Photo by Andy HarrisWhen Fleshies' oversized blue van rattled up to the curbside that muggy Texas afternoon in March, I knew they were going to take me for a ride—I just didn't know quite how far. I thought they were a super-sardonic punk band from the mean streets of Oakland. But no—that was the old Fleshies, they told me. They'd made a bold aesthetic U-turn: they added an Indian techno DJ named Scott Beibin and were now a super-serious electro-disco band. It was total bullshit, of course—but I didn't figure that out for a long time.
"It's supposed to be a surprise, but you got the scoop now," guitarist Mattowar told me. "It's gonna be hot! I'm interested in pushing any kind of envelope I can."
"Yeah, he works in the post office," lead singer Johnny (who goes by too many last names to list) chimed in. "Don't fuck with him."
Did I pick up on the blatant sarcasm? Did it hit me when Johnny claimed that "the electro-clash digital hardcore recording will be out in 2003—we gotta keep on the current"? Nope.
"What was that date again?" I asked, scribbling in my notebook.
I mean, yeah, I was a little disappointed Fleshies was going techno. These five dudes want to embrace the latest rap-rock, computer-happy fad? That's unfortunate, I thought, a bit confused, as I took down notes about their bizarro influences ("I listen to '60s Chilean revolutionary anthems," said Johnny), their post-ironic digital manipulations ("Le Tigre is gonna be really upset about this new album," bassist Vonny Bon Bons said. "Yeah, we sample some of their samples," added Johnny) and their plans for the future ("There's this backing tape we're gonna try out—all Atari noise," said Johnny. "No actual beats; just huge, horrible rafts of noise.").
Of course, when drummer Brian Hamiltron shrugged his shoulders and said, "I don't really like punk rock very much," things got shady fast. I've heard their latest album, Kill the Dreamer's Dream (on Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles Records), and it's straight-ahead punk rock & roll with a heap of smart-ass attitude. Even the most ardent cynics would never abandon what they know best to hop some genre-bending bandwagon—don't like punk rock, my ass.
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After all, these aren't five dudes with thick black-rimmed glasses who want to explore the power of Pro Tools. These are four (minus that DJ) smart—maybe too smart—down-to-earth, blue-collar guys who want to inject a little scary fun into their music and their lives. Onstage, that means getting loud, crazy and, in Johnny's case, buck-naked. Fleshies are known for their out-of-control Stooges-style—as in "often bloody"—shows, not their bumpin'-and-grindin' bass. ("They're not gonna be able to deal with the bass at DIY shows," fake DJ Beibin said thoughtfully. "It's a combination of speed bass and bongo, like Indian techno. We're gonna fuck up so many PAs.")
"We're like a one-band Vietnam," said Johnny.
Yeah: a bunch of bullshit, punctuated by explosions. And I'm just another victim.
Fleshies perform with the Rolling Blackouts and Cherry Temple and the Sex Crimes at the Liquid Den, 5061 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 377-7964. Mon., 8:30 p.m. $5. 21+.