Billy performing with Steven Tyler, photo by Mike D
Billy Morrison has performed with legendary musicians….. Slash, Ronnie Wood, Steven Tyler, Lou Reed…. to name drop just a few. He is a principle member of the supergroup Camp Freddy who keep appearing on US television shows including Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno, Sharon Osbourne and Carson Daly. But being in one band is not enough for Billy. He is also red hot band Circus Diablo. And some background info. He was a former member of the internationally successful rock band The Cult.
He currently writes, produces and records music for various television shows. And if that isn’t enough he also hosts a weekly radio show, as well as being an artist and an actor. And did we mention he produces video blogs and runs and manages three websites. This was one successful person we wanted to talk to….if he stood still long enough.
He’s a busy guy but we tracked Billy down to talk to him about his career, over coming fear, and getting his work out to the world. His candid response and advice make inspiring reading for anyone with ambition.
Photo by Wendy Bird
Billy your career seemed to really take off when you made the decision to move to LA and join the notorious rock band The Cult, what was the most challenging thing about this move?
The absolute 100% not knowing how its all gonna pan out. That was the hardest thing to cope with on a daily basis. I didn’t move to the States with a Green Card (legal requirement to live and work in the USA) or really any place to stay. But I had had enough of trying to pretend I was happy in England.
Rock music was not really getting much play at that time (this is before the Killers/Darkness etc) and I had been asked to audition for The Cult. So I just took the proverbial bull by the balls and sold everything. Jumped on a plane with a few bits and pieces in a shipping container and took a leap of faith.
Obviously I got the job, got the work permits and everything took off from there. The most challenging aspects of the whole process were the ones of my own making. The ones in my head, telling me it would never work out, and why should anything good happen to me. It takes courage and faith to ignore all that shit and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Billy looking very sharp
Were you encouraged by the people around you initially to follow a career in music?
Absolutely not. I was not encouraged at any step of the way!. Now, my folks kinda get that playing music and the entertainment business can earn someone a living. I think they are just so happy that I’m not shooting smack into my neck that they accept anything. But back then, I was told by everyone to stop dreaming and start thinking about a career.
How did you find it starting out as a musician, did you always feel like you could do it?
My path as a musician was colored for many years by drugs. Actually, colored is the wrong word. Let me think……FUCKED UP is a more apt phrase to use here.
Although I held guitars and was in and out of bands, some pretty cool, some just rubbish. I was oblivious to the hard work and dedication necessary to actually pay the bills in this job. In fact I didn’t have any bills because I wasn’t that responsible yet.
Billy showing his mischievous side. Photo by Hugh Hamilton
Did you experience any barriers or situations that held you back from your goals?
In the UK especially, society was previously set up to create many barriers that would hold creative types from achieving their goals. In school I was told “how dare you dream; get a job, get married, have kids, have a pension, then die”.
Anyone that liked a loud guitar or a tattoo was subversive. Anyone who enjoyed a different kind of sex (not the fucking missionary position) was considered deviant.
Everywhere I turned in my formative years, I was presented with reasons why I would never amount to much. I was told, I really should become an electrical engineer, or consider a career with the Post Office. “Great benefits there, you know, luv”.
Did you set any specific goals when you were setting out?
Oh the whole thing has been on a wing and a prayer. I have realized that I am not in control at all. When I make plans, God laughs. Honestly, these days I just put the footwork in and stay away from the results. And how would I know when I was 22, that I would move to Los Angeles, join The Cult, tour the world, get happily married and form a huge covers band.
I was winging it from day one, with only one goal in mind. Don’t give up on the dream. As long as I smile, as long as I’m happy, I’m gonna enjoy the ride, no matter where it takes me.
Billy Morrison and Slash, photo by Wendy Bird
So you were winging it from day one, tell me about how you initially got into music?
Probably when I was around nine years old. I was really into Glam Rock; Gary Glitter, Slade, Sweet, and my parents bought me a cheap electric guitar from Woolworths. That soon got upgraded to my first Gibson guitar when I was about 11.
You started at an early age, what were you like at school were you one of the popular kids or a bit of a nerd?
Well I definitely wouldn’t have thought of myself as one of the ‘cool’ kids!. Most of the other kids stayed away from me cos I was always in trouble. Smoking, exploring the school (in places I wasn’t meant to be), playing truant a lot, I was more one of the ‘weirdos’ than one of the cool kids.
Billy Morrison and Billy Idol photo by Wendy Bird
Sometimes there isn’t always a clear path and it can be very confusing, did you have anyone offer advice and guidance?
I have a few people that hold an important role in my life, although they might not know it. Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols (who is now a close friend) is the reason I play guitar. The Pistols changed my life and showed me that anyone could do it.
Nick Marsh and Rocco Barker from Flesh For Lulu, put up with me following their band around, hanging out, asking questions, giving me bits of work, letting me soak up the ‘music business’ atmosphere. And Billy Duffy from The Cult actually gave me my job in The Cult and encouraged me to move properly to LA. These people have definitely played big roles in my musical life.
Talking about established musicians who are your inspirations, what have you learned from them?
Well, my inspirations have been The Sex Pistols, William Burroughs, David Bowie, The Wildhearts, Wasted Youth (look em up kids – middle 80’s UK band), The Velvet Underground, Jamie Reid, Vivienne Westwood and a whole load more. These are some of the artists that have inspired and informed, what have I learned from them? Just do it yourself and stay true. Have fun.
Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Morrison
Did you have any obstacles that you had to overcome to get where you are today?
I had every single obstacle. Of course, I have a few of them now. But how much do you want it?. If it was easy, they’d all be doing it!.
The common misconception is that you form a band, shag birds, get drunk, sell a million records. HAHAHA, some of that happens. But usually after a 7.00am start with emails, phone calls, a midday photo shoot, more emails, more phone calls, an interview or 7, sound check, gig, more interviews, bed at 2.00am. Oh yeah, and first you’ve got to learn to play an instrument, get good, practice, write a decent song and dodge all the daily lunatics who will tell you, it’ll never happen. Like I said, you gotta be prepared to overcome all that shit.
Have you learned to come up with great ideas at will or do you have any special methods you use?
For me, creativity just comes. Sometimes I’m playing a video game and I have to stop cos I need to play guitar. Or a great example is that right now, I am in the middle of writing a screenplay and I just stopped answering these questions about three questions ago and wrote a scene for the script. Then I came back to this interview. I find that I am creative in so many areas that each day avails me something for that part of my spirit. Its a great life.
How do you keep your energy levels up with such a hectic schedule?
I do an hour of cardio every day and three hours on top of that of Pilates every week. But its pure vanity, I gave up smoking after they cut a chunk outta my vocal chords a couple of years back, and ever since then I’ve been battling.
One of these days I’m gonna stop caring and open an ice cream shop on the beach in Maui. Energy levels just seem to be there for me. And when I eventually run out (about three or four times a year) I jet off on vacation, go scuba diving with my gorgeous wife, and turn the phone off.
“Rise” artwork by BrownJames
Tell me about your attitude towards fear. Do you welcome it or avoid it wherever possible?
Jumping into one of the biggest shark tanks in the world to swim with a 12 foot tiger shark is pretty scary. In fact doing the shark feeding dive in the Bahamas last year was a rush as well. But the fear normally presents itself in smaller, more intimate settings.
“Deep” artwork by BrownJames
I’ve played football stadiums and arenas, the main stage at Reading, played to many thousands of people and that doesn’t make me scared. But taking a friend to have some Chemo to try and help his Cancer, that scares me. Fear that I won’t be strong enough, that I’ll be unable to be there for him.
You talked earlier about being happy and to keep smiling. What advice could you offer people about the type of attitude it takes to be successful?
In all honesty, I believe that humility and gratitude are the keys to prolonged success. My ego and arrogance has got me in trouble many times and in the last ten years, I have tried hard to change that stuff. No one wants to work with a coked-out asshole anymore. I lived a crazy life for a long time and made zero friends. My advice is treat people as you would want to be treated. And remember how lucky you are every day.
“Faith” artwork by BrownJames
You’ve collaborated with some world class musicians, what have you learned from performing with these guys?
My career so far has been absolutely mind blowing. Standing next to players and singers like Slash, Ronnie Wood, Tyler, Ozzy, Robbie Williams, (Dave) Navarro, I mean its like the ultimate school of rock. My playing has improved beyond all recognition for me, and I have so much respect for these musicians I get to play with, and humility for being able to do it. I am so grateful for every single gig I get to play and work hard to make sure my ego stays put. That is the secret.
Billy shooting for a film
Not only have you had a successful music career but you also act, you’re a radio presenter and artist. A lot of people who do gain success in one field, are sometimes too scared to put themselves on the line and try something totally new. What advice would you give them?
Put the fear aside and have a go, What have you got to lose?. I don’t really care if I look stupid or not, at least I am out there actually working. I want to try things and experience all parts of the business. Its the business of ‘show’ so I figure I should get out there and ‘show’.
I want to embrace the true meaning of the term ‘multi media artist’. Most people seem to misrepresent that phrase, they get a website and say “yeah, we’re multi media artists”. Wrong!. I act, play and write my own music, write screenplays, compose music for film and tv. I also host a weekly radio show, create artwork, produce video blogs in Final Cut, run and manage three websites and, I’m one of the principals in Camp Freddy. I think that qualifies me as Multi Media.
As well as being a DJ Billy is a radio presenter too. Is there no end to this mans talents?! Photo by Drew Ressler
Has life in the public eye lived up to your expectations?
Well I’m pretty lucky, I’m not what I would call ‘famous’, thank God. Many of my friends get driven mad by the price of fame. And I am blessed that I get to work and play in all the wonderful and glamorous situations without getting hassled at every step. I do get the occasional “hey….you’re Billy Morrison” and its nice. But to answer your question, I could not have dreamed how great life could be, and I live each day in wonder that an ex-junkie like me gets to do the things that I get to do, its amazing.
On the film set of “Basement Jack”
How do you handle negative attention and comments, who do these most often come from?
Hahah. Oh trust me – that shits out there. What do I care, I love my wife, have a great standard of living and get to enjoy so much. I got all the toys. I’m still alive (after 14 years of heroin addiction) and play music with some of the greatest talents on this planet. Why would I care what the ‘haters’ think?. God Bless ‘em all, I say.
Photo by Wendy Bird
What are the biggest benefits of this type of life?
A creative outlet that gives my spirit the lift that it needs. The opportunity to meet and know so many interesting people. And to hopefully connect with someone out there and actually make a difference somehow. Maybe with a song, a piece of art, some kind of connection that helps someone.
Thanks Billy I love talking to you! Your positive attitude is always so infectious and I’m sure you’ve given our readers a lot to think about and take action on.
Interview by Angel Greenham