Fu Manchu – California Crossing – Interview

Fu Manchu

California Crossing (Mammoth)
An interview with singer Scott Hill
by Craig Regala

Fu Manchu are as rock as it gets. Period. A purely wonderful example of guitar, bass, drums, vocals wedded to suckerpunch rhythms. Like AC/DC before them, Karma To Burn with them, and I hope to God some of you little bastards after them, these guys figured out what to do and how to do it well. How many bands last couple records are their best after being around for a dozen years? Yeah, that’s right; count ’em on one hand. I talked to the man who is the one constant figure through out their history, Scott Hill. By the end of this piece, you’ll want his life. Good luck. At least you can get the records…

First off, my wife would like to know two things: Who is the Mongoose and have you ever wrecked a car? It’s a right of passage in the Midwest to total a vehicle in your teens. Hers was a Monte Carlo with white walls and an eight-track player.
No, I’ve never been in a wreck bad enough to total a car, man. Mongoose is a particular BMX bike, one that we used to race around on when we were kids. The cover of the new album is my car, my girlfriend, and the first surfboard I ever owned.

Speaking of the “Mongoose” it turns up on California…, as well as the Eatin’ Dust EP, how come? Also, what’ll happen to that record in the US with Man’s Ruin bowing out?
The EP’s probably in print in Europe. Mammoth is going to release it with extra tracks. We recorded two others in that session that we’ll put on, and maybe something else. We like that record, but it was done really fast. We didn’t even really listen to the takes, we had to get to the next track. We did it in, like, two days. So we recut “Mongoose.” It’s pretty much the same, but we reworked the riff a bit, it’s a little shorter, and the recording’s better.

When you did the Devo cover (“Freedom of Choice,” on King of The Road), you asked people to choose between that and Foghat’s “Slowride” as to which you’d do. Did you actually record both?
No, we recorded “Freedom Of Choice” but we’d screwed with “Slowride” before. Doin’ any song – Devo, Foghat, or Circle Jerks – the original is the classic, we’re just trying to get them to sound like a Fu Manchu song. They’re fun to play, and hopefully the artist won’t be pissed off. We actually talked to Motherbaugh (of Devo). We played a show at the Whiskey, which is right down the street from the Devo office, so we cruised over and got to check out all their master tapes and other cool shit.

Was that a big tune for you as a kid?
Oh yeah, especially the “Freedom of Choice” video. It had skateboarders and music and it was all on TV. It had a real impact on me.

Has the change in release date caused trouble?
Mammoth’s offices are two blocks from the World Trade Center, so the attack really effected them. It’s better to regroup so they can do what they need to do. We also have a new drummer, Scott Reeder. He used to play in a band called Smile. I’ve know him for years and years. We used to play with his band all the time. We were gonna call him when we were looking for a drummer before we got Brant. But I’ve known Brant for a long time, and he wanted to do it. Scott called us about four months ago, asking if we needed any help drumming. So he was the first guy we called when we did.

He was probably trying to move you into the two drummer Allman’s/Genesis thing.
(Laughs) He’s worked out really well.

You’ve been at this longer than The Beatles, The Doors, or Black Flag. You have a dozen years of recording to pull from; what do you play live?
We usually do about 70-plus minutes, the bulk it from the latest record. But we’ll do stuff back to No One Rides For Free. Part of it is getting Scott familiar with the material. We try to have about 30 songs to pull from so the set can change night to night. It makes it more interesting for us, keeps things fresh. Sometimes we’ll bang through something at soundcheck to make sure we have it down and then go for it that night.

Any fan or band favorites?
Not really… People like “Godzilla” (by Blue Öyster Cult, in case you’re new and learned the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” riff first -ed.). Actually, we get a ton of requests for it in Japan… We felt a little weird about it, but it goes over… People holler for all sorts of stuff – “Laserbl’ast!” When somebody yells for something, we try to play it.

Like “My Chevy Van”? (a ’70s pop tune which was a philosophical, if not musical, precursor to the popular perception of the Fu Manchu aesthetic).
We’ve never done it live, but it’s come up.

I heard Soul Asylum do it, and they rocked the shit out of it. During Fu Manchu’s existence, a “new thing” has become a big part of the image and sound of rock: The Korn/ Bizkit/nü metal hoo-ha. The rhythms are mainly mid-tempo, as are yours. You’ve played with Sevendust and P.O.D…. Did you get over with that crowd?
When we got offered that tour, we thought the crowd was gonna hate us. The first show, the kids went nuts. Every night, we thought, “This is the night they’re gonna hate us.” But we went over really well. It was a whole different crowd, a new crowd that hasn’t heard us. Maybe it’s because we were different and they hadn’t heard something like us. We were playing the more aggressive stuff and it got over and we’d play some of the slower stuff like “Boogie Van” or “Weird Beard” and they dug it. It was probably one of the better tours we’ve done. It was cool because it woulda sucked playing for 3,200 mad kids who wanted us off. We move around a lot and that seemed to get’m going.

Does it bother you when people wanna typify you? Like, “You guys just sound like Thin Lizzy’s ‘Emerald’.”
Nah, we’re all big Thin Lizzy fans anyway. All I listen to is old punk rock, really.

Didn’t you guys do a Bl’ast* cover?
No, we did do an SSD Control** tune, and we did the Circle Jerks song “When the Shit Hits The Fan.”

Acoustic or electric version?
Electric. We recorded it for a tribute record. I dunno if the record came out. I started listening to music real young, listening to Kiss and Ted Nugent and stuff. Then I got into punk around 1980. The rock records went to the back of the closet and I got immersed in punk rock. My punk collection got bigger than my rock collection. And that’s all I listen to nowadays.

Sometimes it’s hard for people in their teens and twentys to understand that there were only a few pockets at that time where the punk stuff was readily available. You grew up in one of them, in Orange County, CA, right? Did you listen to Rodney on the Rock?
Oh yeah… I was workin’ at a gas station when I was 15 and I’d hear G.B.H., J.F.A., Agent Orange… It was like, damn! I’d been into punk rock, but hearing it on the radio and being able to go to shows… T.S.O.L., Circle Jerks, and the Adolescents were always playing… I listen to them to this day.

So you have Channel 3 records and all that Poshboy*** stuff?
Oh yeah, all that Poshboy stuff, the early Social Distortion, Void, SSD, Negative Approach, Minor Threat. Just tons of hardcore. Naked Raygun’s a big favorite too, all day all the time.

I did a show with them when they were on Homestead Records. I talked to Noodles (The Offspring’s guitarist) and mentioned that The Offspring seemed like a merging of classic biker metal ala UFO and Naked Raygun. He’d never heard of Naked Raygun. They used to throw the Nuge’s “Free For All” in as an encore, right along with Buzzcocks and Stiff Little Fingers.
That song “Treason” from Understand? is so great. You could see it being a big deal. I would’ve loved to’ve seen them. You can add them on the tour you’re booking in heaven. The Effigies were from Chicago as well and they were great too.

Any new punk rock bands get you goin’?
No, not really. I like the older bands that’ve played shows recently. Descendents, the Adolescents 20th year reunion was great, Circle Jerks played and were great. I haven’t really checked out any new punk bands I’ve ending up liking. I don’t consider a lot of it punk rock, really.

I have some friends in a punk rock band who’ve been around about as long as you’ve been in Fu Manchu and they don’t really have any affinity for that raft of Pennywise tribute bands either. Actually, they used to sound check with one of your tunes…

New Bomb Turks.
Those guys are in the same league as The Hellacopters. I like those guys. I thought we were gonna hook up those guys to tour and was like, “Hell yeah!”

They’re off Epitaph. I don’t think any of the more rock-prone bands are left on that label.
Yeah, I think they got rid of the Dwarves, and Zeke are gone. There are bands I like that are around: Speedealer, Clutch, Monster Magnet.

The punk identifier is a funny thing… Guys who grew up with punk rock and see what they do as a extension of that lineage often don’t have the actual sound, but maybe more of the ideal. I’ve heard Scissorfight, Solace, Five Horse Johnson, and various others talk about balls-out punk rock stuff.
Ah, that era was way cooler than nowadays. I love playing in a band and touring, but back then, every two nights you could see a great band. My major influence is punk. We don’t sound that much like that sorta punk rock, but that’s “it” for me. Even more so than AC/DC or Kiss.

I have this standard question: If you were able to take three bands out on tour from any time in history, who would you pick?
(Muttering to himself “Jeez, it’ll be all punk rock for me.”) ‘Flag, the five-piece Damaged-era band, Minor Threat, and early, early Van Halen. I really love AC/DC too…

How about the first two Def Leppard records?
Bob loooooooves High and Dry. He’ll play that every day. He also listens to Devo and The Cars, Brad loves The Flaming Lips, Scott listens to everything. We rarely listen to anything heavy. Especially when we record. I try to listen to stuff that’s far from what we do…

You ever play with punk/rock and roll identified bands like Electric Frankenstein or The Hellacopters?
Yeah, we did a West Coast tour with The Hellacopters a couple years ago. I’d rather play with bands who don’t sound like us. It’d be kinda weak to have three bands that are all fuzzy rock with a cowbell. Speedealer is going to Europe with us, their new record is great, some real rockin’ stuff.

You’re very American. You’re like The Beach Boys or something.
That’s why we called the record California Crossing. The cover art on the record is really what we are. My car, my beach, my girlfriend, my surf board. It’s my reality. I still surf when I’m at home. Our lyrics are what they are. There’s nothing to complain about our situation, so we write about what interests us. We grew up here and we get to tour the world. I get to go to Japan, I get to surf, I get to rock.

Is there anything you want people to know before we end this? Anything people need to bring to shows? Like fresh socks?
That’d be nice. If someone’d bring us a six-pack of new socks, it’d be awfully nice. Little crap like that matters when you’re in Wisconsin in three feet of snow and can’t do your wash and don’t know where to go to buy anything. I’d rather have socks and a couple nine-volts than the second case of beer.

*Bl’ast was a second generation SST band who were very similar to some aspects of Black Flag. On their second album, they did a cover of a Santana song (or song he had a classic rock radio hit with) which was a clue and indicative of the SST “way.”

**SSD Control were a muscley hardcore band from Boston. For a quick view of a potent scene find the This is Boston Not L.A. compilation. SSD’s not on it, but you might want their Kids Will Have Their Say EP too.

***A California based record label that started with pre-hardcore punk as well as hardcore. They had a great comp. titled Beach Blvd. with The Crowd, Rik L. Rik and someone else I’m too addled to remember. Maybe the band that did the fantastic, “I like Drugs” single. The Simpletones! That’s who!