiny, and he's like you should put destiny on the end of Brian. I was like yeah, Because if you Google Brian….. but Brian Destiny would definitely come up.
DW: There seems to have a lot of 80’s synth influences on the track. Is that accurate?
Nathan: I guess the future never materialized, and we're still there maybe. That’s what they're all anticipating in the 80’s. That’s the sound. I don't think that the vocoder will ever go out of date. I think it's always in the future and successfully so. But yeah, I like 80’s stuff. I like '60s stuff. The Beatles is my favorite band. The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Prince. Ace. If you wanted to make music from the '70s, you've got to have a lot of money because they have the perfect sounds, the big bands, big studios. In the '80s it had just gotten smaller.
Alex: I like that crossover with the end of the '70s into the early '80s when it's still bands, but then with lots of synthesizers and drum machines in there as well.
DW: What are you bringing to the next Saint Leonard album?
Nathan: Sex and money.
Kieran: It’s been really interesting because it’s very collaborative writing wise, which is something I’ve never had experience of before. It’s been brilliant because we literally are writing from the ground up. Our writing has been pretty special. We just sit down and something always comes. Whenever Alex sits at the piano and starts playing, I start singing the first thing that comes into my head and usually it’s manifested. Nathan has come with bits that he’s put on his phone and out of nowhere we have some legitimate songs.
DW: You have said that the Bowie tune Neuköln influenced Always Night. Do you see any other Berlin influences?
Alex: The whole sound of that tune and the other things we recorded there, it’s more that you can hear the architecture of it more than any German music or Berlin. You can actually just hear the sort of flat width of it, and the kind of gloom and the darkness and the weather. It just feels sort of cold and square more than any musical influence.
Kieran: I aesthetically experience the S-Bahn in certain bits of that song. The sound of the sax sounds a bit like a train.
DW: Did you find Berlin inspiring in ways that London isn’t as a foreigner living there?
Alex: Yeah, there's less clammer in Berlin. It is more spread out musically. When I first went there, before this time, I felt like it was a bit of a lazy place, because everyone's an artist but there's not that much art. And the rent is so cheap that you can work a couple of days a week and then do your art and everyone just goes out raving, so, no one really gets much done. But this time with lockdown, I found there was a space there that was definitely productive.
Nathan: We had our own flat. You don't have your own flat here do you, unless you're fucking someone of mad wealth. You go to the cash machine and be like "there you go, I can withdraw my rent in one go". Here you can't withdraw your rent from the cash machine because you can only get £400 out. You can’t do it in one go casually and say “You know what, I'm going to pay my rent today”. Dignity. We need to bring back the death penalty on these private landlords. We need to hang them up in front of the children, and then as soon as their children have children, show them the pictures of their granddads.
DW: Berlin has its own housing problems though. It can be very hard to find places to rent.
Alex: We were exceptionally lucky.
Nathan: My friend Nina is like an old east Berliner. Her and all her friends, they're old school Berlin. They're like 50-years-old, and they hate everyone that comes in.
Kieran: But not you.
Nathan: Even though Berlin's not the best place to get off hard drugs, that's where we go because they offer us dignity and sanctuary.
Pre order Das Wasteland Berlin: Vol 1 & 2 exclusive vinyl double LP featuring 'Nothings gonna come and save us' by Brian Destiny, 'Always Night' by Saint Leonard and 'History's Children' by Rob Doyle and Saint Leonard and many more here