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14th September 2010
METAL DISCOVERY: A lot of bands say now that their main source of income as musicians is from touring and merch rather than selling the actual music in whatever form that might be. Would you say that’s also true of the Criminals and do you predict a lot more touring in the future?
FRANK BENBINI: Yeah, it’s definitely the only way we make money. This band’s always been a touring band for the last seventeen years. It will remain to be so as long as people turn up to see us.
(Frank Benbini on Fun Lovin' Criminals' "no compromise" approach to composing music)
"One minute it’s a rock song, then it’s a poppy kind of song, then it’s a hip-hop song, then a blues song, and then it’s an out and out rock jam, then it’s a reggae song again, and it’s up and down, up and down like that. That’s fantastic for us and fantastic for our fans and the people that like that but, marketing wise, it’s a fucking nightmare!"
Frank Benbini in his dressing room at The Engine Shed, Lincoln, 14th September 2010
Photograph copyright © 2010 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Fun Lovin' Criminals Official Website:
Fun Lovin' Criminals Official MySpace:
Come Find Yourself (1996)
100% Colombian (1998)
Studio Albums
Loco (2001)
Welcome to Poppy's (2003)
Livin' in the City (2005)
Thanks to Mike Gourlay for arranging the interview.
Classic Fantastic (2010)
MD: Do you know what presales are like for tonight, out of interest?
FB: Around six hundred or something like that.
MD: Cool. Now the whole band’s based in the UK…obviously you’re British yourself anyway…can fans expect a more Anglicised approach in future music and maybe a move away from the New York themes?
FB: I don’t think so, no, because it’s a state of mind isn’t it, really. It doesn’t matter where you are. You know, I was born in the Midlands in England and, yet, everything that I’ve done since I’ve grown up has been very American. I’ve played for my basketball team, I’ve played American football, I’m into American culture, I drive American cars and bikes…so I’ve always been like that. All my music, all my clothes, all my shopping, all comes from there…I used to live there.
MD: Did your Americanisation help you get the gig with the Criminals?
FB: Well, maybe, I don’t know. They say I’m more American than they are! But, at the same time, it’s a state of mind, isn’t it. You know, your music comes from your influences and our influences are like what I told you. All our record collections and stuff like that, like subjects when it comes to writing – if you’re feeling good and you’re in a good mood…like we wrote ‘Mister Sun’…
MD: The happiest song on the album!
FB: The kids on there, it’s got my little daughter and my brother’s two daughters.
MD: It sounds like a whole load of kids on there.
FB: Yeah, because we doubled it up and stuff. But yeah, the Criminals’ music is always very life enhanced music so it doesn’t really matter where you live. We definitely aren’t, all of a sudden, gonna sound like fucking Coldplay or anything. We do what we do. Actually, we’ve tried before to sound a certain way and we just ended up sounding like Fun Lovin’ Criminals! [laughs] It doesn’t matter what we try!
MD: Considering you have such a cross-genre approach to writing music with elements of funk, and hip-hop, and jazz, and rock, and blues, and whatever, have you always been surprised by the mainstream success the Criminals have got from kind of not conforming as such?
FB: Yeah, that’s the funniest thing about this band, really, is that it’s a haphazard thing that, all of a sudden, we got a couple of pop hits and the band never started out to do that. Never. It didn’t even cross our mind.
MD: You’ve got to be unique in that sense; one of the most unique bands in the mainstream to be doing that.
FB: Yeah, exactly. A few guys met in a bar, you know, wrote some fucking…smashed up some blues and get in some hip-hop, played a couple of gigs and got fucking signed. It wasn’t like years and years of bashing away in the corporate pop fucking world. It was a complete fluke and surprise. It’s kinda funny but, then again, that one song that everyone loves has paid the fucking rent all these years!
MD: Kind of the converse of that, do you think the cross-genre approach has ever been limiting for the band in terms of a potentially bigger fanbase in that you don’t belong to a particular scene? You know, maybe you could be playing arenas instead of this kind of venue.
FB: Yeah, yeah. I’ve said it in interviews before – we love the music that we write, and the music we play, and how we approach it, and how we think it’s cool that we only do stuff we like. One minute it’s a rock song, then it’s a poppy kind of song, then it’s a hip-hop song, then a blues song, and then it’s an out and out rock jam, then it’s a reggae song again, and it’s up and down, up and down like that. That’s fantastic for us and fantastic for our fans and the people that like that but, marketing wise, it’s a fucking nightmare! You know, you’re not in with Radio 2 – every song doesn’t sound like Coldplay or whatever it may be. You don’t fall into these pigeon holes. In America it’s the singer/songwriter kinda stuff…they don’t know what the fuck to do with us or where to put us. On that side of things…it means you aint gonna be playing the big corporate, big fucking arenas.
MD: Yeah, but you always preserve your integrity through doing that.
FB: You do but you then fall into those bands who work twice as hard on the road. It’s a good question mate because it’s something I’ve brought up before, and some say - “Yeah, but we wouldn’t want you to be like that”, and I’m like – “Oh, I didn’t say that I wanted to be like that, I’m trying to explain to you that, marketing wise, where the band sit as far as status and stuff like that, we’re never gonna be right up there because we don’t put out the same old same old same old, and fall into easy playlisting”.
MD: Which is part of the charm of the band at the same time and why people love the Criminals.
FB: Yeah, it’d be great if we suddenly had another number one but, you know…
MD: But, I think through that there’s a lot of sincerity that kind of shines through the music in that sense because you are doing just what you want to do. Kind of a “no compromise” approach in that sense.
FB: Yeah, that’s right.
MD: Has it always been your aim to preserve that integrity as musicians?
FB: Yeah. Sometimes I might write a song that sounds too sweet and they’re like – “No, we can’t do that”. And, at the same time, we laugh about it and say – “Yeah, but you can hear it playing ten times a day on Radio 2!”
MD: Maybe ‘Mister Sun’ could end up on Radio 2…
FB: Yeah, we try, but Radio 2 don’t play spoken word – ie. they don’t play rap. Huey doesn’t really sing, it is spoken word mainly. So it’s like we kind of ballsed that up as well! [laughs] You know, we’ll keep trying!
MD: Rather than simply throwing together a load of different genres is it always your aim of use those different styles to reflect a particular mood suggested by the lyrics?
FB: Yeah, definitely.
MD: Because, you know, rock has a certain edge to it that could suggest something more gritty. Bluesy stuff is a more kind of, I don’t know, maybe sleazy…
FB: Sleazy/sexy kind of thing. Yeah, I mean, definitely. With a song like ‘Get Your Coat’ you’ve got that kind of funk-esque…if you maybe took the vocals off ‘Get Your Coat’ and just listen to it as an instrumentation, you could probably hear it clipped onto the back of a porno in the 70s or something like that! So, yeah, it’s got that “Get your coat baby, you’ve pulled” kind of chorus. So yeah, we definitely use that to get those lyrics over a little bit better.
MD: Yeah, I think you do use all those different genres to good effect, not just mixing ‘em for the sake of mixing ‘em.
FB: There’s a song on ‘Livin’ In The City’ called ‘Will I Be Ready’ and that’s very much a “why the hell did you let your kids go and die for the country?” and “would you be ready if you had to go and do that?” We were like – “How can we get this over that way?”, so we used a slow kind of reggae, a lot of effects and…very trippy. We’re ending the set with that song tonight. It’s awesome. I fucking love that song.
MD: The media frequently label the band as the “Kings of Cool” or whatever phrase they choose to label you in that sense – do you feel that’s a tag you’ve had to live up to over the years in the public eye or do you just radiate natural cool the whole time?!
FB: I will probably sound like a bighead if I do say “yeah, we are cool guys” but everyone has bad days.
MD: Yeah, yeah. The cool is through the Criminals’ music.
FB: Yeah, and we’ve always dressed up. We have that mentality that if people have got off their own arse, dragged themselves out and paid for a cab, probably paid for babysitters, and paid for the ticket to get in, what, are you gonna go on stage like this, like you’ve been sitting in the tour bus all day? No, we dress up for them, put on a nice suit…you never know if your mum or dad’s gonna turn up! You want to look your best!
MD: Do your mum or dad ever turn up to your gigs?
FB: Yeah, they might turn up tonight because it’s not too far away.
MD: Are they fans?
FB: Yeah, my dad is.
MD: So not just a biased…“oh, he’s my son, so…”?
FB: No, my dad took me to the Criminals years ago. He’s got a wicked record collection as well so that’s where I get a lot of my influences from.
MD: So what plans lie ahead for the Criminals? I’ve heard talk of a live album…
FB: Yeah, we’re just gearing up for the end of this week. We’re multi-tracking the show in London at Shepherd’s Bush. It’s also being filmed for a DVD so next year there’ll be…because it’s one of those things where it’s cool when you listen to the Criminals at home but it’s totally different when you see it. So to be able to try and capture that with film footage and audio…we’re doing that on Friday and that will be coming out next year.
MD: It’s a nice venue that, Shepherd’s Bush.
FB: Yeah, it’s sold out as well.
MD: Oh cool, brilliant.
FB: It’ll be fun and I know the fans have always wanted it. It’s something we’ve wanted to do; we’ve wanted to put a live album out for ages. All the best bands in the world have got fucking live albums out. Pearl Jam…their one’s fucking great.
MD: Quite unbelievable you haven’t had one to date.
FB: Yeah, I know.
MD: And the DVD too.
FB: Yeah, and the DVD so it will all be synched up. It’ll be good. Hopefully we won’t get fucked up before the show! [laughs]
MD: Will you be nervous? Extra nerves perhaps because you know it’s being filmed?
FB: Oh yeah, big-time. Filmed, and recorded, and a live audience…
MD: A couple of beers before then maybe!
FB: A couple of something before we go out there! [laughs]
MD: Hey, cheers very much for your time.
FB: Thanks for coming down Mark.