Interview: Fred Schneider of the B-52’s

As a blogger, we’re not often given opportunities to interview legends. So when the offer to interview Fred Schneider came up, I had to jump at it. As the creative force behind the B-52s, Fred Schneider helped write such immortal songs as “Rock Lobster” and “Love Shack”, both of which were included in Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time. Schneider is currently involved with The Superions whose debut EP will be released later this month. Over the course of our interview, Schneider and I covered such varied topics as his childhood, Athens, GA, and the future of the B-52’s.

Growing up, what were some of your musical influences?
I never really sang around the campfire. Growing up I liked Halloween songs and nutty Christmas songs. When I started collecting records, I was into Motown. I was the only kid at the dance that didn’t care to slow dance but was happy for “Dancing in the Street” or something equally wild. Everybody else wanted to neck, I wanted to do the jerk.
So pretty eclectic taste then?
Well back then you had your top 40 which was eclectic. You had your Supremes, your Beatles, the Four Seasons. That was the times.
Did you always want to be a musician or did you have other aspirations?
No, I never was a “when I grow up I want to be…” kind of kid.
So if music didn’t work out, what do you think you’d be doing now?
Probably waiting tables. I’ve got no skills so I really lucked out.
Your vocal style is pretty distinct. How did you develop it?
Well, I’m more of a writer. I’ve always felt my strong point is writing. That’s how it started. Keith and I used to make basement tapes; he would play guitar and I would just recite stuff off the top of my head. I can sing but I don’t know maybe I just freeze up and forget melody.
Lyrically, your songs are pretty unorthodox. Where does that inspiration come from?
I’ve always been into crazy stuff even as a kid. Even with the B-52’s, a lot of the later stuff that we did comes from those early basement tapes. I’ve always been into surrealism. I always thought that once I had to do a final project in college I was going to drop out. But a friend of mine did a book of poetry and I thought “…I’ll just write a book of poetry”. I just sat down and wrote everything that was in my head and I got an A. The teacher wrote “I didn’t really understand any of this but I can see that you’re serious”. It was ridiculous. I had to read it in front of the class and everyone just sat there like “what the hell?”. Except my friend who was in the class who just kept laughing at everything.
Then after that I was a janitor for three days. Then I went to work as a chauffeur who drives elderly people to doctor’s appointments and delivering meals. I never really thought I’d go into music. We did this one show in 1975 where we played the same four songs for three hours. We had like fifteen people on stage including three violins; I don’t know where we got some many violins. I don’t think we had a drummer but Keith played guitar.
Speaking of the early days in Athens, when you started off Athens wasn’t really…
BORING! Athens was really boring.
How do you compare Athens back then to today? And how has it developed?
Well there was really no place for us to play back then so when we signed with Warners and we moved to the North. While we were gone it became a little hot bed for great music. So we started it all and then left. But you know I think its more difficult now to start a band and do anything because there are so many bands there. We started just all hanging out and we thought “what should we do now? Let’s go to a friend’s house and jam on something” which turned out to be “Killer Bees” which we played out a couple times but faded from the repertoire.
That’s how the B-52’s came together. Your new band is the Superions, how did you guys come together?
Well, I’ve known Noah and Dan for a while now. When I’m in Orlando, we hang out because they’re just as nutty as I am. One night when I was there, they said “we have this track would you put some words to it?” and I said “sure”. I had a couple glasses of wine and came up with “Totally Nude Island”. We thought “this is funny. This is great.” We all loved it. Then we asked Ursula 1000 do a remix; I’m a big fan of his music. And he did and it really took off. “Who Threw That Ham At Me?”, I was original too embarrassed to release. I thought “this is stupid” but it got everyone laughing so I thought “yeah okay, let’s do it”. There was some really nutty stuff that came out.
We were originally going to be called “The Delmorons” but a friend said “they’re gonna think you’re a comedy group, you should change your name”. So we came up with the Superions. It’s all very spontaneous; they have the music and I either write down lyrics first or put some lyrics to the music. Now we have a little music career going. We signed to Happy Happy Birthday to Me. Mike, who runs the label, is a great guy; I like a lot of the bands on his label. Originally, we were gonna put out a 12″ then it snowballed into an EP. Then we signed to Revolver Records for the rest of the world. It just all sort of happened. Dan and Noah still have their full time jobs and I’m still with the B-52’s but now I’m putting a ton of effort into the Superions. We’re really shooting for a full length CD, a Christmas LP, and either a Halloween EP or CD by the end of the year.
Wow, so you’ve got a lot going on there.
The Halloween thing is gonna have TV shows on it. Really nutty stuff.
You’ve done collaborations with everyone from Sleater-Kinney to RuPaul. Is there anyone you haven’t collaborated with that you’d love to?
You think it will happen?
Well Peaches I know. She seems interested about it but with being busy with the Superions and the B-52’s still tour a lot. I’ve got my hands full. I’m so busy right now. Plus I’m really enjoying the writing process now; it’s really fun. I know I’ve got something good if I just burst out laughing and keep laughing. We’re our own best audience.
We’ve mentioned the B-52s a couple of times. What’s your future plans with them?
We recorded a show in Australia for a live album. Other than that, we had a remix album; I don’t know what the hell happened with that. We got really shafted by the record company we had in Europe because they just fell apart right after our record came out. It’s our first new record in 16 years and EMI tanks. I don’t see how we do a new record the way we do them. We have to all fly to the same place and then write. We pay for the studio ourselves and then you can always download it for free…what’s the point? Our last record broken even and that’s it. It’s our first new record and we think it’s one of our best.
So you’re skeptical if there will ever be a new full length from you guys?
I really can’t say. It would be great but what’s the point of putting out a new record if no one buys it? All these people think music should be free; maybe they should go to work for free.
Have you given any thought to the new music model Radiohead pioneered with “pay what you want” downloads?
I’m not sure. I think most people probably would say “I think I’ll just pay a penny”. I don’t know how that worked for them.
No, I’d rather work with the Superions because we do everything digital. We use Protools and its easy. With the B-52’s, we do need a studio, we need an engineer, we all need to fly down, we need to rent cars, we need to pay for hotels. We still use Protools but we still need to be there to write. We don’t really write on the road.
You know, I shouldn’t say “we’re not gonna do another full length”. You never know. We might do some covers or things like that but right now we’re gonna concentrate on the live album coming out and make sure that’s really good.


  • Vince Farin says:

    I bought 3 copies of Funplex and I will probably buy 3 of any future studio album.

  • Harold says:

    I didn’t even know about Funplex until a few days ago…and I’m a B-52’s (or B-52s, now, according to Wikipedia) fan!

  • Shan says:

    I bought Funplex, in fact I bought the autographed edition. Unfort. when they were hugely popular I wasn’t alive, or had too small of an allowance to afford an album of theirs :)

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