Artist Q&A: Catching Up with Cindy Wilson

Artist Q&A: Catching Up with Cindy Wilson

By William Glanz

Cindy Wilson of The B-52s Flies Solo

For decades Cindy Wilson sported a towering bouffant and belted out harmonies as a founding member of The B-52s, the band that gave the world “Rock Lobster” and “Planet Claire” when it released its 1979 debut album.

Wilson provides vocals on B-52s songs including “Hero Worship,” “Loveland,” “Nip It in the Bud,” “Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland,” “Ain’t It a Shame,” “She Brakes for Rainbows” and the live favorite “Give Me Back My Man.”

Now Wilson is on her own, and the bouffant is missing.

On Friday, December 1, the Kill Rock Stars label will release Change, Wilson’s first full-length solo album.

“I’m really proud of it,” she said.

She has been working up to this. In September 2016, Wilson self-released an EP called Sunrise. She self-released another EP, Supernatural, in February 2017.

Just before Wilson began her tour to promote the new album, we spoke to her by phone. From her home in Athens, Georgia, she discussed the new album, working with her new bandmates, living in Athens and the awesomeness of The B-52s.

SoundExchange: Do you remember the first time you had that “holy shit moment” and realized The B-52s were a big deal?

Wilson: Definitely. We had played in New York City about three times. After the third time we released a 45 with “Rock Lobster” and “52 Girls.” [Then] we played Hoorah’s and showed up for our sound check. Afterwards we looked out the window and there was a line around the block. That was our “holy shit” moment. [My brother] Ricky [Wilson] looked at me and said “oh my God.” That’s when I knew something was going on.

SoundExchange: When did you first start to think about going solo, and what made you decide to take the leap?

Wilson: A friend of mine, Suny Lyons, is a great guitarist, and we’ve worked together. We decided to go into Suny’s studio with Lemuel Hayes and Ryan Monahan. It’s a real pleasure. It’s taken about three years to get the sound and get the songs.

It’s like school for me. I learned how to sing in a different way and with a different vibe. We played with a lot of different sounds, and we love the cool vibe we came up with. It’s a mixture of electronic and psychedelia. We just played with a lot of different sounds.

I got to meet some interesting people, and it’s also been amazing to meet the artists in this area.

I love it. It’s made me grow as an artist, and I’m loving how Change turned out so I’m putting my energy into this proudly.

SoundExchange: You’ve really stepped out in a big way. Does it feel strange, liberating or something else to go from being a single member of a wildly successful group to being a solo artist?

Wilson: Yes. Getting to start over again is kind of a gift. I get to re-experience the beginning. No one has given us any breaks. We’re having to start over again playing small clubs, which I love. I get to talk to fans more. It’s just been so fulfilling to go down this path again.

It’s the same, but it’s very, very different as well.

People tell me they didn’t know what to expect. That’s true. I’m Cindy Wilson from The B-52s, so I guess you expect campy. But [the album] has been a surprise to a lot of people. It’s punk. It’s electronica. People are liking it, so I’m really surprised and glad, and it’s been so much fun.

SoundExchange: The very beginning of “No One Can Tell You” sounds a little like a Talking Heads song, and then you’ve got a heavy dose of keyboards. Can you talk about your sound, your influences and how you got there?

Wilson: They call it a solo project, but I’m working with these magnificent people who are my partners and bandmates. They had ideas for new music. It was fun to hear their slant on music and their influences. A lot of it is from them.

SoundExchange: How do you describe the sound?

Wilson: I can see where you’re coming from with the Talking Heads. I was talking to the band and telling them how much I like Tame Impala and their mixture of different types of music – guitar rock with electronica and psychedelia.

I hear a lot of Blind Faith.

I wanted that magical quality where you’re taking somebody on a journey, where the album starts and flows and never stops. It’s kind of like The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, where it flows into a different song. That’s how our live shows are, too.

It came out great. I’m trying not to play it too much so I don’t get tired of it. I take it out when I go out to the country and put it on. It’s a beautiful album. Suny Lyons did an amazing job. It’s an amazing production, and I’m thrilled with it.

SoundExchange: It doesn’t sound like The B-52s. Did you want to avoid replicating The B-52s sound? Or was it never in question that your solo effort would sound different?

Wilson: It really was never in question. It’s a different time and a different era with different people. There is some commonality. We’re being playful like The B-52s. And I get to harmonize, but instead of harmonizing with Kate [Pierson]. I get to harmonize with guys. So it’s different and kind of cool.

SoundExchange: The B-52s had numerous shows this year. How will you juggle the two projects?

Wilson: You just have to do it. You think it would be tiring, and it is sometimes, but it’s also invigorating.

SoundExchange: Have you spoken with Fred and Kate about what The B-52s will do in 2018?

Wilson: It’s going to be very hectic. It’s going to be more cities. We’re putting in different songs. More sophisticated lighting. We’re going to polish up the act, and it’s going to be really fun.

SoundExchange: It was already fun! But speaking of your other band, the B-52s have been around for 41 years, and it’s been 38 years since the band’s first album came out. I’ve never gotten the sense that you guys were gunning for stardom when you launched in the 1970s. Does that make your success even more surprising or gratifying?

Wilson: You hit the nail on the head. We’re always surprised. We started just to entertain our friends and ourselves. Fun is fun, but you still have to rehearse. We were definitely a well-rehearsed band. The way our music is written it has to be rehearsed so you can be more precise. It sounds like it would natural, but you have to be well-rehearsed. We’re great about being professional, and it takes on a light-heartedness and seems effortless. That’s what we try to maintain, but we also have some of the best musicians with us.

I can’t believe it’s been 41 years.

SoundExchange: Do The B-52s take pride in being an Athens, Georgia, band given the number of highly successful artists that have come from there?

Wilson: Yes. I have a house here and live here. We come here often, and we still have friends here. We’re in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, which we’re proud to be in. Some awards are not a big deal, but being given an award from our state is wonderful.

It’s got a good vibe here. It’s a livable city, and people can feed off each other’s creativity here.