“I never thought I’d have a career as a disco singer,” says Fred Schneider, chuckling softly. Schneider’s backstage at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, a few miles north of Seattle. He’s getting ready to go on stage with the B-52s, the band he co-founded back on Valentine’s Day in 1977, but he’s doing phone interviews to promote his new side project, Fred Schneider and The Superions. The Superions transform disco into something new, yet strangely familiar, just as the B-52s subverted mainstream rock with a combination of musical prowess and giddy high spirits.
“The name of the band has nothing to do with the Transformers character of the same name,” Schneider points out. “We just needed a good band name and I remembered a movie from the ‘60s about evil people from outer space called The Superions. Nobody had used it for a band yet, so we took it. When we write the band bio, we’re going to say we write the kind of songs we do because we’re possessed by aliens from outer space. It’ll make a better story than the usual–I met Noah and Dan and blah, blah, blah. We were originally going to be The Del Morons, but a friend talked us out of it. We have to have a serious name, so we can do ridiculous stuff.”
The first Superions outing, Destination…Christmas!, will hit stores in October, but the 11 tunes on the album are actually more playful than ridiculous. Fans of the B-52s and Schneider’s other solo projects won’t be disappointed by the music’s high energy and Schneider’s lyrical absurdity.
“I’ve known Noah (Brodie, who plays keys and electric drums) and Dan (Marshall, who programs the dance happy beats) for about 10 years,” Schneider says. “We started writing together in 2000, while (the B-52s) were doing the Funplex sessions. They asked me to put lyrics to a song they were doing and we came up with “Totally Nude Island.” We thought we’d do a single, so I went down to their place in Orlando, Florida. They had a disco track ready and the first thing that came to mind was the story about an overweight lady walking out of a grocery store. When a canned ham drops out of her housecoat, she acts surprised and shouts, ‘Who threw that ham at me?’ I wrote a few ideas down, then had a couple of glasses of wine and got in front of the mike and sang. Everyone thinks I’m stoned, but I’m just tipsy.”
With two odd songs in the can—“Totally Nude Island” is a bit of psychedelic exotica and “Who Threw That Ham At Me?” is a straight up disco dance track—Schneider approached long time friend Mike Turner at Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records in Athens. The label put out a limited-edition vinyl run of 500 singles and put the songs up on iTunes. The tracks took off and a band was born. “We created a dance to go with the ‘Ham’ song called The Disco Garbage Can,” Schneider says. “It was a success, so we’ve kept going.”
The Superions announced plans for a Halloween album, a Christmas album and a serious album of dance music, but Schneider says they’ve had to scale back. “The Christmas album almost wrote itself. We got together earlier this year and wrote nine songs in 11 days. We work well together and the music we do is nothing like the Bs, so that’s good. For now, we’re just doing a digital only single for Halloween called ‘Bat Baby.’ We hope it’ll be a seasonal favorite like ‘Monster Mash.’ ”
Meanwhile, Schneider’s putting his effort into promoting Destination…Christmas! and finishing work on The Superions proper debut. The Christmas album is unlike any holiday album that’s ever been made. “Under the Tree” is a steamy bit of suggestive exotica; “Teddy and Betty Yeti” has a big stomping bass beat and ends with the Yetis barbecuing Santa, Mrs. Claus and Rudolph; while “Christmas Tears” is a tongue in cheek dirge detailing the worst aspects of the season from credit card bills to pesky relatives. The album closes with “Santa Je T’aime,” a heavy breathing tribute to Serge Gainsbourg and the most erotic Christmas tune since Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby”.
“We didn’t want to do anything even vaguely traditional,” Schneider says. “I mean, what would be the point to it? We did want to express a lot of the feelings about Christmas that we all have to deal with and never mention: getting drunk, eating too many candy canes, partying with your friends and complaining about the relatives. The best way to have a stress free Christmas is to put on our album and not give anybody any presents. I don’t even have a Christmas wish list anymore. I need to get rid of stuff. I already have too much.”
Fashion was a big part of B-52s visual appeal and Schneider said that The Superions will develop a look before they start to tour in 2011. “The Bs look was driven by whatever anybody wanted to wear. In the beginning, how we looked on stage was how we looked when we went to a party. We bought things at thrift stores ‘cause that’s all the money we had. Later on, I had my partner Robert Molnar designing for me. He’s going to give The Superions a futuristic look that will be very modular and Space Age, in cotton. We’re going to look like the future, not like yesterday’s version of tomorrow.”
- J. Poet
photography by Caitlin Sullivan