We caught up with Brian 'Fast' Leiser from hit band Fun Lovin' Criminals who was enjoying a leisurely break celebrating his mother-in-laws 70th birthday.....not wanting to keep him from the celebrations any longer than I had to, we cracked straight on with the interview.
You have been together since 1993, 6 albums later, you're STILL together, there aren't many bands out there that can lay claim to still being a band after 23 years, what would you put this down to?
I think it's a combination of many things, we got a record deal in the mid 90's and that kinda saved our lives , we were working in nightclubs and in bands and doing moderately well (not the same level of success as FLC's had) but at that time, labels were pumping a LOT of money into acts especially around the promotion of them and one of the great things that they did from the early days was to get us touring all over the world, that really helped us to establishing a decent fan-base and even after 20 years, we're able to go back to these countries and play. The majority of work we do these days is in the UK and Ireland, we've been really fortunate to have been able to visit Australia a few times, we played some American dates with U2 and looking at bands these days, they face such an uphill battle!
Another reason is because we worked in nightclubs, we already knew our limits so the days of turning into drug addicts were reached whilst the band was in its infancy and by the time we were established, it was all over. Fortunately, we never really had that 'cocaine phase' that kills so many bands, we always made sure that we were professional, arriving onstage on time and putting on a good show for the fans as its them that are parting with their hard earned cash to come see us. I think we'd be a bit up our own asses if we rocked up late, hungover and feeling miserable and believe me, we've played many shows when we've felt miserable but playing our music gives us a real energy and I don't think that we'll ever forget WHERE we came from
As you said, the fans are what keeps you on stage and without them, you wouldn't be there!
The thing with our fans is that they want to come out to watch us play, forget about their problems for a few hours and have a good time, our lyrics might have some political undertones but there's plenty of human elements in those words too and if we can entertain the room and let them have a good time, that's what's important, we don't want to be like some drippy singer songwriter!
Your musical style is pretty eclectic and includes hints of alternative rock, hip hop, jazz, reggae and funk. I know that you were exposed to loads of musical genres when you worked at The Limelight with Huey in the early 90's, was there a band or an act that made you want to get your own band together?
I think that's WHY it worked so well with Huey and I, I was in a techno group in the early days and I was really into electronic music whereas Huey was in a blues rock group, we shared a mutual love of hip hop music. The clubs we worked at in New York had a different style of music every night of the week so it was really easy to become exposed to many different genres without having to try too hard, New York after all is such a multi cultural city, you hear Latin music, rock music and hip hop just walking from one block to the next. We have a good friend called Pablo Chavez who was in a graffiti crew called 'The Fun Lovin' Criminals', this was the only multi cultured graffiti crew in New York and that alone exposed us to so many different backgrounds. I guess the fact that we worked in so many nightclubs, we were often asked to fill in for bands who had cancelled earlier on in the evening so when we played, we were playing to venues that held 2000 - 3000 people and these were a great place for record scouts to hang out, I guess most of it was down to luck, we certainly got lucky but Huey and I know that our formula was unique, granted, there are many acts out there who mix hip hop and rock music together but when you hear a Fun Lovin' Criminals track, you KNOW that it's a Fun Lovin' Criminals track! The formula has never really changed. The labels we've had over the years have made us record with different producers and some went better than others, we always go into the studio with a positive frame of mind but after we worked with them, we just got the feeling that it wouldn't go well and often it didn't and we had to try and explain to the labels that we weren't looking to change our style, the formula worked so why change it?
Some of your previous material includes lyrics associated with drug use and crime - do you think that these days if you were to write new material, you'd approach the process with a different mindset?
I think that's one of the main factors why we don't put out many records these days, when we were young, hungry and starving, living with 4 people in a tiny apartment in lower Manhattan and working in nightclubs, we were exposed to SO much that it was easy for Huey to get inspired by some of the stories that he used to tell. Back in the 90's, it was amazing, you could get SO much inspiration just walking up the street, these days, we're older and wiser, married with kids and living in Frome (Somerset, where Huey lives nowadays) you're not going to get much 'street knowledge'! I live in Beckenham and the only good thing to come out of there was David Bowie and a bunch of old people so I think times have changed. We're not going to go out there these days, record a bunch of songs pretending that we're still living on the streets trying to make ends meet. At the same time, there's nothing like being able to get together to write new music, get out on tour and play to our established fanbase. The fans do want to hear new music but then again, a lot of people yearn for the older stuff to so it's a tough one to try and balance and we don't have a problem with that at all, we'll play Scooby Snacks and the older material cos those are the songs that helped make us who we are and what the band has become
I know that Huey now lives in Frome, you're in Beckenham, where does Frank live?
He's based in the Midlands, born and raised in Leicester, he refers to himself as the self proclaimed 'King of Leicester', we've known Frank since our first show in Nottingham at 'Rock City', he was hanging around the stage door and he told us way back then that he loved our music and he was a DJ and we started having him DJ at our after show parties and one thing led to another, he then became the drum tech for our second drummer Mackie 'Maxwell Jayson' and when he left, it just seemed right that Frank take over the role on a full time basis. He's been the longest serving member and it's funny when people ask about the original drummer and we always say that Frank IS the original drummer as he's been behind the kit longer than the previous two! We've achieved the perfect balance now, our original drummer Steve-O (Steve Borgovini) wasn't able to handle the fact that he was touring around the world, our second drummer Mackie was an amazing drummer, technically brilliant but there were other things that he wanted to do and then there's Frank and this is where we have found our perfect balance, he really helps with the song-writing, I would always write the beat and the music, Huey would always write the lyrics, with Frank we were just able to all get in a room and write....
I think having different people inputting to the music is great otherwise you just get the standard back line bass and drums doing what they're told with the singer and guitarist writing and dictating to the others!
Indeed, I mean I can play the emotional keyboard player, the bass player or the groovy trumpet player at the drop of a hat!
I think that's what they call a 'Triple Threat'?
Huey will ALWAYS be the front man, Frank will ALWAYS be the drummer in Fun Lovin' Criminals but he's in another band where he's the lead singer and it's funny as being the drummer with FLC and then a frontman in another band gives such a different impression to people. As far as being a functional family, I think we're as close as brothers, Huey and I are like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards but without their billions of dollars!
And all the issues that go with it!
You're playing a 12 date UK/Ireland tour in Feb/March 2017, any particular places you're really excited about playing?
Any place we play will be great! We're playing Dublin in Ireland, we have a fan base in Belfast too but we just couldn't get two dates organised that coincided with each other. We have lots of American friends who live in Ireland now so it's a great chance to see them again! The great thing about this tour is that we're playing different places to those that we played last time when we hit the UK. As for any particular cities, it's hard to say, as long as there's some tequila we're gonna have a great time! We're very blessed that we don't have to sit in an office from 9-5 every day! We live for the two hours we spend on the stage every night, the rest of the day is taken up with the travelling, the rest is playtime!
You've played all over the world, do you find that the audience reacts differently to your music depending on where you are?
It seems cliche to say it but the thing with America is that you get a lot more 'groupies', girls EVERYWHERE, with shows in England and Europe you mainly get guys waiting to meet you after the show now that's fine, I guess you'd expect that if you're in Erasure as I can't think of other bands that would appreciate having lots of men waiting for them afterwards! I think this was more so when we were younger but these days it's mainly about the music.
France and Italy are two places where we've played shows quite a lot and you just get the impression that they're standing there waiting for you to make some mistakes, to pick you apart, so we stopped playing there as we just got the impression that people weren't enjoying themselves. To be honest, these days, we don't mind where we play, everyone seems to have a great time and that;s the most important thing!
Are you going to make any new years resolutions for 2017? If so, what?
I'm not much for setting New Years resolutions, I live each day to the fullest that I can, every day is a new day, any day above ground is a good day! I have a young daughter so I concern myself with with her well being. In the past when I've made them I never keep them so....
I'm the same, why say that you're going to visit the gym 3 days a week and then after 2 weeks drop out?
I never understand anyone that would rather spend an hour in an inside room standing on a treadmill when you have all this lovely outdoor space to go and explore! I guess I could always say that I'm gonna give up cigarettes but I doubt that would happen!
Christmas is approaching pretty quickly, have you been a good boy this year and what's on your Christmas list?
I usually go all political a this point and each new year can be a time when people actually realise that there CAN be peace in the world but not without greed and having a child myself just makes me really feel for what I see. For so many years you see those commercials on TV telling you that "this child won't get a Christmas this year", and I would usually channel hop but nowadays, I watch it as we live in a crazy world and I tend to just focus on the positives and at Christmas time, I just want my daughter to be happy, to have that innocence and be a child and not growing up too soon!
Finally, what do you think the future holds for Fun Lovin' Criminals? Do you plan to keep touring until you drop? any new material on the horizon?
We're working on a new album at the moment, we think that the fans will really like the stuff that we're working on right now but when it comes to promoters and booking agents, you need to have a product to sell so we're getting more and more inspiration to make it something super!. We've got the February tour to look forward to, we have a DVD from the tour we did earlier this year and then we have this new record that we're probably gonna tour later in the year and then I guess we'll be looking to do a 20th Anniversay tour of 100% Colombian. It's great that we're lucky enough that we're going to able to go out and just relive that era all over again, despite being that little bit older! I'll say now for the record that we can still drink just as much tequila as we used to do, we just need a little more sleep to recover these days!
Our time was up, Fast had an appointment in the hot tub and I had to get back to get the washing on the line, who says rock n' roll is dead?
We'd like to thank Fast for sparing his time to chat to us and we wish them all the very best for Christmas, the new year, the upcoming tour in February and all of the festivals that they'll no doubt be playing in the Summer of 2017!
Interview by Steve Muscutt