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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Fu Manchu

By: Justin Donnelly

For the better part of seven months, Californian based retro/stoner rock outfit Fu Manchu seemed to be in an indefinite limbo of inactivity. After having released their ninth studio release ‘Start The Machine’ through DRT Entertainment in September 2004, and having completed their touring commitments around the globe, the four piece act, for all intents and purposes, locked down in a self imposed hibernation state for an indefinite period.
However, the quartet finally resurfaced with the announcement of its signing to the Liquor And Poker Music/Century Media Records label.

Now, Fu Manchu has finally broken their long overdue silence with its tenth album ‘We Must Obey’, which is a release that sees the quartet return with every bit of the promise shown on its late 2006 EP release, with the album leaning heavily on the fuzz sound of their earlier releases, all the while moving forward in every way.

Relaxing at home in San Clemente, Southern California, I caught up with the easy going front man Scott Hill to talk about the band’s not so recent change of labels within the last twelve months, their undying love of Boston New Wave outfit The Cars and their unconscious return to their former glory with a fuzz heavy sound.

“Yeah, I would agree with you on that. I think one of the major factors behind the return to that sound is that Balch and I kind of plugged back into our old fuzz pedals. We kind of distorted and dirtied up our guitar sounds more, and I think that helped make ‘We Must Obey’ a lot more aggressive sounding than anything we’ve done before. Especially compared to the last couple of albums. But the funny thing is that there really wasn’t much thought behind the change in sound. We never sat there and thought, ‘Hey, we have to do some quicker stuff, or something more aggressive!’ This change in sound just simply came out in us. We all just got together in the one room, and kind of play riffs and saw what happened. We just happened to turn up the speed a little bit, and it just happened to be a little more aggressive sounding. Personally, I think even the slower stuff sounds more aggressive on this album!”

While the band’s recorded output has been a little disjointed in recent years, it’s the song writing philosophy of ‘Whatever happens… happens!’ that Fu Manchu has rarely changed over the years that seems to have been the main instigator in the return to the band’s earlier sound more than anything.

“We never sit down and plan anything out. It’s just all of us in one room, and we’ll just play a riff, and if the Reeder can get a cool beat going to it, we’ll just keep playing it. We’ll then add another part to it. If it’s not working, we’ll put it to the back, and move onto something else. We definitely never plan out anything we’re doing. We just see what happens. With this album, I came in with a lot of the riffs. I would just play the guys the riffs, and it’s usually the Reeder that picks it up first. It all just goes from there. We get the song down how we want it, and if it’s something we like, then it’s something that we’ll keep. It’s just the way we’ve always worked.”

Although Fu Manchu’s operates modi has rarely changed throughout the years, Hill admits that his it was his own riff inspiration that spawned a great bulk of ‘We Must Obey’.

“I think that’s definitely the case with this album. I don’t know why, but I always seemed to going to practice with all of these riffs. I remember there was one day of practice where we were going five hours straight working without a break on the one song. We just liked it so much. I think it might have been ‘Hung Out To Dry’. We just kept on trying so many other parts, different directions, different speeds and different tones on the guitar until we got it right. So yeah, I think with this album I just kept coming in with a lot of the riffs. But having said that, it’s always a group effort at the end of the day. We all have our two cents thrown in there somewhere.”

While little has changed within Fu Manchu as such, outside wise a lot has changed. Following the release of 2004’s ‘Start The Machine’ on DRT Entertainment, before resurfacing in 2007 on Liquor And Poker Music/Century Media Records for ‘We Must Obey’.

“2004’s ‘Start The Machine’ was a one off album deal. We did some touring from that, and it was only when we got home that we really started looking for a new label. We had written three or four new songs, and we went into the studio to record them as demos. We immediately sent them to Century Media Records, because we had talked to them a while ago, and they definitely liked the songs. It was pretty easy for us to sign with them because we’re all fans of the label. From that point on, we just started working on more songs for the better part of the last year. The whole deal came around pretty quick.”

And from the looks of things, Fu Manchu will be sticking with the Century Media Records family for a while to come.

“We signed on for a three album deal, and so far we’ve been very happy. Century Media Records is definitely a label where we can call up and talk to anyone there, or go to the offices there and just hang out. So in saying that, so far, things have been really good. They just kind of let us do what we want to do in the studio, and they only came down to see how things were going toward the end of the mixing sessions for ‘We Must Obey’. They listened to the stuff and were pretty happy with it. So I guess you could do that so far, it’s good.”

That sense of remaining independent from outside influences also influenced the title of their latest album ‘We Must Obey’.

“The title ‘We Must Obey’ is about doing your own thing. You’re going to know what is good for a certain situation you’re in, or whatever you’re doing. At the end of the day, you know what’s right for you. I think the title and theme has more to do with stuff in regards to the everyday crap you have to deal with, and not necessarily to do with the album sound or musical direction as such. I definitely think that with this the making of this album, we just kind of wanted to do it ourselves, including producing it ourselves (with a little assistance from recorder/mixer/engineer Andrew Alekel). That’s the kind of overall theme of the album. It doesn’t really apply to any one certain thing. It can just apply to any situation you’re in. We’ve gone into the studio with producers in the past, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do that at that time. I like doing that sometimes, because it’s a fifth guy that isn’t in the band, and they’re someone that can hear stuff that you wouldn’t normally hear. They’ve always given us plenty of great ideas too. We’ve been lucky to work with people that we trust and like. This time, we just chose to listen to ourselves a little more.”

Speaking of producers, I was interested to hear how Hill now reflects on their previous effort ‘Start The Machine’, which was produced by renowned producer Brian Joseph Dobbs.

“I wish it had come out a little more raw sounding. But having said that, I really like the songs, and I love playing them live. I wish it had also been put out on vinyl too! (Laughs) I think it’s the only release from us that hasn’t been put out on vinyl. When we heard that there was no vinyl release, we were trying to call some buddies at smaller labels to see if they wanted to put it out there! (Laughs) I guess the label just didn’t want to put it out on vinyl. It’s sad, because I think the time has long passed to put it out on vinyl now. We’re certainly not doing any more promotion for that album. But having said that, I would definitely love to see it pressed on vinyl one day. The album is just under forty minutes, and I think it would sound really good on vinyl. Everything sounds better on vinyl, but an album that runs for forty minutes sounds even better on vinyl.”

Fu Manchu are no strangers to cover songs (having covered Black Flag, The Adolescents, Van Halen, Blue Öyster Cult and Devo amongst others in the past), and ‘We Must Obey’ is no different, with The Cars’ ‘Moving In Stereo’ being given the full Fu Manchu makeover.

“We’re all fans of The Cars. They’re definitely all of our all time favourites. I remember Balch starting to play the riff at practice one day, and we all thought it sounded great. It had a really fuzzy sound, tuned all the way down and a little bit slower, and we all started playing it. It was decided straight away that this would be a new cover, and we had a blast playing it. As for it appearing on the album, I have to be honest with you when I say that it’s a little weird because I never actually realised how many covers we have down on albums over the years! (Laughs) There’s so many. Especially on the last few albums! (Laughs) When we were putting the songs together, it just seemed to fit there. In the end, we just decided to leave it on there.”

While many will recognise the song in the U.S., it seems the Europeans are still a little in the dark in regards to The Cars.

“We’ve been doing a lot of promotion in Europe, and because they’re not very familiar with the song, or The Cars for that matter, ‘Moving In Stereo’ is one of the most asked about songs on the new album. When I tell them that it’s a cover, they’re all confused! (Laughs) I do believe that if you’re going to do a cover of another band, you need to make it sound like one of your own, or completely different to the original. And I think we achieved that.”

Although never releasing a bad album as such, Fu Manchu seemed to have reconnected with their core audience with ‘We Must Obey’, and Hill has certainly taken notice.

“People seem to dig the album. I think that with Balch and I plugging back into our fuzz pedals, and getting more of a raw, dirtied and distorted guitar tone is exactly what people have wanted to hear. It seems that a lot of people seem to like this album a lot more than the last couple of albums. So it’s a good thing. And we plan to hit the road to let people know we’re back. We plan to tour the U.S. for around eight weeks, and then head home for a couple of weeks after that. We’ll then be playing Europe for about seven weeks I think. We’ll then head home for a couple more, and then we might do a little more of the U.S. Hopefully we’ll make it down to Australia again. That’s looking like it’ll happen around July or August. Getting back down to Australia has been one of our goals in the last couple of years, and it looks like it’s going to happen this year. Over the next twelve months, we want everyone to know that Fu Manchu are back, and still going stronger than ever.”

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