Music

‘Change’ of Heart

An interview with The B-52s’ Cindy Wilson.

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With the release of her debut solo disc, Change (Kill Rock Stars), Cindy Wilson is now the third member of the legendary B-52s to record a solo album. Be forewarned: you shouldn’t expect to hear the Cindy Wilson you remember from B-52s songs such as “Give Me Back My Man,” “Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland,” “Legal Tender,” or “Love Shack,” on Change. Closer in mood to the subtle soul drama of “Ain’t It a Shame” (from 1986’s underrated B-52s platter Bouncing Off the Satellites), the songs on Change introduce us to a more soft-spoken Wilson who sings these 10 songs (two of which are covers) in a breathy belt. The disc opens with “People Are Asking,” a potential activist anthem if there ever was one. Wilson, who has an appreciation for a good beat, invites us to “dance this mess around” again on “No One Can Tell You,” “Stand Back Time,” “Mystic,” “Memory,” and the title track. Wilson takes an unexpected experimental rock turn on “Brother,” her interpretation of a song by the Athens, Georgia, band Oh-OK. Just back from her first solo concert tour, Wilson took a few minutes to answer some questions in a phone interview.

Gregg Shapiro: Your full-length solo debut album, Change, was released in late 2017. Why was this the right time for you to put out a solo record?
Cindy Wilson: I had the time to do it. The B-52s were laying off for a while. It was a stressful time, and I started to get together with a friend of mine to do some music. We went into Suny Lyon’s studio to kick it around and experiment and see what kind of direction we wanted to go in. It took about three and a half years, off and on, recording and everything. Then we put the songs together with a band and went down to Austin, Texas. We met Portia [Sabin] from [the record label] Kill Rock Stars, and she helped us get on the right path. It’s been amazing, really.

Change is an accurate name for the album, because it doesn’t sound like the Cindy Wilson people are familiar with from your years in The B-52s. Was that a deliberate decision?
Of course. I’ve been doing The B-52s thing for 40 years. It was really fun to be experimental. I had a different set of musicians. It was a real learning experience for me. The music scene is a whole new thing now, both with the business end and creatively. I had a blast experimenting with that.

There are a couple of cover tunes on Change, including “Brother,” which was originally performed by the Oh-OK band. Was this meant to be a nod to your roots in the Georgia music scene?
We started in the late ’70s and they came just a tad later. What happened was we had done Oh-OK songs in Athens with Ryan [Monahan] and Lemuel [Hayes], and some other musicians. We had done a tribute to Vanessa [Briscoe] from [the band] Pylon and different musicians who were in Athens at the time. It was so much fun. The Oh-OK song “Brother” turned out so well that we decided to record it. Everybody loves that song!

Wilson’s Change album cover.

With the exception of the cover songs, you co-wrote the remaining tracks with Suny and Ryan. In what ways would you say that your writing experience differed from when you co-wrote songs for The B-52s?
Luckily, I thrive in a situation where people are being super-creative. You let down your guard. That’s when a lot of good ideas can come through. You bounce off each other and you create things together. You tap into this stream of consciousness. It’s really magical. It was different from The B-52s, but it was definitely being able to feel the vibe. Like I said, for the Cindy Wilson thing, I let down my defenses and explored. This was great. I did a lot of listening to Suny and Ryan, and I got to throw in some things of my own. It was really fun.

You mentioned how this has been a stressful time, and I was thinking about how “People Are Asking,” the first song on the album, sounds like one of your most political songs, which feels new for you. Am I on the right track?
Yes! It’s one of the elements, definitely. I hate to tell people what a song is about, because it does feel better for it to be a personal thing. But it definitely had those [political] elements in it.

Kate Pierson’s solo debut was released in 2015, and Fred Schneider put out one in 1984 and another in 1996. Did they have any words of advice for you on the subject of going solo?
Yes [laughs], yes! They did it their way. Everybody does it a different way. When we signed with Kill Rock Stars Records, they had a lot of ideas, too. It was definitely a joint thing.

You recently completed some tour dates. What was that experience like for you?
I love taking recorded music and making it come alive—actually having to perform it! When you tour, your show gets better and better and stronger and stronger. You get even more intuitive with the musicians in the band. There are so many great elements that come through the personalities of the people in the band, which adds so much. I had the best time. We’re building an audience. It’s been really purposeful to take it slow and build and experience a new beginning.

On June 10, The B-52s headlined PrideFest Milwaukee. As The B-52s’ sole straight-ally member, can you please say a few words about what the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ fans mean to you personally?
[Laughs] I’ve got so many friends and family members and loved ones that are in the gay community in all different forms. I take my hat off and say thank you!

You will be on tour with The B-52s throughout the summer and early autumn. [Editor’s note: The B-52s perform on July 15 at Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land.] What do you like most about performing with your longtime bandmates
To me, it’s amazing that we’ve been around 41 years. I’ve known them and I’ve seen them go through different phases of their lives—losing Rick [Wilson, Cindy’s brother] and the different changes that go on in the band, the musicians who step in and out. It’s a marriage, and it seems like The B-52s are an entity all its own. I’m just one aspect of it. It’s amazing to look across the stage and see Fred in 2018. And Kate! How much life has shaped her. You see their souls. We’re singing “Rock Lobster,” and it’s an amazing thing to look out in the audience and see people having such a good time. It’s really special to be able to bring that to an audience after all these years. From my point of view, it’s an amazing story, really.

One of the tour dates brings The B-52s to Atlanta in July. What does it mean to you to play to your hometown audience?
It’s very special. Everybody says it’s the hardest when you come and play to your hometown. There are so many fans there and everything. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a hoot!

This article appears in the July 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine. 

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Gregg Shapiro

Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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