Tweet This Mess Around: Fred Schneider Tells It Like It T-I-Is! Part 1
What's that on your head? An interview with the B-52's lead man?
By Kate X Messer,
9:27AM, Fri. Nov. 5, 2010
Fred Schneider, the iconic yelp-yap-yowl of the B-52's and all-'round great fella cum bon vivant paused for a Q & A on the brink of a special B's show next week in Galveston, Texas (to where we are headed, hell yeah) and on the occasion of the release of a Christmas album, Destination Christmas! by his other band, the Superions.
Austin Chronicle: So you met up with these two Florida guys, Noah Brodie and Dan Marshall, and the three of you came up with the Superions. How did you originally connect with them, and what were they doing before they met you?
Fred Schneider: They're doing what they still do: Dan works Hard Rock in Orlando and Noah is the producer of the Beetlejuice show at Universal in Orlando. I met them through a friend who owns Rock & Roll Heaven. They would never come over to say hello because they were too nervous, but finally I met them and we hung out. I stay with them when I'm in Orlando And one day they had a track they wanted me to put words to, so I said sure, and we did a couple of other things but didn't think anything of it. But people who heard what we did liked it and so the rest of it is minor history.
AC: How long before all this had you known each other?
FS: Five years.
AC: I'm still cracking up that you did this Christmas record. But there was rumor of a Halloween record ?
FS: There is a Halloween song, and we have six or seven Halloween songs written. We want to do a regular album first (laughs), but we'll see. We definitely have Halloween songs.
AC: So, you want to sew up the entire holiday market?
FS: Just Halloween and Christmas. I don't think we're gonna do a Mother's Day record or anything.
AC: You really want to ingratiate yourselves into everyone's holidays, don't you?
FS: Well, actually we do want to write the new Happy Birthday and get royalties from everybody on that.
AC: I enjoy your Tweets. Why do you call Republicans "Republirats?"
FS: Like old stupid Bush called it the Democrat Party which was incorrect and also insulting. I think the bigger rats are the Republicans. And the Tea Party oh my god.
AC: Let's talk about the Tea Party a little bit because they are a favorite Twitter topic of yours.
FS: I call them the Tea baggers, a bunch of wind bags, old bags, and gas bags.
AC: Have you voted yet?
FS: Absentee ballot.
AC: Do you vote in Georgia, New York, or ?
FS: I've lived in New York for a long time.
AC: But you were originally from New Jersey, right?
FS: Yes, I went to college in Athens, GA, and luckily stayed there, otherwise I wouldn't have a career. That I can think of.
AC: Where did you grow up in Jersey?
FS: On the shore, near Asbury Park, in Longbranch.
AC: My mother is from Trenton.
FS: Beautiful city.
AC: I always wondered about you, because you have that kind of hybrid accent. Jersey makes sense. You know how Cajuns sound Northern and Southern all at once? Your is very Georgia, but there is that weird twist, like Baltimore or British or Northeastern.
FS: I better just say, "high falootin'."
AC: : (Laughs.) Do you have family in Jersey?
FS: Oh yeah, they're all still there at the family homestead.
AC: How often do you get back up there?
FS: Not enough. We (the B's) just played Red Bank at the theater there, the Count Basie Theater, and my mother came to the show. She's a big fan.
AC: How's mom?
FS: She's great, just turned 80, and she's still kickin'.
AC: Does she dance at your shows?
FS: No, but she's sort of a celebrity. It's like everyone knows it's my mother because I go, "Hey mom!" She does look older than most of the people there, you know.
AC: Speaking of mother celebrities. You worked on a film script, right? Hogzilla? With those guys doing the documentary on Divine's mother, Frances?
FS: I do still have the script, but the documentary= I don't know what happened with that. I mean it was a good documentary, they just need to edit it. She was such a great woman. Really a character. I think everyone thought she'd be negative or this and that. But she was Divine's biggest fan, and I think the only movie she didn't see was Pink Flamingos.
AC: Are you still working with them on the script?
FS: Well, I do have it, but what with the Superions and the B-52's, we're doing shows constantly, and we're gearing up for a bunch of dates next year. Right now the Superions are taking up all my time. I mean, it's gone from, "Hey this is fun, let's put a song on iTunes!" to "Now we have a Christmas album and we're gonna do a show!" We just did a song for World AIDS Day, December 1, in New York.
AC: When Superions go out and do a show, is it just you or all three of you?
FS: It'll be the three of us in New York.
AC: Do you perform together or are there back up musicians?
FS: I might do some things to [a pre-recorded] track. Noah and Dan write the music; I write all the lyrics, and we all arrange it. I do come up with some of the ideas for the music and stuff.
AC: What does it physically look like on stage?
FS: We never have played out yet. Right now, it's me in the living room with the microphone, Noah plays keyboards and synth-drums, and Dan mans the computer.
AC: World AIDS Day is going to be the first live performance?
FS: Yes. Sort of scary but if I can remember to sing to track (laughs.) Well it'll be to track, but I'll sing.
AC: Kind of like on TV?
FS: It'll be better than what's-her-face on Saturday Night Live.
AC: Ashlee Simpson.
FS: Yeah, it'll be better than that.
AC: You've been quoted as saying that you employ a Dada method of writing?
FS: I guess it's sort of like just automatic writing. Lately, I've just been on a roll writing all kinds of things. I'm on a song with Ursula 1000. Sometimes I have an idea, a title or they give me a title, then I write. But with Dan and Noah, sometimes I have the lyrics written or an idea. A couple of the songs on the Christmas album I just made up on the spot like "Fruitcake." Then I go back and fix 'em up, but sometimes it's done as is. And "The Laughter of Christmas," I totally ad libbed.
AC: very much like fruitcake itself.
FS: Yeah. Well, a good fruit cake is good fruit cake. A bad one is really bad.
AC: What is that fruit cake in your video made out of? It rolls. You got some really good mileage out of that.
FS: Oh, foam. We had the guy who does all the props and monsters and stuff from Universal Studios make the fruitcakes and we shot everything with iPhones and I directed well "quote" "directed." I mean, you know, how tough is it rolling fruitcakes down a bridge? (Laughs.)
AC: Where was that shot?
FS: Orlando. We did four videos in seven days. Funny thing I heard was from Paul, who played with the band, his son Al, who's 10, saw the video for "Fruitcake." In the video, the fruitcake goes to a beauty salon, and Al said, "I don't get it. The fruitcake didn't look any different after it went into the salon." (Laughs.) I don't know if there was a tanning bed in there, too.
AC: You mentioned working with Ursula 1000?
FS: Yeah, she remixed "Totally Nude Island."
AC: Do you all plan to make a video for every song?
FS: Yeah, I'd like to. With some outtakes cause like I said we have hours and hours of footage.
AC: How would you complete the sentence "Kids these days, they ___________"?
FS: They needs to wear belts. I don't know, the world gets crazier and crazier. Luckily, I see a lot of my friends are raising great kids, and then I see the kids down the street, coming home from school, and it's like, "Oh, gawd." Plus, there's not I don't know, when I think of who the celebrities are nowadays, like the Real Housewives of this and that, and the A-List, it's like "Oh, gawd." It's like a train wreck: you can't not watch it.
AC: Do you think the over-saturation and easy access to pop culture is too much?
FS: Well, it was [more challenging] for us, because back then you had to buy magazines or buy records. It was rare that any of the new wave or punk bands came around. We had to discover things for ourselves. Nowadays, you just turn on You Tube – what you used to do was turn on MTV. It's been good for us, because we built up an audience of loyal fans and kept them, and now we have their kids.
AC: You have seen generations of fans, and people who have come to know you through so many different avenues.
FS: Well it's true, I mean a lot of people didn't realize that we [the B-52's] had a career before "Love Shack". The more the merrier, I say, get on the boat. And we keep getting new fans, like my friend's kids just love it. I had one six-year-old going, "Fred, what'd they throw at you?" and now it's "What's that on your head?" A six-year-old! Yeah so, I think our music is timeless. We didn't really set out to say, "Okay, everyone's doing electronica, let's do electronica," or "Everyone's doing this; let's get on this boat." We just built our own ark, and we're still afloat.
AC: So, beyond the World AIDS Day show, will the Superions tour live?
FS: Christmas is a niche, but I'll definitely do some live things. I think once we have a quote "regular" (chuckles) record we'll definitely do shows. Basically, it is me and Noah playing all the instruments and ProTools. He has a giant computer. (Laughs.)
AC: What sort of audience are you expecting ?
FS: We're getting responses from all kinds of people, and I think I can even play the record for my mother. She might not want to hear "Santa Je T'aime," but she has a good sense of humor, so.
AC: I wondered, with your Florida connection, have you ever been to the annual Hukilau in Ft. Lauderdale?
FS: No, I've gotta to go there, that sounds good. That's probably where we should play or a topless bar.
AC: Do you know the artist Shag, his art style? Do you think the B-52's were an influence?
FS: Well, we were influenced by other people, but then again, we also had our own creative ideas. We weren't art students, but we definitely created our own style and were pretty influenced by Andy Warhol and all the stuff we read, and saw, and made fun of, you know. Everybody's a combination of things.
AC: Do you see things like that, and that very focused asthetic of retro future stuff as part of your creative family tree?
FS: I think we did influence that, I guess; I never really think about it. People say, "Oh they sound just like you," and it's like, well no, they don't, but I like what they're doing. I guess we're an influence or an inspiration. When people say who are your influences, and I say it's more like inspired.
AC: And that we're all just as inspired by the stuff that's awful
FS: Yeah, there's the good the bad and the ugly.
AC: What are you listening to now?
FS: Well I like Scissor Sisters I have real eclectic taste, and I have a ton of records, so I just like hearing new music when you play an old record 'cause you've never heard it, and it'll never be on a CD.
AC: Do you still collect vinyl?
FS: Yeah, I'm in the process of purging, but you know, never enough purging.
AC: When are you having a record sale?!
FS: I donate my stuff to an archive. I might put the rarest stuff on eBay or something – well, no, she's Republican, too. Maybe on Amazon.
AC: So you donate to the archive up in New York?
FS: In New York. Yeah I'm on the board. Probably bored of me.
AC: What are some good choice pieces of vinyl you've found lately?
FS: A doctor did a comedy record On the cover, he had the giant hypodermic in his hand and a bunch of nurse's smiling and a patient and it's like something like 'Stick 'em with humor' or something.
AC: You need to be Tweetin' more. You could have a whole account just Tweeting your finds.
FS: Actually I have Ruth Buzzi following me now, so I'm really excited.
AC: That's inspiring.
FS: (laughs.) It is. I list her as an inspiration because I thought she and JoAnne Whorley were the funniest things on Laugh In. Yeah, I like comediennes.
AC: You've been an animal lover and activist / vegan and vegetarian proponent for so long. Do you eat Dandies?
FS: I haven't had 'em, but I've had other vegan marshmallows, and they're very good and they taste just like the cheap regular marshmallows. AC: I love them just for the name.
FS: They should put "cruelty-free".
AC: I appreciate how you put your beliefs out to everybody.
FS: Well, I think everyone should, everyone should just tell it like it T-I is.
AC: So, when you play Galveston, will you sing "Galveston?"
FS: (Laughs.) We'll see. The thing is I never really sang in school cause my voice just doesn't lend itself to harmony with other people. I can sing when I'm not trying I don't think I'll be doing "Galveston."
AC: "When I clean my gun "
FS: or "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Or the Alamo.
AC: I'm sure you guys won't go pee on it like Ozzy
FS: No, I would not pee on the Alamo. That would be the last place I'd wanna be stuck with a bunch of people attacking me.
AC: San Antonio and Austin can be fairly sane.
FS: No, no, I like Austin. Really like Austin. Jim Hightower, Ann Richards: There are quite a few intelligent regular Texans.
AC: The Tea Party phenom has been interesting, because now y'all get to see what Texas politics are like all the time
FS: Yeah, well, they've got big money, and it's not the average citizen putting the money behind 'em. It's like really nasty right-wing billionaires.
AC: this Christine O'Donnell, you think she's a witch?
FS: No but I hear Elvira has a thing on YouTube . She's not a witch. (Laughs.) No, I think she's an idiot, like Sharon Angle and all those other people. And the people that follow them are idiots. You know let's get rid of federal medicare and social security and the department of education, cause you have to be really dumb to vote for them.
AC: Last year, when you played the Grand, did you get to hang out on the island at all?
FS: Yeah, I had a day off. I walked everywhere.
FS: I just hope there's not a hurricane when i go there.
AC: No, we're pretty safe this season We'll take care of you.
Check back later today for Part 2 of this interview!