Brian ‘Fast’ Leiser & Frank Benbini of Fun Lovin’ Criminals: Interview

Fun Lovin’ Criminals are hitting a big milestone; 100% Columbian turns 25 and the band are out celebrating as only the FLC do.

We caught up with Fast and Frank from Fun Lovin’ Criminals as they kicked off their 100% Columbian live tour. We discuss the album, memories from back in the day, songs that needed to be dusted off, the future, and drop the mic on what the band say to people that naysay about their current line-up.

Fast, Frank and Naim – Fun Lovin’ Criminals 2023
Picture: PGD Photography

ATB: So…100% Colombian. What MEMORIES of the time around 97/98, recording and getting everything together DO YOU HAVE? the FLC were riding a wave at the time and it felt like one of those records where you had to make it stick.

FAST: We just got off the tour of Come Find Yourself for a couple of years. We were itching to get back into the lab and come up with some beats and write some songs for a follow up. We didn’t really have any rules, you know, saying ‘Oh, lets write another Scooby Snacks;’ we always just kind of wrote what we wrote and then we pieced up together in the studio.

I remember being in the studio was a real good time. We all wanted to fine tune our production skills. For me, personally, I was writing most of the beats in my apartment in Brooklyn, and was just in a really good place. It was good fun. Tim Latham, our engineer, kind of the fourth member of the band, was really just showing us how to fine tune our sound and you know, how to really emphasise the feelings of the music.

That album for us really is one of our favourites. It’s got a lot of my favourite songs to perform live. So this tour we’ve just started in Greece, it’s been amazing to play all these songs in order, you know, and just really vibe with the crowd and loving it. I mean, it’s like they’re really coming out and experiencing a different kind of show for FLC. We always like to come out and, you know, play the hits and start off really loud and crazy. And this tour, we’re kind of starting the show mellow, like the sequence of the album and then it picks up and by the end of the show, everyone’s just there It’s getting crazy. Yeah,


FAST: And Mini Bar Blues and Fisty Nuts! That’s a really fun track and the audience participation is great.

ATB: With those songs, you’ve played a lot of them over the years. Are there any that you’ve had to really dust off?

FRANK: Yeah, I’d say probably half. There’s the staple few but there’s one or two on there, probably, that we’ve never played. So it was a case of getting in the rehearsal room and like you say, dust them down and get familiar with them. They soon come back to you. Many are fan favourites, so the minute you strike up the beginning, they’re ready to go, you know.

One of my favourite songs I’ve always loved playing his Back On The Block. We’ve purposely rested a few because we knew, a couple of years ago that we wanted to do the anniversary tour and play from start to finish, we thought, okay, let’s leave a couple of the shows we’ve been playing over the last year and a half and save them for the tour. But to get back to a song like Back On The Block, rhythmically, drumming, it’s fun. It’s got the Latin feel to it. So yeah, a few we did have to dust down but then the rest of the other half of the album we have played for the last 20 odd years.

It’s fun playing it in its entirety. You know what I mean? I think the crowd get a kick out of it. Because obviously, back in the day, that’s how they would have digested that album, whether it be on cassette, CD, or vinyl. Back 20/25 years ago that’s how I used to listen to music. Now, everybody goes on Spotify on just their own playlists. It’s fun playing out, you know, the sequence would have been in the studio, which is, which is pretty cool. And we’ll probably only ever do it this once on this tour. So it’s quite unique.

FAST: It’s great to get a bunch of songs that we haven’t played, you know, like, All My Time Is Gone. It’s a big one that I always wanted to play, but was always kind of a tough one to figure out how to play it. For me, the second half of the 100% Colombian show, so from Southside to the end, is really a good time for me, it just feels fresh. We know all the songs now. That’s the whole point Frank and I want to get out on that tours and switch up those set lists. You know, you’re playing for a bunch of different people you’re playing for people who might have seen you at night before you want to play different shows. So that’s what we’re doing, it brings like a kind of new life back to the band. So we’re happy.

ATB: One of my favourite songs off the album is All For Self. I love the wailing guitar at the beginning. How is Naim (Cortazzi – guitarist) fitting in with with you guys after being in the band for a couple of years?

FRANK: I’ve been playing with him for 25 years in other guises. When I first joined FLC, I brought him on the journey as my tech. He’s always been around FLC you know. When we had an apartment in the studio many years ago, when he stopped being a tech and was doing his own thing. I’d come back and, you know, like, fill him in on what’s been happening. So he’s always been very much around FLC and brought him out to shows so it was kind of an easy thing for him to come on board. He’s known Fast for that long period as well.

We’ve been in studios together in our other guise as Radio Riddler, which is mine and Fast’s reggae outfit. It wasn’t a real hard thing. He’s part of the family. So he kind of slipped in nice. He’s very professional. He takes his guitar playing serious. So he got down with all the songs. We give him like 30 or 40 Songs to learn in a short period and he went away and did his homework. So to answer the question is it’s not been difficult! It’s an easy slot. He’s been around the FLC family for for a long time and I think that’s definitely one of the things that’s worked for me and Fast. Now working with him on a regular, it’s been nice. It feels like family.

FAST: It’s also good because when he was learning the parts, he was listening to the album’s, he was listening to various live versions. So when we were in rehearsal, Naim was playing some of these guitar parts we haven’t heard since we were in the studio. I feel that it really helps the sound live. I think when people come out, you’re gonna realise the soundscape is kind of even a bit more grander. Now, I mean, obviously, my voice isn’t Huey’s voice, but, you know, the songs are what matters, and the vibe of the show is definitely still there. I mean, it’s good positive vibes, and Naim is on top of his game. So the fans are loving it, we’re very, very lucky and grateful that they’re sticking by us.

ATB: What do you think it is that makes Fun Lovin’ Criminals such a perennially endearing band to go and see?

FAST: We’ve stuck to our guns and people know that when they hear the music, they read a social media post, they hear an interview, that it’s with Frank and myself, you know, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, and that’s what we’re doing. It’s really important that we, you know, we do what the people expect and that comes naturally to us.

FRANK: I think that the overall thing, and you can tell me, because way, way back in the day, a little bit before ’97, I stumbled across an EP. The first thing that the record label over in the UK put together was a little EP called The Grave & The Constant and I think from then right up until now, I think the thing that people buy into is our love for not just one genre of music; that in a nutshell is what is great about FLC.

The fact that we don’t have any rules when me and Fast are in the studio, we never have since I joined, and started working with Fast and Huey 20 years ago, there was no rules. We love all genres of music. Between me and Fast our music collection is vast, right? From jazz to reggae to rock, especially hip hop music, then we like our Latin; Fast likes classical, so then that kind of brings in the cinematic aspect of Fun Lovin’ Criminals. All our music would sit within any film soundtrack. So that is the key thing that I believe that gives it that full sound. It’s the fact that we throw everything in a mixing pot, whip it up, and then one by one the songs land in whatever vein they land in. And I think that pure Fun Lovin’ Criminal fan, that’s what they love about the band.

ATB: And that’s what you get WITH 100% Colombian, isn’t it? tunes like Up On The Hill at the start, like you say, it’s a mellow opening. Then you’ve got Love Unlimited which is a nice soulful ballad. then it’s the View Belongs To Everyone. But then you get into their heavier stuff like Korean Bodega, 10th Street, Southside, and they’re real guitar heavy tracks, which really show that breadth of styles.

FRANK: It’s like when you see the heart monitor when someone’s hooked up to a machine and ECG and it’s kind of going up and it’s coming down and then it’s levelling out and it’s going up and it’s coming down. That’s how me and Fast like to do the setlist. Obviously not when we’re playing this album start to finish, but that in itself is like a heartbeat it goes up and it has these massive highs with the rock stuff then it comes down and we smooth you out with R&B. That basically is the the mixture of every Fun Lovin’ Criminal album if you look back to it. It has those ebbs and flows, which are fantastic.

It’s good that you pick up on that because I think that I think the track listing In itself, is wonderful on 100% Columbian. But it was weird on the first night when we first came out because we normally come out with a massive bang. That bang could be The Fun Lovin’ Criminal or it could be King Of New York. And then the lights go down on this tour, we walk out and it’s mellow, you know, but the crowd love it because they’re listening to that record that they bought 25 years ago. So it kind of works. It’s cool, man.

ATB: It’s like a comfort blanket, isn’t it? You know what’s happening and it feels good. On the flip side, what would you say to naysayers that say, oh, it’s not Fun Lovin’ Criminals without Huey?

FAST: Come to the show. Every story has two sides. We don’t air our dirty laundry out in public, that’s for damn sure. But if you’re a fan of the music, whether it was when he was in the band, whether it was when Steve-O or Mackie was in the band, come check out this line-up, and tell us what you think afterwards and I think it’ll become apparent that this band still has a lot of life in it. And even more so now. We’re releasing new music, we want to get music to the people. For us, it’s all about the fans that have stood by us, you know, for 30 plus years, you’ve grown with us who are now old like us, you know, bringing their kids to the shows. But you know, we’re just here to have a good time playing music, forget about our problems. So obviously, our personal problems are in our band problems, whatever. That’s for us to deal with, you know, yeah,

FRANK: I mean, it’s like that thing where you know, them kind of friends that say stuff. ‘Have you’ve seen that new film, it’s really shit!’ You’re probably looking forward to going and seeing it and then you turn around and say, ‘When did you guys see it then?’ ‘Well, I haven’t haven’t seen it yet.’

FAST: I read it on Rotten Tomatoes!

FRANK: How can you how can you give something an opinion if you’ve not been and checked it out.

FAST: Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

FRANK: Come and check it out and then leave thinking like everybody has done; ‘Wow! That was absolutely awesome.’ I’m gonna go and see ‘him ’em again and the reason why I can put my hand on my heart and say that’s the truth is that up to now every show we’ve played is sold out and we’ve been doing this for two years. If I had a mic right now I’d drop it!

Fun Lovin’ Criminals are on tour throughout November and December in Europe and the UK. In February, they hit Australian shores with their 100% Columbian show. You can find tickets here.

Check out Big Night Out below; one of the singles from 100% Columbian.

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