Millennials will likely recall New Wave institution The B-52s because of their fifth studio album, Cosmic Thing, and “Love Shack,” from the same record. The song and video fast became a cultural phenomenon in the days when MuchMusic and MTV programmed actual music videos. The B-52s were instantly recognizable with their kitschy aesthetic in that video landscape: beehives endlessly towering in a Warhol-esque tribute to The Jetsons and 1950s, post-war America.
Who could forget Kate Pierson’s cat-eye makeup and Cindy Wilson’s glorious blonde ponytail or Fred Schneider’s queeny, frenzied presence in a dandy suit in the “Roam” video? The B-52s and their songs were sonic candy for kids on playgrounds and in-the-know grownups alike.
But before The B-52s scored mainstream success with that record, they were hampered by tragedy — the death of Ricky Wilson from AIDS in 1985. Wilson was one of the co-founders of the band, its lead guitarist and brother to band-mate Cindy Wilson. Following a brief mourning period, the band dusted off their checkered lapels and went on to record their most commercially successful record to date.
Lead singer Schneider will DJ at the Phoenix in Toronto as part of Unison Benevolent Fund — a charity that financially aids musicians during times of crisis.
Xtra talked to Fred Schneider ahead of his Hogtown DJ gig. We spoke about wine, pot and the precarious fountain of talent in Athens, Georgia.
Xtra: You’re DJing a set at the Phoenix here in Toronto for Unison Fund. Can you tell me what attracted you to this charity?
Fred Schneider: I’ve been friends with Jaymz B for years, and when he said the charity benefits Canadian musicians, I said, “Yes!” And I love Toronto!
What kind of treats do you have planned for the audience with your DJ set? What kind of music can we expect to hear from you?
I’m going to start with up-tempo soul and funk from the ’60s and ’70s and then rocking dance music from different decades.
The B-52s are from Athens, Georgia, as are other seminal bands like REM and Pylon. Is there something in the water there that produces such otherworldly talent?
Wine and pot.
What can you tell us about your side project, The Superions, and the Superionicus collection?
We have a full CD ready to go with some really radio-friendly and weirdo-friendly tunes. Shopping it around for release.
You’re famous for your spoken-word style of vocals. Who are your influences lyrically?
Dada, surrealist poetry, Edward Lear, my subconscious.
Can you tell me about publicly coming out as a pop star?
Nothing’s really changed, thank god. It’s so vastly better for young people today than when I started. But it was obvious, and we get so many people telling us our music helped them get through life living in a bum-fuck town in America.