The Santa Monica, California, based rock band Fu Manchu draws inspiration from Ozzy Osborne, early punk rock before it had an official name, drag races, bongs, wild guitar riffs, and the 1970s counter-culture. Comfortable with the labels heavy rock and stoner rock, drummer Brant Bjork summed up the band’s philosophy for BAM magazine’s Dan Epstein by saying, “It either rocks or it doesn’t, man!” Entertainment Weekly’s Tom Sinclair described Fu Manchu as, “Invoking the legendary thunder of Blue Cheer as well as the clanging cowbell boogie of Mountain … (Fu Manchu) creates a near-perfect facsimile of circa-’71 hard rock.” The band is comprised of drummer Brant Bjork, guitarist Bob Balch, vocalist/guitarist Scott Hill, and bass player Brad Davis.
Fu Manchu released four 7-inch discs before a debut CD, No One Rides for Free, in 1994. in 1990, the band released the singles “Kept Behind the Trees,” “Bouillabaisse,” and “Jr. High School Ring” on Slap-A-Ham Records. Two years later they released “Senioritis,” “Pinbuster,” and “El Don” on Germany’s Zuma Records,
Members include Bob Balch , guitar; Brant Bjork , drums; Brad Davis , bass; Eddie Glass , guitar; Scott Hill vocals and guitar (left 1996); Ruben Romano , drums (left 1996).
Released “Kept Behind the Trees,” “Bouillabaisse,” and “Jr. High School Ring” in 1990. Released “Senioritis,” “Pinbuster,” and “El Don” in 1992 on Germany’s Zuma Records. Released 7-inch compilation including “Pick-Up Summer” and “Vankhana” and 7-inch compilation including “Don’t Bother Knockin” and “Space Sucker” in 1992 for Elastic. Released No One Rides for Free in 1994, Daredevil in 1995, and In Search Of,!… in 1996. Re-released the 7-inch compilation including “Asphalt Risin’” and “Chevy Van” in 1996. Released a 10-inch compilation including “Godzilla,” “Module Overload,” and “Living Legend” in 1996. Released The Action is Go in 1997.
Addresses: Record company —Mammoth Records, 500 S. Buena Vista, Burbank, CA 91521–3790. Website—http://www.mammoth.com.
as well as a 7-inch compilation including “Pick-Up Summer” and “Vankhana” for Elastic Records, and another 7-inch compilation including “Don’t Bother Knockin” and “Space Sucker,” also for Elastic. By 1994 the band was primed for No One Rides for Free, released on Bongload Custom Records. A year later, Fu Manchu released Daredevilon Bongload, followed by In Search Of … in 1996 on Mammoth. A 7-inch compilation including “Asphalt Risin’” and “Chevy Van” was also released in 1996, and in 1997 they released a 10-inch compilation which included “Godzilla,” “Module Overload,” and “Living Legend.”
Fu Manchu released The Action is Go in 1997, and BAM’s Epstein wrote, “Be advised that you also can’t go wrong with The Action is Go … [it] features 13 bowelblistering originals—as well as a cover of “Nothing Done” by Boston hardcore legends SSD—which filter the single-minded riffage of Black Sabbath and AC/DC through a thick Indica haze.” The Action is Go was produced by White Zombie’s J. Yuenger, and it differed from the band’s other releases in that it was more focused, with a heavier rock sound and more unabashed experimentation. Guitarist Scott Hill told Epstein, “J. helped us arrange stuff better…. He knew the sound we wanted—the big, fuzzy, heavy thing.” The band chose the title U from an old motorcycle film called On Any Sunday. Hill watched the movie repeatedly during the 1970s when he was young, since he used to ride motocross, and the title typifies the offbeat, irreverent wit of the band’s members. The release’s single “Evil Eye” was inspired by Hill’s experience at a figure eight demolition derby, where a brakeless driver had an evil eye painted on his car. Davis told Epstein, “It’s our first album where I’m happy with all the songs on it. When I listen to it at home, I don’t skip over any of the tracks.”
Original band members guitarist Eddie Glass and drummer Ruben Romano were replaced withdrummer Bjork of Kyuss and guitarist Balch before the release of The Action is Go in 1997. Glass and Romano wanted to give Fu Manchu more of a 1960s-era sound and Hill and Davis favored the heavy rock sound of the 1970s. Bjork and Balch were more in keeping with the vision Hill and Davis shared, and Bjork was a longstanding fan of Fu Manchu, harking back to when he was with Palm Desert’s Kyuss. Bjork joined Fu Manchu during the middle of their 1996 tour with Clutch. Balch joined the band a few months after Bjork and, like Hill and Davis, he was from the El Toro/Mission Viejo area. Hill writes all the lyrics, but the band’s songs develop organically from jam sessions. Hill told Epstein, “Someone will bring a riff to practice, and we’ll work on it from there. Once it’s pretty much arranged, I’ll take it back and do the lyrics. I don’t see how people can write lyrics first and then make the song around it.” Hill favors a stream-of-consciousness approach to lyrics, which results in an impressionistic account of unusual things like Bigfoot sightings, demolition derbies, skateboarding, surfing, and kitschy television programs.
Fu Manchu members view their material and popularity as particular enough to appeal to a limited but appreciative audience, much like Ozzy Osborne’s fan base. The band toured successfully with Osborne in 1997. Artists such as Black Crowes, Wool, Kyuss, Monster Magnet, Masters of Reality, White Zombie, The Melvins, and The Obsessed have either shared the stage with Fu Manchu or have gone to their shows regularly in search of a good time. Band members aren’t on a quest for fame so much as a quest for fun, kinship, and the opportunity to create their unique, “heavy as an anvil” rock. They have never failed to see the humor often found in popular culture. When discussing the single “Grendel, Snowman” with BAM’s Epstein, lyricist Hill said, “Usually the first line of a song makes sense to me; after that, it’s like, there it goes.” Many of Hill’s lyrics have been inspired by his favorite films, as exemplified by “Over The Edge,” “Viva Knievel!,” and “The Van.” The Van, a 1970s teen film featuring Danny DeVito, inspired most of the lyrics for Fu Manchu’s songs.
The Fu Manchu single “Redline” was included on the soundtrack of Roger Corman’s B-movie Caged Heat 3000, and the Fu Manchu singles “Push Button Magic” and “Trapeze Freak” were featured in the film Citizen Ruth starring Laura Dern. Fu Manchu’s music also appears in the surf video Players. Channel One Skateboards in Huntington Beach, California, designed special edition Fu Manchu skateboard decks and other skateboard stores followed suit. The band’s memorable and kitschy devil-over-two-demolition-cars logo inspired devil horn salutations from enthusiastic crowd members when the band performed live, and the band also has favored vintage car and van logos. Entertainment Weekly’s Sinclair wrote, “Lyrically, Fu Manchu’s songs [about strolling astronomers, burning roads, abominable snowmen] mean next to nothing, but the music’s sheer goon density should strike a chord in the hearts of… America.” Fu Manchu has been savoring a good time, and the band’s listeners have been going along for the joyride… in a van, of course.
“Kept Between Trees,” Slap-A-Ham Records, 1990.
“Bouillabaisse,” Slap-A-Ham Records, 1990.
“Jr. High School Ring,” Slap-A-Ham Records, 1990.
“Senioritis,” Zuma Records, Germany, 1992.
“Pinbuster,” Zuma Records, Germany, 1992.
“El Don,” Zuma Records, Germany, 1992.
“Pick-Up Summer,” Elastic Records, 1992.
“Vankhana,” Elastic Records, 1992.
“Don’t Bother Knockin,” Elastic Records, 1992.
“Space Sucker,” Elastic Records, 1992.
“Asphalt Risin’,” Mammoth Records, 1996.
“Chevy Van,” Mammoth Records, 1996.
“Ojo Rojo,” Mammoth Records U.K., 1996.
“Missing Link,” Mammoth Records U.K., 1996.
“Godzilla,” Man’s Ruin Records, 1997.
“Module Overload,” Man’s Ruin Records, 1997.
“Living Legend,” Man’s Ruin Records, 1997.
No One Rides For Free, Bongload Custom Records, 1994.
Daredevil, Bongload Records, 1995.
The Action Is Go, Mammoth Records, 1997.
BAM Magazine, November 6, 1997.
Entertainment Weekly, November 7, 1997.
Rocket, November 1997.
AMG (All-Music Guide), http://188.8.131.52/cg/amg.exe
—B. Kimberly Taylor