Billy Morrison all but skips into a sleek WeHo caffeine house, outsize designer shades and arms full of ink veiling his very Anglo laddish charm. He’s a happy guy these days, one who pulled himself out of a drug-distracted decade-plus on the fringes of England’s music scene and into his own one-man, multimedia L.A. industry.
“I was literally shooting smack into my neck behind a dumpster,” he says with the cordially conspiratorial air of someone wary of tempting fate by too loudly trumpeting his good fortune. “Now I fly around in private jets, and I’ve played with Lou Reed, Ronnie Wood and Slash.”
He brilliantly parlayed a stint as the Cult’s touring bassist six years back into a lucrative life as a musician (in all-star cover band Camp Freddy and fronting hard-rock sorta-supergroup Circus Diablo), radio personality (co-hosting Indie 103.1’s Camp Freddy Radio) and now club DJ and indie-movie actor.
Morrison grasps that a very un–rock & roll work ethic (he’s usually answering e-mails by 7 a.m.) and relentless diversification are musts for show-biz survival.
“If you just sit there strumming your guitar you ain’t going to get anywhere!” he proclaims in a still very sarf (as in south) London lilt. “The industry has changed — it hasn’t gone down the tubes — and I think that, by definition, if you’re an entertainer and an artist, you move and morph with that.I also have a definite syndrome of making up for lost time.”
By trading on and multiplying the high-profile mates he made via the Cult, he started Camp Freddy, an occasional happening featuring big names (including Dave Navarro and Scott Weiland) supplemented by a rotating cast of onstage celebrity guests (from Billy Idol to Gina Gershon). This in turn brought him his 103.1 gig and DJ jobs, and was the springboard for the AC/DC–ish Circus Diablo, which released an album and performed at Ozzfest last year.
And he hasn’t stopped. Camp Freddy has a residency at the Roxy this month, he just released the long-lost album from his late ’90s band Stimulator, and he plans solo recordings later this year. He’s also charted a different path, one that meanders ever-further from the loud guitars. His roles in indie horror flicks Evilution and Basement Jack have already made him a face in the Fangoria crowd, he has a can’t-talk-about-it-on-the-record TV opportunity on the table and is even a consultant for a soon-to-be-unveiled music product.
Yet for all his varied victories, Morrison’s lifelong lust to succeed with a “proper” band (playing original songs and not living off its members’ prior celebrity) palpably gnaws at the man.
“I don’t know if it does so much now, though it was there for a long while,” he concedes. “The Circus Diablo album, though, was a very cathartic experience for me: I finally put out the album that I’ve been waiting near enough 20 years to make.”
Photo by Kevin Scanlon