“The world came around to us,” recalls Fred Schneider of The B-52s. “Top Forty wouldn’t touch us. And now you can’t go to a karaoke bar without hearing us.”
If you were alive in the 1990s, you could not get away from The B-52s. As hair metal gasped its last breath at the end of the 1980s and American music took a jackknife turn to indie bands, The B-52’s, with their groovy lyrics and playful silliness, found a ready audience among Gen Xers not quite as subversive as Nirvana nor as introspective as R.E.M. “The 2’s” neatly balanced between upbeat and offbeat, and songs like “Love Shack” and “Roam” became instant classics, carried on the soaring voices of singers Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson, and also by what was perhaps the band’s signature punch of Schneider’s distinctive sprechgesang vocals. Confident in their style, the band seemingly appeared out of thin air fully formed as a musical juggernaut.
However, the story of Schneider and The B-52s goes all the way back to Atlanta in 1976 as one of the many underground bands playing to small, but dedicated, crowds and low-key venues across the country while disco and then heavy metal dominated the charts. Schneider and his bandmates deftly navigated the pitfalls of these musical fads by sticking to their enduring quirkiness. It was a good plan; The B-52s would go on to become the epitomical good-time band of American music and one of the biggest influences in the industry.
All of which screeched to a halt with COVID-19. Tours? Cancelled. Recording sessions? Limited. Simple human contact? Not until there is a vaccine. And that won’t be until November at the earliest.
“Last March we were supposed to do this 80s cruise, but we dropped out because of the virus, and then people on the cruise got the virus! Some even died,” says Schneider. “And we were supposed to get together to do more songs. Our albums are being remastered, so I’m looking forward to getting together with the band to write more songs.”
At age 68, Schneider finds himself part of the demographic most at-risk from the coronavirus and has safely isolated himself in his Hamptons getaway. And yet he is nothing if not busy; this is a man whose brain is so sharp it whips up hit lyrics on the spot, after all. There is his album collaboration with Hardgroove of Public Enemy, an independent music project called the Superions (“Totally Nude Island” made a big splash on YouTube), and his newest passion, a partnership with Breyting Coffee. He’s even experimenting with hydroponic gardening. Because like the rest of us, he has a surplus of time.
Which is perfect for interviews done safely over the phone! Chilled sat down with this American musical mastermind to discuss his future plans once the world starts moving again.
Tell us what projects you are working on.
Right now I am working with Public Enemy on an album. We have about eight songs already, and we want to do a couple more. I have a song out with Ursula 1000, and there is a video out on YouTube called the “Neptune Freeze.” The B-52s are on hiatus, of course, but we hope to be back on the road in the fall or winter. And as soon as I can I am headed to Florida; I am part of a coffee company called Breyting. We’ve opened an event space with social distancing, so I am excited about that. We have a new blend out called “Satellite Delight.”
What do you like to do with your COVID-enforced downtime?
As the world’s worst gardener, I’ve been gardening. But I also play a lot of CDs and watch movies. I’d be touring with the B-52s if it weren’t for the pandemic.
Where do you like to dine?
Being a vegetarian and not caring for most of the restaurants in the Hamptons, I eat at home. I just got a hydroponic system, so I can grow all sorts of vegetables. Eating lettuce out the wazoo!
What dishes do you order when you do go out?
I like Italian food and Indian. I love Ethiopian. I like Japanese, but only organic.
What are your favorite bars?
Here in the Hamptons, Almond. Elmo and Le Singe Vert in New York City.
What drinks do you order and what is your favorite?
I usually just go for a chilled glass of white wine. But I’ll order a margarita, too.
Do you prepare drinks at home?
Right now I am enjoying rosés. But I’ll make a vodka drink. Because I’m not being very social, I’m not going to make a pitcher of drinks.
What’s in your home bar?
Lots! Mezcals, tequila, a lot of different liqueurs, bitters, and I like digestifs like Amaro. I like full-bodied reds with overtones of cherry and blackberry.
Have you ever been a bartender?
I used to work at a place in Atlanta called Fiddler on the Mezzanine at the bar there a couple of nights. They had a thing there, a 3-for-1, and people would get so drunk! They’d forget to tip; it was just terrible.