The NYC band’s Brian ‘Fast’ Leiser explains how the Quentin Tarantino movie-sampling hit was inspired by a valium-popping security guard
Formed in New York City by singer-guitarist Huey Morgan, multi-instrumentalist Brian ‘Fast’ Leiser and drummer Steve Borgovini, Fun Lovin’ Criminals arrived in 1996 with a blend of cinematic hip-hop, rock ’n’ roll, blues and soul. Their eclectic debut album Come Find Yourself immediately set them apart from the Britpop scene, remaining in the UK album charts for more than 100 weeks and going multi-platinum. The album’s singles – The Grave & The Constant, The Fun Lovin’ Criminal and King Of New York – provided early success, but their second release, Scooby Snacks, reached the UK Top 20 and became one of the defining songs of the band’s career.
Containing samples of Tarantino movies Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, the song capitalised on the success of both films and helped establish Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ identity. But, as Fast explains, that image wasn’t entirely accurate. Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of its release, Fast reveals the songwriting facts behind the fiction…
“He loved rock ’n’ roll and blues and I loved electronic music, but we both loved hip-hop. We wanted to mix all these styles together and I had a sampler, so we just messed around with stuff. This is the early 90s when sampling was still kind of an art form – you wanted to find a bit of audio that hadn’t been used before, that you could manipulate and make your own. Yes, it was someone else’s recording, but you’d be chopping it up and playing it as if it’s an instrument.
“It really came together in my apartment in Brooklyn. I remember I was sitting on the floor writing the song with a big Ensoniq sampler. I had a CD by a group called Tones On Tail, who were the guys from Bauhaus and Love And Rockets – Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins and Glenn Campling. Their song Movement Of Fear has this great tremolo guitar, so I sampled that and it kind of led to the verses being in minor chords, then the chorus goes full major. We do that a lot with our songs: we’ll layer a lot of samples and instruments, then take some stuff out to see where it goes. There’s like five different drum loops on Scooby Snacks!
“I would always write music with films on in the background. The Pulp Fiction soundtrack was out and it had dialogue on there. I remember having the Reservoir Dogs LaserDisc playing while I was messing with this groove that was just drumbeats and that simple bassline. It sounded cool having this dialogue from Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi. The original song had nothing but dialogue from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. When I sent it to Huey he was like, ‘That’s the hit! But you need to lose some of the dialogue so I can put lyrics on it.’
“The owner of the Limelight also had a club called The Tunnel and on Sunday nights they had this crazy hip-hop party called Mecca. There were fights and people trying to sneak weapons in, guns and knives, so the security guards were always on edge. One of the guards was a crazy dude and he’d be giving everyone valiums so at least they were all chilled out. He’d hand them around and say, ‘Does anyone want a scooby snack?’ That’s where got the idea for the chorus from: what if this dude and some of his meathead friends were robbing banks, all high on these scooby snacks?
“So Huey was writing this tongue-in-cheek story about something pretty serious. Everyone loved this cartoonish gangster thing, but that kind of hurt us a bit when everyone realised we weren’t real gangsters. We never said we were! Yeah, we wear suits on stage so we look sharp, but that’s out of respect for our mothers.
“Tarantino’s lawyers wanted us to say it was written with him. We didn’t have an issue with it, but we didn’t want people to think we were in the studio with him, because that’s not true. For us, when you sample something you should make it your own, in the same way as when Tarantino takes influences from other movies, he makes them his own. That’s why our sound hasn’t changed and it never will as long as we make music, because we have a formula that we like and that we think our fans have come to expect.”