rose out of the ashes of the Washington harDCore scene with a
unique sense of song-writing, crossing barriers and breaking new
ground in post-punk/alternative music. As the best kept secret
of the 80's and early 90's, Strange Boutique created their very
own eclectic brand of powerful, guitar-driven ethereal pop, with
a touch of world music influence and a mystical imagination.
Richards and drummer Daniel Ingram had formed the band Madhouse
in 1983, and throughout its four-year history, had transformed
from straight punk-rock into a strange melodic power mix, due
to the Mick Carne-esque talents of their third bassist, virtuoso
Franz Kellner, and the metal wall-of-noise brilliance of guitarist
Fred Smith, who joined the band in 1986 after leaving Beefeater.
or so, Madhouse was a band that didn't fit any genre of
the time, a weird blend of metal, punk, dark rock, opera, reggae,
anything else we would come up with... It was theatrical and bizarre,
and changed with every new song. Unfortunately, we were floundering,
with no real style to call our own. I had lost my voice that year,
and after months of therapy and training, I was playing with my
'new voice' and going up and down the octaves experimenting wildly,
and on stage, I was wearing costumes and masks. I think more than
anything, we were doing our best to grow out of the punk scene,
but didn't which direction we wanted to choose. (Some people have
cassettes of that stuff...!!!) Franz left, more out of frustration
than anything, and then we went on hiatus." - Monica Richards
realizing that Beefeater was not destined to become the insane
take over the world fuckers I wanted them to be (Actually due
to that we fucking couldn't stand each other on the road), I finally
agreed to join Monica's band "Madhouse" at the time.
Around this time as well Me & Monica were working at a retail
store in Georgetown so her & Danny were slowly but surely
influencing me with killer new shit like the Cocteau Twins, Xymox,
Punishment of Luxury - Or Punilux for your hardcore U. K. fuckers,
The Chameleons, etc, etc., So by now I was to the dismay of all
that is Punk Rock & Metal going for an acoustic electric guitar,
now my signature trademark, purchasing pedal boards by the shitload
until I could finally find a system that was right for my playing
at the time, and I even beefed up Beefeater's back up strat cause
after the first 20 shows or so with Madhouse it seemed that the
old Fender Plexiglass girl was starting to crack up ( And for
those that knew that guitar I mean that literally!) After
hearing " Persephone " by the Cocteau Twins my musical
life took a complete direction to to all that was dark & ethereal
. But with only 1 exception, It had to be fuckin' cool. For example,
Christian Death's "Cavity First Communion " is fucking
awesome whereas "Terror Couple Kill Colonel" by one
of the fucking leaders of Goth, Bauhaus is utter filler garbage........Okay
now you know I love 99.6% of their shit but come on! The
ultimate key to becoming a goth guitar god, A.) Acoustic - electric
12 string guitar. B.) Any incredible electric guitar that will
stay in tune no matter what the fuck you do to it. C.) A pedal
board or an array of effects that will let you pull up at any
given time distortion, flange, 1, 2, or up to 95 delays at a time.
So there, my secret's out! Rock on Dudes & Dudettes."
- Fred "Freak" Smith
Strange Boutique promo kit cover
In 1987, Madhouse
sold their name to a jazz ensemble who was on a major label. With
the addition of new bassist Steve Willett (formerly of Baltimore
new wave act Eubie Hayve), and an entire repertoire of
new songs written by new line-up, Strange Boutique was
officially born. Monica Richards found her vocal nitch, and Steve
Willett provided a solid backbone to Fred's guitar antics. SB
had its own style: "a swirling, soaring guitar, ethereal
vocals, and a pulsating rhythm section... aural heaven."
first EP, Easter Island was released in the Spring of 1989,
showcasing Monica's new voice and the band's diverse musical talents.
Boutique weaves their tunes of magic, personal doom, and nightlife:
all themes intertwine and give their debut EP a ghostly glow."
- CMJ New Music report - 1989
Boutique set out to tour around the East Coast in support
of the EP, and due to the distinct looks and on-stage energy of
each bandmember, SB earned a reputation for their spirited and
Boutique was the most visually arresting of the night, displaying
an affection and talent for British-inspired dark psychedelia.
Stomping and swooping around the stage, singer Monica Richards
intoned like a tough Kate Bush while the band constructed massive
melodies behind her." - The Washington Post - 1991
a powerful performance supporting Killing Joke in D.C.,
The two bands struck an immediate friendship, and KJ gave Strange
Boutique the support slot for their next UK shows. Having
never performed out of the U.S. (let alone the East Coast), the
band took the chance and flew to London. Customs took hold of
their equipment and EPs, so the band was forced to rent and borrow
instruments. Killing Joke was amazed to see that SB had shown
up to the first show in Manchester, and warned the band to not
let on that they were Americans, due to the aggressiveness of
the KJ audience.
Joke warned us not to tell their audience we were Americans, so
I stomped out onto this massive stage, and after the first song,
stated where we came from and there was a friendly 'WHOO!' from
the enormous crowd. The audience didn't mind one bit, and actually
sang along with our Magazine cover, 'A Song from Under
the Floorboards'. Needless to say, the shows were well received."
- Monica Richards
offered SB a chance to open for their European tour. Due to visa
problems, the band was only able to appear on the UK leg of the
tour, returning home exhilarated.
SHIT - WE'RE GOING ON THE ROAD WITH KILLING JOKE!!! - The first
show in Manchester for me was fucking Godawful, I had ordered
Marshall amps & what they sent me in place of a 100 Watt Marshall
amp was a 60 Watt Marshall bass head by mistake. Absolutely no
power for my effects or for the pink, I'm sorry my mistake, Hot
Pink heavy metal Jackson guitar that showed up in Manchester that
night . And if that wasn't bad enough Danny completely froze the
first 2 songs and played em' both as if he was eating dinner in
a fuckin' funeral home. Whew! After the gear got right the rest
of the shows we're fuckin' awesome. It was really weird how each
band member of each band clicked respectively i.e., guitar player-guitar
player, singer -singer, etc. The
only real anecdote I can think of through the whole tour, I have
been a Killing Joke fan forever. Throughout this tour I was playing
my ass off every night just hoping that Geordie would at let say
something, anything about my playing. One night after one of K.J.'s
more intense soundchecks we were up there doing this & that
& fucking around a little bit and as soon as I leave the stage
I walk pass Geordie and he goes, very calmly as he says just about
everything, " Hey, you're a pretty good guitar player. "
The only correct response that I could come up with was, "
UUhhm, Could you write that down on a piece of paper & sign
it please. " To that he quietly turned, quietly chuckled
& walked away - I Suck!" - Fred "Freak " Smith
Boutique live, Steve Willett and Monica Richards
Smith, live 1989
live persona grew with every performance. The band attracted
a large crossover audience. "Our
concerts in DC grew to be quite momentous because our live
shows were very powerful, and visually exciting. We used backdrops
and stage sets, and quite a bit of smoke, which was unheard
of for a local band in our time. We did not perform often,
so when we did, it was quite a big deal, and fans would drive
for hours to get to these shows. Touring was quite hard, because
we were not known except in the extreme Underground, so we
often performed in sports bars and pizza places, but we had
a great deal of fun together so it was always a good time."
- Monica Richards
being adored, 1992
Boutique - 1990, from Left, Clockwise: Monica, Fred, Danny, and
the Summer of 1990, Strange Boutique began to tour along the Southwest,
ending with a performance in Austin, TX at the South By Southwest
Music Convention. After giving away numerous promo kits and EPs
to no avail, SB decided to consider their own label seriously.
Bedazzled Records as a
singular independent label was born.
Boutique live 1990, Monica Richards and Steve Willett
entered the studio in February 1991 to record their long-awaited
debut album The Loved One.
The album, which featured a new recording of their EP favorite
"Quicksand Minds", was released on their own Bedazzled
Records in the Fall of 1991, and at this time, Daniel
Ingram left SB to explore his expanding musical interests.
He joined England's Swervedriver for their 1992 world
tour, and moved to London. Brilliant drummer Rand Blackwell,
known as "the human drum machine", joined Strange
Boutique and the band performed extensively, touring
the East Coast in support of the release.
Boutique and friends in New York City, 1991
Photo by Patrick Putziger
thing we really loved to do was to charter buses and bring
our friends and fans out to new towns with us. We took full
buses to a number of New York shows." - Monica Richards
Rand Blackwell, Steve Willett, Fred E. Smith Jr, Monica Richards
Boutique last photo shoot, 1993; clockwise from top: Fred
Smith, Monica Richards, Rand Blackwell, and Steve Willett
November 1992, Strange Boutique began recording
the Charm album, again
for their own Bedazzled Records, and released it
in February 1993. This album is the band's favorite; it
finds SB in their most classic style.
CD comes closest to capturing Strange Boutique's live
sound. Lots of layered, textural guitar and lovely vocals
over the melodic basslines and driving percussion. Nothing
less than mesmerizing." - AS IF - 1993
group flew to the West Coast in March of '93 for a double-bill
tour with the immortal This Ascension, as well
as a crowded show at San Francisco's House of Usher with
Switchblade Symphony. Though quite unknown on the
West Coast, SB charmed their California audiences, and
returned home with a growing national fanbase.
though, was a very difficult year for the band. All members
experienced personal hardships, and the strain became
all too apparent. Strange Boutique continued writing
and touring in the ensuing months, but for numerous personal
reasons (cited in the liner notes of their third album),
the band decided to go on a possibly permanent respite.
The band entered the studio in November, 1993, one last
time to record the last songs written, which became the
final album, The Kindest Worlds.
farewell performance took place at the Black Cat in Washington
D.C. on November 11th, 1993, which resulted in an emotional
evening for the band and fans alike. Singer Monica Richards
moved permanently to Los Angeles to work on Faith and
the Muse. Fred
Smith also moved to LA, and is currently working on a
new music project. Steve Willett remained in Washington
D.C. To continue running the now successful Bedazzled
label. He now plays guitar with Tone,
and other music projects. Rand Blackwell joined Siddal
and moved down south to attend school. Strange
sharing the stage with such kindred spirits as PIL,
LUSH, XYMOX, and CATERWAUL, and SHADOW
PROJECT, will always be remembered...
Kindest Worlds was released in late Summer of
far as Strange Boutique was concerned, we were very tired
of striving so hard, and not breaking any ground in the
music business. We are especially proud that we went ahead
and released our own music, as larger record labels ignored
us, which often made us wonder whether or not we were
as good as we thought we were.... After so many years
of recording, releasing and touring, I began to watch
my life slip by, and knew I had to either really give
my life completely to my art or quit altogether. In 1993,
Steve, Fred and I went through some very hard times in
our personal lives, and it really took its toll on the
band; it became evident that we all had our own paths
to follow. I cherish my memories of my years in Strange
Boutique and I am much happier that the band broke up
in its heyday before the enthusiasm disappeared. Some
bands tend to stay together because they‘re afraid of
change; I think SB will always be remembered in a much
better light for having stopped while things were still
good..." - Monica Richards
man, this is a tough one. With all my being & essence
this was probably the most awesome band I have been in
to date. Date being 11-97-93. Of course Beefeater, Who
is God & Black Christ fans will tend to disagree!
I'm fucking still missing this band to this day actually,
day being 7-1-99. We had so much to offer but only the
fans gave a shit. Unfortunately fans, while being awesome
can't fill your van with gas or put new strings on guitars.
Last note, there have been numerous rumors that at times
for certain shows my guitar playing wasn't quite up to
par due to an excess of drugs, drink, woman or women or
whatever. If you can tell me the date, place & venue
of what show I fucked it all up at I will happily refund
your purchase price for said ticket with my most humble
apology. That's If you catch me sober. My deepest love
& memories." - Fred "Freak" Smith
can listen to Fred "Freak" Smith's new solo project,
"American Corpse Flower" on his new myspace
page, a powerful mix of
punk, funk, and metal.
Boutique - The Collection: 1988-1994" CD was released
on Metropolis Records in June, 2004. This CD contains selected
tracks from every SB album, it also has their classic cover
of "Heroes" (previously only released on vinyl)
and the DeMilo video, re-worked especially for this release.
to the Reunion Page!