Interview: Fu Manchu

FU MANCHU
interview by bushman

How does Fu Manchu rock as hard as it does?
Scott: Good question. I don’t know.

No method to the formula?
Scott: Naw, we just get in there and try and keep it simple.

Define Rock n Roll in three bands.
Scott: AC/DC – ZZ Top – and ahhh…. Fu Manchu.

Where does one draw the line from being influenced by and borrowing directly from?
Scott: Well, I think as long you don’t rip off an exact riff. Like, say you are really into the song “Sweet Leaf” by Black Sabbath. As long its not the exact same chords and everything… maybe you could pick up on a style, like a drum beat or a guitar tone, but as long as its not the same riff and vocal line, I think it’s all right.

(Apologies for making you explain this once again, but for those who might not know…)
The name Fu Manchu does not necessarily reflect ‘rock’ – why that name?

Scott: We were trying to come up with a bunch of names and not being very successful. And we were looking through this movie magazine from the 50’s Fu Manchu movies. And someone blurted that out and everyone was like, “yeah, sounds good”.

Any misconceptions you’ve had to deal with by choosing that name?
Scott: We thought it would be easy to spell, but everyone seems to get it wrong.

Keith Morris (Circle Jerks) sang on ‘Bultaco’ (title?). Please explain that experience.
Scott: Bultaco is an old motorcycle from the mid-70’s. It was all chrome and they didn’t make too many of them. We were practicing and doing new songs for the new record, and Brian goes, “what were those old motorcycles called that were all silver and chrome?”
“Bultaco”
And we just happened to be working on that song so we were like, “Ok, this one is called ‘Bultaco'”.

The Fu Manchu guitar sound has been pretty dialed in since “In Seach Of”, I assume you have vision with the guitar tones that seems to have consistently been achieved from album to album.
Scott: Yeah yeah. When we started we wanted to keep it real fuzzy, kinda low end and heavy. With this record, this is the only record we’ve done where we didn’t use fuzz pedals. It’s a little cleaner, a little more mid range sound. Not to get away from the fuzz sound but to try something else. And we where using these clear Dan Armstrong guitars and we just plugged those into our heads. They sound awesome. We love the distortion sound naturally out of the head. Bob tried it also and he liked it. I think he used a fuzz pedal on a few songs, but mainly we’re using just natural distortion out of the head.

When you pick up a guitar, your vision seems very focused in what it is you want to do. Are you that knowledgeable of your direction, or is it just what Scott Hill does most naturally.
Scott: I don’t really sit down and go, “I gotta write this fast one, or I gotta write this heavy one.” I just pick up the guitar and start playing. And if something sounds good, no matter what it is, I’ll usually record it on a little recorder, take it to practice and show it to everybody. It will get mutated a million times into kinda what you hear on the record.

What plan has gone awry? (From the opening line in ‘Squash That Fly’)
Scott: None specifically. Those lyrics are from the movie “Valley Girl”. It’s not necessarily directly from that movie, but we all like that movie. We were probably all watching that movie as the song was developing. Most of our lyrics don’t have any big meaning behind them.

Mostly inside jokes kinda…
Scott: Yeah. If you hang around us, or know us… you’ll get what we are talking about usually.

The Fu ideal seems to be chasing this elusive summer of the mid-to-late 70’s when things were rocking on a more pure and innocent level. Where does that come from?
Scott: Just being a kid… growing up in that era. Getting into a lot of stuff. Like the first band I really got into was Kiss. And my next door neighbor’s brother was really into Deep Purple so I’d hear all that stuff growing up. Just learning to skateboard and to surf and really getting into music about that era. The vans… the cars… just the whole time really.

Where did you grow up?
Scott: Southern California, my whole life. Huntington (Beach) and San Clamente. We’ve always been by the beach.

And what decade did you come of age?
Scott: maybe mid to late 70’s.

So to a kid who was born after 1980, what was it like to be a kid then in the 70’s?
Scott: I usually cruised down to the beach all the time. That was kinda my upbringing. Surfing and skateboarding and riding bmx bikes. Like the cover of the new record has got my El Camino on it with surfboard hanging out the back. That’s what I remember when I was a kid going to the beach, seeing those cars with the boards hanging out… always wanting to get one when I got older.

Your favorite skateboarding trick?
Scott: Me? Just standing up now. Going cruising. I really don’t do anything. I really can’t take a chance on breaking an arm or a leg.

You still follow the skateboarding scene?
Scott: Yeah yeah. We just played a party for this movie called “Dogtown”. Y’know, Tony Alva and all those guys. Gravity Skateboards made us some Urethane Skateboard wheels for the band. We still keep up with it.

Any names impressing you as of late?
Scott: We just usually hang with the old school guys, like Alva, J.Adams and Peralta and all those guys.

How about new (unsigned) bands? Anything wearing the 100% Fu Manchu stamp of approval?
Scott: I like the new Slayer Record.

“I keep a bible in a pool of blood so that none of its lies can affect me!”
Scott: (laughing) yeah. Our producer Rick Rubin who did the new record produced their record. He played us some of the stuff a long time ago. And he goes “Check this out…. And ah… Speedealer I really like. (Used to be REO Speedealer till the other REO band cried). They are actually in the studio right now. I listen to a lot of old punk rock.

What’s the first memory you have of when you decided, “Yeah, I wanna stand on a stage with amps on ten and bang out the most righteous riffs of rock I can come up with?”
Scott: Probably when I was kid hearing Kiss or when I saw the Circle Jerks in like ’81.

Not to play on words, but that’s kinda full circle to have him singing in the studio on your new album.
Scott: That was the first punk rock I heard. Circle Jerks off the “Decline” record in like 80 or 81. I remember hearing it and thinking, “Oh my god what’s this?” And then got into other stuff from there. And he would come to shows and stuff and we’d get to talking to him and stuff. And he’d hang out and we got to know him. And we’re just like, “Man, we’d love to get him to sing.” Called him up and he was like, “Tell me where and when and I’ll do it.”

The Fu Manchu sound seems to pay a lot of tribute to an older school of rock approach. What do you think of the current state of rock?
Scott: I don’t know. There’s a lot of cool stuff. I really don’t pay attention to a lot of new stuff. Either bands we are friends with, or are on tour with. Like I said, I like the new Slayer a lot. But we’ll pick up stuff here and there.

What was the first band you liked so much you could name all the members?
Scott: Circle Je… maybe Kiss. I don’t know, there’s a lot. ‘Cause usually when I get into a band, I REALLY get into them. Buy their records and study the album cover front and back and the linear notes and all that stuff. So there were a lot of bands that I really knew a lot about.

What’s with the fascination with bad teen TV sitcoms?
Scott: (laughing) I don’t know. Just ah.. always been into it. Me and Brad are really into that stuff (Brad to a lesser degree), but I don’t know. Just growing up on all the old bad sci-fi.

I also heard you are like stuck in that TV land channel when it comes to TV choices.
Scott: Sure. A lot of that old stuff I love. Like Three’s Company. A lot of the goofy stuff.

I take it anything that makes you feel like a kid appeals to you.
Scott: Yeah, definitely. A lot of people tell us either song titles of ours or album covers or whatever, they go, “Oh yeah, I remember that when I was a kid.” Like I said before, there is no big message to us, but the goofy crap we sing about, we know a lot about.

Ever read “The Hands of Shang-Chi Master of Kung Fu” comic book?
Scott: No…

He killed Fu Manchu in issue #118, but he has been proven dead before.
Scott: Oh boy. Yes, he is evil. But I will write that down and look around for that.

What’s your favorite comic book?
Scott: I used to get a lot of comic books when I was younger, but not so much any more.

How has choosing the path of rock and roll affected the non-musical relationships in your life? (or are there just no non-musical relationships in your life).
Scott: They all kind tie into that (music). I met my girlfriend on tour… it all kinda ties in. You are always thinking about something musically. When you’re not playing, you’re thinking about songs, artwork, what we are gonna do live or set list. There is always something you are thinking about. At least to me.

Is the rock and roll life harder or easier than people think?
Scott: I can’t complain. We get to travel around to Australia, Japan and Europe. We get flown here and there. We can make a decent living doing this… yeah, I can’t complain. There is nothing that hard about it. You get to hang out with four buddies and write music. It’s not too bad.

What have you got most out of trading a normal life for the life of rock and roll?
Scott: Traveling around. Seeing places I never thought I’d see. We went to Japan last year and we’d never been there.

How does Japan embrace the rock of Fu Manchu? (Especially considering a) your bands name and b) Japanese really appreciate the pure American rock and roll vibe).
Scott: Yeah, anything like American… like American automobile stuff, which we have a lot of they like. Yeah it was great. We had a good time over there.

What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned on the road?
Scott: Get plenty of sleep. In the middle of a two month tour, when you are traveling around and you got weird hours and jet lag and all that stuff. You are staying up late and gotta get up early to do like 10 interviews before the show… Its good to get rest.

(well known fact) Members of Nebula used to be in Fu Manchu (Scott Hill is the only original member with Brad Davis having recorded on all but the first album). I think the world is a better place for having both bands in existence. Do you rock their tunes and vice versa?
Scott: Um, no, I haven’t really picked anything up. I heard the first one, and it just sounded a little too close. And I was like, “ah forget it.” The whole reason we were arguing and stuff was because they wanted to play something way different. But I haven’t really checked anything out. I’d like to. I guess maybe if I got off my ass and went out and got some…

All egos aside, judging from fan response, do the members of Fu Manchu realize their relevant contributions to the state of rock n roll, or are you purely on instinct mode when it comes to keeping the drive of the band focused?
Scott: Yeah. We are pretty motivated as to what is going on around us. We just know we like playing this kind of rock. If a thousand or a hundred thousand are into it, that’d be cool with us. If people are really digging it and getting influenced and starting a band, that’s cool. Bands like Circle Jerks and stuff, those are the types of bands that influenced me to get off my butt and start a band. We have been lucky enough that when we play, people come out to the shows.

Given the power, name one thing you would change about the music industry.
Scott: I wouldn’t change anything really.

You are happy with the machine?
Scott: I don’t mind it. There’s always going to be stuff that’s popular that people don’t like. And then it will go onto something else. It just goes in circles. Things like rock is coming back now or whatever. I never thought something like Slipknot would be huge and sell millions of records. But they do, which is great. They may not be a favorite of mine but I think its great that they can sell millions of records and get played on the radio.

What are you rocking in your CD player most lately?
Scott: A lot of old punk rock. Adolescents, Black Flag, Circle Jerks… I like the new Slayer. I’ve been listening to that a lot.

Where do you find new music?
Scott: Word of mouth. Buddies going, “Hey, check this out.”

Do a lot of people slip you music cause you are in the band?
Scott: Yeah which is good. I like that. People send us their CDs in the mail, which is cool. We get to check out a lot of new stuff. Also touring around, bands opening for you… you get into them that way.

Do you embrace computers and all the new technology?
Scott: Yeah, definitely. At first, I was like, “yeah, whatever…”. But now, it’s easier to me to correspond with someone in Japan, than write a letter, which might take a couple of weeks. Or like doing artwork for the new record. He can send us something that day, I can take a look at it and go, “Why don’t we change this…” and then two minutes later its changed. It’s easier to correspond with people.

When you picture someone listening to your music, what picture comes to mind?
Scott: So many people say its good to drive to. People say its good to screw to. I don’t know, it doesn’t matter to me. I pretty much listen to music all the time, everyday. Whether it’s eating dinner or brushing my teeth or whatever.

Are there certain areas of the country that receive you better than others?
Scott: I think it all goes pretty well across the states. I don’t think there is anywhere bad really. We just enjoy playing. 200 or 2000. It’s all good with us.

What’s the first song of yours you ever heard back on the radio?
Scott: I think it was of our “In Search Of” record. ‘Asphalt Rising’. I really don’t listen to radio that much. I listen to Howard Stern in the morning. I lot of stuff I listen to, they don¬ít play on the radio.

I’ve heard your music referred to as “stoner rock”. I know you hate that.
Scott: Oh yes. It’s something we’ve been hearing since ’95. I don’t even think people know what it is. That term is so underground.

Do Winners Do Drugs?
Scott: Yeah, probably. Winners and losers. You can never tell nowadays.

What’s a non-musical interest/past-time for you?
Scott: Usually surfing everyday.

I know you guys take a lot of lyrical inspiration from pop culture, movies and TV, how do you feel that kind of thing influences and represents America.
Scott: I don’t know if it influences America… I know it influences us. I don’t know if it’s like that for anyone else except us. We watch some screwy stuff. From old Planet of the Apes shows to Threes Company.

Did you dig the new Planets of the Apes Movie?
Scott: Haven’t seen it. I should. I love, love the old movies.

So Brad (bassist) is the pinball king?
Scott: Well, at least in the videos.

Who is the real one?
Scott: I’ll go on the record and say that’s me. I am the king.

What about video games?
Scott: Oh, that’s Brad. He knows all that stuff.

Any opinions on how the dopey parents are now trying to blame video games for their kid’s violence (if you all remember about 15 years ago, Ozzy was the reason our kids were all messed up).
Scott: It’s crazy. I don’t get it. I grew up listening to Kiss and Sabbath and watching old sci-fi movies and gangster movies, and I’m not a violent person whatsoever. So I don’t know. Don’t know what to say about that.

The new album is called “California Crossing”. Wasn’t the last album almost called “California”?
Scott: Yeah, we were gonna do that. Right as we were going to work on artwork for the last record, The Red Hot Chili peppers had an album called, “Californication” and Mr. Bungle had a record called, “California”. So we where like, “ahhhh naw”. We’ve always wanted to use that term, “California” in one of our record titles. So this one, we just figured, yeah, let’s do it.

In a band obsessed with Vans, what’s the Fu-mobile look like?
Scott: We’ll, I’m just thankful to be in a bus. It’s so much easier. We’ve done plenty of van tours across the States for years. Just recently we have been able to get into a bus so, we’ll take that any day.

A lot of the hard rock lately has been image obsessed, Fu Manchu usually arrive to the gig in the clothes they hit the stage with, no?
Scott: Yeah, that’s pretty close. I still have all my old OP shirts and Lightening Bolt shits I had since when I was younger. They are still in good condition. I wear them all the time. This company Lightening Bolt has been around for years, since the 70’s, like surf clothing. They just gave us some brand new stuff they are making, which is just like their old stuff.

Looking back on your career, is there any person or artist who really changed your views without you even knowing it at the time?
Scott: Not really. That goes back to influences of ours, like the Ramones. Straight ahead rock. They were able to do it for years and sell a lot of records. They had a really successful career. They didn’t have to change. They looked the same and just made great records. I guess we pick up influences like that. We are just doing what we like. This is the exact music we want to hear. And this is the exact artwork we want to see. Hopefully people will want to hear and see the same thing.

Do you listen to your own music?
Scott: The new one I have a lot. I really really like the new one. We worked really hard on it. Preproduction with our producer Matt… [he] worked a lot of the vocals and arrangements and stuff. Yeah, I put it in more so than the others.

Do you feel you’ve achieved your goals (if any) as a band?
Scott: Pretty much, yeah. Being able to tour Europe and Japan. We got a bus. Just making a living. Going overseas. Having Keith Morris sing on the record. It’s getting pretty close. All we need now is to play a few shows with AC/DC and I think we are all set.

Who makes you laugh?
Scott: Oh god, anyone could. In the band, Bob is probably the nuttiest guy.

Who is a Sinner?
Scott: Osama Bin Laden. He’s the biggest one.

Who is a Saint?
Scott: My girlfriend for having to deal with me.

What is the coolest?
Scott: Riding down to the beach in my El Camino going surfing.

What is the lamest?
Scott: Probably what’s going on right now with all this crappy terrorism.

Messages to the masses?
Scott: Enjoy the new record. Hopefully we’ll be in your town real soon.