Tuesday, March 18

interview #21 : Peter Zaremba from the Fleshtones

Peter Zaremba singer of the incredible Fleshtones. I never forgot that first paper in the NME towards the end of the 70’s, it was about a new rock’n roll eruption in NYC and this awesome band called the Fleshtones. I started to look for concert reviews of the band and saw that people were fussing about extraordinary fun events, fantabulously jivin’ songs, specially one called “the dreg” which was the piece de resistance as it could be extended ad lib with usually cameo appearances of fellow musicians present in the room, like the Plimsouls in California., Then the first EP, with the sax fuelled “Theme of the Vindicators” was there and it was like a dream coming true, everything was present, we had a rockin’ band which made your feet move, a dancin’ band which would make you yell for more. Those were the days.

Thirty years later the ‘Tones are still there as abrasive as ever and their last release “Take a good look” has been my regular rock diet for the last two weeks.
I was aware that, in a recent interview, Peter Zaremba had quoted Jonathan as being one of his influences and had also expressed his admiration for him. What could be a better opportunity to trigger a discussion with him.

So let's go :

- In "American Beat 84", the Fleshtones were revamping
one of their earlier tunes.The song ends with a list of all those
bands and singers who were essential to you, like some "naming the
heroes" tribute. In 1984, hearing you quote the Lyres, the Real Kids,
the Modern Lovers, the Plimsouls.. , my favourite bands at the time,
was like no coincidence. The Fleshtones were obviously from the same
musical family. To make short I would call it eternal garage-rock
music. Could you comment on this ?

The video clip for "American beat 84"

Well, we wanted to aknowledge all the great (and maybe not so great)
artists that inspired us, something that a lot of bands won’t do. My
only regret is that I failed to mention everyone that I should have.
Joey Ramone once reminded me of that, but the truth is the vamp was
pretty much ‘off the cuff’. There was a second take where in fact the
Ramones were included. Oh well, ‘garage rock’ or not, it’s rock and
roll and a little of all of it went into the making of the Fleshtones..

-Why are the Modern Lovers part of this list ? What did you
like in their sound ?

The Modern Lovers were a huge influence on us. You’ve got to remember,
these were the times of the ‘rock stars’ and glitter and god knows what
else. Here was a band that rocked without any of this bullshit, with a
lead singer who made a point of being a human being, and what great
songs, about real stuff that no other bands were singing about.

- Did you ever see the Modern Lovers on stage ? If you had
that luck, what are the memories you keep from that time ?

Yes, I’ve seen the Modern Lovers, but unfortunatly not the original
band.. Funny, Ernie Brooks once discussed joining the Fleshtones.

- How did you become familiar with Jonathan Richman's music ?

You know, I often wonder about that. I remember people talking about
‘Roadrunner’ when it came out, then someone have me a stack of 45’s
called ‘Beserkley Chartbusters’ ‘Roadrunner’ was included in the
collection and of course it was a sound I was desperately looking for
in those dark years.

- The Fleshtones are from NYC. From the mid 70's until mid 80's
the two places in the world where things were happening musically were
New York city and Boston. Were you aware then of some competition with
the Boston bands ?

Competition? We were delighted with Boston, which we discovered was the
hidden rock and roll capital of the world. We played with our label
mates the Real Kids all the time, and went clubbing in Boston a lot. I
remember Jeff Connolly saying he’d never leave his apartment again
because he hated the cover of his DMZ album so much, then later huddled
in our cargo van proudly playing a cassette of his new band The Lyres.
Long live Boston Rock n’ Roll!

- And what about today ?

We just returned from playing a show with
The Lyres and The Prime
, again I say, Long Live Boston Rock n’ Roll!

During the 80's, you were DJaying or MCing a show on MTV.
Would it have been possible for you to bring someone like Jonathan on
the show or was it totally scheduled. Maybe you did have Jonathan on
your show though.

Good thinking Jacques, of course we had Jonathan on The Cutting Edge. He
was a great guest, as you can imagine and a really nice guy. Just like
I hoped he would be!

I should have known better as Bob had included last year a video clip with Jonathan of that program on our Blog, see it here.

- The Fleshtones have been existing as a band for more than 30
years now and they are still releasing albums (the last one "Take a
good look" is not one month old, but already considered as one of the
best CDs of year 08. It is part of my three favourite Fleshtones
records, the other two being "Roman Gods" and "Laboratory of
sound").How do you keep the faith and apparently still enjoy yourself ?

Because we love this kind of music, we love the excitement and right
now we feel like we’re on an upswing! We don’t worship the past,
because the future belongs to
The Fleshtones!

- Jonathan has been having the same longevity, though his music changed through the years to a modern troubadour style when the
Fleshtones stay untamed. Are you familiar with Jonathan's evolution ?
what do you think of it ?

I think Jonathan’s evolution was the right thing for him, although
I await his return to his old rocking ways because he was so great at
that. Still, I admire him for not just doing that when his heart told
him to do something different, maybe in that way we’re like Jonathan,
we STAY this way because it’s in our hearts, even though logic might
say try something different (like another profession!)

- Another common point you have with him is that you have a
large following in Europe compared to your own country. It is quite a
paradox as Garage music is really American starting as an answer to the
first British invasion and evolving in its own field. Why is it that
you have so many fans in France, Spain or England ? Even the
Fleshtones tribute CD has been compiled and issued in France by Denis
on his Larsen label.

I don’t know. Hey that’s not much of an answer. I figure in our country, people always expected something new, since this is the country that invented this kind of music.
Europeans tend to discover something that moves them, and stick with it.
At any rate, it’s been great to be able to play to European audiences!

In the following clip Peter and Keith look for the ultimate rock record..

- In the 70's you started recording for Marty Thau' s ill fated Red
Star label. Miriam Linna was also working there. On the same label were
Suicide and the Real Kids. You covered one of Vega-Rev song on those
early tapes. What about the Real Kids, did you happen to meet John
Felice ?

Well, it just so happens that my first time ever to visit Boston was
with Miriam to see the Real Kids vs. DMZ at the Rat. I thought I had
died and gone to rock n’ roll heaven!
I was also at a few of their recording sessions for the first album on Red Star.

I particularly remember Jeff Connolly being on hand to play organ and tambourine

(or was I asked to play tambourine?!?!).

- What would be your favourite Jonathan song ?

Gosh, he’s written so many great songs. I tend to like
his Modern
stuff like ‘All I Want’ (is that the right title?) – I guess Peter thinks of “Astral plane”, also ‘I’m A Little Airplane’ is pretty amazing the way it rocks out without slamming you over the head. Hey, how’s about ‘Give Paris One More Chance’ because it’s so moving and true, let’s give Paris another chance, and another!

- I remember the Fleshtones doing "Sweet Jane". If you covered
Lou Reed, what about covering Jonathan. Which song would come to your
mind ? (As for me, "Give Paris one more chance" would suit your band
very well, I think).

I glad you remember us doing ‘Sweet Jane’ because I don’t!
And bingo, there you go! Give Paris One More Chance would be perfect for us. We’ve
thought about doing it actually, but how can you top Jonathan’s
version? It seems to be just the way it should be. Maybe we should
stick to Michel Polnareff?!
(French pop singer of the 60’s/70’s)

At that point I sent an mp3 of that cover of “sweet Jane” to Peter

Thanks for this, I've forwarded it to ken, keith and steve coleman. I stand corrected. I must have been
a truant that day...

- Would you have any anecdote related to Jonathan?

Well, like I said, he was very nice to work with when he did a special
‘live’ performance for my TV show ‘The Cutting Edge’, and believe me, a
lot of recording artists might surprise you by being such assholes in
person! Anyway, a bit after that the Fleshtones played a festival on
the campus of Duke University in North Carolina with Jonathan. Anyway,
someone handed me a bunch of ‘magic mushrooms’ that I foolishly gobbled
up. We all agreed to go see NRBQ at a club after the festival. By the
time Jonathan got to the club I was desperately trying to keep my brain
together. He was trying to hold some sort of conversation with me, but
all I could manage was to smile and tug Keith Streng’s sleeve, who
seemed to be trying to ‘translate’ for me. Luckily NRBQ was wonderful
that night.

- My turn now to tell you an anecdote. In October 2006, Jonathan played in Paris and after the show I gave him a CDr of the Velvet Underground acetate which had been found at a flea market in NYC for $ 0.75, it was different mixes, takes and production of the first banana album. The result sounds quite like the second one “white light white heat”. Jonathan was delighted, he spoke to me when he had actually communicated with journalists on pieces of paper.
This CD was burnt for me by Patrick who happens to have given to you another copy of the same thing when the Fleshtones were playing in Normandy. So what did you think of that CD ?

Sorry but I must have lost the CD, it's hard keeping track of stuff on
tour moving moving moving. Ask Patrick if he can please burn me
another. I'll see you guys in May!

- When I go to Fleshtones gigs I find the same smiles on faces
around me that I witness while attending Jonathan shows. I would like
to thank you for all this great music you provided through the years,
the unique sound of the Fleshtones based on Keith's twanging guitar. We
are enjoying your sound, you make us smile and have fun.

I’ll take that as a big compliment! See you in Paris.

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