The legendary party band's co-singer is also releasing 'Realms,' her new solo album
Considered the “world's greatest party band,” the B-52s have been known for their buoyant party music in a long career that included such beloved hits as “Rock Lobster,” “Private Idaho,” “Love Shack” and “Roam.” However, their days as a live act are gradually coming to an end as the group from Athens, Georgia — whose touring lineup consists of founding singers Cindy Wilson, Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider —has been on the road in the last year for their farewell tour.
“We love our fans, and I think people were really happy at our shows,” Wilson, 66, says. “But there was an element of sadness you could feel. Every time we do a show, we try to be in the moment and have a good time until eventually the B's will be over.”
The B-52s are kicking off their residency in Las Vegas on Friday, which is the same day Wilson is releasing her second solo album, Realms — a collection of both dreamy and uptempo electronic pop music that has a spiritual vibe. “The record flows really well,” she says. “You could put it on and it seems like a whole work in itself, not just 10 songs. It is very interior but also kind of screaming out to the world.”
Wilson cites her singing on Realms as a difference from her 2017 solo record Change. “I got to really concentrate on my vocal technique. On Change, [I] was singing a lot lighter. And with Realms, we made sure that I was injecting my stronger Cindy voice in there too. So it had a nice energy, Realms does.”
There are moments on Realms that hearken back to Wilson’s work with the B-52s such as the track “Delirious.” And yet at the same time, with songs like “Midnight” and “Overboard,” Realms is also eclectic-sounding and more aligned with today’s alternative rock. “I love the dissonance [in] some of the notes,” she says of “Wait,” a love song. “It's kind of jazzy, too. I love how it makes you feel emotionally.”
The ethereal ballad “Not Goodbye,” whose lyrics read in part, ‘Fold your face into a smile/And hold it back inside,’ concludes Realms on a spiritual and hopeful note. It was also the last song written for the record, says Wilson. “I didn't know how I was going to turn out. I didn't have much hope for the song really. It was so difficult to sing because it was so slow. But it really turned out lovely. And I love what it says.”
Wilson attributes Realms’ sound to Suny Lyons, who produced the album in a way that paid homage to the music of the late 1970s, such as disco and New Wave, that the B-52s emerged from. She also credits the sound to the young musicians who previously worked on Change. "It's like playing with kids in your neighborhood," she says. "You're playing with these new kids and new things come out of you that way.”
With her new album, Wilson has come a long way from when the B-52s — whose original lineup consisted of herself, her guitarist brother Ricky Wilson, Pierson, Schneider, and drummer Keith Strickland — formed in 1976 from an impromptu jam after having drinks at a local Chinese restaurant.
“Ricky and I moved in together out of my parents' house,” Wilson recalls. “So I started hanging out with Ricky and Keith more, and then we met Fred and Kate and went out to eat with them. And that's how the famous night happened where we jammed and came up with these amazing songs.”
The B-52s built up a local following in Athens that also grew when they started performing in New York City during the punk and New Wave eras. The band’s moniker and Wilson and Pierson’s beehive hairdos from the early years are interconnected. “We were trying to pick out a name for the band,” recalls Wilson. “It went on for days. Keith Strickland came up with ‘the B-52s.’ And he explained he had a dream that there was this woman with a big bouffant on stage and playing the keyboard, and their name was B-52s. He says it was slang for a bouffant, but it was actually from a dream, too.”
The band's 1979 self-titled debut record contained their beloved signature song, the eccentric “Rock Lobster.” Says Wilson: “Ricky came up with this guitar lick that was just amazing. We were jamming with the music. And Fred had this poem about a rock lobster, and so we all just jammed on these elements. Kate and I were doing the fish sounds and harmonies and melodies. It’s one of my favorites.”
The B-52s released more albums, including Wild Planet and Bouncing Off the Satellites, and toured until tragedy struck: Ricky Wilson, who played a major role in their distinct sound, died of AIDS in 1985.
“My kids never got to meet Ricky, their uncle,” says Wilson, a mother of two children. “But they're so proud of him. And his legend still goes on. He was such a unique guitar player and [had] an incredible focus and drive. So that was wonderful. And I will always have Ricky in my heart. After Ricky died, I was so sad. I couldn't even look at a photo of Rick because I would just die inside. But I've come back around and it just feels great that Ricky's influence is still in the fans' minds and hearts.”
The surviving members regrouped and released 1989’s Cosmic Thing, their comeback and biggest-selling album to date. “It was more of a healing record and trying to go back to the old days where we were happy because it was during AIDS and we lost Ricky,” says Wilson. “And Cosmic was nostalgic, looking back at happier days when we were first started in Athens and the joyfulness of that. It was embraced by all of our fans and made new fans all over the world.”
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Although they will be done with touring (they’re returning to Las Vegas in April of next year for more shows), the B-52s are not calling it quits as a band: a new documentary about them is on the way. “There's going to be other little things happening,” she says. “So we're not 100 percent gone. And you know it's more of an ending season. It's not going to be a hard date, but it's coming. There’ll still be things that come up. You'll hear about us.”
She explains the B-52s’ longevity as being in the right place at the right time. "We keep our playfulness. It's not like we're just dragging and doing shows. A lot of the music is alive in us. And so that makes it where we can keep doing it.”
Meanwhile, Wilson is keen on doing more of her own music as well as collaborating with her musician son Nolan Bennett. "It wasn’t really for commercial [reasons]," she says about her going solo. "It was more just doing it for myself, and to prove to myself what I could do. It's so healthy to be creative and work on music and work with other people in music. I just find it to be a way to get happy is working on music.”
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