Fu Manchu

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fu manchu

King of the Road contains 11 warm ‘n’ fuzzy slabs of tuneage — “warm” as in the extreme kind of desert heat that inspires hallucinations, and “fuzzy” as in the type of pedal-driven fuzz and feral tones that emanate from Scott Hill’s guitar. King of the Road, the anticipated follow-up to Fu Manchu’s 1997 The Action is Go, finds a finely tuned Fu with newest members Bob Balch (1997) and Brant Bjork (1996) an integral part of the groovy four-headed fury that is Fu Manchu. Co-produced by the band and Joe Barresi (Queens of the Stone Age) at Chris Goss’ Monkey Studios in Palm Desert, California, King of the Road furthers the Fu Manchu mystique, described by Tower Pulse as the quartet’s ability to “frazzle synapses and remind us why we started listening to rock ‘n’ roll in the fist place.” Other accolades followed The Action Is Go. The disc, produced by White Zombie guitarist J. Yuenger, scored an “A-” in Entertainment Weekly, while the Los Angeles Times praised the SoCal lineup’s “astute sense of dynamics.” Another pundit nailed the disc’s appeal accurately: “all it wants to do it groove, warp minds and kick ass, which it does with aplomb. It’s primal, exhilarating and full of power.”

And King of the Road finds Fu Manchu honing the singular sound and vibe they’ve been creating since the 1990 release of their “Kept Between Trees” single. With songs about “cars, motorcycles, vans, choppers” on King of the Road, it’s easy to see where Hill’s lyrical interests lie. (Perhaps his gig as a car repo man has something do with it?) While their tune “King of the Road” is not a cover of the old gem, Fu Manchu ARE revered for their past rendition of “Chevy Van,” Fu-ized from a light pop tune into an awesome grind. On King of the Road, Fu Manchu have customized a stellar rendition of Devo’s “Freedom of Choice” to close their CD. “This new record is our favorite album. I mean, you say that about every new record, but this time is different,” Hill acknowledges. “We like these songs a lot better than anything we’ve done.” Those songs include gems such as “No Dice,” inspired by the Jeff Spiccoli character from Fast Times At Ridgemont High.. The chorus: “No shirt, no shoes, no dice.” The stellar title track was written in the studio, as was the raging “Over the Edge,” unlike most Fu Manchu compositions. “I started playing this riff,” Hill recalls of “King of the Road,” “and everyone jumped on their equipment and started playing. We ran through it once, and it sounded good, Brant did some arranging, Joe pressed ‘record,’ and that was it.”

Fu Manchu knew what they wanted when it came to recording, and that was a cross between the cleaner sounds of The Action Is Go and their 1998 EP release of the raw-sounding Eatin’ Dust [on the Man’s Ruin label.]” “We figured we’ve done enough records where we know what we should sound like,” chuckles Hill. “The studio where we did King of the Road was in a five-bedroom house, right up against the mountain in Palm Desert, with a swimming pool. In our spare time, I got into watching a lot of old ’60s and ’70s biker movies… The song ‘Grasschopper’ is about that. It was a real easygoing experience, a lot cooler than recording somewhere in L.A., where it was smoggy and all.” Easygoing is a word often associated with Fu Manchu in attitude and personality, that is while their music packs a punch worthy of Ali.

“I may be going out on a limb here,” jokes drummer Brant Bjork, “but the point of the band is to lay back and have a good time. It’s not rocket science. I couldn’t ask for a better band to be in as far as a ‘brotherhood.’ Artistically, this was a real comfortable record to make,” he furthers. “The music was there. We’d been anxious to get these songs down. And we didn’t go in to make a ‘car album,’ but when we were working last year on “Hell on Wheels,” the first song written for this record, it just set the standard. It’s a pretty in-your-face record,” he understates of the fuzzy and ferocious attack that makes it impossible not to sway hypnotically to the grungy grooves. “It’s definitely roadworthy.”

Likewise is the band, who have been to many continents purveying their big Fu sound. Supporting The Action Is Go, the band toured Europe, Canada, the States and Australia with the likes of Corrosion of Conformity and the Hellacopters, while their first gig after finishing King of the Road was with Marilyn Manson and Monster Magnet in Sweden. They hope to return to Aussie-land again on this record: “The touring takes place on the coast, on the beach, so that’s right up my alley,” laughs Hill, “and the shows were really good. A lot of places were sold out, and some clubs we played two nights in a row. We had no idea we were so popular, and we did TV, radio and a lot of press there.” Plus, adds Bjork, they got to visit the graffitied grave of an idol, AC/DC singer Bon Scott.

Fu Manchu’s popularity overseas is indeed exalted, and American taste seems to be leaning toward the heavy music Fu Manchu have purveyed over the better part of a decade, if the Stateside success of the Black Sabbath reunion and bands like Monster Magnet are any indication. “The States can be very cliquey,” Bjork observes. “If you get on stage and you don’t have the right shoes on, you’re in trouble. But if you walk into a country where the culture and language is different, all you have is your music and the music either rocks or it doesn’t. They judge you by what’s most important, which is the music.” Fu Manchu aren’t in the least bit concerned with airplay or perception: they just wanna rock. “We’re in it for the long haul,” concludes Bjork. “We just want to make as many records as we can and go out and play a lot of shows.”

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