FUN LOVIN’ CRIMINALS////FOR ROOMTHIRTEEN.COM////SEPTEMER 2010
Both a long and arduous legal battle with their previous management company has seen NYC’s favourite fun lovers virtually cast into both creative and commercial wilderness throughout the last five years. But now, having won the war of wits and words, their sixth full studio album ‘Classic Fantastic’ finally came out earlier this year. In support of the release the trio are currently out touring around Europe. Whilst on the jaunt, we tracked them down and dared both rhythm supremo, Frank Benbini (FB) and King Charisma a.k.a front-man Huey Morgan (HM), to take a walk on the wild side and step into Room Thirteen…
As we are only a little over an hour from show time, it seems only fitting to start by asking how the tour’s been going?
HM: Yep, so far so good. Although, there’s been a bereavement in my family, so I’ve had to go back to America for a couple of days, which kinda stopped the proceedings for a little while, but going up to that really good, knowing I had someone who was sick in my family. I knew they wanted me to stay out and play some shows, but unfortunately I had to go to a funeral in the end. But yesterday when I got back, it was a lot more emotional for me. I mean, we’ve been doing this for a long time, but even so you realise that life is short, so its kinda feeling at the moment like every gig is the ‘new gig’, so we really work up to it. We did the March run and that was a lot of fun, and now we get to play in a lot of places we’re probably not going to be able to play next summer ‘cause we’re going to be doing a lot of festivals and stuff, which is cool, but it’s not like you can actually see everybody in the crowd…
It’s been a while since you’ve been able to get out there and tour an album, I wondered if there were apprehensions about getting back on the road?
HM: We’ve always played…
FB: Yeah, we’ve always been a touring band
HM: (laughs) We sat around and thought, well we’re the best looking, most talented motherfuckers around, so we just can’t stop doing this now (laughs), for the sake of the people. Especially with the economy, if you wanna go and see a show and you know we are around then…(laughs)
FB: We are the antidote for the Simon Cowell bullshit
From reading other articles and meeting you now, it appears that Frank seems to be the grounding force behind the whole thing…kinda like everyone needs a Frank?
HM: There can be only one and we’re lucky enough to have him. When he came on board, it was like nine years ago. At the time we were thinking about changing the way we did things and when he came in he brought fresh blood. I mean Frank writes as much as all of us. He was the first actual member of the group. Initially we had Steve, who was just this dude who was our roommate, we made him do it really, he was just this Goth guy. Then we hired Mackie for a while, but we’ve always known Frank throughout, then we asked him to join the band.
FB: I knew Huey and Fast as way back as 95’ when they first played Rock City in Nottingham…
HM: He was DJing our after-party that night.
FB: I used to go over and stay in NY with them, just initially as friends really. They helped me out with my original bands record, so we’ve always been friends / musicians or musicians / friends.
Yeah, there seems to be a strong camaraderie between the three of you?
HM: Yeah definitely, we’re brothers from other mothers, there’s no doubt about that.
FB: You can’t be together for this long and not have love for one another, it just wouldn’t happen. I mean we drive each other mad at the same time.
HM: Frank has his own fucking lounge on the bus…
FB: Yeah, so I can zone out
HM: (laughs) Go in there and there’s pictures of Bruce Lee, Page 3 girls, scented candles, speakers and Enter the Dragon on his computer screen.
FB: (laughs) And a big box of Quality Street
HM: I came in yesterday and he was like ‘have a Strawberry Cream Huey’ (laughs)…’you know you’d like one, you know you would’
You’ve been off the scene now for around five years so although it’s been well documented, I wondered if we could talk about the legal situation which was the cause for this lengthy hiatus. I’m guessing some of it cuts quite deep?
HM: Yeah, but it’s also clichéd as a motherfucker. A band gets in trouble with their management. I mean every band goes through some shit like that which kind of makes you realise why you do it. I think we realised we wanted to be in a band because we like making music. Yeah, we made a lot of money…
FB: But we also spent a lot of money on the way on court cases and that.
HM: Throughout it all we realised how important it was to us all. Through the adversity came the triumph. We’re three dudes, but if we were five for example, it would have made it way more difficult because you are dealing with five separate lives. Our lives are pretty entwined. Our wives all know each other and we all hang out, we all try and see each other as much as we can. For us if it was more people, I think it would have been uncontrollable. There’d be just to much shit going on to keep it all together.
I was more interested to know about the psychological effects it had on the collective? I mean to be professional musicians who aren’t allowed to play music…
FB: Yeah, it stopped us being creative for a couple of years.
HM: You can’t do both things at once. You’d be doing a deposition for some fucking scum-bag…
FB: You don’t want to be going into a studio just to owe some douche-bag fifty grand every week.
HM: Also on top of that what cha’ gonna write about? We’re the Fun Lovin’ Criminals. We’ve got to write about some everyday shit or about some stories you hear. When we are not absorbed in the world around us because we are all consumed by this one big problem which is stopping you doing what is the angels of our nature.
FB: When we got to the top of the hill and started seeing the light again we were so fucking jaded that it still took awhile to get back to normal.
There must have been points when you thought ‘is all this really worth it’?
FB: I think there was (sighs). I think Huey & Fast had a conversation about it and I know I spoke to my family about it, I just started thinking, ‘I can’t fucking do this anymore’.
HM: You do get to the point where you start to wonder if it is ‘all really worth it?’
FB: When you are playing really big shows and all that money is going to lawyers, you start thinking fucking hell. Then you think ‘we need to put a record out’, it’s like what else do you want from us.
HM: And that’s why we started our own record label and how we got our heads round doing music commercially. The paradigm has shifted now and anything called a record company is redundant now, no one buys records now, anyone who’s over the age of twelve can download music or go to Sound Cloud and listen to it and then there’s the file sharing thing. So you are not really selling units. When we started our record company we had that in mind.
FB: It’s good for us because we are a live band.
Judging by ticket and album sales it seems your fan base has remained loyal?
HM: We have a lot more respect for the people than some bands. We’re not the biggest part of the equation. It’s the people who like the music who are. I think that we have a sound that’s different, we cross genres a lot. For us it’s like a soul band that plays rock music.
FB: Or a disco band that plays hip hop.
During your off time I know that Huey’s been doing his radio show and various other T.V. jams, but I believe Frank and Fast recorded a new and slightly unusual version of Purple Rain. Can we talk a little more about this?
FB: It’s funny ‘cause I did two interviews yesterday and they were like ‘you really did purple rain in a Reggae style?’ And I was like ‘yeah’. Huey has the face, so we knew he would get those sort of things. So me and Fast thought ‘lets do something’. I’m a huge Prince fan and he’s a huge Reggae fan, so we thought shall we try this?
Is it likely to see the light of day?
FB: Hopefully, there are nine songs on there so we need nine guest vocalists. You can imagine how hard it would be getting these vocalists. We do have some down, Sinead O’Conner sings on one. Plan B is going to sing on one. Madness are doing one. Hopefully Lily Allen will do one.
HM: They got Ali Campbell from UB40 doing Purple Rain.
FB: His voice is unbelievable on there. I passed it on to Prince a few weeks ago when I went over to Belgium to see him play…
HM: I think it’ll be like ‘The Grey Album’ Danger Mouse did, where you can’t sell it ‘cause you’ll have more lawyers than you can shake your a dick at.
FB: We’ve already got a plan B if that does happen. We’ll find a way. The whole thing came about really quickly it took about two weeks. But that’s how it is with me. There’s a period when I’m putting ideas down everyday, it comes real quick, then after that I’m like fuck that I’m knackered. We’re all like that really, we go for hardcore and then we slow up for a bit.
Regarding your latest release ‘Classic Fantastic’, I’d read that title came from Huey & Fast saying this particular collection of tracks were classic FLC, whereas Frank described them as fantastic…so sure enough ‘Classic Fantastic’ they became. But were there any other titles in the running?
HM: Frank was like ‘and it rhymes so there it is’ (laughs). We were sitting around my kitchen table thinking what are we going to call this fucking thing.
FB: Brothers from other Mothers was a possibility.
HM: Then there was Led Zeppelin IV, we knew Jimmy Page well enough that he’d probably laugh at it, his lawyers wouldn’t (last).
It had been a while, so what was the most enjoyable part of doing the album for you all?
HM: For me it was mixing it. We write, we produce, we arrange, but when you mix it…we had Tim Latham with us who has done all our records with us. He’s an extraordinary producer. He does a lot of Latin and Hip Hop stuff. He likes to do stuff which is very different from us to Tribe called Quest. So when you get in the studio with that guy and get the tracks up…for us it’s the best part. That’s when everything kind of comes together and you kinda realise the original idea you had in your bedroom.
FB: For me, track wise, I remember on the very first day we came together to try and do something for the album, I remember consciously saying ‘this record needs to be a bit more upbeat’. With Livin’ in the City’ Fast and Huey we very smudged by what was going on in NY. I mean ‘Gave Up On God’, or ‘Will I Be Ready’ if I had to go to war. They were mostly very deep and reflective songs. So I thought after being in a law suit for the last five years, let’s not go deep this time. Let’s just try and have a party this time around. I thought I’d like to put it on my stereo before going out on a Friday night with my friends, and I think that we got it. We always have to throw on the stoner jams like ‘El Malo’, but with the rest of it, there’s a lot of swagger on there, or a lot of winkery, like ‘Get Your Coat’ honey, you’re comin’ home with me.
HM: That’s the one we love playing live, Frank actually came up with that lyric. He said it and I was like ‘what does that mean?’, so he laughed and said ‘just go home Huey and say it to your wife’.
FB: (laughs) Get you’re coat love you’ve pulled.
HM: As Frank said, we didn’t want to go into it making a negative record. I mean the worlds a shitty place right now. So we do talk a little about what’s going on, but we do want to have an overtone of hopefulness and I think that’s what it has.
So I take it that the writing is a collective process?
HM: We all respect each other’s ideas. Fast come up with a lot of the tuneage. For me and Frank, we hear something that Fast does and we automatically see the when and where and what’s the meaning behind it. A lot of the stuff was aimed towards – I wouldn’t say our comfort zone, more a place we could throw our dicks down (laughs).
And working with Roots Manuva, who features on ‘Keep on Yellin’, its got to be pretty cool to have such an innovator on board ?
HM: Well…he’s the man dude.
FB: (in a deep, deep voice) Well, well, well!!!
HM: He’s the only dude I’ve heard who’s as unique and experimental as some of the best British music I’ve ever heard, and that’s including The Clash. This is the guy. I asked if he worries about ‘what motherfuckers on the corner are going to think of his style’, but he’ll fuck ‘em up anyways ‘cause he’s crazy (laughs). He’d have everybody on they ass. He’s just done a whole new remix album with Wrongtom which Frank sang on. It’s great…
FB: They took all the accapellas off his last four albums, it really good.
After you’d finished working on the track I believe the relationship flourished somewhat as I saw the ‘Criminal Manuvas’ session you did together in Maida Vale for 6 Music. Other than ‘Scooby Snacks’ and ‘Witness’ did you record anything else off camera?
HM: Yeah we recorded another couple of jams, it would be good if we could get them out.
FB: He called me up the other day and asked if I thought we should do an album together.
HM: If we did do something, I picture it as being like some sort of stoner Rage against the Machine. When we started this thing I was always the guitar player, but as I ended up having he deepest voice I became the singer, but I’d be more than happy to become just the guitar player again.
FB: I’ll ring him and say yes then…(laughs)
With a pretty extensive back catalogue behind you now and understanding that tracks from ‘Classic Fantastic’ and the obvious hits are a must but how is the rest of the set-list decided upon?
HM: We’ve been doing this thing lately, where we have a set-list pen and we look at all the sets we’ve played over the last ten years and decide from there. At the moment, we open with ‘We the Three’, which is kind of our Beastie Boys thing in that all three of us sing on it, then we’ll go around the table looking at the old sets and we each pick tracks. Then Fast will say ‘ok ok that’s enough, we’ve got over two and a half hours now…put the pen down’. Thanks to technology we can play almost everything we want, from ‘The View Belongs to Everyone’ to ‘Come Find Yourself’. Recently we’ve been playing ‘Will I Be Ready’, which we’ll probably play tonight.
Can you decide whilst on stage?
HM: Yeah, sometimes there’s that.
Founding member and multi instrumentalist ‘Fast’ joins the interview…
We all know that your music crosses a lot of genres and styles so I’d guess there are a long list of influences for you all. So taking a slightly different stance on this area, if you were to organise your own ‘Crimstock’ or a ‘Fun Lovin’ Festival’, who else would you like to see appearing on the bill?(Currently active bands please)
HM: Yeah, someone asked us this recently, but with bands of all time, dead or alive. That was easy to do because you’d have Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix playing with each other and Cream would play. But just using active bands and performers then Prince would have to headline.
FAST: Toots and the Maytals, Roots Manuva, The Black Seeds, Fat Freddy’s Drop
FAST: Them Crocked Vultures and of course all of Franks side groups and family members (laughs)
FB: It would be great to get Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre back together.
HM: Considering new music, there’s also this guy called Soweto Kinch who does this jazz stuff which is quite modern sounding, he grew up listening to Hip Hop so he’s got these same sensibilities that we have, where you look at music form the past and you try and move it forward it. I love T.V. On the Radio, they’re one of my favourite bands. I’d also love to have the Bad Brains if they could pull it together
Believe it or not, next year sees your critically acclaimed debut ‘Come Find Yourself’ reaching the grand old age of 15…are there plans to celebrate this, maybe re-record the album or tour it in its entirety?
FAST: Yeah, were going to be putting out a live album to mark the anniversary, which we hope will be available of Blu-ray.
HM: I don’t know if we’ll do it live, Dio did one live from the Forum, which was great and ended up being a seminal release, but to do it live, the show would only be around forty five minutes, so you’d leave the stage and people would be like, ‘yeah that was great, but where’s the other hour and half we are used too?’ I’d like to get a bunch of producers we really like remix the tracks. In fact this is the first time we’ve talked about this.
When you listen back to it now are there things you’d change about it now?
FAST: Ah I don’t know, maybe try and re-record it and make it the sound the sane as before, which wouldn’t be a good thing, so scrap it and say ‘fuck it…lets not bother’ (everyone laughs)
HM: Then go to Hawaii to try and get over that (laughs).
As mentioned previously, you are all married now, but going on the reputation you’ve earned yourselves over the years, touring must be a much lower key affair nowadays?
HM: It’s still sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, we’re still fun lovin’, still bumping and ain’t a goddamn thing changed…but, its just sex with our wives and the rest of it is as is. I’m in my forties now, but we still have great fun doing it, but the cats are a little younger than me, so I just take it a step slower nowadays. It takes a really good reason for me to go at it full fucking tilt, but I still do every once in a while. But like last night I had two beers and went straight to bed.
So to round off, I guess the hardcore would want to know what does the future hold for the band?
HM: Well as we have our own record company now, we need to me more sensible now. Like doing maybe five songs at a time and putting them out. Then do the same six months later and so on so forth. For us doing a full album is a real psychological event. So we’ll be putting EP’s out from time to time.
FB: As we said we’ll also be putting the live album out next year.
Finally, and no pressure, but if for a twenty four hour period you could have either legs for arms, or arms for legs what would it be, the choice is yours?
HM: I’d like to have four hands, that’d be pretty fucking cool.
FAST: But if you had four legs you could really cover some distance.
FB: I’d say arms as well, then I could drum three times as fast.