Fuzz-pedal ripoff leads Fu Manchu to stack guitar tones on California Crossing



By Steve Newton

On their latest CD, California Crossing, SoCal guitar-rockers Fu Manchu took a slightly different musical approach than they had before, toning down the fuzz to produce a cleaner, sharper guitar sound. Part of the change had to do with the band’s willingness to evolve, the other part with the fact that some jerk absconded with one of guitarist-vocalist Scott Hill’s effects pedals.

“We were playin’ in Boston and Scott’s fuzz pedal got ripped off,” explains lead guitarist Bob Balch from his home in San Diego. “But we had been messin’ around with a different sound for a while, anyway. I mean, the guitars are still really big on this album—it’s still a guitar album and everything—but it’s just easier to stack guitar tones without the fuzz. It doesn’t get all muddy and stuff.”

The band—which plays Richard’s on Richards on Sunday (July 7) with guests Speadealer and Brand New Sin—was aided in its attempts to cut through the mud by famed producer Matt Hyde. Balch and his mates were familiar with Hyde through his work with Porno for Pyros, Monster Magnet, and Slayer. “We were talkin’ to a bunch [of potential producers],” he says, “and he was the one who was pretty much into the same stuff as us. Around that time we were all listenin’ to the Cars and Cheap Trick a lot, so we were workin’ on just puttin’ more hooks in the songs. It was like the natural thing to do at the time.”

There aren’t a lot of guest appearances on California Crossing; it’s pretty well a DIY affair for Balch, Hill, bassist Brad Davis, and drummer Brant Bjork (who has since been replaced by former Smile drummer Scott Reeder). But the quartet did talk former Black Flag and Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris into performing on one tune. “He comes to our shows whenever we play in L.A.,” says Balch, “and the last time we saw him we were like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna be in the studio soon; you should come in and do whatever you want.’ Then when we were already done trackin’ the album, and we were mixin’ it, he just walks in. He’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m ready!’ and we’re like, ‘Aw, shit…alright.’ So we kind of pulled up [the instrumental tracks for] ‘Bultaco’ and had him sing on it.”

Over the past several years Fu Manchu has aligned itself with the skateboarding nation, as can be heard in tunes such as “Guardrail”, “Hell on Wheels”, and “Asphalt Rising”. A photo of ’70s ’boarding guru Tony Alva catching air graced the cover of the group’s 1997 The Action Is Go CD. And the band even played at a Sundance Film Festival party to celebrate the premiere of the ace skateboarding documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys. But at the ripe old age of 24, Balch has pretty well hung up his wheels for good.

“Can’t really afford to [skateboard] anymore,” he relates. “Like if you break your arm when you’re at home, you can’t really go on tour and make money. Me and Scott kinda just stick to surfing now, ’cause if you fall down you don’t really break anything.”

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