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Fat Dog’s Chaos Mode

British band's debut album is out in September
Fat Dog
Fat Dog (Credit: Pooneh Ghana)

Fat Dog are kind of a wreck. After being “tied up with something,” frontman and Fat Dog mastermind Joe Love finally beams in on his girlfriend’s phone, because he apparently has a chronic problem of losing his own. He keeps yawning and apologizes, semi-unconvincingly promising, “These are interesting questions.” Synth player Chris Hughes is on the call, too, but off-camera and issuing the caveat: “I’m having fever moments right now where I think I’m standing up but I’m lying down.”

“Chris got strep throat yesterday, and before that, our drummer had space herpes or something,” Love explains. In a matter of days, Fat Dog are playing their biggest headline show ever — selling out the 1,500-cap London venue Electric Brixton, twice as big as their prior headlining peak. At some point, our conversation takes a detour when the two begin an aside about some new material they needed to put together last minute, thanks to everyone’s various illnesses. 

“You can see the pressure we’re under,” Hughes quips around the sickness in his voice. “We’re planning a gig during an interview.” 

From the outside, it’d seem that Fat Dog thrives amongst some kind of chaos. It is, at least in part, how they built their reputation. In recent years, Fat Dog claimed their stake in London’s vibrant art-rock scene with gonzo shows fueled by visceral energy and, once upon a time, boasting canine masks and nun costumes. The band accrued a feverish buzz from the British media’s well-oiled hype machine without ever releasing a single song. Eventually, they unleashed some deeply addicting and idiosyncratic singles, and today, they’ve announced their debut album WOOF., which is out on Sept. 6 on Domino. Early in our conversation, Love cracks up and derails a line of questioning because he suddenly “remembers” they named their album that. Things have moved fast, after all. 

There are some now-familiar tropes in Fat Dog’s origin story. Contrary to how fans have come to know them, the project’s origins were intimate and insular. Love began making music at home during a spat of lockdown boredom, eager to leave behind the post-punk group he’d been in and make something more electronic. However, this was no bedroom pop. “I wanted to do it for a band,” Love says. “I wanted to play with a good drummer.” Fat Dog might’ve been born during a stretch when people couldn’t gather, but the idea was always to have a heaving, cathartic party when the time soon came.

Like many of their immediate predecessors, Fat Dog began cutting their teeth at the Windmill Brixton — the now infamous incubator of arcane rock bands like Black Midi and Black Country, New Road, and Squid. We’ve heard a lot of exciting young groups come out of London in recent times, and now Fat Dog are at the front of, what, the second wave? The third? By now, years removed from the initial “post-Brexit post-punk” moment, we’re getting into the more Byzantine descendants. Fat Dog are both more brash and slightly more eccentric than some of their peers, the music often built on searing and cartoonish synths alike. 

Fat Dog
Fat Dog (Credit: Holly Whitaker)

This is where the story starts to get a bit more unusual. Fat Dog’s live shows didn’t just get them a bit of hometown attention. The band gained serious traction fast, touring with the likes of Viagra Boys and Yard Act, before inking a deal with Domino soon after. After a few iterations, the current lineup cohered a year and a half ago with Hughes’ addition, after he showed up with a viola he’d been learning for a week; Love was mortified by the performance but impressed with Hughes’ guts. The quintet is rounded out with Ben Harris (bass), Johnny Hutchinson (drums), and Morgan Wallace (keys/saxophone). 

Fat Dog’s frenzied addition to the London scene wasn’t divorced from the post-punk label so many of these bands have since roundly rejected, but was more like dance music with a rock ferocity plus — naturally, because why not — klezmer music. Love once attributed that influence to his obsession with the video game Serious Sam 2, but today he tells a different story. “That is quite bullshit, because I couldn’t be arsed to explain it,” he admits. “I’ve never listened to much klezmer, to be fair, so I don’t know what I’m talking about.” 

Hughes, who alternates between damage controlling Love’s wilder dismissals of their work and riffing with him as if they are much older friends than they are, jumps in: “It’s more [the scales] than anything,” explaining the Balkan melodic tinge that makes Fat Dog’s synth riffs so unique. Sometimes, the band’s instrumentals sound like they should be soundtracking something like a rave scene in The Matrix or Blade or some other edgy turn-of-the-millennium blockbuster. But, Hughes and Love are both excited to announce, they are not limited to that one scale: They’ve recently introduced a “French Eurovision world peace song” into the set. 

Punchlines aside, Fat Dog’s arc has been impressive. After Domino got involved, things got real. The band worked with the Arctic Monkeys/Blur/Jessie Ware/etc. super-producer James Ford (“I stole all his production techniques,” Love says), and otherwise spent a lot of hours screwing around in Domino’s own London studio (“Maybe 30 percent of that made it on the album,” Hughes says). Hughes admits they weren’t expecting the band to take off like this, but Fat Dog’s music backs up the attention. When they finally released a single, it was the batshit seven-minute epic “King Of The Slugs,” which begins as dance-punk, breaks down into a klezmer-tinged middle passage, and ends with a sort of perverse broken-down grandeur. 

“Maybe that’s like putting your dick on the table,” Hughes laughs. “Go out with the big one.” 

WOOF. has more bite-size tracks, like the subsequent single “All The Same,” but each has the same wracked nerves and bug-eyed fervor. Many of the songs, like the latest single “Running,” begin with runaway rave intensity and somehow ratchet it up even further as they proceed. There are precious few reflective moments of reprieve on the album. It’s mostly about going for the jugular. Themes are left opaque, with Hughes only allowing some of the band’s signature songs — including “King Of The Slugs” and “Running” — are the sound of Love’s internal monologue. While Love’s original mission statement was to make something more “out there,” the band still seems just a bit bemused that their rapid ascent and zany hybrid have left so many listeners fascinated and puzzled.

“We’re just normal men,” Hughes stresses. “There’s always this notion with this music that we must be these wild and crazy guys, and there’s some mystery to the songwriting. It’s not a conscious process, it’s just what we’re doing now.” He pauses, then can’t help himself but make one more dry-as-hell joke as he croaks and coughs through the strep: “The only thing I’d say is true for all of us when it comes to writing music is total celibacy. I mean, it’s important.”