Saturday, February 5, 2022

THE FLESHTONES Interview (1978)

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 1980/2022
Images from the Internet unless indicted

(photo by Robert Barry Francos)

The Fleshtones Interview (1978)

In October 1977, I was invited me to a Halloween party at Keith Streng’s house, in the heart of the borough of Queens. Keith was and is a member of a raucous band, the Fleshtones. I had not seen them as of then, but had heard many people speak of them favorably. Yeah, sure, why not?

When I finally did get a chance to see the Fleshtones perform the night I interviewed them, I was duly impressed by how compelling their sound was. With a strong mixture of sixties psychedelia, R&B, garage and pop sounds, the band is frenetic and easily one of the more underrated dance bands. Though they’ve never been appreciated to the level they deserve, they persevere and continue to thrill their fans.

The interview below, which I conducted at Max’s Kansas City, was published in FFanzeen, Issue #3, dated Winter/Spring 1978-79.

Peter Zaremba
(photo by Robert Barry Francos)

The Fleshtones Interview

I have known some members of the Fleshtones since last October. Whenever we met, we would talk rock’n’roll. Finally, it was at the Dictators concert at My Father’s Place that I asked for an “official” interview with the band. The next week, the Fleshtones were due to play at Max’s Kansas City with the Erasers. So that night, June 10, 1978, I did the interview upstairs in a Max’s dressing room. In attendance were, of course, the Fleshtones: Peter Zaremba (vocals, keyboards, harmonica), Keith Streng (guitar, vocals), (Jon) Marek Pakulski (bass), and Lenny Calderone, Jr. (drums). Also in attendance in this very small space were Chris Stamey, Gordon “Detroit” Spaeth (guest sax on “I’m Real” and “Crossfire”), M. Henry Jones, who did a short and now classic film (using pixilation) of the ‘Tones performing “Soul City,” and Zantees' lead singer, Billy Miller.

FFanzeen: You seem to be very sixties-oriented. Which bands?
Peter Zaremba: Everyone likes the same bands. At this point, everyone’s into the same influences.

FF: Which new bands do you listen to?
Keith Streng: DMZ. I love DMZ. Though we hate their album [DMZ, on Sire – Ed.].
Peter: We’re definitely into Boston music. They’re really a lot neater than most bands. Like the Count [Joe Viglione – Ed.]. The Count has an amazing personality. You could mistake him for a genius.

FF: How did you get signed on Red Star Records?
Peter: Well, Marty’s (Thau) into – it’s strange what Marty’s into.

FF: Suicide. Walter Stedding.
Peter: Right. He’s into taking chances. We’re just the latest one. He’s certainly into supporting bands. We like Marty.

FF: Have you recorded yet?
Keith: No.
Peter: We’ve made tapes by ourselves. Maybe you’ve heard some of them?

FF: No, this is the first time I’ve heard you.
Peter: Really. What was your opinion of what we are doing? Do you think it was very straightforward?

FF: I thought it was very sixties-ish and right out of ...
Keith: Riot on Sunset Strip.

FF: Yeah. When are you recording?
Keith: July. An album.

FF: Are you going to name the album after the group, like the other Red Star artists, like the Real Kids album is called The Real Kids?
Peter: We’re definitely not gonna do that.
Keith: We really like the Real Kids.
Peter: All the Boston bands are like, really psychotic, almost. Really emotional.

FF: What are some of the songs you do?
Keith: The instrumental we do is called “Atom Spies.” The other instrumental we did tonight is called “Zombie,” but that will eventually have lyrics.
Peter: “Judy,” “Code Three,” “BYOB.”
(Someone): “Nervous Breakdown.”
Keith: That’s not an original. If that was an original, we’d be stars.
Peter: You know, stuff.
Keith: “Keep on Dancing’.”
Peter: “Caroline,” “Soul City.”
Keith: “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White.” We do them because they help us with our song writing.
Peter: We’re not actually trying to bring back the sixties.

FF: What songs are you recording for the album?
Keith: I don’t know.
Peter: We’re not sure, but we want to try to get as many sounds as we can on the album.

FF: I mean, what ratio between covers and originals?
Peter: At most there’ll be three covers on it.

FF: Which ones?
Peter: Probably “Caroline.” “Rockin’ This Joint” by Kid Thomas. Maybe “Come On, Let’s Go.”
Keith: Yeah, we’d like to do a version of “Come On, Let’s Go.”
Peter: By Richie Valens.

FF: How did you get the idea of doing the film and showing it on stage as you play?
Keith: That’s Henry’s alley.
M. Henry Jones: I had the idea to superimpose the visuals over the subjects. The sound will be played with the film and the group will play live over it. And what happens happens. The film is called “Soul City.”

FF: How long did it take to make the film?
Henry: Nine months. It’s two minutes long; it’s a two-minute song. It will be officially released in October, but a lot more work has to be done on it.

FF: How will it be released?
Henry: A worldwide distribution.

FF: How were the Fleshtones formed?
Peter: Those guys were always in bands, y’know. They started to jam and they started doing this experimental thing. For it, Marek was playing bass and everybody was switching instruments. I came into it and we decided to form a band. And we learned, like, four songs and played at a party a few days afterwards and, you know, we just kept doing it.

FF: How long ago was that?
Peter: It was a few years ago. And we still like to play at parties. We get some good sounds.

FF: You’re a good party band.
(Billy Miller enters)
Peter: Have you heard the Zantees?

FF: Yeah, they’re good.
Peter: We’re big Zantees fans. The main thing, you know, is to have a good time.

FF: How would you describe yourselves?
Peter: Basically, nice guys. We’re just rock’n’roll sort of guys.

FF: What do you do during the daytime?s
Peter: Generally, I wake up six or seven in the evening. And then we rehearse.
Billy Miller: Then he goes over to Miriam’s (Linna) house.
Peter: Then I go over to Miriam’s house.
Keith: And listen to her great record collection.

FF: Do you plan to tour?
Keith: Yeah, tomorrow we play in his house and the day after in my basement.
Peter: We did a really good gig in Philadelphia.
Keith: That was a hot gig.
Billy: You should have seen these guys in Connecticut.

FF: And of course, you played in Boston.
Peter: That was a minor stop.
Keith: That was a real fuck-up.

FF: Who did you play with up there?
Peter: The Real Kids. We would like to play with DMZ. There’s a lot of bands up there we’d like to play with. They’re very straightforward. What’s your next question? What’s the future of rock’n’roll? Well . . .

FF: What’s the future . . . What are the group’s goals?
Keith: I don’t know.
Peter: We always sort of just wanted to play this music and have people like us. To get people into rock’n’roll for being rock’n’roll. Being able to react to it other than intellectually. I guess as a group, we’d like to make some money eventually.
Keith: We wanna get better, too.
Peter: We practice a lot. We try to get better.

 * * *

The large crowd in the dressing room and the post-set adrenaline made the situation a bit chaotic and unnerving for this interviewer, so follow-up questions were definitely missed. The Fleshtones were and are a party band. Driving rhythms and motion, and yet with an intellect that guides them into commanding the listener out onto the dance floor.

Red Star never did release their album. They were, however, signed to IRS and released the Up-Front EP in 1980, and then their first album, Roman Gods in 1981. The tapes of their Red Star sessions would be released by ROIR (that wonderful source of overlooked or old demos/recordings) in 1982, by the title of Blast Off.

Peter Zaremba came to be known nationally as the host of the MTV show, “160 Minutes,” which presented new and obscure videos by independent bands. He has also hosts the CaveStomp! shows in New York. Keith Streng formed his own experimental rock’n’roll group with REM’s Peter Buck, called Full Time Men, which have a few releases. But through it all, the Fleshtones remain a viable band, coming close to breaking with a song and video for “American Beat,” from the soundtrack of the film, Bachelor Party.

It is also worth checking out the biography of the band by Joe Bonomo, titled SWEAT: The Story of the Fleshtones (reviewed HERE).