Photograph by Kairsten Thies
Elves Have Left the Building: Fleshies make post-post-punk that's both loud and magically delicious.
Obscure by Design
Fleshies return to Santa Cruz to prove that, while punk may be dead, loud is very much alive
By Paul Davis
Punk's been Protooled into the radio-slick sounds of Fall Out Boy and Yellowcard. The rawness of garage rock has been beaten into submission by marketing teams and half-assed AC-DC knockoffs. What's a rough and gritty, loud as hell and hard as punk band supposed to call itself nowadays?
Don't ask Fleshies (no "the," thank you very much). Their label, Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles, opts for "weird rock." The band prefers the much more direct and appropriately descriptive "loud rock." But unlike many bands who staunchly avoid categorization yet inevitably end up sounding like every other drunken punk band with the entire Hot Water Music discography, Fleshies matter. The band may not be doing anything that hasn't been done before, but they're doing it a hell of a lot better than anyone has a right to.
Singer John Mink (or Geek, or No-Moniker, if you prefer) explains that there's a "weird" prog-influenced edge to their sound, but stresses that Fleshies are all about keeping it loud and catchy. "Fleshies is really not all that weird, musically--it sort of started out as a band where we could make music we'd actually like to listen to as opposed to just progging out for prog's sake," says Mink. "That was where all of us were coming from with our old bands, more or less, but the fact is that we are all kind of weird people and weird people will occasionally make some weird music. Generally, though, it ends up being pretty raw and pretty damned rock and roll, because that blows our goats and shakes our huge asses."
Those prog-rock roots come directly from Santa Cruz itself. Though only one band member is a former Santa Cruz resident, the Oakland-based band retains a number of ties to Santa Cruz, making time to play anywhere they can in town, and relying on local punk print shop Bro Prints to supply their merch. "Vonny [a.k.a. guitarist Matt Viscovich] used to live in Santa Cruz and was in this amazing psych band called Saw," explains Mink. "Vonny and I had played together before and decided that we needed to start a new band, so in 1999 we started looking for people who considered discomforting, noisy, fun, catchy rock & roll to be comfort music. It all seemed to mesh pretty well, and we soon wrote a huge number of songs and ended up going on tour constantly."
With their undeniable talent and critical acclaim, by all rights Fleshies should be packing medium to large concert halls during their perpetual world tour, yet they remain a minor curiosity in the music industry. Instead of jumping on aging punk dinosaur act package tours or the Warped Tour, you'd be far more likely to catch them playing a warehouse in Oakland or a tiny dive like the Jury Room. "We'll play anywhere if it makes sense and doesn't require us to compromise in order to do it," says Mink. "We tend to play the punk rock holes because that is what we know, and that is where we are comfortable. Personally, I like to be on the same level as the audience or maybe on a small stage because I'm short."
Fleshies are funny, but not in a 13-year-old, fart-joke NOFX way. They're smart, but not in an obtuse art-snob way. Mink is fine with walking the thin line, even if some people don't get it. "I just think a lot of people don't really have a sense of humor. To really have a sense of humor is to understand that you can be funny and still not be joking. Also, a lot of people are terrified of being, or just looking, stupid. What about when something is so stupid that it's genius, or, at the very least, hilarious?"
Convinced that most rock and roll has "the sense of subtlety of a rabid harpy eagle," Mink isn't real concerned with fitting in. "We're not 15 year olds. Our sense of humor doesn't necessarily register with people, and that's fine with us. We're laughing all the way to the blood bank, after which we'll hopefully have enough money to register our van."
Fleshies play Sunday, July 30, at 9pm at the New Jury Room, 712 Ocean St., Santa Cruz; 831.426.7120. Good Neighbor Policy opens. Admission is free.
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