Put on virtually any song by the B-52s and you’ve got an instant party. The band out of Athens, Ga., came of age during the late `70s and found a cult audience with its wacky stage presence and quirky tunes “Rock Lobster” and “Private Idaho.”
Known for the interchanging, boy-girl vocals of Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, the B-52s found mainstream success with the 1989 release of “Cosmic Thing,” which contained the hit singles “Love Shack” and “Roam.” After releasing one more album, “Good Stuff,” the group went on hiatus for a bit before returning to the road. In March, the B-52s finally released “Funplex,” the band’s first album since 1992.
Keith Strickland is the guitarist and chief music writer for the B-52s, who are performing with Cyndi Lauper and others as part of the True Colors tour. He talked about the band’s long break from the studio and more:
What was it like recording another B-52s album after all these years?
I started writing in `03 in my Key West (Fla.) home studio and the music I was recording for our demos ended up being our basic tracks for the album. It was a long process and a very different one, as I had to fly to meet Fred, Kate and Cindy and record their vocals in Athens (Georgia) and upstate New York. Some of the vocals are first takes and it was great to work in that way.
Did the 16-year delay between studio albums happen because you were burnt out from touring, sick of each other or a little of both?
Yeah, kind of all of that. With the success of “Cosmic Thing” I felt that we had finally arrived, and then after trying hard to maintain and repeat that level of popularity we all grew anxious and restless. We were collectively burnt out. I felt I had to drop out after a while to find my way back to the source, to get back to where the joy of making music was. We did decide after “Good Stuff” to take a breather and pause.
Then in `96 and `97 we started performing again. We tried to write new material and make an album in `97 but the energy wasn’t there, ideas weren’t gelling and we abandoned that project quickly. But we continued to play live and we’re all on the same page now. With “Funplex” we didn’t have the pressure anymore. We financed it ourselves and initially weren’t signed to a label. Then we found Astralwerks Records and they loved the material and have been enthusiastic.
We didn’t start the band thinking it would be a career. It was just to entertain ourselves and was kind of a fluke or happy accident that we got together in the first place.
There are some notable electronica influences on “Funplex” that set this recording apart from the band’s other work. How did you decide to go in that direction?
As I started recording, I was thinking “What am I listening to now?” and it was dance music and electronica. I was also listening to old rock `n’ roll and trying to put the two together. Then I heard New Order’s album “Get Ready” and thought “this is it.” I’m hearing rock and electronica at the same time, so that was a confirmation of my ideas, in a sense. Then when it came time to choose a producer I went with Steve Osborne, who produced “Get Ready.” Steve brought in more of the acoustic elements, such as live drums and guitars. It was great to have his knowledge and expertise to finish it up.
The B-52s sound has elements of surf music to it, but I also hear lots of stuff in the guitars that could have been taken right off an early Kinks album. Would you agree with that?
Absolutely! You’re the first person to pick up on it. Several years ago I was listening to “You Really Got Me” (by the Kinks) and thought “That’s an element we need to bring that back in.” It’s so viable, so modern and contemporary. It’s what it needs to be - lean, concise, to-the-point, no muss, no fuss. The guitar bit at the beginning of “Hot Corner” on “Funplex” is a little bit of Stooges and Kinks. I’ve loved both those groups since I was a kid.