The B-52s is one of those rare bands that’s so astonishingly unique that people often remember where they were when they first heard its otherworldly music. The beyond-quirky group from indie-rock hotbed Athens, Ga. – led by the spastically foppish frontman Fred Schneider and mesmerizing Bee-Hive Girl singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson – turned the rock world on its head in the late ‘70s with the joyous and absurd songs “52 Girls,” “Dance This Mess Around,” “Planet Claire” and “Rock Lobster.”
Blending surf guitar, catchy harmonies, party-band beats and ludicrously campy lyrics into an unforgettable mix quickly landed the band regular gigs at the seminal New York punk-rock club CBGB’s, then a groundbreaking appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” And they proved the success of the first album was no fluke, going on to produce enduring hits such as “Private Idaho,” “Summer of Love,” “Legal Tender,” “Whammy Kiss,” “Cosmic Thing,” “Channel Z,” “Deadbeat Club, “Roam” and the ultimate party anthem, “Love Shack.”
Thirty-five years and 20 million albums later, the members of The B-52s have reached the enviable point of being able to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Aside from the 2008 album “Funplex,” which was politely received by critics but contains nothing to rival any of the classic songs, the group has created nothing new since 1992.
And that’s OK. The B-52s don’t need to prove anything else. But thankfully, they remain driven to bring their particular genius to the masses by performing live. You can catch them Wednesday night, Aug. 22 at the Hard Rock Live near Hollywood (1 Seminole Way).
Fred Schneider talked to Miami.com about the show, the band’s songwriting process, politics and, ahem, his appearance as a judge along with Kate Pierson on the reality cooking show “Top Chef Masters.”
What can fans expect from the concert?
Well, we changed it up and you’ll hear songs from every album except “Bouncing Off the Satellites.”
In the beginning, was The B-52s’ unique sound calculated, or a spontaneous thing?
It was spontaneous, because we just came up with it and didn’t want to sound like anybody else. It was basically whatever skills we could bring to the mix, we did. And we never really had a plan to make it really big – it just snowballed.
Did anyone come to the studio with any song parts already written?
It depends. I wrote some songs and I’d bring ideas, and we still do that today. Cindy will bring ideas to the studio. Some of the early songs are based on poems I’d written. So it was just a mixed bag and everybody jammed.
Was it difficult to decide what to keep?
Oh, Lord – we did hours and hours of takes, and listened back and picked parts we liked. It’s a long, involved process, because we used tape recorders.
Can you name a few of your favorite places you’ve visited while on tour?
We’ve been all over Australia, and stayed in Kyoto for two nights in real traditional inns, which are beautiful and had traditional food. I had to make chicken noises for them to understand that I wanted eggs for breakfast [laughs].
I understand you enjoy collecting some interesting things – care to elaborate?
Well, way too many vinyl records – with my solo band The Superions, we’re still putting out vinyl. I like space toys – I go for the cheap plastic ones because the metal ones are too expensive. And I collect American and ‘50s Italian pottery, but that’s not weird. I think people think I live in, like, a Jetsons’ space-age bubble or something.
How was your experience on “Top Chef Masters”?
I realized I’m not a TV personality – I looked real stiff, I thought. People said I looked good, but I was like, ‘What the hell are you thinking?’ I sort of watched the show in horror. When I see myself on TV, I don’t wanna do TV.
And I didn’t realize that the chefs were listening in, and luckily some of the insulting things we said, they left out [laughs]. We didn’t mean to be insulting – we were just honest. If I had known, we would have been a little more guarded. We said that one thing was the worst – like, I wouldn’t eat that at all, because I don’t like fruit and vegetables mixed together. I’m not gonna name the dish. I’ll insult politicians, but I don’t wanna insult people working to make something good.
I know you’re very liberal. Are we talking Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan?
Oh, please, the Republicans are ruining the country. I mean, look at the governor of Florida. And Paul Ryan – go back with Michelle Bachman to Wisconsin or whatever. We don’t need you. The country doesn’t need you. And they always go on about how charming he is – all he’s got going for him is some muscles or something. I guess his mother finds him charming, or his grandmother – I don’t know. But they’re just liars.
What do you think of Miami?
We get there about twice a year, and I love to go to the Wolfsonian. Every time I go to Miami, I try to make it there – it’s a great museum.
Fred Schneider of the B-52s