The Fleshtones are still rockin’ and rollin’, still writing hits, after 45 years together
The Fleshtones are one of the most loved bands of the Punk and New Wave era.
Music lovers for as long as they can remember, The Tones came of age hanging out in record stores. Unlike many youngsters, they actually became rock stars, moving from headliners at CBGB’s, to cult darlings with a loyal fan base that still supports them. Face of the Screaming Werewolf is their 22nd album, and one of their best. The set was first released, as a limited edition, on Record Store Day in 2020. It made its chart debut at #9 on Billboard’s Alternative New Artist Albums Chart, an ironic twist for a band that’s been playing gigs since 1976. Like their other albums, Werewolf is straight ahead, four on the floor rock’n’roll, that proudly celebrates its influences from the 50s and 60s. The band calls their sound Super Rock, a tag they’ve been using since their first gig.
“We came up with Super Rock early on,” singer Peter Zaremba explained, his New York City accent in full effect. “It’s not pure garage rock. We loved bands that played R&B, soul, dance music, rock, rockabilly, everything. When we started playing, that’s what we did. We weren’t archivists. We’re not hung up on the purity of any one style. We mashed it all together and, if we liked it, we played disco songs, or Jamaican music, without playing reggae. We pulled together the active ingredients of the music we loved into a greasy, sweaty ball – as in ballroom. Derivative? Hell yeah. We play modern music, with a feel of the past. We grew up listening to the radio and decided we wanted to do the kind stuff we liked to hear. So, that’s what we do.”
True to their nature, the numbers on Werewolf cover a lot of ground. A distorted guitar hook, Bill Milhizer’s heart thumping bass drum and Zaremba’s bluesy harmonica drive the title track. They compress the thrills and chills of a horror flick into two minutes and 33 seconds, closing with a wailing guitar solo. “Spilling Blood (at the Rock & Roll Show),” combines Girl Group R&B, garage rock and a hint of rockabilly to tell the true story of the most harrowing concert Zaremba ever attended. The rousing performance makes a startling contrast to the grim lyrics. “It’s the most autobiographical song on the record,” Zaremba said. “It sums up my feelings about the early70s. I was thinking I missed out on the fun of the 60s. I was working for a promoter the night the Who’s Next tour played in New York. It was the era of Altamont and the crowd was violent and rowdy. A co-worker was murdered and several others were stabbed. When I looked at the stage, it was as if there was no one there. The performance had nothing to do with what was going on in the crowd.”
“Violet Crumble, Cherry Pie” is a twisted love song that sounds like Marvin Gaye fronting the Talking Heads. “Manpower Debut” is a two minute and 40 second blast of blues rock driven by Milhizer’s galloping drums and Zaremba’s impressive harp fills. They also reinvent “Child of the Moon,” the seldom heard B-Side of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
“You can’t really top the Stones, but we had a different take on the song. As a kid, I ran out and bought ‘Jumpin’ jack Flash’ the minute it came out. I thought ‘Child of the Moon’ could have been a little less hippie dippy, so we did it at a dance clip. After we recorded it, I read that Brian Jones was disconsolate that it wasn’t on the A-side of a single. It’s one of the last things he contributed to. We’ve been wanting to do a version of it for a long time.”
VIDEO: The Fleshtones “Face of the Screaming Werewolf”
Werewolf is in stores now, and will help the band weather the downturn they’ve been experiencing since the COVID-19 lockdown started last March.
“We’re just barely managing to survive,” Zaremba said. “At first, I was thinking, ‘This is great. I can learn how to play a new instrument, learn a bunch of new songs and practice my organ playing, which I never do.’ I did that for a few weeks, then I stopped. I did a few remote cameo appearances for a friend’s video and some remote recording, but at this point I want to get the hell out of the house. We’re up in northern Connecticut and enjoying a quintessential long winter, if you can put it that way. It’s eight degrees at night, with crystalized snow on the ground. I can’t wait to start performing again. I do a video show for Little Steven’s Underground Garage. The Psychedelic Count Zaremba’s Crypt, Saturday nights from Midnight, until 4:00 am. It’s purported to be live, but since I’m doing it from a crypt, ‘live’ is theoretical.
“I had to sell my record collection to get by, but I already have a bunch of songs for the next record in my head. We like songs that speak to your body and make you want to move, songs that are physically and emotionally memorable in some way. Iggy Pop’s advice is: ‘Keep it juvenile, but in a way that’s fresh.’ We’ve continued learning how to play a little better as we go on, but to not get too proficient. I still like the feeling of approaching the playing wondering, ‘Hey, can we do this? Can we play rock and roll?’ We still don’t know how to play scales, but we do know how to rock.”