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02 Jul 2018

Stoner-Rock Revolutionaries: After More Than 30 Years of Performing, Fu Manchu's Sound Remains Consistently Consistent

Written by 
Fu Manchu. Fu Manchu. John Gilhooley

Stoner-rock band Fu Manchu was founded back in 1985—and went on to become one of the pillars of the genre. Today, the band is still around, having outlasted many of its contemporaries, including local legendary stoner-rock band Kyuss.

The band is currently touring behind its 12th album, Clone of the Universe, released back in February. The group will be coming to Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Saturday, July 28.

During a recent phone interview with frontman and guitarist Scott Hill, he said the formula Fu Manchu has used to start recording its albums hasn’t changed in more than 25 years.

“We have this cassette 4-track machine, and we all sit in a circle with our amps pointing inward. We put one microphone straight down the middle, and on one track, we just record all of the music,” Hill said. “I have three more tracks to do vocals on. We do that, take the songs home and listen to them, and rearrange them. We’ve been doing that since 1992. This is kind of a rough demo of songs before we head into a studio.”

Fu Manchu has recorded its albums in a variety of different settings, and with a range budgets.

“We’ve spent a lot of money and gotten a great recording, and we’ve spent not a lot of money and gotten a great recording,” Hill said. “It’s all about who you go with as a producer and where you go. You can spend a lot of money in an expensive studio that’s really nice with air conditioning and a big lobby, or you can do what we did with our last couple of records, at a small storage place where the studio is. It’s really hot, and you sweat after walking into the place, but you get a really good recording. It depends on what you want to do, where you want to do it, and what your budget is.”

Fu Manchu’s rock ’n’ roll sound has not changed much since its first full-length album, No One Rides for Free, in 1994. That’s a source of pride for the band.

“We just all like this straight-forward riff stuff. To me, it’s never boring, and there are always new riffs and drum beats,” Hill said. “With Clone of the Universe, we did an 18-minute song, which we’ve never done before. It took up the entire Side 2. We all like playing like straightforward, heavy and fuzzy rock ’n’ roll. It never gets old, and we’re not tired of doing it.

Hill said he sees many ethos similarities in the stoner-rock and punk-rock scenes.

“I got into punk rock in December of 1980; that was the first time I heard live Black Flag and was like, ‘What is this?’ I guess it’s kind of the same in the sense that you play where you can,” he said. “You play backyards, little clubs or big clubs … you go for it wherever and whenever you can. Hardcore and punk rock are my main influence, and that’s when I really got into music and started wanting to play guitar. I’d go to shows and think, ‘That looks so fun!’ and would just watch the guitar-players. As the late ’80s rolled around, I’d pull out the old Deep Purple and Blue Cheer records and mix it all together. I’ll listen to Foghat, and I’ll listen to Black Flag in the same sitting. It’ll all make sense to me.”

On Clone of the Universe, Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson makes an appearance on the aforementioned 18-minute-long song, “Il Mostro Atomico.”

“Our manager is friends with (Alex Lifeson’s) manager, and our manager asked what Alex was up to, and he was like, ‘Oh, he’s just in the studio recording guitar stuff.’ He asked what we were up to, and we were getting ready to record. Our manager asked, ‘Hey, would Alex like to play guitar on a Fu Manchu song?’ He got back to us and said, ‘Yeah, send him a song.’ We thought our manager was kidding. We sent it to him, and he asked us what we wanted him to do, and we said, ‘Wherever you want to do something, for however long you want to do something, whatever you want to do—do it.’ He did a bunch of guitar stuff all over the song.”

Hill told me a story about one of the strangest shows the band has ever played.

“We flew to Spain for one show that was actually a festival,” he said. “We flew there the night before and hung out. We went to the big festival and played a couple of bands under the headliner; it was probably about 40,000 people. We got up onstage, set up and played four songs, and they said, ‘OK, that’s it!’ It was getting really windy and stormy, so that was it. We went all the way to Spain to play four songs and went home. It was the weirdest one for me, given we flew all that way to play four songs.”

Fu Manchu will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, July 28, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53668 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $18. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.

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