|This article does not cite any references or sources. (September 2010)|
|Origin||Washington, D.C., United States|
|Labels||Rough Trade Records
Ecstatic Peace! Records
Sub Pop Records
Fountain of Youth Records
Bona Fide Records
Thick Syrup Records
Velvet Monkeys is the longest running of New York musician Don Fleming's many rock 'n' roll projects. Formed in 1980 from the ashes of Williamsburg, Virginia's new wave rockers Citizen 23, the band relocated to Washington, DC at the right time to become darlings of the local art-punk scene, along with other post-punkers such as Egoslavia, Bob Boilen's Tiny Desk Unit, Chalk Circle, and The Insect Surfers.
The band was originally formed as a three-piece combo that included prominent use of a Roland Dr. Rhythm drum machine, which gave them a Europunk sound more akin to Echo & the Bunnymen or OMD than their local counterparts in the Washington, DC scene. This line-up included Fleming on vocals and guitar, girlfriend Elaine Barnes on vocals and synthesizer/organ, and bassist Steven Soles. In 1982, the drum machine was quietly replaced with drummer Jay Spiegel a.k.a. The Rummager and the band moved from Euro-wave pop toward a more rock-oriented guitar-meets-synth post-punk wash.
The band self-released a ten-song cassette, an LP on the Fountain Of Youth label, and appeared on several compilations before undergoing personnel changes in the mid-1980s that found them with a radically different sound than their electro-pop origins. Ousting all but Spiegel and himself, in 1985 Fleming brought on guitarist Malcolm Riviera of D.C.'s Grand Mal and bassist Rob Kennedy, formerly of D.C.'s The Chumps, and more recently NYC's The Workdogs. The band now turned away from its synth-pop roots completely and developed a twin-guitar driven sound similar to what music critics would call grunge in the late 1980s. The band's stage show also changed, becoming a kind of glam/trash rock theatre that included light shows, smoke machines, live wrestling with the audience, and even instrument-free lip-syncing.
By 1988, the Monkeys had morphed into a full-on rock outfit that lived somewhere between Spinal Tap and The Stooges. Occasionally touring and merging with Maryland's Half Japanese, the band continued their downward (upward?) spiral toward rock 'n' roll suicide toward the end of the decade. Fleming and Spiegel eventually re-located to New York City where they teamed up with former Shockabilly bass player and Shimmy Disc impresario Mark Kramer and drummer David Licht to form B.A.L.L.. After that group's acrimonious demise, the duo of Fleming and Spiegel enlisted such indie celebrities as Thurston Moore, J Mascis, and Julia Cafritz in a reformed Velvet Monkeys. This supergroup line-up recorded the band's final album, a soundtrack parody called Rake that paid tribute to the 1970s blaxploitation film Shaft. After that one-off effort, Spiegel and Fleming briefly joined Dinosaur Jr., then created a new band, Gumball, in 1992 with former Stump Wizards' bass player Eric Vermillion. In 1994 Malcolm Riviera joined Gumball on second guitar and keyboards, making the line-up little different from the Velvet Monkeys c. 1985-1988.
The band has never officially broken up, and Fleming continues to revive the band when the time is right. A series of recordings found their way to the record and CD bins through the 1990s as well.
- Everything Is Right (CD) (Thick Syrup Records - 2011)
- Rake (Rough Trade - 1990)
- Rotting Corpse Au-Go-Go (Shimmy Disc - 1987)
- Future (Fountain of Youth - 1983)
- Everything Is Right (cassette only) (Monkey Business - 1981)
- "Houseparty" - God Bless CD (1998)
- "Rock the Nation" b/w "Why Don't We Do It in the Road" Sub Pop Records 7" (1991)
- "Better Living" Ecstatic Peace - Double 7" (1990)
- "Spooky" b/w "Trance Band And Process" Go Records 7" (1985)
- "Colors Parts I & II" Bona Fide Records 7" (1985)