Brian Destiny and Nathan Saoudi are the same person. Most of the time.
Nathan, with his mop of dark curls and film star grin, is perhaps the most constant member of south London rock n’ rollers the Fat White Family, helping to write the band’s material, as well as playing keyboard and providing backing vocals. In his elder brother Lias’s words, he’s the “anchor” of the band, the emotional bomb diffuser, the only stable element in a roomful of exceedingly reactive molecules.
Nathan is the Fat White Family. He’s the eerie, funhouse cascade of keyboard that kicks off “Bomb Disneyland.” The bouncing, delirious chords of “Touch the Leather.” The addictive melody of “Feet,” (inspired by the siren call of Algerian rai and good, old-fashioned disco, with three million streams on Spotify and counting.) No Fat White Family gig is complete without Nathan going manic at the end, dragging his keyboard over and playing it on his knees, occasionally using his skull, his nose, or his teeth to coax unearthly sounds from the machine, sonically lacing together Lias’s frenzied screams and Alex White’s Maceo-Parker-on-acid sax, into something beautiful yet apocalyptic.
The Fat White Family are often derided for their punkish behavior (boozing, drugging, and participating in constant public tiffs with other bands) but musically, they’ve produced some of the most exciting, innovative sounds of the past decade. It’s a case of the public not being able to see the forest for the trees. C’mon, guys: Beethoven is here. Liszt is in the building. Open your eyes. Open your ears.
The band has spent the last ten years in a relentless cycle of writing, recording, and touring. The pandemic stopped it all, but Nathan’s not one to bemoan what can’t be helped. He’s kept busy working on his newest solo venture, a band called Brian Destiny, along with the launch of his own record label, Dash the Henge.
And so, on the day before Halloween, I find myself at Earl Ferrers pub in Streatham, where Nathan’s new label digs are situated, waiting for the man himself. Earl Ferrers has a plastic skeleton at the piano, and the makings of a toxic-slime green punch at the bar. Nathan appears, wearing a Fred Perry jacket, track pants and impossibly white trainers, and leads me up a winding staircase to the headquarters of Dash the Henge.
It’s an open, airy room, with big windows looking out over the street, “like Paris,” Nathan says, as he brews tea and sits us down at a table covered in rolling papers, hastily scrawled setlists, vitamin bottles, and a half-eaten bar of Lindt 90%. The only sign of the Fat White Family is a stomach-lining-pink amp shoved into the corner, branded with the band logo. Speakers and shelves of well-loved vinyl line the wall, and a laptop blasts Miles Davis. (“I’ve only recently got into jazz, about two months ago,” Nathan admits. “I’m just going through all the big guns. Helps me relax.”)
There’s something about the sparkle in his warm brown eyes that makes me think of the old Bing Crosby tune, “It’s Just the Gypsy in My Soul.” (Maybe he’ll hate that, but it’s true.) He’s started his new band, Brian Destiny, partly because he: “wants to make people dance. I like people dancing.”
Brian Destiny is his alter ego: “My friend in Northern Ireland, he was called Brian. He was the first person that whenever I was sixteen, I just started playing guitar and he was quite serious, and he was like ‘You’re all right at this!’ and I wasn’t. I was shit. I hate playing guitar. So, I dedicated the name to the first person who gave me encouragement, music-wise.”
Despite the fact that Brian is, in a manner of speaking, his spiritual other half, Nathan doesn’t see himself as helming Brian Destiny. He doesn’t feel in sole possession of the band. “(Music) is like God’s language… my brother said a good thing the other day; he said, ‘singing is praying twice.’ If you look at all the best musicians in the past, I swear they’re all believers in God. All those blues guys, all those classical boys, Elvis Presley, the Beatles. There are all kinds of religious elements inside. To neglect that just makes me think that you’re not very open to another way of life. If you’re not open, how can it be good for creativity? Believe whatever the fuck you want, but no one can control music. You can only temporarily harness it. It can’t be controlled,” he explains.
Growing up in Northern Ireland in the Noughties, Nathan’s interest in music was piqued by Top 40 giants like Michael Jackson and Dire Straits, as well as: “Motown, that stuff I fucking love…My dad was obsessed with Cat Stevens, and the Eagles, so I got into them very young. Bob Marley… I love that song, ‘Bad Boys.’ The hits, the big tunes. Eminem, Elvis Presley. I love ‘em all.”
“I DJ’ed. Got a pair of decks when I was 16. Just in my room. Techno. Guitar I wasn’t as enthused by, but I still liked it because I saw it as a way to get into the music world. I still love techno. I’m doing another thing called Soft Tip; I don’t know if it’s techno or house, but it’s fucking dance…”
He pauses to take a deep draft of strawberry smoothie from a blender—pre-gig nourishment, he’s playing with Alex Sebley’s band, PREGOBLIN, later on, at a venue in east London. The idea for a solo project in the form of Brian Destiny surfaced sometime around 2019: “It came about after the third Fat Whites album. I started writing a lot at that point.” His highly anticipated EP Brian’s Got Talent was recorded before lockdown but remained unfinished until early this year.
Writing for Brian Destiny is a serene process compared to writing for the Fat Whites, where so many fertile minds clamor for track space. Nathan’s favorite method is simply wandering around London until inspiration strikes: Long, solitary, walks are how most of Brian’s Got Talent was written.
“Whenever I walk more than two hours, I always get something. If you’re walking around somewhere that’s a bit isolated, you can just start singing. Strictly reclusive places. Sometimes I pick up litter when I’m walking…there’s more purpose to it. If everybody didn’t go to the gym but just walked around ferociously hunting litter, the whole country would look tidy. And these are problems that the old boys from like hundreds of years ago, that we all romanticize about, the painters, the poets—they didn’t have to contend with litter as a fucking one of their banes, did they?”
The album’s first single, Is it Gonna Be Love? neatly sums up the differences between the Fat Whites’ and Brian Destiny’s musical missions. “It’s my basic philosophy, isn’t it? Love. I know it’s a loaded term, but if you can’t find something to do that you love doing, then it’s kind of like…pointless, isn’t it? Whatever it is, you’ve got to be doing something with love. That’s it. That’s the solution.”
Lou Smith, (the Fat White Family’s longtime photographer, documentarian, and friend, who often visited the Fat Whites during their tenure in Sheffield where Nathan ran the studio in which the band recorded their third album, Serf’s Up) says: “There was no social life in Sheffield, it was grim, freezing, grey, rainy, horrible. So, he built up that studio there, Champzone…he’s developed a very strong sense of what he wants. He’s definitely on a mission. And he knows how to get the best out of people…”
Running Champzone was good practice for Dash the Henge, which Nathan started because, “I’ve always wanted to have a little label. He drops the astounding comment that music wasn’t his first plan in life, but, as he says: “I wanted to have a laugh. And it’s good for community, isn’t it?”
In an era defined by increasing feelings of isolation due in part to social media, close communities are at last being recognized for the precious commodities they are. Starting his own record label seems to be a continuation of Nathan’s desire to meld a tight creative community. Since establishing himself in the new headquarters of Dash the Henge above Earl Ferrers, he’s initiated open-invitation jam sessions, an everyone-gets-a-seat-at-the-table affair called Avant Practiced. There’s free curry afterward, and an inevitable slew of photos of some of south London’s best musicians gathered into a tiny room, riding the sonic waves wherever the music takes them, on Instagram the next morning.
Nathan wants the two-headed beast of Avant Practiced and Dash the Henge to function as a think tank for local musicians: “You’ve got to make it plausible to do research, otherwise it’s just all this talk. Everyone has to rely on one another, but whenever you’ve just got an impulse to make something, and then you’re relying on someone who doesn’t quite understand that impulse, that’s when people start to get frustrated. You’ve got to make a little space…”
Liam May of Trashmouth Records, (the first label to sign Fat White Family, over a bottle of cheap sake, back in 2012) says of Nathan: “It’s impossible to quantify the kind of lubricating influence Nathan has on a band as dysfunctional as the Fat White Family. But the truth is, they wouldn’t have been able to move forwards, backwards, sideways, or anyways without him. Maybe it’s the casualness with which he picks his nose that has the power to disarm even the most searing animosity and crippling self-doubt? Who knows? It’s never easy to explain genius, and the beauty of magic is always in its mystery. . .”
Brian Destiny’s debut EP, Brian’s Got Talent, is out on Dash the Henge records in January of 2022. You can follow him on Instagram @briandestiny and @dashthehenge. His recent single, Is it Gonna Be Love?, is available to stream on all platforms.