By Daniel Kohn
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Talking with Scott Hill, founder of Orange County's own punk-rockers-gone-heavy Fu Manchu, seems a bit like chatting with someone who has just started out and is burning with energy. Considering the band have been around for 20 years, that energy will doubtless be on display at their Detroit Bar show next Thursday. At the same time, there's just that hint of experience in Hill's voice, reflecting on everything from outliving the "stoner rock" tag they were randomly stuck with to wrapping up nearly a year's worth of touring dates that focused on a full run-through of In Search Of . . ., their third record.
The tour began aptly enough with a performance at Detroit Bar a year ago. "Then we went over to Europe, toured through the States, up through Canada," he says. "We didn't know how people would react to a whole show with one record; we never even thought of playing a record straight through before."
When they hit Detroit Bar this time, however, Fu Manchu will play a lot of older stuff. With luck and persistence, the band were able to rerelease their earlier work themselves—resulting in a slew of perfectly timed vinyl releases focusing just as much on rarities and from-the-vault numbers as full albums. Their most recent effort in the series, The Covers, tackles the slew of remakes the band have done over time, including Black Flag's "Six Pack" and Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla."
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"All those songs were from 1996 up until now," Hill says. "We'd record a couple of cover songs every time we went in to do a record, but just now, we put them all on one disc. A lot of the time, they were hard to find, on limited releases, and people couldn't get ahold of them."
The band already had a number of singles and two full-lengths before In Search Of . . . was released, but, Hill says, that effort seems to have remained a touchstone from those early days. "When we recorded it, we wanted to get the really bottom-heavy, low-end sound going with over-the-top fuzzy guitars, but at the time, there wasn't a lot of that going on elsewhere. Bands such as Limp Bizkit and the Deftones were happening instead. In Search Of . . . got us out there, [and] people really saw us for the first time, so maybe that's the reason why."
And after two decades, seeing familiar faces at their shows and the sense of what thrills him still neatly balances out any grizzled-veteran tendencies at play. And, Hill notes, he has his own older inspirations to keep him going in turn.
"I grew up listening to hardcore and punk rock stuff—1980 to 1987—and a lot of those bands are playing again," he says. "The Adolescents are playing again; Channel 3—they still sound great. That gets me excited—to hear that stuff still sounding good. That's what got me into music in the first place. Even if it's just for a couple of shows, that's pretty cool!"
This article appeared in print as "Rock of the Ages: Twenty years of playing punk/metal has turned Fu Manchu grizzlier and wiser—but not less excited."