Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

The B-52s frontman reveals the truth about 'Love Shack'

American new wave band The B-52s. Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson.
American new wave band The B-52s. Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson.

Fred Schneider is not calling from outer space. This is surprising.

As frontman for cosmic weirdos the B-52s Schneider has been singing about oddball stuff like space, aliens and rock lobsters for over 40 years. A call from the fringes of the universe wouldn't seem out of place.

Their music, a joyously odd combination of B-movie madness, spacey surf-rock and upbeat, off-kilter pop was perversely out of time when it landed at the tail-end of the 70s and has proved defiantly timeless as the years roll on.

In a couple of weeks, on Valentine's Day, they'll play Auckland's Vector arena as part of a double bill with 80s titans Simple Minds.

It's going to be a heck of a fun night. The B-52s are the ultimate party band and the show falls on a very special night indeed; the 40th anniversary of their first-ever gig, back at a house party in 1977.

Is there anything special planned to mark this auspicious occasion?

"There's probably something," Schneider answers from L.A and without giving anything away. Far from the manically exaggerated and over-hyped vocal style he employs on record, he talks in a friendly, casual sort of drawl.

"We're supposed to open for Simple Minds every show, but for this one they said they'd let us close the show. We didn't really think of anything, but you never know."

American new wave band The B-52s. Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson.
American new wave band The B-52s. Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson.

That the band, which seemed to exist in its own crazed world, would have such longevity still surprises him.

"I dropped out of college and was working as a waiter. I had no plans and I wasn't really a singer per-se. I liked writing poetry. Well, humorous verse I should say. My last project before I dropped out of college was a short book of poetry. Some of the ideas turned into songs much later.

"I'd consider myself more of a writer than a singer," he says, which explains his thoroughly distinctive and unique vocal delivery "It's like reciting."

He has a simple explanation for why he thinks the band is so beloved.

"We have good melodies and good harmonies even though the songs are really weird. I think that entertains people. Little kids really like it. I mean they love the early stuff. It's great," he laughs. "But we never tried to copy anybody. My influences weren't in rock n' roll, not really. They're more soul."

Their biggest hit, of course, is the universe conquering, party starting, karaoke favourite Love Shack. It's the one question everyone wants to know, does the "funky little shack" actually exist?

"I came up with the title and then I pictured this club I went too. Just once. And it was basically a shack in the middle of nowhere," he says. "It was a soul club, an African-American club. And you open the door and it's just bright lights and wild music and dancing and everyone's having a good time.

"So that's how I pictured it. Kate [Pierson, vocalist] pictured her house. I don't know what Cindy [Wilson, vocalist] pictured. We each had our own interpretation but I just thought it was a good title. I didn't realise that other people had done a song called Love Shack."

It's been a while since we heard new music from the band. Their last album was 2008's Funplex, so is there anything new coming up?

"Yeah, we're putting out two live albums, one's a DVD. And we all have our solo projects so that keeps us busy."

But any new B-52s songs?

"No... um... not in the works yet," he says.

I'll hang on to that "yet", I say. This cracks him up.

"Don't hang on too long! Make sure you have a steady grip. I'm just excited to be able to come to New Zealand again. And I know the others are too. Everyone leave your worries behind and come and have a good time."

I've got time for one final question. As I have a fairly significant birthday looming on the horizon who better to ask for party advice? What do I need for the night to be a success?

"Good music of all kinds... drinks... and the right people," he says. "And do a conga line!"

THE LOWDOWN:

Who: Fred Schneider, The B-52s frontman
What: Playing shows with Simple Minds
When: Tuesday, February 14, Auckland; Thursday, February 16 Christchurch

- NZ Herald

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