Q&A: Fred Schneider on Junking, Holiday-Themed Albums, and the Mastergators
Fred Schneider sounds exhausted. It’s an evening in mid-March, and the party-pop icon is at home in New York Cityâ€”holding forth about his recent musical exploits and the impetus for tonight’s performance at the American Visionary Arts Museumâ€”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 yesterdaysâ€”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 Funplexâ€”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: Yeahâ€”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 junkingâ€”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 timeâ€”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.