Christmas came early to QRO when we got to interview the one & only Fred Schneider. The singular B-52s singer talked about his new side-project, The Superions, and their new holiday album, Destination… Christmas! (QRO review), the upcoming Halloween album (unfortunately, nothing for Arbor Day…), The B-52s’ Funplex (QRO review), why these days Rock Band is more of a money maker than records, singing Scott McClellan on The Daily Show, visiting his fellow Superions when “The B’s” play south Florida, being liberal when they play Red State America (even Arizona), punctuation, “Any press is good press”, and more… (including, “Tin roof, rusted!)
QRO: Why a Christmas album?
Fred Schneider: Why not?…
QRO: Actually, why haven’t you done a Christmas album before now?
FS: I didn’t have the music of whatever. I came up with a song, “Crummy Christmas Tree” years ago and I’ve been singing it at Christmas parties and getting everyone else to sing it.
I already had an EP out with The Superions, and we were working on a regular album and a Christmas album at the same time – and all of the sudden, I came up with all these lyrics, and they had music, so we did nine songs in eleven days.
QRO: Were you inspired by any other holiday songs?
FS: No… [laughs] We just wanted it to sound Christmas-y…
QRO: The Superions are based out of Orlando, Florida. Did the fact that it’s still sunny & hot even at Christmastime down there help produce the skewed vision of the holidays – what is it like, making Christmas songs, when it’s so warm?
FS: Easy, I don’t know… I have no problem with it. I don’t find writing songs difficult at any time of year. I mean, we wrote a Halloween song, too. In January. I like to write, and I’m on a roll, so I’m gonna keep going.
QRO: So it’s true that you’re also working on a Halloween-themed album?
FS: We already have six songs. Written, not recorded. We have one recorded and remixed. We want to do an EP at least. I do want to do a regular record – and I just want to do a Halloween record; that’s fine with me.
QRO: Are you going to try to cover all of the holidays: Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Arbor Day?
FS: I’m vegetarian… I think Halloween & Christmas are the two most important.
QRO: How did The Superions start?
FS: I’ve known Noah [Brodie, keyboards] & Dan [Marshall, drums] for a while. I met them through a friend who owns Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven, the record store in Orlando, and he introduced me to them. And we’ve been friends ever since – about ten years ago. I stay with them when I’m in town, and one day they had music, and asked me if I would put lyrics to it, and I said, “Sure” – and it turned into “Totally Nude Island”.
QRO: Did you feel at all ‘on the spot’, having them ask you to put lyrics to music?
FS: No. I just had a couple glasses of wine, I just went into the bathroom, because it had good acoustics – and also, they have Mr. Bird, an azure lovebird, who, if I’m in the same room as the ProTools where he is, he’ll rattle the cage, to try to get me to take him out…
QRO: Have you all performed live for people?
FS: Um, not yet. We have actually six videos. We debuted one recently on Vevo, “Santa’s Disco”. Every couple of weeks, we’re gonna put the others out.
QRO: Oh, cool – running through the holiday season?
The Superions’ video for “Santa’s Disco”:
QRO: How often do you get to play in the Orlando area? South Florida’s geographic isolation often means that it gets skipped during tours by bands.
FS: Well, The B’s play there a lot, and I usually just piggyback staying there with working with The B’s. Or if I’m near there, say in Atlanta – just an hour flight.
Dan & Noah also have full-time jobs… [laughs] So a lot depends on their schedule; have to work around that. Hopefully, they’ll be able to devote more time to this, because I know they’re enjoying this a lot more than regular work.
We’ll see – hopefully I can get a full album out by summer, and Halloween out – at least a Halloween EP.
QRO: Speaking of playing down there, how was the recent SunFest (QRO recap) down near there, in West Palm Beach?
FS: Great – I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen in like twenty years, who I sat next to in grammar school a lot; we were good friends in grammar school. We got to hang out. The audience in Florida is always great; I wished we’d play there more.
It’s up to the promoters – I don’t know why they don’t bring us around more, ‘cause we certainly sell out.
QRO: Speaking of places that don’t get a lot of tour stops, have you ever played [“My Own Private”] Idaho?
PS: No. That’s one of those places we haven’t played. We’ve played Utah.
It all depends on promoters bringing us in. That’s who books the show and say they want the talent. We have a booking agent, but they have to find a local promoter to put on the show.
We’ll play just about anywhere, as long as they ‘come up with the moohla’. It has to be worth my while, we have to support – they’re seven of us, and we have seven crew, including the road manager, so we want to keep everyone working. I’m not ready to retire yet – unfortunately, I can’t retire…
QRO: What are some of the odder places that you’ve played?
FS: We played on a dining room table in Athens early on. We played in a corner of some tiny club in… Ohio somewhere.
We did a private show up in the mountains during the winter. It was raining, everyone was in fancy clothes, and the ground was soaking wet – like, up to an inch of water. [laughs] That was great – I jumped off stage to get everyone dancing, and I realized why no one was dancing…
We played Central Park for Earth Day in 1991. I asked the policeman what the estimate was, because a lot of papers like to underestimate things that are positive, like environmental, and he said, “Oh, definitely a million. At least a million or more people here.” I’ll go with his estimate…
QRO: What’s next for The B-52s?
FS: Heading to Galveston & two places in Oklahoma. Hopefully bring some liberality there, considering the two senators they have there, too…
We recorded three live shows – that’s in the can; I don’t know what’s happening with that. And now all these DVDs are coming out from Europe – no one tells us. The quality’s not good, and who knows who’s putting them out and if we’re getting royalties – so we’re gonna have to look into that.
We’re starting to book gigs for next year – we’re keeping busy.
QRO: You mention playing places like Oklahoma or Texas – how much can you be ‘political’ when you play Red State America?
FS: I think most of the people coming to our shows are Democrats or liberals. I’ll say whatever I feel like; I don’t care. Like if I’m in Arizona, not to mention names, but hopefully you won’t vote for a geezer with a pill-poppin’ wife
– I’m not gonna say what politician it is…
QRO: What do you think about all those bands who are boycotting Arizona, due to the new immigration laws there?
FS: I don’t know if that’s the most effective way. I think getting out the vote, getting people to change things through the political system – especially people have to be energized for this election, because it is like a mixed bag of rancid nuts running…
I just boycott every Republican-owned business I can anyway, if I can, and I would encourage that too – anything right wing, anything owned by the Koch brothers, Exxon-Mobil, all that stuff. I would encourage people to use the political process to cause distress to right-wingers and people like the Bushes & Cheneys who ruined our country.
Here we go on that cheery subject…
QRO: Is it going to be another sixteen years before you put out another new B-52s record?
FS: You know what, I don’t know when the next one is. It’s so difficult and expensive to do records nowadays that I just don’t know what will happen. I can’t predict.
Nobody buys record; everyone downloads for free. I’ve found people who say, “Oh, I downloaded that song, ‘Funplex’.” “Well, did you listen to anything else on the record?” “Oh, no…” I’m like, “O-kay – I’m glad we did the record…” But I am glad we did the record; I think it’s one of our best. It’s a shame not as many people heard it as our old stuff.
It was our worst selling record, ever. We broke even, so that was good – we didn’t lose any money, or lose the record company any money.
QRO: Do you think having a new record helps get people out to your live shows, and things like that?
FS: People complained, “We want new songs.” Of course then, when we did new songs, they said, “Do the old songs!” Okay… We’re going to do them eventually again.
QRO: How have you balanced getting new songs into the set list, alongside the classics?
FS: We do whatever we want. We pick the ones that we worked up and do ‘em, and we hadn’t had any complaints. And if we do, I wouldn’t listen to them anyway…
QRO: Why did you drop the apostrophe in the name?
FS: It’s grammatically incorrect, punctuation-ly incorrect.
I guess that goes as much attention as the record… [laughs]
QRO: What’s it like having such a well-known signature voice?
FS: Well, it helps me have a career… [laughs]
I don’t have any skills, so I was lucky to help start the band. And it’s been my career. My voice is an important part of the band. I feel very lucky, to be honest. I never sang much in school, that’s for sure… [laughs]
QRO: On The Daily Show, they had you recite something else, to make it sound more interesting…
FS: Oh yeah, the book from [Scott McClellan], he was in Bush’s inner circle, the press person, he realizes… He just told it like it was, like everyone else does. When you’ve got the worst presidency in history, unfortunately you’ve got a lot of stuff to write about…
It was pretty dry, I guess, his talking book was dry, so I did it to “Love Shack”
QRO: Do you get fans trying to sing famous lines of yours in their impression of your voice, like how people recite, “Say hello to my little friend,” to Al Pacino?
FS: Oh, yeah, yeah, and then I say, “That was… pretty bad.” It usually is, to be honest. They always do the, “BLAH-blah-BLAH” – Hello, I’ve got a little more melody than that…
But whatever, as long as you like it, what can I do?
QRO: Do you maybe make more money than a usual band make off of karaoke? Bands get a percentage of songs when they’re used on a karaoke machine.
FS: That, and Rock Band. We have several songs on Rock Band.
That’s how you make money these days – touring, and that. Because no one’s buying records. Downloading, or buying used CDs – I mean, I’m guilty of that, buying used CDs.
QRO: Do you worry about that for The Superions?
FS: You know, you can’t, because it’s just a given. But, what we do is, we make our stuff desirable. The physical album is really nice, the vinyl – a lot of people collect vinyl. The artwork, my friend Brian Fraley did, looks great. So people are missing even what little there is, as far as a CD has to offer, as art.
We’re going to do “Fruitcake” t-shirts soon.
The Superions’ video for “Fruitcake”:
QRO: After predicting the Paula Dean incident with “Who Threw That Ham At Me?”, are you worried that someone like Martha Stewart is going to get a “Fruitcake” thrown at her?
FS: Well, we’ll just have to run with it. I don’t know – I think she’s had worse… [laughs]
Any press is good press…
QRO: A fruitcake would be deadly…
FS: Yeah – “If it hits you head / It’ll kill you dead”…
That ham thing was an accident. People actually thought I threw it – it’s like, “Yeah, I just ran in and threw a ham at Paula Dean…”
QRO: I told friends of mine that I was going to do this interview, and they all asked me to ask you the same question: What does “Tin roof, rusted” mean?
FS: It means you have a rusty roof, down South. If you go down to Georgia & the southern states, there’s still a lot of tin roofs, and they rust…
I don’t know what Cindy [Wilson] was singing about, because we were jamming, and I couldn’t hear. The three of us were there, in the room, singing at the same time, with no separation, while we were jamming on Cosmic Thing. Cindy said, “Tin roof, rusted,” and I said, “Your what?” And then she yelled, “Tin roof, rusted!”
So, I don’t know what she was singing about before or after that, but it’s ‘music history’. I think a lot of people think she’s talking about someone being pregnant. Maybe it does, I don’t know…
The Superions’ video for “Crummy Christmas Tree”: