It’s been three years since the last full length studio album from San Clemente’s Fu Manchu, and many more again since they last spoke to Gravy Zine. With a new album (“Start the Machine”) straining at the leash and a worldwide tour underway we thought it was time to catch up with Strolling Astronomer Scott Hill and um Chu the fat.

Interview by Ian Pickens.

Gravy: Just in case there is anyone out there who has been living in a cave for the last decade, introduce yourselves.

Scott: Scott Hill / guitar, vocals - Bob Balch / lead guitar - Brad Davis / bass -  Scott Reeder / drums.

Gravy:  It's been almost 3 years since your last full length studio album (California Crossing); Why the hiatus?

Scott: Well we have been busy. We did about 8 months of touring after "CA Crossing" came out. The record label, Mammoth records, folded about 4 months into touring but we did another 4 months. We put out a double live record, "Go for it...Live" did some touring on that record, put out a 3 song CD "Something Beyond, So Far Behind, Six Pack" and recorded demos to get a new record deal.

Gravy: So what happened with Mammoth records?

Scott: Mammoth just stopped being a label.

Gravy: Did you ever consider signing to a major label or do you prefer to work with independent labels?

Scott: There are good and bad with both indie’s and major’s. Indie's seem way more into helping out a band develop. They will stick with a band a lot longer. The only downside to indie's is that sometimes they don’t have the resources to do a lot of advertising letting everyone know you have a new record out.

 Gravy: Were you disappointed with the criticisms some people leveled at
California Crossing”?

Scott: No. With "CA Crossing" we wanted to try a few different things. I was singing more; we worked on arrangements more, added a little more melody. When we started, people would get on us because I wasn’t singing enough and the records were sounding alike. Well, I start singing more and we work on the songs more and people were saying that they missed the old vocals and songs. You can’t win.

Gravy: Do you feel they misunderstood what Fu Manchu were trying to achieve with that album?

Scott: I don’t really care. I like that record, had a good time writing the songs for it and recording it. Its one of my favorites.

Gravy: Was there a deliberate attempt to return to the older style of Fu Manchu on “Start the Machine”?

Scott: We try to never go back, always move forward. "Start the Machine" is exactly what we wanted to hear and play at the time.

Gravy:  So you’re happy with the finished product?

Scott: I'm very happy with the new record. I really enjoy playing all the songs live. Had a good time recording it.

Gravy:  It's the first full length release with Scott Reeder replacing Brant Bjork on drums, how has he settled in?

Scott: Reeder is fitting in perfect. He is an awesome drummer and a good guy. We all get along well.

Gravy:  Did it feel strange playing with a new drummer after working with Brant on so many records?

Scott: It didn’t feel strange at all. They both have their own style, but both fit well with what we want to do.

Gravy:  The line-up has been pretty constant for most of the bands existence. Why do you think you work so well together?

Scott: We are all friends first. We have to be able to get along outside the band to make it work. We are all into the same stuff both outside the band as well as musical influences.

Gravy: The track 'Out to sea' is pretty different for Fu Manchu. Does this mark a new area that you want to move into or is it just a natural development of your sound?

Scott: "Out to sea" is just a type of sound and song that we like as well. We are not only into the heavy. If a mellow song fits in somewhere, then we will keep it. We plan on doing more of that type of song in the future.

Gravy: Similarly 'I can't hear you' is probably the closest the band has come to  doing a Hardcore song (excluding the blinding cover of SSD's 'Nothing Done'); was it intentional to go for that sound or was it just the way that song panned out?

Scott: "I can’t hear you" just sort of happened in a day. We just wanted to play a fast, pissed-off song. I love 80 - 85 punk / hardcore so yeah, I dig it. More of that as well!

Gravy: Coming back to the covers for a second, both “Start the Machine” and “CA Crossing” both omit covers, whereas the previous three albums contained them, are you getting bored with doing covers?

Scott: We just didn’t think the records needed any cover. We still enjoy playing covers. We have a lot that we recorded and never released. Someday they will all be released. We are going to be covering "Things start moving" by the Adolescents for a tribute record in Jan 05.

Gravy: Cool that’s a great track, the lyrics are quite trippy, are you gonna explore the song in that style or do it at the original tempo?

Scott: We will do "Things start moving" in true Fu Manchu style. I have become friends with Tony, the singer for the Adolescents, and he really wanted us to do that song. He comes to our shows all the time. I am a HUGE Adolescents fan. They are still kicking ass!

Gravy: I understand you did a version of the Black Flag classic “Six Pack” for the “Something Beyond” ep; Is this still available?

Scott: Yes, the "Something beyond" CD is still available. I think we sold out of them on our website. It’s still around. Black Flag is my all-time favorite band ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Gravy: The cover choices are pretty eclectic (Blue Oyster Cult, Devo, SSD), does that reflect your influences or did you just feel they would work well in Fu Manchu style?

Scott: We tend to cover bands that we like. Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Devo, BOC, the Cars, Van Halen.

Gravy: Yeah I remember you guys were going to be on a Circle Jerks tribute a few years back. Did that ever come out?

Scott: We did record "When the shit hits the fan" by the Circle Jerks. The record never came out. I would like to re-do that song. We didn’t "fuck it up" enough. The Circle Jerks were the first band I ever saw live when I was a very young kid in 1981. They changed my life.

Gravy: If you could put together an 'ultimate' festival bill who would you put on?

Scott: Devo, Circle Jerks, Adolescents, Fu Manchu. Now if I can pick bands that are not around anymore. Actually that would be too hard.

Gravy: Yeah you can pick bands that are broken up.

Scott: Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Adolescents, Minor Threat, SSD, Negative Approach, LA's Wasted Youth (first line-up), YDI, Fear, CH3, Jerry’s Kids, Die Kreuzen. The list is endless!

Gravy: What influences you apart from music?

Scott: Movies, surfing, cars, books.

Gravy: The lyrics seem to have moved away from the space themes you used a lot on the earlier material, was that a conscious decision?

Scott: I kind of wrote all that I could regarding space, cars, vans, bikes, skateboarding, pinball.

Gravy: Are lyrics an important part of Fu Manchu. If so why don't you ever print lyric sheets?

Scott: Lyrics are important. I don’t like to include them because it’s more interesting to see what people think I’m singing.

Gravy: Fu Manchu has been undertaking a pretty extensive tour in support of Start the Machine; how is it going?

Scott: We did the first tour, 5 weeks. We go back out for another 5 weeks. We will be in
Europe, Australia, and Japan very soon.

Gravy: 'I have the best job in the world' high?

Scott: Just being able to turn my amp up and play!

Gravy: 'I want to go home' low?

Scott: Getting very sick on the road. That’s no fun.

Gravy: Any plans for a European leg of the tour?

Scott: Yes, Europe very soon. "Start the Machine" will be released in Europe very soon with some extras that are not on the USA version. We love touring in Europe!

Gravy: Future Plans?

Scott: Tour, tour, tour, more records.

Gravy: …and how can people get in touch?  

Scott: Check out www.fu-manchu.com

 Many thanks to Scott for taking the time to do this and to Fu Manchu for the Riffs.