Fred Schneider is one of most iconic figures in American pop music. His work as a writer, artist, actor and vocalist for The B-52s has made him one of the most recognizable personas in contemporary music.
While The B-52s take a breather, Fred has joined another band, The Superions, with Dan Marshall and Noah Brodie. They have released several digital singles, “Totally Nude Island” and “Who Threw That Ham At Me?” and “Those Sexy Saucer Gals,” while inventing a new dance called The Disco Garbage Can.
The Superions have released an EP, The Superions, and are releasing Destinationâ€¦Christmas, an album of Yuletide treats featuring the lead single, “Fruitcake,” on October 26th.
Rob Levy, our music minister on the scene, spoke with Schneider about The Superions, his career and The B-52s.
[ad#longpost]Rob Levy: How did The Superions start out?
Fred Schneider: Noah and Dan are my good friends and I stay with them when I am in Orlando. About five years ago the band [the B-52s] was writing Funplex and I was down there and they had a track for me and asked me if I would put lyrics to it and I said sure. The music was
“Totally Nude Island” and so I just came up with the title off the top of my head. Over the course of a couple of visits we wrote five additional songs.
RL: “Who Threw That Ham At Me?” is based on a true story, isn’t it?
FS: Supposedly. I know five people who have said they heard the story. It is always some overweight lady walking past the cash register or at the door of the supermarket and a canned ham falls out of her coat and she quickly turns around and says “Who threw that ham at me?” Very believable. But I guess it is believable although I don’t know if someone would yell “Who threw that ham at me?”
RL: How much time and energy went into creating the dance sensation that is The Disco Garbage Can?
FS: Oh lots and lots. I consulted Dancing With The Stars and everything. It took me about one minute.
RL:In the video, the clip of you dancing in front of the White House is great.
FS: Oh god. The nuttiest people hang out in front of the White House.
RL: Did anyone notice what you were doing?
FS: Nope. Nobody bats an eye. So many nutty people are in that little park area that it doesn’t really register.
RL: Is there going to be a proper Superions album coming out in the future?
FS: Right now I am working on the lyrics and spoken word stuff for a Christmas album and a regular album.
FS: The bad ones. Halloween ones are usually good. Nothing really religious for the Christmas ones.
RL: Is Halloween your favorite holiday?
FS: Oh yeah. I think it is most everyone I know’s favorite.
RL: Is there going to be a Superions tour to follow the EPs and the album?
FS: We don’t have any dates set yet. We don’t really have a show because basically it’s Pro Tools. We’ve got to come up with something good. A really crazy lights show or video show to go with it.
RL: Speaking of Pro Tools, what was it like for you as a musician to work with Pro Tools as opposed to when you started out with the B-52s?
FS: It makes it so much easier. It makes making music really cheap. We could not have afforded to get a studio and equipment. We get exactly what we want.
RL:You mentioned Dancing With The Stars. Would you judge a reality show?
FS: Oh I’d love to judge one of those things. I would always probably let the worst people hang on.
RL: With The Superions does it feel different being in a band other than the B-52’s?
FS: It’s a different mindset in that with the B-52’s we sort of do things collaboratively where we all start jamming and someone will have an idea or we might not have an idea for a song and then keep it up and jam to and then we all arrange it. With The Superions I come up with the words and Noah and Dan come up with the music and then we all arrange it. I have ideas that I like as far as the music and the direction to how the lyric is going and we are all on the same page.
RL: Can you talk about Athens and what that scene was like when you started out?
FS: When I was there wasn’t any scene except for the band. There was no place to play and no place to see alternative bands. The only place for us to play was a folk club. The next band was Pylon but there wasn’t really a scene. People go there now to start bands and you can see five bands a night and back then you were lucky to see one good band a week.
RL: You’ve worked with a lot of interesting people over the years what was it like working with Steve Albini [for his Just Fred, Schneider’s second solo album]?
FS: I had liked his work with PJ Harvey. I didn’t know if he would be interested in producing something by me. I played him a demo and what I did on this record, which was more punky. I just have great respect for Steve. He had great ideas. He put me in touch with great people to work with.
RL: Would you ever do a solo project again?
FS: I’m getting a lot of satisfaction with The Superions. We all work well together and we agree on most everything.
RL: What is going on with the B-52s?
FS: We’re on tour all the time. We’re mixing a live album that was recorded in Australia.
RL: The B-52s remain timeless. None of the records really sound dated. Is this done on purpose as an artist or has it evolved through the creative process of your music?
FS: I think it is both. It takes all four of us to do it. We’ve always done our own thing. We like all different kinds of music. I wouldn’t say they were equal. No one’s really influenced my way of singing or writing. I’ve been doing that for years. We just came up with our own style, stuck with it and got more modern, got better. I think our last record, Funplex, was one of our best. I feel like we have an amazing audience for the work we’ve done collectively and I just couldn’t be happier.
RL: Have you guys reflected on your influence on the lexicon of American popular music?
FS: People tell us that. You know I never really do because I never set out to do music. I dropped out of college. I never really sang hardly I mean I wrote a lot. I consider myself more of a writer. But I realize that something amazing happened when we inducted in the Georgia Music Hall Of Fame.
RL: What is your writing process like? How do you write your songs?
FS: Whatever I have handy. Thank God for the cell phone, iPhone, the notes section. I’ve actually written complete songs on the notes thing. Unfortunately I didn’t realize I could email them to my computer so I lost a whole bunch of ideas. I do like to see the word written out by hand. Or I’ll call my phone with an idea. I love typewriters.
RL: Do you have a vintage typewriter that you use or do you use one of those fancy modern ones?
FS: No. I don’t have a typewriter anymore. Handwritten and typed out looks better then something written on a computer. I can get a better idea of what I am doing when it is written. I can change things. I don’t know there is just something about the written word.
RL: What is your writing process for The Superions?
FS: Pretty much we get a song at a time or an idea at a time down really well and then make changes. Now I am having Noah and Dan listen back so it’s not just me all the time. The next one will be a lot different.
RL: Do you like producing your own records or having an outside producer brought in?
FS: We basically run tracks to a producer and then they mixed it and mastered it. What we’re doing is pretty basic. Having co-produced one of my solo records and having the B-52s are always there listening when we were mixing the record in the studio. Your senses become a little more heightened to levels and all that stuff. So with The Superions I can bring that sort of ability. They [Noah & Dan] always have good suggestions too.
RL: Are you still doing collage art?
FS: I haven’t really done any in years and years. I need to frame it.
RL: How much control have you had over the look of your bands over the years?
FS: [With the B-52s,] everyone comes up with their own look. We might ask what each other thinks but no one is going listen to anyone else. We’ve had stylists and they’ve been very good but when we started out we had no money we basically came up with our look at a thrift store.
RL: What’s the best thing you ever found in a thrift store?
FS: I found a gorgeous 1930s art deco radio for thirty bucks. They forgot to cash my check so it was free.
RL: How does it feel to not have The Superions confined by a major label?
FS: Mike Turner from Happy Happy Birthday To Me [The Superions’ label] is doing a great job. Josh, our PR guy, is doing an amazing job so we are very happy.
RL: What would you like to do as an artist that you have not gotten to do yet?
FS: More acting. I have a screenplay that I really need to finish.
The Superions continue to explore the galaxy in search of the best disco experience. In addition to their Christmas Record they also are working on a “proper” album and have lined up a guest appearance from Peaches. Fred recently sang guest vocals on “Hey You” by Thunderball.