Since their start in Queens during the late ‘70s, The Fleshtones have been one of the hardest working rock & roll bands on the planet. They’ve toured practically everywhere and they’ve always brought an energetic sound through both their records and their performances, and have remained a fixture in the underground rock scene.
I talked ahead of the show with Fleshtones frontman Peter Zaremba about adding horns to their sound when they were starting out, being part of a long-running drag queen festival, touring China a few years ago and working on a new album.
RD: When The Fleshtones were starting out in New York City, you guys did something a bit different than what your contemporaries were doing at the time by including a horn section with Gordon Spaeth on alto sax and his brother Brian on tenor sax. What inspired this inclusion of horns into your sound? Were you guys big Motown fans and you wanted to have that presence in your music or was it something else?
PZ: We definitely grew up listening to Motown but we also grew up with a lot of records by bands that supplemented their sound with horns. We always liked that sound and it’s funny, about that time The Saints from Australia released an album and they used horns. I remember a very famous rock critic named Robert Christgau condemning them while saying that punk rock has no place with horns and I remember us thinking “Why is that?”. We thought it sounded great so we added the horns and it was fun, it added a lot of weight to what we were doing and while it lasted it was a very cool sound.
RD: During the mid-80s, The Fleshtones were instrumental in helping start Wigstock, a drag queen festival that had the original run lasting in Manhattan’s East Village until 2005 before its revival in 2018. What role did the band have in starting this festival and how would you describe the experience of being part of it?
PZ: That was our scene at that point. We spent a lot of time at the Pyramid Club in the lower east side, the drag thing was a big part of what they did but it was very light-hearted to say the least. After closing hours, we’d all hang out in Tompkins Square Park until dawn and one of those nights the crew from the Pyramid were just hanging out. Those guys came up with the idea of the festival and we were there the very moment the idea was born. When the festival happened, it was really small and it was just in the band shell at Tompkins Square.
We were kind of the house band of Wigstock for maybe the first year or two. No one had any idea that it would become this mammoth thing that it became but it was just a neighborhood thing that grew out of hanging out at the Pyramid Club.
RD: What was it like touring China for the first time back in 2016 with the band Round Eye organizing a run of shows for you guys there? Was there a culture shock for you guys at all during that tour?
PZ: It was surprisingly not too much of a culture shock at all, it was very comfortable. The people there were very receptive, a lot of die hard underground rock & roll fans were kind of like in awe of meeting us. They would ask if we met Johnny Thunders and we did so we’d say “Yeah, we did”, but these people were waiting for decades to see bands like ours so we played at the CBGB of Shanghai which was a totally great club. We did the same thing in Beijing and other than that we enjoyed hanging out. Most of our base was in Shanghai in a small hotel in a nice neighborhood and we have much more in common than what we know, much more. We were quite comfortable, we were well-received and the food was great, all the time.
RD: Last fall to celebrate 45 years of The Fleshtones being a band you guys released the Spanish language single “Mi Engañaste Bien” with the b-side “Decimos Yeah!” which is a Spanish rendition of the Cliff Richard song “We Say Yeah”. They both remind me of Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs and that kind of music from the ‘50s and ‘60s.
PZ: That’s a good thing.
RD: Yeah, it is. What made you want to sing both of these songs in Spanish and what was the process like recording both tracks?
PZ: One of the songs we actually started recording in Spain at our friend Jorge Explosion’s studio in Gijón. He’s the head of this band Doctor Explosion, which are the foremost Spanish garage rock exponents of crazy music, and he’s great. The other one we had started in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania but we never finished it and about halfway through the pandemic, I started to figure that we didn’t need another version of “We Say Yeah” since The Shadows did it the best so I decided to have us do it in Spanish. We translated it and I pretty much did all the singing in my bedroom. We record regularly in Spanish, we have a really good audience in Spain and it might be our best audience anywhere.
In Latin America, we’re appreciated but we’re not big anywhere to be honest. We have fans in Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico of course and plus rock & roll sounds great in Spanish.
RD: I enjoy a lot of Tejano rock so I totally agree with that. You guys have been on the road working on some new music so can we expect a new record to be out sometime next year?
PZ: We’re currently at the inception of a new album. I think we’ve been perfecting what we’re doing and it’s going to be more of the same. It’s going to be stronger, louder and we’re cooking it down. We’re refining and distilling it and I think it’s going to be as surprising as the last one. People were surprised at how direct we were on the last record and I think we want to continue that, this won’t be our folk rock album.
I wouldn’t mind that at some point but this one won’t be that. This will be very rock & roll.
Aug. 13, 9:00 p.m.
250 State St.