FOREWORD: The Fleshtones are a Queens, New York garage band that has survived since 1976, when they began playing hot Manhattan clubs such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City. They’ve developed an avid cult following over thirty years of recording and touring. ‘82s Roman Gods and ‘83s Hexbreaker really got the momentum going. Snappy horn-imbued footstomper, “American Beat ‘84″ was prominently featured in Tom Hanks movie, Bachelor Party.
Last time I saw the Fleshtones, they played at World Trade Center’s Windows of the World right before -11. When I met up with guitarist Keith Streng in Manhattan to support ‘95s Laboratory Of Sound, he spoke about music, but more so, his skeptical thoughts on contemporary celebrities. This article originally appeared in Top Secret, a cool Jersey biker zine with half-nude chicks, comic strips, cartoons, and some murky contercultural relevance.
Guitarist Keith Streng and vocalist-multi-instrumentalist Peter Zaremba have led New York City’s Fleshtones for close to twenty years. Personnel changes, various producers, and a couple side projects may have sidetracked these demon pop architects, but they remain the best party band on earth.
With grunge producer, Steve Albini (Nirvana’s former knob twister) at the helm, the Fleshtones have released their finest work yet. Laboratory Of Sound contains the same outgoing spirit their fans have grown to love.
The last time I watched these loose nuts play live was at the Fez in Manhattan. My brother Steve and I were plowing fuck-loads of beer and whiskey that night, waiting for the bastards to start. At 11:00 PM, Keith Streng finally appeared behind the bar we were standing at, cigarette in mouth and guitar in hand, leading off their set with loud, elongated riffs. When he found his way to the stage, the band joined in and rocked the small room for one action-packed hour.
“Our producer, Steve Albini, managed to get our sound on tape with crisp clarity. He’s a super engineer – an incredible scientist of sound, hence the album title,” Streng insists. “The guy’s a genius. He made us sound like we were playing in your living room.”
Streng’s also brutally honest when I jokingly ask him what the worst song on Laboratory Of Sound is.
“If I had to pick the shittiest song on the album, I’d have to say our version of the Guess Who’s “American Woman.” It’s a cool kind of fucked-up. It would be a super B-side,” he notes.
Streng shares his memories of the worst venue the Fleshtones ever played: “It was some garage in Mississippi. It was horrible. There was no bathroom, just an outhouse. We were in the Deep South and not many people showed up. They couldn’t wait for us to leave.”
Some buttheads might think the invention of the CD was heaven sent, but I agree with Streng’s sentiment.
“CD’s were supposed to be superior quality. Indestructible. But they’re not easy to clean, and fresh vinyl sounds better. CD’s are a scam record companies invented to make more money. I used to love LP covers, but now they’re gone. You get these shrunken little fold out books inside the CD. The old Rolling Stones graphics used to be great,” he realizes.
Here are his thoughts on the worst Beatles song and most overrated current band.
“The worst Beatles song might be “Rocky Raccoon.” It’s just stupid. And “Octopus’ Garden” should’ve been done as a children’s song. It’s OK, but it’s silly,” he mocks. “I really don’t like Pearl Jam that much. They’re too contrived, probably because of the record industry.”
His thoughts on the recently indicted child molester Michael Jackson: “His new stuff is sheer bullshit. Basically, he went insane and got misguided. He wants to look like a white guy. His songwriting went straight into the toilet. He should just admit he likes little boys. Did you see his interview with Diane Sawyer? His wife, Lisa Marie Presley, comes off like she has no education. She’s very coarse. It sounded like she came from a slum because of her inarticulate statements.”
But Streng enjoys Howard Stern’s radio antics when he has time to listen.
He reasons, “Howard’s pretty funny. I only get to listen early in the morning on the way to gigs. He’s cynical and sarcastic and very talented. To a degree, his thinking leans to the right, though he’s not your usual boring conservative.”
As for OJ Simpson, Streng comments, “That court case has gotten more insane. How much evidence do we need to see? I mean, why keep the case going on – so TV and lawyers can make money. The killing was premeditated. He knew what he was going to do. There’s really no doubt. What’s funny is that I was getting ready to play a gig in Atlanta that night he drove around in the Bronco. Before the chase, I jokingly said ‘wouldn’t it be funny if OJ was making a break for Mexico.’ Sure as hell, that’s what he must’ve been doing with the $9,000 and a gun.”
Streng’s opinion on Hollywood movies?
“Fuck Hollywood! The movies are so cliché and formulaic. Why bother spending so much money? I’m not a fan of Kevin Costner. Everyone aid how great a movie The Fugitive was, but I liked the TV show better. The Batman movies pretty much suck. I do like Reservoir Dogs and I want to see Pulp Fiction soon.”
We agree drugs should be legal so banks stop lending money to drug traffickers, who then get off because the FBI needs to sustain their existence.
Streng adds, “But the government might let the quality go down. And ig they’re overpriced, what good would that do?”
His favorite drinks are vodka and Canadian Whiskey, but he also dabbles with Molson Ice Beer. He hates gin because it used to give him horrible hangovers.
Anyway, if you’re in the mood for some fun and cool party music, catch the Fleshtones live. You won’t be disappointed.