Pride and Politics

By Greg Marzullo, April 2016 Issue.

While The B-52’s are known to be the “world’s greatest party band,” the group’s lead male vocalist, Fred Schneider, had a different kind of party on his mind when Echo Magazine caught up with him to discuss headlining one of Arizona’s biggest LGBTQ parties of the year – the Phoenix Pride festival April 2.

“The rat-publicans, that’s what I call them,” Schneider said, referring to the GOP. “The republican [presidential] candidates are a joke, except maybe for [John] Kasich, but I wouldn’t vote for him either. The rest are buffoons, with no qualifications to be president. I should run for president. I haven’t done anything in the Senate either.”

Known for a campy aesthetic and hits, including “Love Shack,” Rock Lobster” and “Roam,” The B-52’s might not seem like the go-to choice for politically-charged conversation, but the group rose to prominence during the ’80s, during which it lost one of its original band members, guitarist Ricky Wilson, to AIDS. Their punk-alternative sound – great for dancing – also hid a commitment to saying something important in culturally charged times, a commitment Schneider still hints at today.

“I like to … say the most ridiculous things in the most sophisticated way and get away with it,” he admitted.

To whit, the performer had some choice words about the recent death of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia.

“Good riddance,” he said. “He helped Bush to steal the election and all that stuff, saying that corporations are people.”

In a recent Facebook post, Schneider said as much on Facebook, which garnered some pushback from people, who told him to play nice for the sake of Scalia’s family, but Schneider sounds unconvinced.

“I don’t think Scalia’s nine children are following me [on Facebook],” he quipped.

The singer’s energetic, over-the-top persona has long been a part of what he projects in performance, along with a playfully confrontational vocal delivery and admonishments to the often rockin’ crowds to dance more. Given how committed he is on stage, it’s hard to imagine that he’s been plying these routines since 1976, when the band was formed over drinks at a Chinese restaurant. Since their first gig in 1977 at a friend’s house on Valentine’s Day, The B-52’s have made it onto multiple top-album and song lists from Rolling Stone. And they’ve toured so much that, up until two years ago, Schneider said he feared the group was getting overexposed.

With a long history in a fickle business and the even more capricious public eye, Schneider, who’s gay, reflects on the differences he’s seen in the music industry and the LGBTQ presence since he came out in Athens, Ga., where he went to college and formed the band.

“It’s totally changed,” he said of coming out in the entertainment industry. “I think actors, actresses, singers, people are more comfortable. People seem to come out when they feel they’re financially secure, and they can be secure from harassment. Everyone is coming out. Maybe Marco Rubio will come out.”

Phoenix won’t be the first time The B-52’s take the stage at a Pride festival, of course.

“We did a Pride in San Francisco and a million people showed up – some topless woman was doing the hula. It doesn’t go with the music, but who cares?” he said. “[Pride] brings the [LGBTQ] community together. People love it, and it’s several days of great fun for everyone involved. Except for the ones that don’t get dates.”

The B-52’s have more appearances scheduled this spring and summer, and Schneider also has his own projects, including an upcoming album with his other musical group, The Superions, and the release of a country album.

“It’s going to be trashy as hell,” he said of his new genre, “I don’t know if it’s country or hick. Maybe it’s white trash country.”

Behind all the wit and almost self-effacing tone, one gets the sense of an artist who’s all business when it comes to the creative process. When asked about his sources of inspiration, he talks about the collection of records he has, some of which he’s never played, so that when he does get around to them, he discovers something new.

“If I’ve never heard some ’70s funk track, that’s dynamite,” he explained. “I like old song structures – verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge. I’m constantly writing. Whatever I do, I try to make sure everything I do really meets some really high standard I set for myself.”

That sense of completion is something he plans to bring to all the upcoming concerts for The B-52’s, not only in performance but in the audience’s political involvement, too.

“I want to have a set of voting registration booths at our concerts,” he said. “Now is the time to do it.”

The B-52's are scheduled to play the Phoenix Pride festival's Main Stage from 7:45 to 9 p.m. April 2.

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