Huey Morgan: '˜The album is kind of a lost art these days'
At the height of Britpop, a trio of New Yorkers performed a gleeful ramraid on the charts with their infectious blend of rock, hip-hop, funk and anything else that took their fancy.
With their hit singles such as Scooby Snacks, King of New York and The Fun Lovin’ Criminal, the Fun Lovin’ Criminals became huge stars on this side of the Atlantic as Europe fell for their charms.
To celebrate their debut album Come Find Yourself’s 20th anniversary, the band have been playing a series of shows where they’ve played it in full for the first time.
And now they’re preparing to headline this weekend’s Summer Show in Portsmouth on Sunday.
Frontman Huey Morgan told WOW247: ‘The album is kind of like a lost art these days. When I grew up it was all about albums. You’d play it from start to finish.
‘It’s like a complete artistic thought and it’s cool going back to that and finding out who we were 20 years ago, looking again at the material and the tracklisting.
‘It’s funny because Scooby Snacks is the fourth song in the set, Fun Lovin’ Criminals is the first one, so you’re knocking out two of the big singles from that album in the first 20 minutes.
‘It’s cool though because people hang out, you know like I would with an old Led Zeppelin record or a Rockpile record where there were album tracks that I really liked, and you can see people waiting for those songs, because they’re like: “Oh that next song, that’s my jam”.
‘That’s the cool part about it – playing it for the people, because the people wanted us to do this.’
The studio where Come Find Yourself was recorded, The Magic Shop in New York, has recently closed. It was the subject of an episode of Foo Fighter star Dave Grohl’s documentary series Sonic Highways.
‘It was on Crosby Street in Manhattan, Soho. It was this little street in the middle of nowhere. They had this amazing desk and all this vintage rock gear, but now,it’s gone.
‘I’m sitting in my recording studio right now at the back of my house in Somerset, and I don’t have a big desk, I just have a couple of computers and some microphones, that’s it.
‘It’s crazy the way things have changed and grown exponentially over the last few years with the technology.
‘When we started 20 years ago we had to synch two two-inch tape machines together to get 96 tracks. It’s kind of cool in a way because everybody can get that kind of feeling, but it is a special feeling walking into a devoted recording studio – there’s a kind of hush, like this is where we’re painting.’
The Criminals’ genre-blending style was something that came naturally from the city’s musical melting pot.
‘We didn’t put any kind of boundaries on what we did, we all liked all kinds of music and we kind of assumed that’s what we were going to play. We started writing songs and every one was different.
‘When we put that record out, it wasn’t something that was a sureshot. We produced it ourselves, we wrote it and helped engineer it with Tim Latham who’s now got a couple of Grammys to his name.
‘But people were interested in the fact that we were breaking ground and that was something we felt that energy from and that empowered us.’
Hit single Scooby Snacks was also famed for using snatches of dialogue from Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and apparently the director was happy to let his films be used.
‘It was pretty easy,’ recalls Huey. ‘He was a bad ass. We walked him through it, he was a good guy and he got it.
‘That was (multi-instrumentalist) Fast’s idea and I really understood where he was coming from - the whole idea was, we’re going completely Pulp Fiction on this track. And Quentin understood that.’
While the group rose to festival headline status in the UK and Europe, back home they struggled to make as much impact. One problem was the way American radio stations run to strict formats.
‘When Fun Lovin’ Criminal came out, some stations picked up on it because it had that almost House of Pain bop, it was fun, it had a country and western guitar thing going on, stations were saying to the record label: “Why doesn’t anything else sound like this song?”
There wasn’t the enthusiasm at the radio stations that there was at the label.
“Back in the day – I feel like an old man now, I guess I am – you had the record labels championing you, not going: “We have to get you on the radio and if we don’t get you on the radio, we’ll have to drop you”. That’s the difference now.
‘There used to be artist and development.
‘They don’t to take the chance and potentially waste money on something new that might not work.
‘Rebellion’s looked at now as a character flaw in a lot of musicians and that’s kind of upsetting.’
Come Find Yourself sold 500,000 copies in the US and was certified gold, but as Huey puts it, they had no qualms about following the money to Europe.
‘You can tour the US for three months in a van and maybe make $10,000 or you can headline Reading and Leeds and make £500,000.
‘What would you do? It’s pretty simple, if you’re broke and there’s people across the ocean to play our music to who love it – screw it, man, let’s do that. We’ve been pretty hip-hop in our attitude when it comes to making money.
‘We did tour America with U2, they’re really great guys for asking us to do that, and we played for a lot of people and it did well for the record, but you start to see where there are like-minded individuals.’
While the group have got a busy summer lined up, their future beyond that is up in the air. Huey is kept busy by his 6Music and Radio2 shows, and he also became a dad for the second time last year, which has changed his priorities regarding touring.
‘It’s kind of difficult, my wife is pretty damn amazing. Leaving your family is a really hard thing to do, when you’re going out on the road, that was difficult for me.
‘I’ve got a son who’s four-and-a-half now, so I’ve done it before, but I didn’t like it.
‘I’m doing it this time because it’s one of those things where I had to make a little bit of a compromise for the fans who put me here in the first place.
‘We worked it out so it was easier on my wife than it could have been, but she’s a champ and she said go do it.’
So will there be a new album to follow 2010’s Classic Fantastic?
‘I don’t know, it’s something we’ve talked about – we’re musicians, we have ideas, there might be something happening.
‘We’re trying to figure out if we can get in the studio, there might be something we put together like an EP.
‘You have to take into consideration the environment, whether people want to hear what we’re doing – we’re old guys now, pop is a young person’s game.
‘When we first came in the charts in the UK, there was nothing like us, it was a lot of Britpop. I think for us to put a record out and to expect people to go: “Yes, they’re back!” I don’t know if that’s really an expectation of ours.
‘If we’re going to do something, it has to be something we feel really strong about.’
n Fun Lovin’ Criminals headline the Portsmouth Summer Show on Sunday. Saturday is headlined by Peter Andre.
Other acts appearing include Scouting For Girls, Diversity, 5ive, The Shires and many more. Tickets are £15 a day. Go to portsmouthsummershow.co.uk