Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Fleshtones: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

The Fleshtones have been making amazing music for more than thirty years, starting off amid the CBGB's scene of the mid 70s in New York City (with the Talking Heads, Blondie, Patti Smith, The Ramones, Richard Hell and The Voidoids, Television, etc.), starting as a garage band with a lot of soul and ultimately merging into a sound they call Super Rock, which they describe as “a greasy ball of sonic and cultural influences ranging in feel from R&B, disco, and Lost In Space to garage, frat rock, and Mexican horror flicks.”

The current band members include Ken Fox on bass and vocals, Bill Milhizer on drums and vocals, Keith Streng on guitar and vocals, and Peter Zaremba on lead vocals, harmonica, and organ. The Fleshtones were also recently immortalized in print with the release of Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band (Continuum Books, 2007) by Joe Bonomo. The book is a fascinating read about The Fleshtones, taking you from their origins in Whitestone, New York in the 1970s through a variety of members who have played in the band, countless tours and albums, and up to the present. So, if you want the full story, do yourself a favor and read this book.

I saw The Fleshtones dozens of times while growing up in New York and every show was a blast. Suffice to say, The Fleshtones should have been huge (and still should), but they’ve had their share of bad breaks and ill timing (i.e., not playing whatever’s in vogue at the moment…they play timeless rock and roll instead with great songs to boot!). Fleshtones fans are rabid though, and that should tell you something about their power to connect once you do get turned on to their music and live shows. As their press release says, “They survived punk rock, new wave, no wave, neo garage, post-punk, grunge, and more neo garage, never succumbing to temporary trendiness, scornful laughter, or non-alcoholic beer.”

Vindicated! A Tribute to The Fleshtones was released in the fall of 2007 on vinyl by Larsen Records (France) and on CD by Dirty Water Records (U.K.). The album features 22 international bands (including Hoodoo Gurus, the Nomads & Handsome Dick Manitoba, the Slickee Boys, the Woggles, the Swingin' Neckbreakers, Richard Mazda, and others) covering songs spanning the Fleshtones' career.

The band has more than twenty albums to their name, and every one is a keeper. Some of my favorites include Roman Gods (1982, IRS Records), Hexbreaker (1983, IRS Records), Beautiful Light (1994, Naked Language/Ichiban Records), Laboratory of Sound (1995, Ichiban Records) to the more recent Do You Swing? and Beachhead (2003 and 2006 respectively, both on YepRoc Records). For a full discography, visit their Wikipedia page.

Their new album, Take a Good Look!, was released in late January 2008 and is also on YepRoc Records. Recorded with Jim Diamond (White Stripes, The Mooney Suzuki) at Ghetto Recorder in Detroit and in the New York City’s Lower East Side at Ivan Julian’s (guitarist/bassist in Richard Hell and The Voidoids, Isley Brothers, Matthew Sweet, Shriekback) N.Y. Hed studio.

Zaremba explains the new album’s title: “’Take a good look!’ was one of Gordon Spaeth’s favorite tag lines whenever the Fleshtones were attracting unwanted (but usually warranted) attention, which was often!” Spaeth played sax in the band for years, but passed away in 2005. Per the band, "his mock-serious, cocksure attitude is alive and well in the 21st century, as The Fleshtones offer a dozen all-original tunes testifying to pride, perseverance, and sweaty good times."

The band is out on tour, with stops in March in New Haven, Boston, Providence, Baton Rouge, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, and New Orleans and in May in France, Germany, Italy, and Holland. Check out some live songs and videos of the band including Soul City, American Beat, American Beat video (from the movie Bachelor Party), Shadowline, Teenage Zombie, Right Side of a Good Thing, Hexbreaker + The Theme from the Vindicators, Jump, Jive, and Harmonize, Let's Go, Take a Walk with The Fleshtones, Accelerated Emotion, Beautiful Light, Hitsburg USA, Hard Lovin' Man, Push Up Man, The Theme From The Vindicators, Let's Get Serious, Double Dip, and a behind the scenes on the new CD, Take a Good Look.

The band also released a live DVD of a Paris performance Brooklyn à Paris! Live at La Maroquinerie DVD (Big Enough) in 2006.

I recently met with Zaremba in Brooklyn, New York to discuss:
* what it is that keeps the band going strong, 30+ years in
* how their new CD, Take a Good Luck!, was recorded and what sets it apart from many of their past albums
* how the band has responded to the various garage band revivals over the years

Photo by Anne Streng

Peter recommends The 45s, The Cynics, The Sons of Hercules, The Ugly Beats, The Maggots, The Nomads, and The Hoodoo Gurus.

Well-Rounded Radio recommends Karmafan, Tourfilter, and audio and video podcasts and webcasts from The Future of Music Coalition.

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