Interview: The Fleshtones

NYC garage rockers make their China debut after 40 years

The Fleshtones (Photo: York Wilson)
They played their first show at CBGB (and were one of the last bands to play the hallowed gig spot), once shared a practice room with The Cramps (but were the ones kicked out for making too much noise) and have worked with everyone from Steve Albini to Sir Ian McKellen (watch below). Over the course of 40 years in the game, there’s not much for New York garage rockers The Fleshtones to check off of their wish list, but this month sees them add another first – their debut show in Shanghai.

‘We were thinking that The Fleshtones needed to expand our horizons. We play western Europe, the USA and Canada mostly and oddly it seems that Japan is a dead end for us, so I asked our friend Eric Baconstrip of King Salami and The Cumberland 3 for suggestions,’ explains founding frontman Peter Zaremba of how the NYC stalwarts ended up coming to these shores. ‘I never thought we would ever play in China – I can hardly believe this is happening.’

The Fleshtones’ founding legend has it that the band was formed in Queens in 1976 when guitarist Keith Streng and Jan Marek Pakulski came across some musical instruments left behind by a previous tenant in the basement of a house they were renting. Childhood friend Zaremba joined shortly afterwards along with drummer Lenny Calderon and later that same year played made their debut on stage, at CBGB.

From then on, The Fleshtones’ history is littered with iconic names. ‘Opening for James Brown twice was an honour, and he was very kind to us young, and very unprofessional white kids,’ says Zaremba when we ask him to name some highlights. ‘Playing with our hero the late Alan Vega of Suicide and recording with him was great; sadly something we will not be able to do again. Having bands like The GoGos, REM, The Hoodoo Gurus, and The Plimsouls open for us. The list goes on…’ There must have been some people who were difficult to work with though? ‘Wow, I'll just stick to the best,’ he says, before relenting. ‘Okay, Dexy and The Midnightrunners were jerks.’

Despite having seen many of their peers disappear from the scene – in 2014 The Fleshtones released ‘Remember The Ramones’ in tribute to another of the acts they came up with – the band (now with Bill Milhizer and Ken Fox joining Zaremba and Streng) show no signs of retiring from the live circuit any time soon. ‘Rock and roll is a way of life for me,' says Streng. 'I love the feeling of doing a great live show [and] I am always just looking forward the next tour or recording session.'

‘It feels great to be alive considering the alternatives,’ says Zaremba. ‘We've witnessed so many sad stories, and we more than tempted fate for many years ourselves. Actually, it's hard to believe all this time has passed.’ Yet he clearly still enjoys playing live, too. ‘It's great being in The Fleshtones, a childhood dream come more than true. It's fun – really – for us and the people who come to see us. You'll see.’

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