Although hardcore punk bands such as TSOL, Adolescents, Social Distortion and the Vandals put Orange County on the map, musically, in the 1980s, one group from that scene that’s often overlooked is Fu Manchu.
According to guitarist Scott Hill, when the San Clemente-based band formed in 1985, their sound was initially punk. “We were called Virulence, and we just played as fast as we could,” he says. “[When] we got good enough to play fast at the level we wanted, we started slowing things down a little and getting a little heavier and listening to bands like Black Flag and Blast.”
Three years in, Virulence ceased playing, but then Fu Manchu rose from its ashes in 1990. Featuring everyone but Virulence’s singer, the new outfit played heavier, chunkier riffs that were most reminiscent of Black Sabbath, Sleep and some so-called Southern California desert-rock bands. The stoner-rock label applies to Fu Manchu’s overall sound and image, but, Hill says, such comparisons and compartmentalizing don’t matter to band members. “None of us care what any of those terms or labels mean. . . . I remember I first heard the term ‘stoner rock’ in 1994, and it was in some interview, and I didn’t really know what it was, and I just thought, ‘All right, whatever.’ Now, everyone just does their thing.”
Fu Manchu steadily gained popularity over time, releasing music and touring throughout the world. “We have a really big following in Europe,” Hill says. “We first went in 1996 and played a lot of raging shows. People knew the music—it was great. We did well, so every year, we would go [again].
“Actually, we just played a music fest in Greece earlier this year for, like, 10,000 people, and in France, there were, like, 15,000 or 20,000 for this other festival. I’m always amazed, but I think in Europe, they just want to hear anything with a guitar. . . . We have lots of shows already under our belts, and last tour, many were sold out. Anywhere we can play and crank it up loud is cool. We’re happy to do it.”
In true DIY spirit, the band release their own music, and Hill says they are selling more vinyl records. “We do okay with digital, and it’s cool for people who don’t or can’t play vinyl records, but now, we sell more vinyl than anything,” he says. “We sell out of almost every pressing we do, and we sell a lot online and at our shows.”
With a career spanning three decades, Fu Manchu have opened for many bands in the punk and metal genres. “Crazy as it sounds, Limp Bizkit opened for us,” Hill says. “It was in 1996, and the Deftones asked us to go out with them. I never heard of any of those bands and figured, ‘What the hell?’ I didn’t know anything about rap rock or whatever, and I’m still confused over that style of music, but they were the nicest dudes in the world; they were all so cool. They were very friendly, nice dudes to hang out with on tour.”
Still going strong, Fu Manchu have several local shows in the works, including at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles on Aug. 31 and at La Santa in Santa Ana on Oct. 4. But first, they’ll play Psycho Las Vegas this weekend with dozens of metal, rock and punk bands, including Opeth, Corrosion of Conformity, Bad Religion, Glassjaw, the Original Misfits, Clutch, 1349, High On Fire and Goatwhore. “We are playing right before Bad Religion,” says Hills, “and it’s odd but also awesome because I’m a big fan of their first three releases.” Hill adds that the band are beyond excited to be a part of the event. “We will hang out and watch any bands when we can, if we have the time,” he says.
Fu Manchu are also looking forward to celebrating their 30th anniversary with some surprises for their fans. “Lots of special things will happen,” Hill says. “We may do some shows where we play full albums. We may release our entire catalog on vinyl and digital—you just have to wait and see.”
Fu Manchu play at Psycho Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay Events Center, 3950 S. Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas; vivapsycho.com . Fri., 8:40 p.m. Festival runs Thurs.-Sun., Aug. 15-18. $109-$249.