FU MANCHU's SCOTT HILL Talks The Power Of The Fuzz, Skateboarding And Surfing

June 4, 2024

By David E. Gehlke

Long-running California stoner doom lot FU MANCHU like things to be uncomplicated. Since their 1990 formation, the quartet has rarely strayed from its core sound of heavy, driving, predominantly fuzzy guitars and lyrical themes of muscle cars, drag racing, skateboarding and their oceanside environs. FU MANCHU is a band that is very easy to like and quite difficult to dislike, particularly in an age with so many options. After nearly 35 years as a band, they have continued to throw their fans the occasional curveball — including a double album.

Titled "The Return Of Tomorrow", FU MANCHU has delivered seven heavy, fuzzy songs to go along with six more mellow numbers. The mellow side has rarely shown up on their records, but a handful of these cuts demonstrate that the band can do even more than bang out some of the best fuzzed-out rockers of the last three decades. Here to chat with BLABBERMOUTH.NET is guitarist, vocalist and founding member Scott Hill, who freely admits that such artistic maneuvers may not always be in the cards for his band. But what is clear after talking to Hill is that by keeping things honest and simple, FU MANCHU will likely continue to hold down its spot as one of the best stoner bands of its generation.

Blabbermouth: "The Return Of Tomorrow" is a double album. Was that pre-determined or something you fell into when writing?

Scott: "We got together and started writing with a bunch of riffs that were heavy. Then, I think, usually what we do is we all get in a room: 'Hey, I got this riff.' I show it to everyone without fuzz and without 'heavy.' It's quiet and clean, so everyone can go, 'Okay, that's how it goes!' I think one of the first songs we did that with was when everyone started playing it mellow. We were like, 'That sounds pretty good without the fuzz!' I think we continued to play off the fuzz and maybe did it with the fuzz. I remember going home and thinking, 'You know what? Instead of doing a normal 10, 11 song heavy record, let's do a double record.' I was trying to think of something we hadn't done before. One record that's six or seven songs heavy; the other is mellow. And we're not known for our mellow songs. I thought that one song we were working on sounded really good clean. I went back to practice and said, 'What do you guys think about doing one heavy and one mellow double record? It won't be like where each record is 50 minutes. Combined, it's about that.' Everyone was like, 'Yeah!' We went from there. It wasn't pre-determined, but also we're thinking, 'What can we do that is a little different from what we've done before?' The last record [2018's 'The Clone Of The Universe'] had the whole second side with one song with Alex Lifeson from RUSH. It was like, 'Oh my god. What are you going to do to top that?'"

Blabbermouth: Two of the new "mellow" songs, "What I Need" and "High Tide", are excellent. Will this kind of songs open up new doors for FU MANCHU?

Scott: "Probably not. [Laughs] For me, I'm the most narrow-minded guy in the band when it comes to music. That's why. I just listen to old 1980 to 1986 hardcore punk rock. Then, weird, old '60s, '70s rock, like SIR LORD BALTIMORE, CACTUS, just eclectic stuff. The other guys listen to everything. But I'm very narrow-minded. That's also another thing with making a new record like this: I'm sure other people listen to music like that, but maybe not. If I want to listen to something heavy, it's heavy and fuzzy. If I want to listen to something mellow, I don't want to combine heavy, fuzzy, mellow, heavy, fuzzy, mellow. I know a record has to have peaks and valleys. But, with the record, you can make your own song tracklisting. You could go, 'Oh, this song would be cool after the two heavy ones.' Perfect. Whatever works."

Blabbermouth: Or are you just really protective of how you think FU MANCHU is supposed to sound?

Scott: "It's funny because we were talking about this the other day. We were talking about NICKELBACK. They have a custom van on one of their covers. Everyone was like, 'Oh my god! That's FU MANCHU!' I was like, 'No. No. We don't own the rights to that.' We're into custom vans, old muscle cars, bikers, skateboarding…we've been into that since day one. It's like, 'Join the party! Get a muscle car in some of your artwork. Take Bigfoot, too!' I get what you're saying. I got my guitar tone from watching MUDHONEY. Back then, you couldn't go on the Internet, 'How do I get that fuzz?' You see dudes playing and go, 'Oh, he's playing a Super Fuzz pedal!' Then there was MONSTER MAGNET. Everyone takes a little bit of everything. So if someone takes something from us, great!"

Blabbermouth: There are a lot of musicians in your age bracket now who get bent out of shape over those things. It just wouldn't feel very FU MANCHU for you to do something like that. Plus, you've stuck to singing about muscle cars and the beach.

Scott: "I don't know anything else. I've lived by the beach my entire life. My dad surfed when he was a kid. He had a car club in the '50s. He turned me on to BLUE CHEER. That was some of the first stuff I heard. So, skateboarding, surfing, that's all I know. I never wanted to write lyrics. I never wanted to sing! You're not going to hear anything too profound in our lyrics. There's nothing political or religious—nothing personal. It's kind of nonsense. But everything revolves around the ocean and the beach. That's what we know. We've all lived here our whole lives. That's about it. We don't know anything else!"

Blabbermouth: "The Action Is Go" had a skateboarder on the cover. That about summed it up for you back in 1997.

Scott: "That record, specifically, the guy on the cover is Tony Alva, one of my favorite skateboarders. I remember when writing the record and then mixing it. We didn't have the artwork yet. I was talking to our label. I said, 'We want to get either an old cool '70s surfer or motorcross guy or skateboarder.' They're like, 'We'll get on it. Do you have any ideas?' I said, 'Whoever you can find who will let us use something cool.' They came back with that picture of Tony Alva. I didn't say anything. The guy who shot the picture is Glen Friedman, who is a great photographer. I was like, 'Wait a minute? We can use this?' They said, 'We talked to Glen.' I guess Alva was okay with it. I don't know if a lot of heavy, fuzzy bands used skateboarding images. I don't think so, but to me, that record is what I'd listen to when skateboarding. It went hand-in-hand."

Blabbermouth: I saw a post around the time you were recording "The Return Of Tomorrow" and it said that you recorded 13 songs in a day. That feels like such a profound number in this day and age. Is it that organic?

Scott: "Yeah. For us, it is. We used to do six or seven songs and come back the next day, but we'd rehearsed a lot. We recorded everything on four tracks and cassettes. We were going through the songs. We did about six or seven. I think we did all the heavy ones. Then we took a break and ate dinner. We came back and said, 'Should we do another?' It was getting late. And [Scott] Reeder's [drums] like, 'Yeah! I can probably do some more.' We did those. Then we said, 'Fuck it. Let's do the whole thing.' He's like, 'Really?' I'm like, 'Yeah, let's do the whole thing.' We sit in a circle around the drums because we cue Reeder a lot. We don't use a click track or anything, but yeah, that's not normal. We don't normally do 13 songs in a day, especially for him, but he did it."

Blabbermouth: Some bands can't finish half a drum track in a day.

Scott: "[Laughs] I had a punk rock band in '85. Back then, you saved enough money to go into the studio and you had to get it done in a day. I always had that mindset, 'You can't waste time in the studio. You have to get it done.' We don't jam a lot in the studio. We usually have everything written."

Blabbermouth: When we hopped on the line, you mentioned that you don't do well with technology. How many blank Maxell cassette tapes do you have floating around?

Scott: "I've had a Tascam four-track cassette recorder forever. I think since we started the band in 1990 and we still use the four-track recorder. Here, look, here are some brand new Maxell cassettes. [Holds up tapes to the camera. ] They're still sealed, waiting for the next record! We still use cassettes. We throw up one microphone in the middle of us during practice, which goes into one track. We get the levels, and that's how we've done it since we started. It works best for us. And it sounds good. I think cassettes sound great."

Blabbermouth: Is there any deep meaning to the title of "The Return Of Tomorrow"?

Scott: "There's no real theme. Last summer, we started writing and came up with the music really fast. Once we have the music, I start writing the lyrics. I remember it must have been a week straight—I swear no drugs were involved. I swear I remember having some out-of-body experience where I looked down and saw myself sitting on a chair. That's what the artwork is: A guy floating around. It happened for days in a row. I had in my mind, 'I wonder if this will happen tomorrow?' I don't sleep during the day. I never do. I surf in the morning, so I don't know if I got extra sun or sunburnt. I live by the beach. You can feel and smell the ocean. I was sitting in this La-Z-Boy chair in my living room. I have a 60-gallon saltwater tank. I zoned out looking at that. I swear, for days in a row, I had an out-of-body experience where I saw myself sitting there. As I said, no drugs were involved! But that's the theme of the record a little bit."

Blabbermouth: FU MANCHU's reputation has been staked in the live arena. You've put in the work, but are you still up for doing long tours at this stage in your career?

Scott: "You brought up 'The Action Is Go', which came out in '97. We did eight months. We were in the States for six weeks. I came home and went to Europe for six weeks. Came home again. Did that for another eight weeks. I can't do that anymore. [Laughs] If we can spread it out, I'm fine, like we're doing with these tours. I think we're going to Europe for three weeks. Come home for three weeks, then do the States for two. Come home, back to Europe for four. It's spread out. I can do it if it's spread out. I cannot do eight months in a row. Our thing is playing live. That's it. I love recording and writing music, but just playing live. We just flew up to Vancouver to play. We'll go wherever to play live. That's our deal."

Blabbermouth: Conversely, touring eight months out of the year is what you had to do to establish FU MANCHU back then.

Scott: "In '95, we went out with MONSTER MAGNET. That was the first tour we did, which was two or three weeks. I was like, 'Whoa!' We were a lot younger. I thought it was cool. Then we did another record. Then it was, 'You guys are going to Europe for the first time.' But it was six or seven weeks! I was like, 'Whoa. I guess that's cool…' Halfway through, you're like, 'Damn. This is tough.' But you're young and can pull it off. Now, we like to spread it out. We'll continue this tour through 2025."

Blabbermouth: You are part of that core group of stoner/fuzz bands alongside KYUSS, MASTERS OF REALITY and MONSTER MAGNET. Are you comfortable with your place? I always thought FU MANCHU was a band that everyone could get into and no one could knock.

Scott: "Listen, I never thought we would still be here. We started in 1990. You never know. You just keep going. I just loved doing it, so I kept doing it. Yeah, we played with KYUSS, CLUTCH, MONSTER MAGNET, TYPE O NEGATIVE and ANTHRAX, and we did a tour with MOTÖRHEAD. We played with METALLICA at their [Orion] festival [in 2013]. It's like, 'We're good.' We're still here playing and we all get along so well. That's the main thing."

Photo credit: Thom Cooper

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