Fred Schneider: The B-52s member on music, Vegas, and the band's Mosswood Meltdown show

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Saturday June 22, 2024
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Fred Schneider (photo: Wikipedia)
Fred Schneider (photo: Wikipedia)

I'll bet you never thought you'd hear the words The B-52s and "Las Vegas residency" in the same sentence, but here we are. And more dates, for November 2024, have been recently announced.

Seriously, is there anything The B-52s can't do? From the band's longevity (together nearly 50 years) to its 1995 kids' book "Wig," to performing as The BC-52s in "The Flintstones" movie, to recording some of the most beloved songs of the New Wave era (and beyond), there is no one else like them.

Which, of course, begs the question, why aren't they in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

While you contemplate that, take a few minutes and read this new interview with gay band member Fred Schneider, in which he talks about the B-52s' upcoming performance at the Mosswood Meltdown (July 6 & 7) in Oakland and much more.

The B-52s' Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson  

Gregg Shapiro: In early July, The B-52s are headlining the annual Mosswood Meltdown music festival in Oakland, hosted by John Waters. What are you most looking forward to about that show?
I've known John since "Cry-Baby" when he invited me to the opening in Baltimore. To work with him is really exciting. I'm a big fan of this band Hunx & His Punx. I know (front person) Seth (Bogart). I'm looking forward to it!

As always, the Mosswood Meltdown line-up is thrilling and includes Big Freedia, Bush Tetras, Hunx & His Punx, Pansy Division, and Red Kross, to name a few. Are there any bands you're excited about seeing?
I'm not that familiar with them, to be honest. But my friends are really excited [laughs], so it should be great.

In addition to the Mosswood Meltdown, The B-52s are continuing the post-farewell tour residency at The Venetian in Las Vegas with new dates added for November 2024. What has The Venetian experience been like for you?
It's great, because people from all over the world want to go to Vegas. So, it's ideal. That way many more people can come see us, rather than us slogging around the country on a bus playing small venues or cities. It's more cost-effective for us, and it makes it easy on us. We don't have to go anywhere.

Everybody comes to you. That's the best, right?
Yes, that's what I wanted. Because we've gone to them for 40 years. Now, it's like, okay, come to us.

In recent years, artists such as Sufjan Stevens, David Byrne, Green Day, Alicia Keys, and Duncan Sheik, have written Broadway musicals. Is there any possibility that there is a B-52s or Fred Schneider Broadway musical in the works?
We are in the process of working with different writers to come up with something. We have ideas for a B-52s musical, but I can't say what because nothing is set in stone yet. But it'll be wild.

That's fantastic! Music documentaries are becoming increasingly popular. This year alone, there are new docs about the Indigo Girls, Cyndi Lauper, Luther Vandross, and Allee Willis, to mention a few. What is the status of the doc about The B-52s?
It's still a work in progress. We're still alive so...

Ahead of your bandmates, in 1984 you released your first solo album — "Fred Schneider & The Shake Society," which I am happy to say I have a copy of on vinyl. It was later reissued on CD with a different title and artwork, followed by "Just Fred," your second solo album, in 1996. Do you recall why the first album was rereleased with the changes?
It had never been on CD. We just enhanced some of the songs and remastered it because it was analog.

One of the things that I remember about that album is that great duet with you and Patti LaBelle.
[Laugh] My ex-manager at the time said, "Why do you want to sing with her? She hasn't had a hit in years." And then what happens? In the next week or two she comes out with "If Only You Knew," which was a huge hit. I was friends with her through her publicist at the time, who was a great guy. And, hello? Sing with Patti LaBelle? Okay!

In the meantime, Kate released her official solo album in 2015, and then Cindy released her first in 2017 and second in 2023. This is a long way of asking if you, Fred, have a new solo album in the works.
I'm working with other people and putting out songs. My Christmas album, "Destination Christmas," with The Superions did well, so we're reissuing that this year on vinyl and CD. I have things in the works. I'm working with (Brian) Hardgroove from Public Enemy.

I have a song out now on a tribute (album) to (keyboard player and producer) Bernie Worrell, which they only pressed 2,000 copies. I'm also writing for other people. We're going to release a single of "Planet Claire" that I've done with Jimmy Plank on which we make it sound different. I don't want to give people a rehash of the same thing.

I'm glad you mentioned the vinyl reissue of The Superions album. The first few B-52s albums were released on vinyl and then came the CD revolution. Now vinyl has made a comeback. What do you think about the return of vinyl?
We're selling vinyl like hotcakes at our shows. They're re-releasing just about everything on colored vinyl. I don't even have all the different colors!

But the important question is, do you have a turntable?
Oh, yeah! Of course.

A couple of days before this interview is taking place (in early May 2024), musician and record producer Steve Albini, with whom you worked on "Just Fred," passed away. Is there anything you'd like to say about your experience of working with him?
It was fantastic! Steve was great. I was a little nervous at first. His reputation was way different from what I did. It turned out he was a big fan of the B-52s and I think a bit bemused that I was interested in having him record me.

My ex, and best friend at the time, was the one who urged me to do it. Through him (Albini), I got to meet so many great bands. I got to stay in Chicago for a while. I made great friends with him and his wife. I wound up doing Second City. I studied improv under Gary Austin who formed The Groundlings. It was so great to work with him (Steve). It was a great experience, and it's such a loss. People don't realize how great and honest he was.

Speaking of being honest, do you think you might have a memoir in you?
No! No, because if you tell the truth everyone hates you in the band [laughs]. I'd rather be loved by the band. I'm sure they have things to say about me, of course. Why dig up old dirt? I know where it's caused friction for years for some bands with their members. It's not worth it. And you don't sell that many! Forget it! I'm not going to sell a thousand copies to ruin what I have going, which is so satisfying and fun.

Mosswood Meltdown, $99-$399, July 6 & 7, Mosswood Park, 3612 Webster St., Oakland

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