A Conversation With The B-52s

Though their early forays into kitsch imagery confused some, the B-52s party ball was a serious musical enterprise laced with both hippie-ish cheer and sardonic surreality. Cindy Wilson, Kate Pierson, Keith Strickland and Fred Schneider are back in March with the new Funplex (Astralwerks), a bristling and surprisingly raw bit of daft punk.

What’s the most misunderstood B-52s record?
(1992’s) Good Stuff. I don’t know if America wanted a rock/funk record. They wanted grunge. Then when I did my solo album (1996’s Just Fred, recorded by Steve Albini), which was even grungier than everything out there and didn’t sell, well I just figured, “Whatever.” [Laughs]

Fred, you write, you have had solo albums and do a radio show. Why return to the B-52s?
Well, I brought some of what I was doing for my third solo record to a new B-52s record because I think most people would want a new B-52s album. But I have something planned for myself that’s really trashy, something for the whole family. I couldn’t support myself if I wasn’t doing the B-52s. I’d have to move to L.A. to do cartoon music, which I do. My ideas reach a wider audience with the group. We were just waiting on Keith to come up with the music.

Keith, what took you so long to come up with the music for Funplex?
Strickland: I was feeling a lot of pressure to match the success of (1989’s)
Cosmic Thing. Not to sound kooky, but I wanted to get back to my creative source: the place I was when I was 14 and started doing this because it was the coolest thing you could do.

Why not do your own solo project or soundtrack work?
I don’t know. I toyed with the notion of doing other stuff with other musicians. But I had a moment of clarity: Why not just do this for the B-52s? Then I kept thinking I had to write in a particular mindset for the B-52s, which was a mistake. Once I got around that, Funplex flowed more freely. But I still just kept missing deadline after deadline. I guess I’m just not that ambitious.

What void do the B-52s need to fill?
Schneider: No one else even tried to fill—or could fill—our shoes. There was nothing from us but (1998 single) “Hallucinating Pluto” in the last 16 years. Plus, everything’s going to hell. There’s more money spent on partying under a Republican administration than a Democratic one because you’d have to be drunk to listen to their bullshit.

—A.D. Amorosi