Sitting around a patio table, the five members of The Funhouse Strippers talk amongst themselves with the ease of longtime friends. Some are a little more vocal than others and some are a little more prone to abstract tangents than others but each of them has their place within the conversation.
Between verbal shots and shared laughs, there are references to the five of them being friends which seem almost superfluous. Four-fifths of the band, however, are veterans of other groups and have seen inner tensions plague, if not their own bands, the ones with which they’ve shared bills.
“I know lots of bands out there where there are weird tensions,” said vocalist/guitarist David Ballantyne.
A veteran of The Widgets, The Falcon and various other projects, the singer points to a mutual respect within TFS as one of the keys to its unity.
The Strippers’ roots can be traced back to The Watsons, a band that featured Ballantyne, guitarist Karen Hulman and drummer Johnny Max. After the punk outfit ran its course, the three had established a creative working relationship that they all wanted to continue exploring.
“We were left on our own there and we decided we would just play around for awhile,” Ballantyne says.
“We kept wanting to do something more rock ‘n’ roll,” Max interjects. “That was the thing.”
“The last things we did in The Watsons was sounding more rock ‘n’ roll and I think all of us liked it,” Ballantyne continues. “So when everybody else left, we just kept working on that angle. It’s more ‘50s stylized — Chuck Berry stylized.”
Chrissy Ballantyne was drafted to provide bass in the new group and worked on the material with bassist Toby Tanabe (Eddie Machete & The Hacks, The Mopps, Typhoon). But when Tanabe started becoming interested in the material, she decided to vacate the spot and move into a back-up vocals role.
Since then, the band has been honing its sound, which David says is based on the New York Dolls, the first Damned album and “Chuck Berry on speed.” He then clarifies his point by saying that the music is “early rock ‘n’ roll meets earliest punk roots.”
Last January, the quintet went into The River Flophouse and recorded eight songs live in the studio, including a cover of an obscure ‘70s punk track by The Gizmos called “That’s Cool.”
There were questions about whether or not to release the recordings, but fans hounded the group and the members agreed seven months after going into the studio to a limited release of the set.
“This is a really short run of this EP,” Ballantyne says. “I mean, it’s just 200 copies. This is going to be just a one-time run and it’s mainly to — honestly — appease the fans.”
Work on the self-titled debut’s follow-up is already underway at Salem’s Cherry Recording Studio and tentative plans have the album coming out in Spring 2007. While the sophomore release will stick fairly close to the material on the group’s first disc, it will also see the band attempt some new things, including a guest appearance from Salem keyboard hero Julian Snow.
As night grows darker and the cold air takes its toll, the five members sitting around the table become restless and the evening is called to an end. Even as people make their way to the front door, new conversations begin and the end is delayed a little longer. Final impressions of the band come not from any words said but rather from actions because it grows clear that even if these five didn’t play music together, they’d still be a band.