Southern Californian four-piece outfit Fu Manchu has been churning out their uniquely crafted stoner-esque rock for on 17 years now. And though the band has never really deviated much from their trademarked sound, in recent years, the sound of the band has become a lot more aggressive. This 'aggressiveness’ comes to the fore on the band’s latest release, We Must Obey.
caught up with Fu Manchu’s Scott Hill
(vocals and guitar) for an interview for Ultimate-Guitar as the band’s tour bus made its way to Minnesota as part of the band’ next stop over on its recent U.S tour.
Ultimate-Guitar: We Must Obey is your tenth album to date, so does it get any easier making albums now after all these years?
Scott Hill: No, it’s always about the same really as we approach every record about the same way. Which is we go into a practice room, crank all the amps up and put all the songs together. Then once a few of the songs are done, we go into the studio and record them. That is how we always done our stuff.
The album is a lot more aggressive sounding and has more in common with old school hardcore punk than your familiar stoner rock sound?
Yeah definitely, I think the new stuff is a lot more aggressive. We didn’t really set out to try to write a bunch of stuff in that manner though it is how it just came out. It’s just how the songs took shape. And because we do like a lot of that old punk rock stuff, that naturally came out. And I think it came out a lot more on this record than anything else we’ve done prior.
In recent times you’ve suffered some record label woes. Your original label Mammoth Records went under and since then, you’ve had albums come out on different labels. Has the turmoil of all the label changing help feed that aggression?
No, I don’t think changing different labels made us do a more aggressive record. It would have still come out the same way. Mammoth went out of business then we got a one record deal for the last record with DRT and now... I think this record would have sounded the same no matter what label we were on.
With the title, We Must Obey, is the band having a dig at the music industry rule makers?
Kind of, it’s trying to point out that you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and not listen to anybody. You have to do what’s right for you and for whatever situation you may find yourself in. That is what it’s all about really. But having said that, we’re not a big message band, we have no political or religious stuff to put across or comment. We just sing about doing our own thing.
How does the songwriting process evolve within the context of Fu Manchu?
|"We approach every record about the same way."|
For us everything starts off with just a riff where we’ll bring some sort of riff to practice and work on it. Then the drummer will come up with a beat for it and if it sounds good we’ll keep working on it and add more parts to it. Once we get that done, we’ll put the lyrics to it and then we’ll record it usually on a four track machine. Once we get all the songs down, we then go into the studio proper. In the studio we all tend to play live, usually in the same room if we can and try and keep as much of it as we can live. Bob [Balch] will come in later and do some guitar overdubs and after that I will do the vocals and backing vocals and any other little extra stuff we need to do to add to the sound. But we basically try and keep it as live as we can.
Do you tend to do any writing when out on tour?
We don’t write that much on the road because we don’t really have that much time. We usually arrive for sound check and spend time making sure all the guitars and amps are working and it all sounds good. We don’t have much time to mess around so it’s kind of hard for us to write out on the road.
When it comes to gear what do you play?
I play Dan Armstrong guitars, the Plexi “clear ones” that go through two different heads and cabinets. Usually, I plug straight into a simple fuzz pedal which goes into a Peavey head that goes into one cabinet. Then I also plug into another head a Marshall JCM2000 DSL that goes into the bottom cabinet and that kind of splits those amps and kind of mixes the sound. I still use Seymour Duncan Hot Rails pickups in my guitars, though there is only one pickup in the Dan Armstrong guitars. Bob uses a Gibson SG and a Marshall JCM2000 DSL head as well and plugs into a Fuzz pedal, a Wah, a MXR Phaser and a Delay pedal. Aside from a Fuzz pedal, I usually go straight since Bob uses most of the effect pedals. We use the same stuff in the studio as we do live.
Do you still use your Fender Jaguars or have you retired them from work?
I still have them all, I have four in my collection but I haven’t played those in awhile. I kind of like the sound of the Armstrong guitars better now because the sound of the Armstrong guitars kind of fits a little bit better with the more aggressive songs we now have. Plus they’re really fun to play too!
How do you and Bob work out who plays what with each other’s guitar parts?
I’m strictly all rhythm while Bob does all the leads and effects. I basically get all the rhythm parts down and then Bob will add a bunch of leads and put some effects on top of it. Pretty much what Bob comes up with in the studio, we like so it’s kind of an easy process.
The band is very much steeped in all things '70s, why the fascination with that particular decade?
|"I think the new stuff is a lot more aggressive."|
I don’t know, I suppose I was a kind of growing up then and getting into those movies and television shows, skateboarding, surfing and art from that period. So because of that, it all kind of makes it way into the band at some point.
What do you do to pass the time when on the tour bus?
When we’re touring we like to watch old '70s movies. But we’ll also watch whatever, anything to pass the time whether it’s an old sci-fi movie or an old crappy teen party movie or drug movie. Any of that stuff, we’ll definitely like to watch.
You’re one band that is not afraid to record cover songs. You’ve done covers of everything from The Cars to Van Halen to Blue Oyster Cult?
Yeah, it’s just fun for us. We like picking a song and kind of changing it around and making it sound like one that we would have written. We’ll do anything from chopping off half a song like we did with Moving In Stereo (off We Must Obey) to making something slower. We’ll do anything just so we can make it not sound like the original.
Have you got any feedback from any of the original artists about your covers?
Yeah, Devo liked our version of their song and Blue Oyster Cult liked our version of Godzilla. I think it’s cool when the main band likes your version of it.
Your first album No One Rides For Free was funded by a major label with the intention of getting a release by them but the band recorded it yet later it got released independently?
What the story is, we had a friend at Columbia Records and he had got a hold of a couple of our early 7” inches that we had put out. He liked the band and came and saw us live and gave us some money to go into the studio a record like three songs. We agreed and took the money but went into a cheaper studio and recorded all the songs on No One Rides For Free. When we let them hear like three or four songs from the session, they decided pass on the deal. But they still told us that we could do what with want with the record as it was ours to keep. So we ended up releasing it as our first record.
You’ve basically stuck to the same musical formula for the past 17 years and still have an ongoing successful career. Is this because you’ve never followed any sort of trend?
We play what we want to play. We don’t pay attention to what’s really happening and though we all have radios and listen to them, we try and hear what we want to hear, whether its popular or not.
This year is going to be a hectic one for you guys with lots of touring. After this American tour you’re heading out to Europe?
|"We're not a big message band. We just sing about doing our own thing."|
We have another six weeks in States then we head over to Europe for about six weeks then we come home and either go back out in the States or head over to Australia and New Zealand. That is kind of the plan so far.
Do you ever feel like doing a side project aside from Fu Manchu?
No, this is pretty much it. It definitely takes up a lot of my time and it probably will also for the rest of the year with all the touring commitments we have.
Over the years Fu Manchu have had this 'stoner’ label tagged with the band, how much do drugs really play their part in the band especially in the approach to your music?
The drugs have nothing to do with writing songs or whatever. Whatever any one wants to do, they can do. It doesn’t really play a big part in the band. We kind of just got tagged with that label.
What is one album that has influenced your guitar style the most?
My favorite all time record is the Black Flag Damaged album. That is my all-time record of anything really. I’m a big fan of Greg Ginn’s guitar playing and the sound he got on that whole record and the just the songs and the recording, makes it just the ultimate album for me.
And if you had to pick a favorite album from your own back catalog, what would it be?
Though I like all the Fu Manchu albums and for different reasons, I definitely think the new album is the best because I like the way we sound, I like the songs and I like the artwork.
2007 © Joe Matera