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Biography (with quotes from Monica and guitarist, Fred Smith)
Madhouse live, 1986

Strange Boutique 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.

Monica 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.

"By '86 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

"After 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

Early 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."

The band's first EP, Easter Island was released in the Spring of 1989, showcasing Monica's new voice and the band's diverse musical talents.

"Strange 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

Strange 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 unusual liveshows.

"Strange 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

FlyerFollowing 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.

"Killing 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

Killing Joke 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. 

"HOLY 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

Strange Boutique live, Steve Willett and Monica Richards

Fred Smith, live 1989

Strange Boutique's 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

Fred being adored, 1992

Strange Boutique - 1990, from Left, Clockwise: Monica, Fred, Danny, and Steve

In 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.

Strange Boutique live 1990, Monica Richards and Steve Willett

Strange Boutique 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. 

Strange Boutique and friends in New York City, 1991
Photo by Patrick Putziger

"One 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

 

[Photo - Rand Blackwell] [Photo - Steve Willett] [Photo - Fred Smith] [Photo - Monica Richards]

L-R: Rand Blackwell, Steve Willett, Fred E. Smith Jr, Monica Richards

 

Strange Boutique last photo shoot, 1993; clockwise from top: Fred Smith, Monica Richards, Rand Blackwell, and Steve Willett

In 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.

"This 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

The 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.

1993, 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.

Strange Boutique's 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 MuseFred 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 Boutique, sharing the stage with such kindred spirits as PIL, LUSH, XYMOX, and CATERWAUL, and SHADOW PROJECT, will always be remembered...

The Kindest Worlds was released in late Summer of 1994.

"As 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

"Fuck 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

 
You 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.
 
"Strange 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. Order

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