The music industry has been an interesting ride for Fred Schreck.
Although the singer has called Nashville home for the past several years, music fans who came of age in New Jersey in the late '80s/early '90s remember him as the leader of The Ancients, a Goth-leaning ensemble that made a huge mark on the NYC underground scene thanks to a now-classic 1991 eponymous album and a series of memorable shows. Twenty-five years later (and after a lengthy run in Country music), Schreck has returned to Rock as the voice of Satellite Paradiso, the band founded by former Psychedelic Furs guitarist John Ashton.
Originally released in 2014 and funded thanks to a successful PledgeMusic campaign, Satellite Paradiso’s self-titled debut was recently reissued by Mi5/Universal. In addition to Schreck and Ashton, the album's jaw-dropping list of performers includes Big Paul Ferguson (Killing Joke), Sara Lee and Gail Ann Dorsey (Gang of Four), Amanda Kramer (Psychedelic Furs/Information Society/Golden Palominos), Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys/Rocket From The Tombs), sax hero Mars Williams and Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue and Anthony Molina, among others.
To celebrate the re-release, the band will kick off an east coast mini-tour Saturday with a show at the Brighton Music Hall in Boston. (They’ll hit BSP in Kinston, NY on June 8 and the Mercury Lounge in NYC on June 10.)
Schreck’s involvement in the Satellite Paradiso project was an opportunity for the singer to collaborate with one of his oldest musical influences. After spending his formative years as a Prog fan in the '70s, he got into Punk and New Wave in time to catch the early Furs (and opening act Our Daughter’s Wedding) perform at the famed Hitsville in Passaic, NJ.
“It looked like 10 guys hit the stage; I was like, ‘What is this?’” he recalls. “I saw this guy with a big baritone saxophone with a mic taped in it. I chuckled a little when they hit the stage, but when they hit that first note and started doing ‘India’ [off their 1980 debut album], I was mesmerized. I just thought to myself, ‘Wow, I’m going to stop doing what I'm doing right now because this is like the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.’ That was a moment that was very significant in my musical maturation.”
The Furs connection would follow Schreck throughout his career. In 1991, Furs contributors Knox Chandler (guitar) and Joe McGinty (keyboards) both made appearances on The Ancients' album. These guest turns were made possible by Ancients manager Rob Sacher, a mainstay of the NYC club scene who later recommended Schreck to Ashton when the latter first started putting Satellite Paradiso together.
“I would put John up there with all of the great Alternative Rock guitarists of the era and beyond,” Schreck says. “His sound is a signature as someone like The Edge. I’ve always felt that way about him, even before I met him… He was someone I always looked to as, ‘God, this is the sound I want in my music.’ I’ve always used him as a reference, even when I was playing in different bands.”
Satellite Paradiso first hit the road in 2014 as an opening act for The Psychedelic Furs. The lineup at the time included Schreck, Ashton, Lee and most of Mercury Rev. The jaunt was quite an experience for the lifetime Furs fan.
“Talk about trail by fire!” Schreck laughs. “That was very interesting and very intimidating. That was just when we were wrapping up the Pledge campaign and getting the funds together to finish the record.”
|Satellite Paradiso live in 2014. Fred Schreck second from right. (Photo credit: https://www.facebook.com/SatelliteParadiso)|
Now gearing up for their first-ever headlining run, the current live incarnation of the band includes Schreck, Ashton, drummer Frank Coleman (known around these parts for his work with Boston cult legends The Bentmen) and former Fleshtones bassist Robert Burke Warren.
Although Big Paul Ferguson is not keeping the beat at the upcoming shows, his work on the Satellite Paradiso album represents the first time he and Schreck have appeared together on record in more than 20 years. Another Sacher connection, Ferguson played on two tracks on the first Ancients album alongside former Siouxsie And The Banshees/Clock DVA guitarist John Valentine Carruthers. Schreck's working relationship with Ferguson and Carruthers would grow in significance two years later, when the singer was invited by the two to front their East West Records-signed act, Crush, after the band (originally known as Pleasurehead and signed to Island Records) saw the departure of original singer Michael Bramon. (In an interesting twist, Robert Burke Warren served as Pleasurehead’s bassist in the band’s early days.)
With Schreck completely re-recording the lead vocals at the last minute with great aplomb, Crush (completed at this point by Lloyd Cole/Cats On A Smooth Surface bassist John Micco) released their fantastic self-titled album in 1993. Despite being a solid release (and boasting a should-have-been-hit with “The Rain”), the album – and the band – never truly got off the ground.
“That situation was troubled from the start,” Schreck admits. “I was in a band with a couple of guys who had been in successful acts before, and I think that their expectations were crushed – no pun intended – with how things were working out. For the time, it was a pretty big record deal; it was one of those deals that everybody coveted. It was just that by the time I got there, I think things had gotten so dysfunctional that there really was no saving it.
“At the time that record came out, we were competing with some of the acts that would go on to be the biggest acts of that era,” he continues. “When we put that record out, I think Radiohead had just put out their first record, and we were competing with Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and all these other acts that were just kind of sucking up all the oxygen – and rightfully so; they were great acts and they went on to be iconic. We just kind of got buried in there… Maybe it was not the best time to release that record, but I still think we had the best video out of all of them!”
“The clip he’s referring to, “The Rain,” found the foursome drenched in “rain” that was actually chocolate syrup mixed with glycerin. Look at the video below and wonder if Schreck’s leather jacket survived.
“I couldn’t eat chocolate for about a year after that!” he says with a laugh. “It was dreadful.”
By the late ‘90s, Schreck was considering a life away from music.
“I needed to step away from it because it got frustrating,” he admits. “I had gone from bad record deals to bad management deals without any real significant success. I just thought that instead of knocking myself out with this crap, I’d just focus on what’s important… As a younger man, [music] was my primary focus, but I entered a stage of my life where my family was more important than anything else, and that stage has lasted and is still number one with me.”
Focusing his energies on being a good father and husband, Schreck limited his musical activities to regional gigs with the Nashville-based Alternative Country act The Billygoats before he received that fateful online message from Sacher regarding Ashton.
Schreck’s return to the Rock world continued with the 2015 digital release of The Ancients’ Mind, a collection of previously unreleased recordings made by Schreck, multi-instrumentalist/producer Morgan Visconti, Ferguson and a host of others in the mid ‘90s. (A review of the album – and a lot more history on The Ancients – can be read HERE.)
“That project is very personal to me, and those songs are very personal to me,” he says. “My collaboration with Morgan has been one of the most important I’ve ever had, and that collection of songs is very, very special to me. I’ve carried those songs with me for years, and I’m so thankful that they finally got out there.”
In an interesting case of synchronicity, the day of my chat with Schreck (May 19) coincided with the posthumous birthday of one of The Ancients’ biggest fans – Joey Ramone. A vocal supporter of the band, Ramone would often introduce them at performances in NYC.
“I had to get over the haze that I felt that he was actually taking an interest in what I was doing,” Schreck reveals. “That was so mind-blowing to me, but once I got over that, he was really just like one of the guys I used to hang out in the schoolyard with. He was just this guy from the neighborhood…When he was in your corner, he was in your corner.”
One evening, the Punk legend accompanied The Ancients to a gig at the infamous Limelight – and was immediately surprised by what he saw in the crowd.
“At the time, the big drug craze was Ecstasy,” Schreck recalls. “All these kids were tripping out on it; he couldn’t understand why everybody was acting so weird. I said, ‘Joey, they’re taking Ecstasy, man!’ He was blown away by that. When he went up to the microphone, the first thing he said was, ‘Are you all fuckin’ trippin’ or what?’ He was just such a character. There was nobody like him. He could be that guy from the neighborhood, but then you look at him and he’s Joey Ramone – six-foot-six and a really imposing character.
“When he introduced us at CBGB for the first time, everybody just shut up; they were completely silent,” he adds. “An iconic figure for sure, but also a sweetheart of a guy once you got to know him.”
Beyond the upcoming Satellite Paradiso dates, Schreck says there is a strong possibility of a new Billygoats album, while there’s also talk of The Ancients making a return to the stage. As far as the Nashville-based Schreck and the Woodstock, NY-based Ashton moving forward with Satellite Paradiso beyond this mini-tour, the singer says he takes things one day at a time.
“I really don’t look that far into the future,” he shares. “I just kind of say, ‘We’re doing this, and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got and hope we get to do it again.’ I just cherish every moment that we get to do it, even if it’s just a handful of gigs like we’re doing.”
Decades after walking into a club in New Jersey and seeing his future bandmate live for the first time, Schreck is thrilled – and incredibly humbled – to have the opportunity to create music in the here and now.
“I have to sit back and be thankful for the fact that I can do it,” he says. “Even though the audience I had hoped to have when I was a younger musician hasn’t grow to the point I had hoped it would, I still really appreciate that people connect with it. If somebody connects with what you’re doing, especially when it’s really personal…There’s no other magic like that at all.”
Satellite Paradiso performs this Saturday at the Brighton Music Hall in Boston with Casey Desmond, Bird Language and Best Not Broken. Go HERE for tickets.
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