Fun Lovin' Criminals: 'Selling millions of records can soften you up'
They may have mellowed somewhat but 10 years on from their last album Fun Lovin' Criminals are still up for it. Frontman Huey Morgan tells Alex Green how the internet has taken the life out of music and that he's no Bono
FUN Lovin' Criminals are entering a new phase of their 25-year career. Family, middle-age and a deep disillusionment with the music industry deterred them from making another record. Now they return with one completed album and another in the works. Yet Huey Morgan – the band's firebrand frontman – seems unchanged, ready as ever to rail against the injustices of the music industry and the dangers of inner-city life.
Time has dulled Fun Lovin' Criminals' love of the obscene. Their parties, their fights and their unruly relationship with the music industry have mellowed in the 22 years since rollicking debut, Come Find Yourself.
But you wouldn't know by speaking to Huey Morgan – the pioneering rap-rock band's haphazard and charismatic frontman.
If anything, it's the opposite. Railing against the establishment down the phone in his inimitable New York drawl, Morgan, now 50, is filled with fire.
"Nowadays, a band like mine couldn't have gotten an eight-record deal at EMI," he explains, talking at 100 miles a minute. "It just wouldn't happen. There's no artist development on the label side because they're not making that kind of money to be able to afford to do that.
"A lot of the time I think music nowadays is so narrow because it has to hit on so many levels. It takes the adventure out of music and a lot of the fun – a lot of creativity as well."
Morgan wears his half Puerto Rican-American and half Irish-American heritage with pride and strikes an energetic, almost cartoonish, character on and off stage. His band, Fun Lovin' Criminals, find themselves entering a new and exciting phase, one inspired by an album they made nearly 20 years ago.
Exhausted from touring their 1998 sophomore record, 100% Colombian, the band retreated to Hawaii and set about recording a follow-up. They settled on an album of covers they dubbed Mimosa after the champagne-orange juice hybrid cocktail.
"Fast forward 20 years, we got asked by Sony to do an all-original album," Morgan explains. "We figured we couldn't just jump in feet first. We figured we might want to test the waters as producers, you know?"
And that's what they did. The result? Another album of covers, aptly entitled Another Mimosa.
Hell-raiser Morgan contemplates the decade since their last album, Classic Fantastic – a critical flop that was quickly forgotten and pushed under the carpet.
"10 years ago, frankly, we were trying to figure out, last time we did a record, like why we are even making a record?
"It had got to a point where the music business was so fragmented that it didn't make any sense for us to make one, even though we did because we felt we had to."
The resulting album, he admits, "wasn't the greatest record we've ever done by a stretch".
He also admits that earning a "bunch of money and selling millions of records", as they did, could "soften you up".
A veteran of the hip hop scene, Morgan sees a musical landscape changed beyond recognition from his 90s heyday. Mostly, he puts this down to the pervasive influence of the internet and social media.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the never-ending "beefs" between artists from across the rap spectrum. Morgan thinks the internet's taken the fire out of these scraps.
"I remember back in the day if there was a spat you would see somebody at a festival or some s**t like that and y'all would throw hands – and it was before everybody having camera phones. It was before that s**t that we done stuff like that too," he recalls.
"We've had problems with dudes and they've come up to us and we've f***ed them up, but you can't do that now because everybody's got a camera phone and the internet is just waiting to correct any type of bugged out, crazy behaviour."
Musicians, he says, are no longer "compelled to be rebels". Instead they are "company men" who "tow the line and make the money and shut the f*** up".
Unsurprisingly, he's no fan of today's pop stars, who pillage the cream of every genre to create a hybrid that appeals to masses.
"You look at that girl – Rita Ora," he begins. "She always looks like she's about to cry. I don't think it's because she's personally fragile. I just think it's the situation: unrealistic beauty standards, unrealistic performance standards, unrealistic standards in general for a musician.
"Because obviously she doesn't write her music, or if she does she's kind of like writing it with someone else who takes the hit. Everything is super contrived so it's really hard for anyone to really like a musician because deep down it's all smoke and mirrors.
"There are bands out there that are doing good for themselves but they're very few and far between..."
Among the myriad of surprising facts about Morgan, maybe the oddest is that he lives in Bath, Somerset, with his interior designer wife, Rebecca – a world away from his native New York.
A few years ago Morgan abandoned his adoptive home of London for a Georgian pile where he could focus on raising his son. Importantly, he's keeping him away from London – away from the capital where "kids f***ing stab other kids".
"London sucks man," he laments. "London for me is everything a city shouldn't be. It's a bunch of people from diverse background who don't f***ing like each other, who don't want to get along, and have these little f***ing enclaves."
He admits he would find raising children in London "too f***cking nerve-wracking," then adds, somewhat cryptically: "I live in Bath because frankly it's a lot nicer and I don't have to deal with f***ing Taliban."
As the conversation draws to a close, Morgan signs off in his inimitable style, explaining why he continues to write, record and play music.
He says: "If you love somebody you want to make them aware of s**t they might not be aware of – that's what love is man. That's what I'm trying to do.
After a pause, he adds: "But I'm not like Bono – I'm not going to try and jam it down their throat."
:: Another Mimosa is out now.