Image by Pieter M. Van Hattem
However seamlessly The B-52s transitioned into being a sort of oddball, lovable pop band (“Love Shack” is basically a suburban wedding staple at this point), it should never be forgotten what level of musical and ideological anarchy drove the creation of their self-titled debut album. Indeed, tracks like “52 Girls” and the still utterly surreal “Rock Lobster” came prepared to destroy everything that we thought we knew about music in the 20th Century.
Still, in a previous BlackBook interview, singer Fred Schneider decisively dispelled the myth that there was anything “camp” about The B-52s. “We knew exactly what we were doing.”
40 years on, and those early records still sound as daring and compelling as ever. Which is especially helpful when preparing to trot those songs out again for the band’s much buzzed about 40th Anniversary Tour – launching tonight, July 26, at the Biltmore House & Gardens in Asheville. It will take them clear across the country (33 dates in all) until they wrap things up at New York’s SummerStage on September 24.
As Schneider and longtime bandmates Cindy Wilson, Kate Pierson and Keith Strickland prepared to take to the road, we slowed down the animated frontman just long enough for a quick chat about the tour – also pressing him on what are his favorite destinations around the world.
Punk saw people over 40 as sort of the enemy. So did you ever think you’d still be doing this after 40 years?
In the ’70s, the last job I had was Meal Delivery Coordinator, for Meals on Wheels of Clark County in Athens, Georgia. I hung around people who were way over 40 every day and I loved the job and the people because some of them were real characters. And I felt like I was really doing something good for community. Then the band came along and I realized I couldn’t do as good as a job as I should if I kept doing both…so I had to give it up. But I’m still in touch with them to this day.
Does the anniversary bring up a sense of nostalgia for times past? Or are you all perfectly happy with being in the B-52s at this time in history?
Since we did the last album Funplex (2008), we realized we still have a creative force in us that no one else has – and we come up with songs that no one else would or could. We had a great time doing it, and I really think it’s one of our best albums. We all have so much going on but we all live for today. I am happy being in the B-52s because it’s given me all the opportunities that I have.
Are you finding the audience coming to your shows spanning the generations?
Yes, our audience actually spans the generations. A friend just told me he was looking at the photos from Europe, and for some reason he was surprised that the audiences were really young. I think it’s because our songs don’t really date to any time period; especially since a lot of these were all written before any of those people were born. Even “Love Shack” and all that. The way we work is we just do our own thing and don’t follow trends; we are a one-band trend.
What can fans expect from the anniversary shows?
High energy. Bring your dancing shoes, and put your cell phones away.
What about the possibility of new music? Are you ready to go back into the studio?
We are going to be doing some new songs. It’s also scheduled that all of our albums will be [released] in deluxe packages. But Keith does photography, I have a solo project, Kate and Cindy have solo projects…so we are always working. And we are booking shows for next year, so we are going to be on the road [again].
What do you enjoy most about touring?
The travel I don’t like at all. But I like being with the band, I’m very happy with new management. And we always have a good time on stage. Also, I get to see all my friends around the country, which really makes touring a fun thing to do. But the travel you can have, ha!
Fred Schneider’s Favorite Destinations
The best place I ever went was Egypt after the Good Stuff tour. Pat Irwin, who was our keyboardist and guitarist on that and the Cosmic tour, had a cousin who worked in Luxor transcribing hieroglyphics on the columns. Since the Nile didn’t wash away the salt anymore, the salt in the ground started to ruin the hieroglyphics on the columns on the temples. Her job was to make drawings of them; so she knew of pyramids and places that tourists couldn’t go to – so it was a [thrill] to see these amazing structures. Going to the pyramids and museums was one of the highlights of my life.
Another place I always like to go to is Athens. I never get tired of going back and seeing all of my friends and going to the places I used to go to when I lived there. It’s just a wonderful and creative town. So many people I really like and know still live there.
I always like to go to Denver, I have a lot of good friends there. I like the town and museums, and the surrounding mountains are amazing.
I just got a house with a friend that runs the coffee venture that I’m a part of. So I like going to DeLand because I have a new career as a coffee company owner and promoter. I bring in different people to create lines of coffees and it’s an amazing little town with two record stores, which is unusual for a place of its size.
I love going anywhere in Italy. I love Italian food. I hitchhiked through Italy in the 70s. Naples was just the craziest town I have ever been to in Europe. But just about anywhere in Italy I always had the best time. The food, the sights, the museums, everything.