Fu Manchu are as California-cool as they come. In fact, at one point, the quartet even considered naming its new record, King of the Road, California after the Golden State that begat the band. Apart from purveying some of the fuzziest guitar sounds and heaviest rhythms around, the So-Cal foursome also digs muscle cars, surfing, skateboards, rock n' roll and all things 70s and kitschy-hip -- like the photo of the van rally that graces the cover of its new LP. And while Fu Manchu isnt a retro band per se, it's members freely incorporate a wide swath of interests and influences (from Black Sabbath to Black Flag) into the bands musical mien. In short, King of the Road is the kind of disc that demands to be heard through headphones, in a bedroom decorated with blacklite posters, a bong, and a beanbag chair. Guitar.com caught up with Fu singer/guitarist Scott Hill and guitarist Bob Balch (the band is rounded out by bassist Brad Davis and drummer Brant Bjork) to shoot the breeze about everything from Goth to Devo to, of course, the fuzz tones that have made them famous.
Guitar.com: Scott, you were a reluctant frontman; initially you were the guitar player, but you seem more relaxed as a singer now.
Scott Hill: Well, I'm more comfortable with this lineup. Brant [Bjork] and [guitarist] Bob [Balch] have been in the band since about 97. I'm still not a big fan of singing; I'd rather just play guitar, but I'm fine with it now. And I think its probably too late at this point [to get a new singer]! We've done about five albums and 20 singles. Our first single, in 1990, had a singer, and I was very happy just playing guitar. Then he quit, and I was like, Oh, no. We looked for singers, and no one worked out, so everyone went, Okay, youre singing.
Guitar.com: When Bob joined Fu Manchu, he was a teenager. How naive was he about the business and music?
Hill: He's probably the best guitar player in the band. He blows me away. He can play jazz, Hendrix, anything. He's one of those guys: "Hey, Bob, can you do this?" and he'll do it. Plus, he's just as goofy as the rest of us. I think he's 23 now and I'm 30, so I got a few years on him. He'd never toured before, and this is pretty much his first band. He worked with Brad at a music store, and we got back from a tour in '96 and had to kick out our own guitar player, and he was like, "What about me?" He came to practice and it worked out perfectly.
Guitar.com: So now you're on Mammoth and have a new manager. Is this the new polished and professional Fu Manchu?
Hill: Yeah, we have Rick Sales who handles Slayer, so if he can handle them, he's got to be pretty bad-ass. But no, we're still pretty much unprofessional. We're more into trying different stuff, and everyone is all around happier. And in terms of touring with different bands, and doing stuff we wouldn't normally have done in the past, we said, "Yeah, we'll tour with bands we don't sound like. We did a few shows with Type O Negative." They're cool guys, but the bands are pretty much polar opposites.
Bob Balch: The [Type O Negative crowd] have some issues! The Gothic crowd, of course they're not going to be into Fu Manchu. For us, afterwards, we'd be like, "Hey, did you see that Goth chick flippin you off?" It was a comedy thing. We tried to talk to [Type O singer] Pete Steele. He was massive. Anything he said was just classic. We'd try to get him to say stuff. He has to have a good sense of humor, cause he says stuff in interviews like, "I'm just gathering up the courage to kill myself."
Guitar.com: You do cool covers, including, on this record, Devos Freedom of Choice. Have you heard from any of the bands you've covered?
Hill: Supposedly Blue Oyster Cult heard our version of Godzilla and they liked it. We haven't heard from Devo, and I'm kinda scared about that one, because we really tweaked it. I did an interview with a guy from Japan, and he didn't even know it was a Devo song!
Guitar.com: In the past, you've said lyrics arent especially important.
Hill: Well, they're important, but they don't mean anything important. There's no religious or political or social [point]. I was never a fan of Dylan-type lyrics. I just liked the ZZ Top good time stuff. A lot of ours are about old muscle cars, skateboarding and science fiction, stuff we grew up being into. And we're still into the same stuff today. You know, I had an awesome childhood, I'm having a good time now. I've been going out with the same girl for two years. There's nothing to complain about!