If you’ve yet to hear the buzz, then you best catch it, and be forever fuzzed! Fu Manchu is like the Fed-Ex of rock today — delivering the goods on time, every time.
No gimmickry or glam for these Orange County, CA gents. Their recipe is simple and effective: mix two parts metal, one part fuzz, stir in equal parts of driving bass and rhythms, a pinch of ’70s B-movie nostalgia, serve hot and loud. Then delight in the Fu’s cranking, power-chord driven attack. Soon, you realize you have found the band that is poised to set the standard for rock’s next generation.
Following up on the successful Action is Go release from 1997, Fu Manchu is on the road in support of their new album, King of the Road , on Mammoth Records. Having gotten an advance listen, I can advise you with certainty — this is a choice record! You will have it turned up to 11 from start to finish!
I spoke with bassist Brad Davis just before a show in Connecticut.
You had a lineup change shortly before Action is Go , where you brought in Brant Bjork (formerly of Kyuss) and Bob Balch. What dimension did these guys bring to Fu Manchu, and how have they impacted the band over the last couple years?
We now share a more common set of musical influences, which helps us focus more on what we want (or don’t want) to do as a band. Plus, we collectively agree on what types of music we want to play. There is also more of an emphasis on the musicianship now than ever before that translates into our delivery. Everything I could possibly think of, I like better.
I’m sure you get the standard questions about your musical influences, i.e. Zeppelin, Sabbath, Deep Purple, etc. — is there any artist or other musical influences that may not be as apparent in the finished product, but still has an impact on your music?
I’ve always considered us as pretty much a cross between our Seventies and Eighties influences. A lot of the riffs are more the hard rock Seventies style, while the delivery is straight out of the early Eighties hardcore background. The lackadaisical, lazy sound that was common in the Seventies (rock) is gone — our sound is more aggressive.
In fact, all of us grew up with the old hardcore sound. But Scott (Hill, founding member and frontman), in particular, really only listens to the Eighties hardcore — Black Flag, Bad Brains, etc. — and rock music. Brant (Bjork, drummer) might be listening to reggae, while Bob (Balch, lead guitar) will be jamming to Devo or some old soul music. You would probably catch me with some Flaming Lips…
Oh, so you have the more abstract, left-of-center tastes, eh?
Yeah, I guess everybody’s got to have their weird side… We get our rock fix from Fu Manchu, so we usually listen to other things, except Scott — hardcore and rock, that’s it.
In the past, you have covered songs more akin to the Fu Manchu sound, like Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla.” I found it interesting on the new record that you put the ‘Fu in Devo’s “Freedom of Choice.” Was this due to Bob being a fan?
Well, we all love Devo! But the choice really came from our Web site. We gave everyone who visited our site a chance to e-mail us an idea for a cover song to be included on the new album. We wound up with a cross between “Slow Ride” (Foghat) and “Freedom of Choice.” Doing Foghat would be totally expected and not near as much fun, plus we’re never going to “beat” Foghat at “Slow Ride,” or Devo at “Freedom” for that matter, but we felt that we could give Devo a more interesting interpretation. Especially considering the fact Devo was so anti-rock in the “age” of rock. We’re just happy we could use all our influences to give a great song a cool twist!
I’ve noticed this hard rock sound move from the underground to become more mainstream in the last few years. Bands like Monster Magnet are able to hit the charts without compromising their sound. What do you think helped “push” this style of music along? Is it just a trend, or are people simply tired of the bullshit and wanting to get back to good ROCK again?!?!
Definitely the latter! Mainstream rock had progressed to point where it just started to get weirder and weirder, started to go downhill, until it got to the point of glam, Poison, and the rest. Then a band like Nirvana comes along and blows everybody out of the water. They hit with real music that had such emotion and passion, it drew people in, and still does. At this point, I think people are wanting to get back to having a good time without worrying about a “message,” costumes, image, etc. We write songs and music that we want to hear and I believe more bands are trying to keep their identity without sacrificing for the masses.
You guys and a few others have really helped create a resurgence. There are several newer bands playing the straight-ahead, stripped down rock, particularly in Europe, i.e. Hellacopters. Are you happy to have the company?
Oh yeah. Sweden is a great place to look for this type of music. We didn’t realize the extent of rock music and fan support until we toured there. They are totally into the rock scene and have so much enthusiasm, it’s great. I would say most of Europe is really into the rock thing — we were surprised at our own following!
And it’s cool there’s other bands making this sound work for them. It’s terrific to meet all the bands and people that are playing this kind of music, because we are fans of what they’re doing and they talk about how much dig us, so it’s kind of bizarre sometimes…
The thing that first attracted me to Fu Manchu was the cover of Action is Go where Tony Alva (skateboard legend), is launching out of a pool, circa ’77.
Yeah, we were SO happy to get that shot. J. Yuenger, our producer on Action , knows Glen Friedman who took the shot. J. convinced Glen that we were a cool enough band to justify the photo, so when we got it, there was no doubt it would be the cover.
What about the inspiration for many other songs that reference B-movies, muscle cars, and the like?
Well, Scott writes the majority of the lyrics and Brant does some also, but mostly it’s writing about what we think is cool, what our interests are, what we grew up with, and something that will fit with the music. I mean, we want to play about something we had on posters in our room as kids — whether it be a Camaro or a skateboarder!
As an avid surfer and longtime skater, your music gets me pumped up and ready to charge! Are you finding a crossover fan base of “X-Games” types who might normally be into the punk scene?
I think for a lot of people (like me), that have grown up in California, this rock stuff is in our collective subconscious. The late Seventies sound is just in there — we don’t even think about it, so it’s a natural listen. The non-traditional sporting events that are more personal (surfing, skating, motorcross, etc), seem to connect the kids to this music on a level where they understand it without necessarily understanding where it came from. At least I hope they do. You can dig Fu Manchu on one level and still have your punk, or whatever else you’re into.
We are just starting to find out how big we can make our audience by playing around more and to different crowds, like this tour with Anthrax.
Now the question I’ve been wanting to ask from the start…When are you guys going to get more visibility in the Southeast???
We just finished headlining some shows on the West Coast, and we’re hoping to cover some areas, like the Southeast, where we haven’t been since the Action tour. Somewhere in March would be my guess. If it’s not as a headlining show, we may be coming around with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Foo Fighters.
I think you would have a lot of success in the area, especially with the music scene in Atlanta and Florida.
So far, we haven’t had much luck in Florida, but we hope to. Although, our last visit was great, because we toured with Jesus Lizard.
I think you have found an awesome formula for making music. You kept that fairly consistent on Action as well as King of the Road . Is there any experimentation with sounds, effects, etc that we can expect on future material?
We always try and keep an eye out to make sure we aren’t being too repetitive, but at the same time remain consistent. I mean, we play rock with Fu Manchu, and we obviously don’t want to make it bland, but we don’t want to branch out just for the sake of going off on a tangent and potentially playing shitty music.
We are thinking about doing some things like toning down the fuzz on some songs to make sure we keep the peaks and valleys in the delivery.
A live release might also be a possibility, because we like to jam at our shows more than what would be included on a studio track. Anything to keep it from getting boring. We still have a short attention span when it comes to music… if we get bored, then the audience gets bummed…then it just sucks…
I seriously doubt you will have any bummed audience members after Fu Manchu takes hold of them! Thanks Brad. Hope to see you guys in sunny Florida real soon!