Whether you are a casual listener or die-hard music fan, everyone knows the familiar voice of Fred Schneider, the male vocalist for The B-52s. From their most famous hit, "Love Shack", to their undeniably important cannon with songs such as "Planet Claire", "Private Idaho", "Song For a Future Generation", and of course "Rock Lobster" - Fred Schneider has been the constant face and voice of not only the Bs (as they are called), but helped to herald in the New Wave here in the US in the late '70s. While the 'States were starting to recognize the sounds of British alternative music, some bands were toiling in America to create their own brand of rock and roll. With little resources other than imagination and creativity, the B-52s worked hard in Athens, Georgia to craft what has since now been labelled as "The World's Greatest Party Band".
Thirty years on, the B-52s are still making records and touring, most recently having performed in Philadelphia last month. Girl About Town was there, and is most impressed with the band's longevity and relevance still today. Central to that is Fred Schneider, who along with his singing mates Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson, carry the energy and fun well into the night (oh and let's not forget Keith Strickland the the rest of the band!). So it's no surprise that Fred Schneider continues to work his labor of love even beyond the borders of the Bs. He is currently enjoying his side project with two musicians from Florida - Dan Marshall and Noah Brodie - as The Superions. What started as an introduction through mutual friends and a love of records has now turned into a four year endeavor, with the band making synth-pop that is instantly accessible and humorous. Fred writes the lyrics and contributes the vocals, while Noah and Dan work on the music (Noah playing keyboards and electric drums, and Dan doing the programming). However, this is a true collaboration, and the result is nothing short of WOW!
The Superions have recently released their first full length album "Destination...Christmas", just in time for the holiday season. This follows up their debut EP which has become an instant classic - with songs titled "Who Threw That Ham At Me" and "Totally Nude Island", The Superions have a flair for the comic and dramatic. Girl About Town had the privilege to interview the band about all sorts of things, from Fred's childhood to Noah's grandmother and of course we discussed the music. First, Royce spoke with Fred, and then Carly chatted with Noah and Dan - so we bring you what can only be called an interview extravaganza!
Girl About Town (Royce): Here in Philadelphia, we have two fantastic perennial radio shows on Christmas day - one is Robert Drake on WXPN, who broadcasts for 12 hours straight during Christmas Eve, and the other is Jon Solomon, who broadcasts for 24 hours straight on Christmas day. Both DJs are notorious for playing unique holiday songs, everything from the ridiculous to the obscure to the rare gems. Your new record with The Superions will fit right in on both shows, and I am sure will be a highlight this season. If you were DJing such a show, what holiday songs would you play?
Fred: Well I would have to say that I would probably be playing similar stuff - I'd be playing "A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas" by The Three Suns; "Santa Claus is a Black Man", James Brown's second Christmas album. I don't think I'd be able to play Rudy Ray Moore's Christmas album, it's a little dirty. "The 12 Days of Sickness" by Sandy Kay (I think it is). This woman did a take off on the 12 Days of Christmas, it's all about liquor and she gets progressively drunker as it goes along - it's great, not that I support alcoholism. Hmmm...All my Christmas records are on the top shelf, it takes a giant ladder to get to them so I haven't been to them yet (laughs). I better get them down because I have to do a photo shoot with them.
Yes, Christmas is coming, it's around the corner!
Christmas started in September for me.
Why haven't the B-52s done a holiday album to date?
I don't know! I wanted to do one. There's no leader in the group, you know.
Do you think then that the Superions Christmas album is filling a void - either for you personally, or do you think this is something the market needs?
Yes, the world needs another take on the holidays. And different kinds of songs. Avalanches, deranged abominable snowmen, things like that. There's too much wreaths and holly. I think holly is poisonous to animals.
Do you have any concerns that with a holiday themed album that people might see The Superions as a novelty act rather than taking you more seriously as a dance/pop act?
I don't worry about anything. I'm just lucky to have a second/side career (laughs). Anytime you do something humorous you're labelled camp or novelty. But most Christmas songs are novelty, especially the good ones. Hopefully people will get my sense of humor and if they don't well c'est la vie!
How does your collaboration with The Superions differ from your past two solo albums?
I worked with one person on my first solo album, John Coté. And on my second album Steve Albini put me in touch with several bands. I find that I am having such a good time with the Superions, it's real easy for me to write with them. I do all the lyrics and have a lot of say in the direction of the music, and they're getting better and better to the point that I'm really happy with everything that's going on.
With the B-52s, the bands visuals and graphics have been an important part of the image, everything from the record covers to the costumes. In certain circles, you have been a tastemaker over the years. Where did all your personal style come from?
My personal style was from not having any! To be honest my mother bought my clothes until high school, so I didn't care. I wasn't interested in that, I was interested in records. When I finally started buying my own stuff, it was horrible - like apple green bell bottoms, and polyester bell bottoms with brown shirts (laughs). And then in Athens no one had any money so you shopped in thrift stores. I like clothes from the '60s and '50s. I mean, you could get a pair of pants for 50 cents and a shirt for a quarter so that's hard to beat. You go to a thrift store now and a shirt is like $40.
You have to know that you are the quintessential icon of all things wacky and kitsch (well maybe rivaling John Waters). How do you feel bearing that responsibility?
I don't see anything that I do as kitschy. I don't see anything that John does as kitschy. Kitsch means worthless. Camp means you're funny but you don't realize it, like Liza Minelli's husband or Charo (well, I think Charo knows it). I just think it's humor. Perverse humor at times, but it's humor. I mean, I know what I'm doing and I don't just sit there and monkey type words out.
Do the other Superions share your taste in music, art, and fashion?
Oh yes! Totally. I met them at a record store, through my friend who owns the biggest record store in Florida. He said "I have these two friends who want to meet you". I said "Oh sure, great." And we met, and a couple of years later they came up with some music and I put words to it, and when I did it was "Totally Nude Island". Early this year we wrote nine songs in eleven days for the Christmas album, and we also have one song for a Halloween album. I don't know what we are going to do next - it will either be a Halloween album or a regular album, or both. Or a Halloween EP and a "regular" album for us. Halloween is like the gay Christmas, everyone loves it. People were saying "Happy Holidays" to me in New York (laughs), so obviously Halloween is a recognized holiday.
How did you come to be on the Fanatic Label?
Well Josh (of Fanatic) was the publicist for our first Superions EP, and he heard our Christmas stuff and went wild for it. He has a label with major backing behind it, so we know it will get attention. We have a good contract, I think, and we are doing whatever we can to promote it. I am trying to get Noah and Dan more involved. I mean, I guess I am the face of the group but I am hoping they can get more of the credit they deserve, because it's like three nuts working together!
Noah and Dan have full time jobs, right? So it might be a harder transition for them to do promotion and touring full time.
Oh yeah, definitely. They can't quit their day jobs yet, and I can't quit mine (laughs).
You're stuck with your day job, I think!
As long as the B-52s want to keep going, I definitely want to keep going.
Which was a stranger place to grow up in: Newark NJ or Athens GA?
I was born in Newark but I grew up near Asbury Park. I liked grammar school, I hated high school. One of the reasons I wanted to go to Georgia was to get as far away as possible. I didn't have to go home except for holidays (laughs). Hopefully you find yourself after high school. I realize that a lot of the people I went to high school with are stuck in that same mindset - you know, that was the best time of their lives.
Have you ever heard that quote from Fran Lebowitz where she says people wear the hairdo of the time they were happiest? I met Fran and she told me that, and it's so true! You still see people with the '70s Farrah flip feather do and that's the last time they were happy.
(Fred is laughing!)
What's next for you Fred?
More work with the B-52s, lots of work with the Superions...touring, writing, recording. An album for The Superions will happen when we don't have to pay to play (laughs). We haven't toured yet, Noah and Dan can't get away. Christmas is a niche market so to develop a show and take it on the road would just be too difficult.
What is your favorite thing about Philadelphia?
I love how easy it is to walk around. There's a vegetarian Chinese restaurant I love to go to. Plus I like the little neighborhoods, South Street, all that. I like to piddle. If I go some place, I don't make the scene, I just walk around with my friends. If we hit a record store, great. If we hit a junk store, great. A thrift store, great, a clothing store - whatever.
Carly of Girl About Town continues the conversation with Dan Marshall and Noah Brodie, the rest of The Superions from their home base of Orlando, Florida.
Girl About Town (Carly): Fred [Schneider] mentioned that you met each other at a record store in Orlando: was that Rock n' Roll Heaven?
Noah: Yep, Rock N' Roll Heaven, right here in town.
Dan: Actually, it was [the owner] Ray's brother; Freddy. They both own the business, and it's kind of funny because I went in (I've been shopping there for years now) and they had a solo project (a vinyl record) of Fred's. "Just Fred," I don't know if you've heard it, but it's really good.
Right, his [Fred Schneider's] solo album.
Noah: Right, and I've been looking for it FOREVER, and they had a copy of it on the wall, and I went up to Freddy, and I said, "Man, if you ever get another copy of this, let me know!". Then he said, "Oh, I know Fred! Let me just call him!" and he called him right there, said that I was a big fan and the next thing you know, 'ol Fred sends down a signed copy of the Just Fred vinyl which I'd been looking for, for quite a while. Then just a couple weeks later, he was in town, and we ended up all meeting, and we just kind of hit it off. We were all record nuts, so we've always been collecting vinyl....
Fred has previously mentioned his love for collecting also : it sounds like a lot of his favorites revolve around the obscure which includes anything from comedy to music. What are some of your favorites when it comes to collecting?
Dan: Well, Fred got us into collecting all of the lounge, and tiki, and you know: stuff from the '50s and '60s. That stuff is great! He got us into that.
Noah: But, besides that we collect all kinds of stuff. One of my favorites is called 'Baby Lulu', it's really bizarre, it's from the '70s, it's probably this forty year old woman and her husband, and she, uh, acts like a three year old girl....
Mmmkay, well, there are fetishes for that nowadays....(both laughing)...
Noah: Yeaahhh...it's really weird, it's mostly about Jesus...Yeahhh, but it's really fun: like I said we have anything from Baby Lulu to Depeche Mode and whatever inbetween.
So, would you go so far as to say that your collective tastes in the, er, wackier side of music inspire the music that you are all creating for The Superions?
(Laughing) Noah and Dan (together): Ha ha, DEFINITELY!
Dan: You could definitely say that!
Noah: Like, I've always been into a really like, scaled-down, electronic; kind-of weird little pop things that you can find here and there. But, yeah, definitely; some of the 'wacky' stuff does influence us. And, if you've heard of them to be called Casio Chords; they're all kind of in that, you know; 'Casio' sound.
Noah; you noted that your Grandmother's given her approval on the group's fun sound. How had you described your music to her?
Noah: Well, it would be kind of tough, because she doesn't really get "electronic", but definitely you know, "electro-pop" with a splash of 'weird'. That's how I've always described it. Certainly, you know: 'off-key' and 'out-of-the-box', I'm sure.
Your group have a few songs the new album, "Destination: Christmas" that take a kind of....mm, 'fearful' turn; like "Teddy and Betty Yeti", "Christmas Tears," and also, "Crummy Christmas Tree". Do the lyrics influence the way the song will sound, or vice versa?
Noah: It kind of goes both ways. There have been times when we've gotten the lyrics first and that kind of dictates the sound, but also vice-versa….
Dan: It's funny because this Christmas album in particular, this is funny (not sure if Fred told anyone this the other night); but we had started making a Halloween record!
Noah: Yeah, the opening track; "Santa's Disco" was originally "Zombie Disco", it was a Halloween song and we already had it in the can, but instead we just added some chimes and bells, and tried to Christmas-fy it up a little bit and so "Zombie Disco" suddenly became "Santa's Disco"!
Fred also mentioned that you still plan to do the Halloween-themed album, but that you are postponing it for next year?
Dan: Yeah, it's going to be great--it will have a great, dark and ominous sound.
So, for right now the plan is full-steam ahead for a 'regular' album between this?
Dan: Yeah, like Fred says, some regular songs…
Noah: The plan is just a full-length, just a 'regular' record if you will. And then either a Halloween EP, or a full-length. Just a few more songs and we'll have a full-length, so….
Dan and Noah, have you both worked together before?
Noah: No, we've known each other for years--we've been friends forever…! We were so lucky to have met Fred, and for this to kind of become what it's become; we feel really lucky! No we've always been long-time pals…
Are you originally both Floridians?
Noah: Dan's from Massachussets….
Dan: I'm from Cape Cod originally, I went to Florida to go to school and shortly thereafter is when I met Noah. We would work on music, you know just for fun.
Had you ever played live before--or was this just something that you did in the studio and then Fred came along?
Dan: We would work on music just for fun--it was more of just, a studio thing.
Where do you perform when you're ready to record your songs? Where did you record "Destination: Christmas"?
Dan: In our house. We just have a ProTools setup on our iMac, and with ProTools, we run a midi-keyboard and electronic drums. We stick Fred in the hallway with a microphone.
You've been busy working with the performance artist and musician Peaches as well?
Noah: Yeah, we just started, actually it's almost wrapped up now. We're doing a song called 'Threeway Freeway'.
Did you say 'Threeway Freeway'?
Noah: (laughs) Yeah, 'Threeway Freeway' with Peaches and Fred, and I don't know if you're familiar with Shunda K; she's an up and coming Rap artist that was with the band called Yo Majesty. She does a rap on it with us. It's really good, yeah--and Peaches is amazing, of course!
So what do your co-workers think about your band?
Noah: Dan, do you want to cover that?
Dan: Oh, they think it's cool and exciting and that it's…well, it was two years ago when we released our first single, and four years ago that we formed and we did it for fun at first. People suggested that we put out the first song that we did--called "Totally Nude Island" so we released that on our own digitally, and you know--just to see what would happen? We got a good response, so we just moved forward with our EP, and a couple other singles and now this Christmas record. Everybody just thinks that it's great!
Noah: For my co-workers--they keep asking me 'So how much longer are you going to be working here?!' and you know record sales are through the roof, but you know it's so hard these days….to do it full time.
Right, and you both have day-jobs, so that must make it kind of difficult.
Noah: Yeah, and you know Fred still has a really busy schedule with the B's and you know, but we're trying!
It looks as though you are having a really great time together. Even your videos portray this. "Who Threw That Ham At Me" is so riotous, camp, and just….such a complete hoot to watch; certain scenes giving the video a John Waters turn….you must have such a fun time filming your videos; it seems like something where you could just get your friends together and have a great big party while making them!
Whose idea was it, for the 'Ham' video?
Noah: Well that was actually all shot up in Baltimore, but me and Dan did some footage down here on our iPhones at Universal [Studios] where we work, so we have some of the street set; like we were in New York, and Hollywood, and we shot six hours down here and then we sent it all to Baltimore, and they filmed all their stuff so a lot of it does have that John Waters' vibe although I think a lot of that is the back-drop and the crazy characters. Fred is the one that really comes up with a lot of the concepts for the videos (like the general ideas) and then we all chew on it together and throw out some ideas and whatnot, and then it becomes a collaboration between everyone.
Dan: Have you seen our new "Fruitcake" video? It's on YouTube right now for people to see online. That one's really fun and we did that all here at our house!
If you had the chance to work with another producer, would you prefer to work in a bigger studio or have something that was a bit bigger-ticket than you're working now? Or do you enjoy having your own say?
Noah: Yeah, we've talked about using other producers, but we love having the control. We definitely wouldn't mind having a producer, and we've talked about it--to maybe take it to the next level. I don't know who we would use--there are just so many great people out there. We've talked about it and we really just don't know.
As you seem to be the band who loves a holiday theme--what's your favorite holiday?
Noah: What's your favorite time, Dan?
Dan: I love Halloween! But we missed it this year because we got so busy working on our Christmas album.
Noah: I don't know why, but I've always loved New Year's. There's just something about New Year's because it's a fresh start. That's my favorite. Christmas too. I've worked in the entertainment business for so long, and we're always working on Christmas and the big holidays, so I don't get to spend those with family too often.
How does working as a part of the entertainment industry translate for you (into what you're doing now)?
Noah: Well, you know I've been in Universal forever. I started there working at "Back to the Future". I'm an Entertainment Manager; I work with the "Beetlejuice" show, and we have a "Blues Brothers" show as well. Universal is a very musical kind of place. Both of the venues that I operate are music venues, you know. Music has always been in my life, when I was a kid I was always in chorus. For me it was always a kind of, natural thing. Dan too…! Dan went to school for creative sound, working with sound and doing music as well. We're all very creative in that way.
Do you feel that the group has a clearer idea of where you would like to take this because you work in the entertainment industry?
Dan: Well, I don't think there's a clear way…at all!
Noah: Yeah, I think--you know, it all started on a lark! It seems like the more we laugh, the more fun we have. It just works, we're just trying to have a good time. We're not out here trying to make mysterious records--these are FUN records!
And Fanatic was a great choice for your label, because they also have a seasoned PR team built-in.
Noah: Yeah! Josh is great! He was a promotion guy, and he totally hooked us up and so when we did the album they were definitely first on our list.
Will you try to play dates on weekends (and start to test the waters) in the future (for live tour dates)?
Dan: Yeah, we couldn't really take a Christmas album on the road….! We want to get out there and start playing live.
Noah: Yeah, we actually booked our first live performance on December 1st--we're doing a charity party at Borders in Manhattan! Yeah, it's for World AIDS Day, so we're really happy to be a part of that!
That's really wonderful! I'm sure people will be excited to see you live and for a great cause!
Noah: Yeah, that's our first performance! We're really excited! It's going to be great too, because there will be so many other things happening in New York as well. It's going to be great!
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