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Q&A: Fred Schneider on Junking, Holiday-Themed Albums, and the Mastergators

April 9, 2010
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Fred Schneider sounds exhausted. It’s an evening in mid-March, and the party-pop icon is at home in New York City—holding forth about his recent musical exploits and the impetus for tonight’s performance at the American Visionary Arts Museum—and he just seems wiped out, like most mere mortals are at 10 p.m. on an average weeknight. Given the freewheeling, flamboyant persona Schneider has spent the past 30-odd years cultivating as the B-52s’ perpetually randy dandy, being exposed to this side of him is kind of like discovering that your pious, soft-spoken pastor is an enthusiastic strip-club patron.

If all you’ve got to go on are Schneider’s new wave-y yesterdays—i.e. his boisterous solo records and tinsel-tape-parade B-52s bangers like “Mesopotamia,” “Love Shack,” and “Good Stuff,” and 2008′s upgrade-for-modern-times comeback album Funplex—it’s easy to infer that this erstwhile “rock lobster” is finally Art Deco-party-pooped. But Totally Nude Island (Happy Happy Birthday Records), the EP he released with new project the Superions in February, suggests that our fiftysomething Fred is simply downshifting his whacked-out, arch-camp quirk into a milder gear.

As front man for the Superions, Schneider adopts a droll, almost spoken-word approach that complements the Jetsons-meet-Men at Work synth-pop stylings of his bandmates. He’s more bemused narrator or winking tour guide than gate-crashing hellion, extolling the wonders of a licentious, make-believe paradise on the title track, flirting with curvy she-aliens on “Those Sexy Saucer Gals,” or desperately trying not to get caught shoplifting at the local Piggly Wiggly (“Who Threw That Ham at Me”).

City Paper: Is this a stand-alone show, or part of a larger tour?
Fred Schneider: It’s a one-off, just a special benefit show for the [American] Visionary Art Museum to thank them for letting us do the Superions video there, for our new song “Who Threw That Ham at Me.”

CP: Will you have a backing band for this show? What material will you be playing?
FS: Yeah—they’re called the Mastergators. My friend Al Shepherd from My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult contacted the museum and got everything going; he’s in the band, plus [former Scissor Sisters drummer] Paddy Boon. We’re doing stuff from the solo albums [1984's Fred Schneider and the Shake Society and 1996's Just Fred].

CP: How and why did the Superions come to be? I know that you just released an EP; are there any plans for a full-length?
FS: My friends Dan (Marshall, music programmer) and Noah (Brodie, keyboard player) live in Orlando, and I stay with them when I’m down there. I turned them on to lounge and tiki music. They wrote some songs, and asked me to put words to them; it turned out really fun. We’re actually in the process of writing a Halloween album, a Christmas album, and a regular album.

CP: Wow! That’s ambitious.
FS: Yep! We have it in us. It’s just a matter of finding the time, because they both have full-time jobs.

CP: What’s going on with the B-52s these days?
FS: We recorded live shows in Australia; hopefully they’ll be mixed and out this year. Right now, I’m really focused on the Superions, on getting that going really strong.

CP: Does Baltimore hold any special appeal for you?
FS: Well, of course, John Waters. I have fun there; I always have a great time. Good shopping, good junking—all the things I like.

CP: What’s the most unusual thing a fan has sent you?
FS: Well, people used to make Quiche Lorraines all the time—models of the pooch in the song. I have a bunch of those. Nothing all that weird, to be honest, thank God.

CP: I think there’s a perception in some quarters that you live a crazy life, full of wacky parties and loud clothes and such. True?
FS: In the beginning, but not really anymore. Though I do dance on a table from time to time.

CP: Are you often recognized on the street? When this occurs, what usually happens next?
FS: Oh yeah, a lot of times. Everyone is pretty gracious and excited. They usually start screaming, which makes me laugh. My fans are great people, really respectful, which I love. Most of them were nuts for a B-52s song when they were in the fifth grade, which makes me feel old!

Fred Schneider performs tonight, April 9, at the AVAM.

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