In the past three decades, there have been few bands to sell the Sunshine State quite as well as Fu Manchu. The epitome of fuzzed-up, riffed-out cool, they’re practically a genre unto themselves and even now, they are still pushing their sound ever further. Case in point, Clone Of The Universe – 40 minutes of groove and grit that is ramped up further by “Il Mostro Atomico”, a behemoth effort made all the heavier by its inclusion of Rush’s Alex Lifeson. We grabbed a quick chat with founder and guitarist Scott Hill to discuss cars, pedals and riffs, you know, the important things in life.
Clone of the Universe is such a strong album and it feels like one of the heaviest things you’ve done in recent times. What direction had you been wanting to take this and did it come out as planned?
Well, we always do pretty much straightforward fuzzy rock stuff and we’d been coming up with maybe 10, 15 songs for the new record. We whittled that down to about 10 that we really liked and then, when we kept coming up with riffs, instead of making more songs out of those we just thought, “Why don’t we take those and make one long song out of it?” We wanted to keep the record kind of heavy with a few mellow parts, some slower stuff, and we’re pretty happy with how it all came out. I think it’s one of the heavier things we’ve done for sure.
How did you find that process of making “Il Mostro Atomico” then? Is it the first time you’ve constructed a song in that way?
For sure, for sure… we kept coming up with riffs and riffs and riffs. We had that long, slow intro riff to the song and then I thought, “Why don’t we take all the best parts of what we’ve been coming up with, see if they’ll fit together and just make that side two of the record?” We’d recorded all the new riffs we had and figured where they should go, what we did and didn’t like, and after a few weeks we got the final arrangement. Yeah, it was the first time we’d ever done anything like that.
How did Alex Lifeson come to be involved?
Our manager is friends with his manager and they were talking one day. He asked him what Alex was up to, and it was just messing around in the studio and playing guitar. He was asked what Fu Manchu was up to and he said that we were getting ready to record the new record. They got talking more and he eventually asked if Alex would want to do anything on the new Fu Manchu record, and they got back to us and said, “Yeah, just send us over the song.” We thought our manager was kidding! Like, no way was he going to do it but yeah, oh my god! So we got this 18-minute song and sent it to him. He listened to it and got back to us and said, “Yeah, I’m into it. Let me know what you want me to do.” Oh my god, he’s asking us what we want him to do! We just said to play “whatever you want, for however long you want”. We sent him the final recording, he laid some guitar stuff all over it and said to use whatever we wanted. We took this one spot where the whole band drops out and it’s just him tearing the rhythm with this riff that he made, doing this sci-fi type feedback stuff, and I still can’t believe he did it. I’m still blown away that he agreed to it!
Is there anyone else that you’d have in your dream guest spot?
There’s probably millions. If you were to ask me that before Alex Lifeson, I would never even have said him as I didn’t think he would do it, so I have no idea.
The first thing to grab me with the record is that artwork. It’s so out there and I dig it on every possible level. Who did you work with on that?
We had a friend that did our last record, Gigantoid, and he always does this cool, layered stuff, so we went back to him, gave him the title of the new record and asked him if he had anything that he thought would maybe fit. I gave him a few lyrics and song ideas and he said, “Here, check this out” and let us see the cover art, which was pretty much exactly how it is. We thought it was perfect. We’re big sci-fi fans and it fit the name of the record, and its theme, so it was pretty easy. He showed us it – “That’s perfect! That’s it!”
Where did that album title come from?
I don’t remember. I wanted to do something with the word ‘universe’ in it. I think I tried a bunch of stuff, like ‘Dual Universe’ and then Clone Of The Universe came to me and that was it.
Is there any of the new material that you’re really looking forward to taking out on the road?
All of them. With this record, we told ourselves to pick songs that we would want to play every night at any given point of the set. With most records, there’ll be one or two that don’t really work but this one, we had two record release shows locally. We did the long song and everyone loved it, they kept yelling for it. We did that one, “Clone Of The Universe”, “I’ve Been Hexed” and “Nowhere Left To Hide” so all were really fun to play live. Any of them will be great.
You’re getting lots of praise for the guitar tone on this record, as always. What is, for you, the key to getting a perfect guitar tone?
My guitar tone, I’ve had forever. I like a little noisy fuzz; I plug straight into a Super Fuzz pedal and a Marshall 800 head and there’s no distortion on the head, it’s just real dead-sounding, dumb, and you just kick the distortion on it. I just like over-the-top fuzzy stuff, both me and Bob. I’ve had that same tone forever and I don’t really want to switch it.
I was wondering about your gear choices. Do you switch anything up these days?
Bob sometimes changes up fuzz pedals but it’s all pretty close to the one sound he likes. I’ve been using this since 2002 and before that I had a Crown fuzz pedal that I used forever, on all the early Fu Manchu records, and then someone in the crowd, as we walked offstage, stole it. Just grabbed it off stage and ran. Those are hard pedals to find so I got a Super Fuzz and now I’m using that since.
You’re self-releasing now with At The Dojo. How is the process working for you?
Totally. It’s fun coming up with everything, doing it yourself from the start until you get the final LP or CD in your hands. All of us chip in, look at everything, be it artwork, pictures or reviews, mastering, we have a distributor in Europe through cargo UK, in the States we have Cobraside… we like doing it all ourselves, and it’s worthwhile to do that from start to finish. The only problem is coming up with the money for everything, but you play some shows, save all the money and then put it towards that.
Was there anything that prompted you to head in this direction in the first place?
We’d been on labels since around 1990 and then after the last time, with Century Media where we had a two-record deal, we thought, “Let’s just try it ourselves.” We just wanted to give it a shot. It was a little easier than we thought. We thought it would be tough but like I said, the real problem was getting all the money for the recording, mastering, getting them pressed and artwork is the hardest part, but you play shows, you sell merchandise and put all that money towards it.
You’ve had a few big anniversaries in the past few years, like the 20th anniversaries of The Action Is Go and In Search Of… Are you planning anything for Eating Dust’s 20th next year?
No, I think that those four records that we reissued were really limited pressings back in the day and the record label that they were on let us reissue them on vinyl so we did that. I think we’ll do something in 2020 as that’ll be our 30-year anniversary so there should be something cool for that.
I really don’t! There’s a lot of old, unreleased stuff from every record so maybe do something with that, or rerelease all the records exactly how they were originally. Everything we’ve done, we’ve added new pictures or an extra song or two, so maybe just do the originals and put them as a box set.
I’ve always associated you guys with cars, or all-American muscle cars in particular. What was your first car and what is your dream one?
My first car was actually a van. It was my parents’ car and they let me have that, which was good. My dream car I actually have, and that’s a ’68 El Camino which is on the cover of our California Crossing record. That’s something I wanted ever since I was a kid.
Do you still skate much?
No, not at all! I have a fear of falling and breaking an arm or a leg and then there is no touring, so I just surf. Water is a little softer than concrete.