We Must Obey (Century Media)
An interview with singer/guitarist Scott Hill
By Craig Regala
Photos by Chris Casella
Here’s the man who put Fu Manchu together, has owned a repo business, rocked the nation for 15 years, and just made another bad-ass rock as rock as fuckin’ ROCK! disc. We Must Obey may be his baddest. Fu Manchu’s music is so warm, so sensibly locked in, it seems like it’s something you’ve heard forever. And it is: You’ve heard the component parts. Like much great music, it exists in a perfect place, because that place was a vacuum, and as you know from all the physics you kinda paid attention to, Nature abhors a vacuum.
So team FU fill the spot where the beginning and end of the ’70s collided: Combat boots and bell bottoms, three foot Red, White and Blue Bicentennial Bongs and Mohawks. Tribes that supposedly “hated” each other really were just rockin’ their reality a few years apart. Scott Hill has the innate sense to glue the stuff together he loves, and thankfully, it makes perfect rock sense.
When did you start playing guitar?
I start playing in ’84. Acoustic. My Gramma bought it for me, and sent me for lessons. I lasted one day. I went back and told her I just hated the acoustic. She bought me an electric, and that was it.
What was your first recording band?
Hmmm… My first recording band was Virulence. On Alchemy Records. It was a good label. They had the Melvins early on. We were not so far from that stuff.
So the new one, We Must Obey, was there anything on your mind when doing it? It seems to be more aggressive in tone: Vocally, lyrically, and instrumentally. This is the one I’d say fuses your influences perfectly: It’s more hard rock made from hardcore than anything. Not back and forth, but the natural step of taking the building blocks of the hardcore you love and molding it into the tempo and groove of gigantic riffing hard rock.
Yeah, definitely, that’s pretty much it. Really, I’ve got the narrowest taste of all the guys in the band. My favorite stuff is ’80-’85 hardcore. As far as the lyrics, well, I have a good life, but there are times when you get pushed around in your life or things don’t go like they were supposed to, so we wrote about that.
So how’s it all get put together?
I write the tunes, and we bust it into shape. We all speak the same language. These guys know where I’m coming from, but definitely have their own influences and approaches. Someone might have a riff or part that gets in the song. Maybe the tempo moves around a little, or we use something for a bridge. It’s about getting the best tune written to take out and play.
Pick three hardcore records and three ’70s LPs.
For ’70s stuff, this band Armageddon, any early ZZ Top – let’s say Tres Hombres – and Blue Cheer. The first two Blue Cheer records are fantastic, but the second one has better songs, a deeper groove, and still has that great attack. Man, I put the Deep Purple and Nugent records back in the closet when I got into hardcore, but those first two Blue Cheer records have always stayed out.
For hardcore I’d say Damaged by Black Flag is my number one favorite record of all time. Then Minor Threat’s first 7″, and the Negative Approach 7″.
You mentioned you really like John Brandon’s hard-ass rock band Easy Action which kinda merges his ’80s/’90s band Laughing Hyenas with the earlier, straight-forward attack of Negative Approach.
Man, Negative Approach. Something happened, and they didn’t show when I was going to see’m here in California. It really bummed me out, so we try to play everywhere we can when we’re on the schedule, ’cause I remember how crushed I was when they didn’t make it. We’ll play anywhere we can. Club show, Warped Tour, arena… That’s why we do it, to go out there and play. Easy Action, I’m a huge fan. I wouldn’t want to follow’m, though. Fantastic band. I go see’m when ever I can.
Let’s talk about records. Is the Adolescents’ LP in your Top Ten? At the time, that stuff was a lot heavier and aggressive than most metal product pitched to the masses. Oh, and where’d the covers come from?
Yeah, that Adolescents is pretty good. It’s pretty close to the front of the crate. The Cars cover: Fun time doing that. We all love that band. The Van Halen tune, “DOA,” well, I’m not a real big VH fan, but that particular song’s a good fit. Sometimes we bang stuff around in practice for fun, to warm up, and this made the cut. I wrote “Sensei vs. Sensei” because I wanted a slow, kinda ominous thing, and it makes a good ending.
Do you think in LP terms?
Definitely yeah, I do. Like what’s gonna start off on side two? How’s it gonna end? Start to finish it should be 40 minutes or under so you can get it on one side of a 90 minute tape. They were, too, except Action is Go.
Merch? I read this thing years ago by one of the guys in Drive By Truckers that he’s a tee shirt salesman that plays music.
Yeah, we do about $1100 a night. It helps keep us going. We’ve had a few other things besides shirts: A surfboard, skate decks, there’s one guy we saw who has a Fu Manchu tattoo. He gets in for free. We still sell vinyl on everything too. We bring that with us when we can. I was a big fan of the whole wax thing, buying 7″s at shows. I’ve owned a repo business for years during part of the band’s life. Nah, nothing cool ever happened (referring to the movie Repo Man): No aliens, didn’t get shot at.
Are you interested in anything current in the rock world?
Oh yeah, I bought the new Helmet, the new Clutch. Clutch is a good bill for us. Fantastic band on and off stage, great records, great shows. The audience is real receptive both ways. We get guys who come to see us and like them, and vica versa. And like I said, Easy Action. We’ll be out touring with Valiant Thorr in Europe for six weeks. That’s a good pairing. We generally go out and try to play five to six days a week, and come back in and write and record. I can’t write on the road. Too much going on.
Do you collect boots of your show? Have you done an “in the raw” DVD of odds and sods, live stuff, etc.?
Nah. No quality control. You hear stuff you wouldn’t want out, and it doesn’t have the impact of a live show in person. A live DVD like that would be cool: It could be raw, but the way you’d want it to be.
What was your first show as Fu Manchu?
We played with St. Vitus and did Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin'” a bit slower than the original. Some guy yelled at us for that.
You’ve been all over and have a decent profile among record geek rock dudes. Do you have a grail record you’d like someone to hand over?
First Middle Class 7″. They were maybe the first West Coast hardcore band bred from listening to punk rock and going out and doing it themselves. They own a vintage furniture store and burned some of their early out-of-print stuff to CD. I found that out and went down to their store and bought some right there.
One last thing: If you could play one of your songs on worldwide FU RADIO, what would it be?
“Let Me Out” off We Must Obey. That’ll stand for us.