Fred Schneider has always had a style all his own. The lead singer of the groundbreaking new wave group, The B-52s, and synthpop band, The Superions, has been making waves for over 30 years with the fun he brings to music - including his distinctive use of sprechgesang (speak-singing).
I spoke with Fred about his start, his association with some of music’s most amazing artists, and of course his upcoming concert with the Gateway Men’s Chorus this March!
What was it about Athens, Georgia that made it such a nexus for all of these great artists? [Writer’s note: Fred and the B-52s are one of several artists, including R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, and others who got their start in Athens, GA].
Athens was a liberal, college town, for Georgia that is. The campus was a microcosm of all the nuts from a lot of different states actually. It was just full of all the creative and wild and interesting people that gathered in Athens and hung out.
What was it like to have been an out artist in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s?
Well we didn’t really flaunt anything; we didn’t bother to hide it. Sometimes I’d be coy and say “I was a trysexual, I’d try anything.” Boy George came out on the scene a couple years later - we just hung in packs in a mixed group, hanging out with other people. It was a very social thing. Nobody had any money. There was no gay disco until a couple years. We’d all get thrown out because we didn’t want to pay the cover charge.
What’s it been like to have worked with such varied artists like RuPaul and The Foo Fighters?
I enjoy it. I don’t spend all my time eating, breathing music, wanting to perform. I listen to records all day though. The Foo Fighters - I had went to their Halloween and I didn’t realize they had practiced ‘Planet Claire’ and asked me to do it. And I was like ‘Oh god, will these kids even know who I am?’ But it went over really well, I think it’s on YouTube. Adele was amazing. And RuPaul of course is hysterical. I was in her Christmas special - it’s totally trashy.
How did you discover your talent for sprechgesang?
I would write a lot of lyrics and it was sort of like off the top of my head. So instead of singing, cause I didn’t have a melody really - I was just talk sing. And later I started singing more, particularly with the Superions and the last B-52 albums, of course. I like writing. I don’t consider myself that good of a singer. If I was that good I’d be James Brown, Wilson Pickett or Jeff Buckley. That’s what I do, and I know what I’m doing.
Is there anyone in today’s music scene like what The B-52s were about?
Scissor Sisters, of course, but they’re a lot wilder than I am. There’s a great cover band in Denver I like called ‘Hey Lady!’. I think it’s hard to imitate my voice. [Laughs] There’s lots of bands that claim to be inspired. But I think the influence is - ‘do your thing and who cares what people think.’ We never set out to write hit songs, that’d be great if they were. The thing was the song - not planning ‘OK we’ve gotta run it #1 like Diane Warren’ or something. I think they [Scissor Sisters] did the same thing. We started out having fun, but we have a lot of hits and be doing that too.
It’s been 27 years since your bandmate Ricky Wilson passed away from HIV/AIDS related complications. What are your thoughts on the way HIV/AIDS research is progressing nowadays?
We’ve raised more than a million dollars for AIDS causes over the years. It’s such a shock because we lost so many friends within a span of five years. Back then, it was considered shameful and scary - people would avoid you if they knew you had HIV or AIDS (or GRIDS back then). Nobody knew that Ricky was dying, all of a sudden I got a phone call that Ricky was in the hospital and passed away. It’s such a shame we didn’t have the research then. I keep reading that there’s things that are amazing holistic and herbal things, some people are being cured of it. Of course, drug manufacturers don’t want you to know anything about that. So, let’s just hope that we find a cure or the cure is finally announced.
Lastly, what can St. Louis fans expect when you join the Gateway Men’s Chorus in March?
It’s gonna be a good time because it’s gonna be an interesting selection of songs. I’ve never done anything like this, it’s gonna be fun. I really wanna thank my friend Joe [Gfaller] who I’ve known for ten years for having them think of me. I’m excited, I think it’s gonna be great!
Fred Schneider appears with the Gateway Men’s Chorus at their spring “Bad Boys” concert on March 15 and 16. More information can be found at their website: www.gmcstl.org
By MATT JAMIESON – STAFF WRITER
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