Saying It To The Face: An Interview with Huey Morgan

If you've seen our Crucial 2012 Albums of the Year you'll know that Say It To My Face, the debut solo release from Huey Morgan is on there. Earlier this year we spoke to Huey about the album and with the festive season just upon us and a timely new single in the form of Christmas By the Side of the Road taken from the album we present our interview with the man himself.

Huey Morgan is well known figure. As a member of Fun Lovin' Criminals he's produced many a classic genre melder but never before has he released a solo album. That is, until now. Say It To My Face, released at the end of October is that album and together with band the New Yorkers he's produced an album distinctly different to what has come before yet just as accessible. When we given the chance to have the man himself on the end of a phone for an interview we couldn't say no and the warm tones we all recognize from his radio show were all present and correct.

Starting with the question of what was behind the decision to release a solo album, we begin. "To be honest it was me and my fiends wanted to make. My buddies from New York who play in a Blues band and me decided we wanted to make a record together and I'd written these songs here in London a couple years back and we decided to get a thing together..." He explains then continues. "But we didn't know if we going to release it. (So it was) just as friends making a record together because we've always wanted to do it. We were doing a gig at The Slaughtered Lamb in London later and my manager had got in touch the guy Simon Drake from Naim Records and he came down and he said he really liked it and he'd be interested if we wanted to put it out."

"When you do something for an artistic endeavor you open up a little bit more of yourself with lyrics and things like that and with this record I didn't make it to be released. It was made for us to listen to as friends. It was one of those things that was conceived just out of love. All of a sudden people heard it and like it which was very complimentary. I guess it goes back to the days of making records for the sake of artistic endeavor and not monetary gain. Of course it came to the time when they said you're gonna have to think about the money situation. So I said 'I didn't do it for money and I'm not gonna start to either' so I decided to donate all my record sales to Veterans charities. I just think that it's kind of sad that you hear of all these guys coming back from war and not being taken care of or being homeless and in a lot of cases just not being treated properly..." 

One of the albums key tracks for us is 'It's Alright' on which Huey talks of taking things as they come and not getting too attached to problems. "It should've been called 'Keeping Shit in Perspective' because that's what it's all about.You can do whatever you like, but you still gotta do the dishes! Recently I've become a father and I've been married for five years and that obviously gives you a different perspective on life and things like that but I think I've always been like that. You've never seen me in the back of Grazia shaking hands with Carl Lagerfeld or going to movie premieres and stuff like that because I don;t do stuff like that. It's just not my bag!"

"I never have, and I think what was cool was when the 'Criminals were really big. I just go home after a tour to New York and not have to hear the press that was going around. I never had the paparazzi stuff because I didn't attract them and nobody cared in New York. That was kind of cool and it allowed me to continue creating sings without people saying like 'are you writing a song about this?' Being in a band for 15 years,20 years really, it's one of those things were you just have to set yourself some ground rules on how you're gonna behave and how you're gonna be an artist rather than a celebrity. There's a big difference there." 

Huey continues: "I wanted to be a musician. Music is my life and I've branched out o being a DJ on the radio playing music I love and that that got me back in love with music in general and the life that that bought me a guitar. Every guitar tells a thousand stories and I was hearing stories from guys in service, coming back from war and it just seemed like the right thing to do. And like I said we didn't expect anybody to hear it..." 

Being from New York and having a band called the New Yorkers backing him mightily it seems that the city has influenced the album but how much? "I think most definitely (New York has influenced the album). There's a lot of songs such as New York Blues, about longing to go back to New York and even songs that guys and I wrote together that didn't get made in New York. I mean, Frank from The Criminals plays drums in the band and was a thing I really asked him to do because he is the best drummer I ever played with.Pete Leven plays with The Blind Boys of Alabama , so he's on top of his game... I put together a band of guys I knew rather than session musicians for the album, you know, so it was also because a lot of the music I'd written for them I'd written with them in mind..."

Continuing with the New York thread, there's a saying that there's eight million people in New York and all of them have a story. "There's eleven million now so that's a lot of stories to hear. Shaniqua is about a friend who had to skip town and he didn't want his girlfriend to get in trouble so he said he didn't love her. He did but he kind of made a sacrifice if letting her hate him so she wouldn't get hurt." But how about the famous music scene of New York?

"When I was a kid I was always looking to London for the music and I didn't realise until later on, when I was I kid listening to Talking Heads, The New York Dolls and bands like that who are from New York and the Ramones that influenced the music that I was therefore listening to from England. You know, so it's a big circle that goes across the ocean that New York and \London have in common and I think that was the cool thing about it." He continues: "In general the people of the United Kingdom come to London to make music, to do their thing. And in America, they come to New York to do their thing. That's where the scene is. In New York you could literally play every night of the week if you wanted to..." By coincidence this is very similar to our base, Liverpool. "I have a good friend Ian McCulloch from that way. I met him in L.A. funny enough, and we got along great. Most port cities, I guess have a similar mentality. A sensibility of the diversity and of acceptance and eclecticism that really makes a difference in music..."

"I just try to enjoy my creative life because I've been give these opportunities to do so. When it came time to put this record together it was just a thing and the next thing you know we were doing it professionally. The guys are coming over to do a show in London and it's gonna be fun to just get up on stage and just knock some music out you know..."

As we mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Huey is a very busy man. But which avenue gives him the most satisfaction? "They all do,or I wouldn't do them. I'm that kind of guy, you know? Always looking for the next adrenalin rush and when you make music my approach to just performing is that it's a different kind kind of rush to practice it. The Criminals have always been a band that played for the crowd not to the crowd. And that's everything. We're trying to bring this across with The New Yorkers as well - for the people. We're putting our money where our mouth is! I think that's a pretty cool thing to do and for that all to happen the band knows where I'm coming from. They went the extra mile and it's a great thing with the guys in this band - they knew exactly what to do. No-one was ever censored. They knew how to make the song that much better with their instruments so it was really fun for me to make the record and now performing the records gonna be interesting as well."

Rounding off our interview, I had to ask Huey about a line from the record that really caught my ear. On (insert song) you "I broke up with my TV  I use it for the movies" - is that true? "Yeah, I don't watch television now. It's mostly the reality sort of stuff - it doesn't do it for me. If I do watch the television it'll be for, you know, if I tape movies or watch them on my computer. But yeah, I did break up with my TV a long time ago! The following line though, "I hang around sleazy bars and chat up all the floozies" though - no!" He laughs. " I love the lyrics and didn't censor myself as you would if you putting together a record you knew is going to be released like the Criminals do. You know, 'Huey, you gotta tone down the politics'. 'Huey, you gotta tone how you feel about war' and things like that. On this record I threw caution to the wind and wrote what I felt and I guess karma came back at me and said this is the record people are gonna hear the real you and how you really feel and this is probably the most honest record I've ever made..."

Huey continues "It's one of the things where I really do address veterans issues and the small things. You're out at war and you don't understand it and you don't really take it  in when you wake up to say our countries are at war in this faraway land. As we speak right there's a fight going on in Afghanistan and that's the sort of thing we don't pick up on. I wanted people to know that being a Marine this was a big deal for me, something that I felt very strongly about. So there are lot's of things I wouldn't have said on the album just to keep the peace. But fuck it you say it to my face if you don't like it!"

Huey and The New Yorkers released the single Christmas By The Side of the Road on December 17th, with Huey describing it as 'an anti Christmas song - it's not all lights and joy' and you'd do well seek it out as well as the excellent album it came from, Say It To My Face. Many thanks to Huey for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to us. 

Words and Interview by Sebastian Gahan. 

Popular Posts