Fu Manchu


In the 1970s Leonard Nimoy held audiences spellbound with his sombre, occasionally dire, narratives of natural events and unexplained supernatural phenomena in the television series In Search Of…. At age six I was convinced a swarm of killer bees would descend upon my parents’ house, hopefully just after witnessing the inevitable invasion of aliens from outer space.  At age 11, enthralled by the tales of planes and ships lost in the Bermuda Triangle, I made a pact with my then best friend to fly across that famed area of water, just to see what would happen. Nimoy had opened our eyes to a world of danger, and we were spellbound.

Nimoy’s deadpan descriptions of such scenarios made enough of a lasting impression on Scott Hill, guitarist and vocalist with stoner rock legends Fu Manchu, to cause Fu Manchu to name its classic 1996 album after the television show. “I must have been watching it around the time we were doing the album,” Hill says.  “I loved the Big Foot stuff, the UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle stories. I just loved the show!” Hill laughs.


Fu Manchu formed originally in 1990 from the ashes of hardcore band Virulence. Originally led by Ken Pucci, Hill assumed vocal duties after the departure of Pucci’s replacement as lead singer, Glenn Chivens. Hill had grown up in Orange County in southern California, surrounded by the iconic Californian pleasures of surfing and skateboarding. “I grew up by the beach,” Hill recalls. “I didn’t really play computer games. I was usually out there surfing, skating, riding my bike and playing pinball. And when I got older, I started playing music as well.”


Virulence was a Californian hardcore band in the classic So-Cal tradition, playing music as fast and hard as its teenage members felt was commensurate with their attitude to life. “We formed Virulence at the end of 1984,” Hill recalls. “We were just trying to play as fast as possible.” By the late 1980s the musical landscape had changed substantially, and Hill and his band mates had been introduced to the sludgier sounds of the Pacific North-West punk rock scene.  “We started listening to bands like Tad and Nirvana,” Hill says. “And gradually we started pulling out rock records from the 1970s and listening to them.”


Fu Manchu released its first album, No One Rides For Free, in 1994, setting the scene for its so-called ‘stoner rock’ sound. It’s a description that Hill finds amusing, and confusing. “I have no idea really what that term means!” Hill laughs. “I’ve heard that term being used to describe us for ever – I think I first heard it in an interview. I suppose when I hear it, I think of bands who’re influenced by bands like Sabbath and Blue Cheer. But for us, we don’t sing about drugs, so we’re not really ‘stoner’ in that sense,” he says.


Fu Manchu has maintained a remarkable consistency over its 22 year career, eschewing any temptation to refine its sound to cross-over from the band’s predominantly cult attraction to a more mainstream audience. “When we started out we just wanted to play straight forward guitar,” Hill says, matter-of-factly. “And we’ve remained pretty well true to where we started.” When, in the early 1990s, major labels began to approach cult bands with blank chequebooks, Fu Manchu remained aloof. “We never really thought about it, or even cared,” Hill says. “I really love that ultra fuzzy, over the top guitar sound, so it never crossed our minds to do anything different to try and sell more records.”


Notwithstanding any confusion surround the stoner rock descriptor, Fu Manchu is happy to use the live setting to explore and extend a solid rock riff in whatever form seems appropriate at the time. “We do like to do things differently live,” Hill says. “We’ll play a part longer, and jam out a certain part of the song.” On the odd occasion, the jam can stretch out into unforeseen territory. “We played a show back around 1998 or 1999 with a band called Days Of The New, who were this weird acoustic Alice In Chains style band,” Hill says. “The crowd absolutely hated us, so we played Anodizer for about 20 minutes,” he laughs.


In the studio, the band’s recording approach adapts the live modus operandi to the studio setting. “We always play live in one room,” Hill says. “But it’s really hard to capture the live sound in the studio. And by the time we’re done in the studio, there’s something we want to change. So we usually give ourselves about a week to go back and fix stuff up.” When it came to playing In Search Of a couple of years ago to celebrate the re-release of the record on vinyl, Fu Manchu was able to explore the record as a composite live piece, something it hadn’t previously done. “We just played it from the first song through to the last track,” Hill says. “I think it works as an album, and people really liked it.”


Fu Manchu return to Australia this month to headline Cherry Rock. It’s the band’s first Australian tour in ten years. “We’d love to get there more, but it’s pretty expensive to get down there,” Hill says. “Everything’s on the beach. I remember doing a soundcheck in Perth and looking out the back of the club and seeing the surf. It was amazing.” And while Fu Manchu has managed to get to Japan, touring China – where surely the band’s name would give them a ready-made audience – has proved elusive. “Yeah, that’d be great,” he laughs. “We went to Japan and people kept calling out for [Blue Oyster Cult’s] Godzilla, so we ended up playing it,” he laughs.

FU MANCHU headline the freakin’ huge Cherry Rock 2012 on Sunday April 29, as well as performing a sideshow at The Hi-Fi Bar on Sunday May 6.