Music News

Fu Manchu: Back on tour and headed for Mesa

Source of pride for living in Mesa, AZ: Google "woman offers sex for gas," and your hometown comes up on the first nine hits.

Source of shame for living in Mesa, AZ: Read those nine stories and see the unappetizing mug shot that sadly illustrates how it was the woman who should have been paying with petrol and that the whole "sex for gas" angle might have been dreamed up by the arresting deputies, who, perhaps, thought a crazy woman stabbing people with scissors wasn't a good enough story.

On the basis of such unsavory Arizonan behavior, a touring band would be well within its rights to skip this market altogether. Thousands do. Not L.A. stoner punk/metalists Fu Manchu. You'd be hard pressed to find anything sedentary about a band whose songs populate Tony Hawk compilations, and whose nearly two-decade career has produced a catalog of high-octane garage rock that cannot be contained by any garage you or I have ever seen. If ever a band embodied the true spirit of the open road, hair floating aloft on a breeze of relentless fuzz and buzz, it's these Manchurians.

Fu Manchu's last album, We Must Obey, was its toughest throwdown yet, upping the "F.U." prefix of its name considerably with such no-guff anthems as "Shake It Loose" and "Hung Out to Dry." They played Tempe almost exactly a year ago in support of it. And yet the band is breaking the accepted cycle by touring with no new product whatsoever to promote.

"So why are we touring? Isn't that what bands are supposed to do?" says drummer Scott Reeder, whose demeanor has the calm reassurance of a pilot at cruising altitude telling us when we can expect to land — some new Fu Manchu music, that is.

"We went to Europe twice, this is our second run of the States, and it'll be a year and about 150 shows a year or so on this record's touring cycle. So we're gonna finish up, take a little time off, and then start writing and have a nothing record out by this time next year and start the whole thing over again."

Perhaps the timing is apropos, after all, if just to capitalize on the newfound notoriety the band enjoyed when its 2002 song "Mongoose" was heard during this year's Super Bowl in a Toyota Sequoia ad that featured a bunch of kids burning plastic on Big Wheels.

"We found out about it watching the game," Reeder says. "We knew Toyota were gonna use it for a commercial, but we didn't know when or what. We didn't know they were gonna play it for the Super Bowl."

It must be weird for a band that has traded so heavily on car and truck imagery and fuel injection verbiage to now find itself hitting the road at a time when gas is hitting $4 a gallon.

"It's a very expensive road," Reeder says with a laugh. "Luckily, we're in a position where we've been doing this for a while and we can actually afford to do this, as much as you can actually afford to spend $300 a day on gas. But it doesn't bode well for bands in the future. I don't know how a baby band starting out is gonna tour and be able sustain whatever they're gonna do. If they're lucky, they get 200 bucks a night. It doesn't take any of the fun out of touring, but it does make you go, 'Wow, do they really need our money that bad?'"

Reeder hasn't noticed a recession, or "slowdown," as Bush likes to call it, as far as the audience is concerned. "I think people still appreciate the fact that we still come. At least that's what everyone says — 'Thank you for coming and playing our town.' People are showing up on a Tuesday or Wednesday night and it's a year later from where we played the last time, and we probably won't get back to these cities until next year. If you're there once a year, it's a little more special than if you're there every three, six months."

When it's suggested that by staying independent, Fu Manchu is in a much better position than some of its contemporaries who inked deals with majors a few years back and now are furiously trying to extricate themselves from a non-committal partner, Reeder balks.

"I don't think the band has ever thought of it in those [indie] terms. There's never been any real effort to stay indie or deny mainstream. Trust me, we're well past the point of caring about selling out. Gas is very expensive. We need to be able to sustain a career and be able to afford to do this, and whatever way makes that possible, that's where we're at. As far as remaining indie, I don't really know what that is," he says. "We'll always need a label to put out actual product that people can put in their hands and something they can download as well."

In 1994, long before Reeder joined, a major label gave the band money to cut some demos in the post-Nirvana grunge rush to sign bands that could be in the neighborhood of scummy. The Manchurian candidates wound up recording a whole album, which turned out to be No One Rides for Free.

"I think it was for CBS, and they just decided they didn't want it. They just weren't interested in the final result. So then it was just finding someone to put it out and that was very easily done," Reeder says. "Who knows what their motivation was? Their loss. In the end, it kind of worked out for the better."

Fu Manchu has been able to call its own tune ever since, whether it's recording a whole album inspired by vans (the epochal King of the Road), releasing split singles with whomever they wanted, or keeping the vinyl manufacturers busier than they might otherwise have been.

"People still buy vinyl; there's obviously still a market for that out there," Reeder says, noting the band's sonic as well as aesthetic preference.

"Our records are short enough that when you master it to vinyl, it sounds better. We don't make hour-and-a-half-long albums because either we don't have that much to say or, I think, we're all fans of something that's to the point. And anything that's longer than 45 minutes is a waste of people's time. I'd rather have people actually wanting more music than going, 'Damn, they should've saved those three songs and not put them on there.'"

But rest assured that whatever Fu Manchu does, it's going to be something that pleases them first and you heathens second. "You should be in a band that plays things you want to play," Reeder reasons. "And if people like it, then consider yourself lucky. I'm sure we do. We get to go around the world and have people like it in different places. But we don't sit around and go, 'We can't do that because people won't think it's heavy enough.' We try and do stuff we like and we listen to first. And in that way, we may be into a lot of things we like that our audience is into and there's a lot of stuff we don't like that our audience is into — that's what makes you your own band, instead of a Nickelback cover band."

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic