SF Weekly spoke to Cindy Wilson, who debuts her new project for Bay Area audiences at Café du Nord on Monday, Dec. 11, about reinventing herself. As the B-52s’ 40th-anniversary celebration approaches, the singer also revisited the recording of the band’s landmark 1989 4x platinum-selling disc, Cosmic Thing.
Why did you wait so long to release a solo album?
There was a lot of creativity in the band, and we wrote all the way up to Funplex. Right now, the B-52s are more of a performance-of-the-back-
As a longtime B-52s fan, I had a certain expectation of what I would hear on your solo record. You defied it completely.
Yeah, it had to be completely different. But I feel like it’s modern and has a lot of levels to it.
How did the new, more electronic sound materialize?
We were in the studio, trying out different ways of singing and different music till we found a consistent sound. I’m used to the psychedelic sound because the B-52s were very psychedelic, but I also became enthralled with Tame Impala. They would take me places and put me in this really interesting mystical place, and I love the guitar sounds and how well written their music is.
It must, to some degree, feel like starting over again, especially when you’re taking vans from gig to gig.
In the B-52s, we employ a lot of people. It’s a machine that keeps it all going, which is wonderful. So yeah, you’re more catered to and you stay in nice hotels, but you’re kind of hidden away in the back dressing rooms.
With the solo stuff, it’s like starting over from scratch. It’s rolling up your sleeves and getting down to work. We’re playing small clubs and doing it all in a van. I have management, and they’ve done a good job of getting our tour plan together, but we’re still having to go and rent the vehicles and all the little things you need to do. You really have to watch your budget. But it’s amazing to be out and free and doing the music like this. I’ve just been charmed to death about the whole experience.
Not to mention that you’re doing all of this at age 60.
I have to take my wheatgrass shot, but I’m still holding up. I might be more mature, but I’m still learning a lot, and that’s fabulous. I’m getting fulfilled by performing the songs and watching it all happen again. It’s just the approach. I’m working with different people with different personalities and a different working style. It’s a lot of letting go and being brave and trying new things.
The album’s title is Change. What kind of change are you looking for?
You’re right. It was kind of a coping mechanism with everything going on all around us. Politically, it’s been scary and also personally, how life can get very stressful, so it’s a wonderful thing to be able to go and make some beautiful music. That’s the way I handle things. Putting beauty in your life can be an amazing therapy. I love harmonies and a good melody. It really does take us to a mystical place, and that’s where I wanted to go, to this mystical fairyland.
How is your role in this band different than in the B-52s?
Well, it’s a real-life band. They’re my partners, and we take it extremely seriously. But we have a good time. It’s fun being out here and seeing the songs come alive and the reactions from people.
With the B-52s, we started off as friends and being playful. It was really to have fun and entertain ourselves and our friends. No one thought we’re gonna become stars. I can’t believe that 40 years later, the B-52s are still doing it. It’s crazy, but I love to work in a group because it’s all these elements added to a pot and it’s alchemy. With all these ingredients comes something special.
As one of the primary songwriters in the B-52s, is there one song you’re most proud of?
Oh gosh, I love so many of them, as far as I’m one of the writers. I’d sat down and say I wrote one song: “Nip It in the Bud,” maybe. But that was so terrible. I helped write some vocal melodies with “Hero Worship,” and it’s one of my favorite songs to sing. But the melody was strongly Ricky and me.
Speaking of Ricky, you’ve said that the making of Cosmic Thing was therapy for the band after your brother’s passing?
That’s correct. What happened was Cosmic Thing was the biggest album the B-52s ever put out and had several hits on it and toured with it for years, without hardly coming home. But the reason we were doing it was seeing if we could get back together without Ricky and do some music. But it was such a wonderful way to reconnect with each other. Ricky’s spirit was in the room, and it was a wonderful way to look back nostalgically because it was pretty dark days when we were writing Cosmic Thing. It was the AIDS epidemic. We had lost friends and family, and it was just a horrible time. And the thing was getting together and writing was bringing back joy and camaraderie. It was a wonderful, healing thing. And who knew that it would become such a big hit? It was crazy.
The B-52s put out four phenomenal albums before Cosmic Thing. Why was that the landmark album?
I can only guess it was the sadness in America as a whole for what was going down and kind of a “Dance This Mess Around” situation, where we picked ourselves back up, started moving forward, and still remembered the people that we lost. It was a strong statement to be out and doing it without having to scream it out loud.
Everyone associates you with the big bouffant do, but today your hair appears shorter than we’ve ever seen it. Do you feel naked without the wig?
Yeah, I shaved my head, man. It is more vulnerable. You’re out there, and it is kind of an inward style and completely different. So that’s the change. I still like to put on a wig every now and then and party down with the B-52s. I’ll probably put on a wig or two and get the B-52s vibe going next year for the 40th anniversary, but I love just cutting off my hair and being free.
So many people are afraid of change, especially later in life. But you don’t seem to let that stop you.
For some reason it’s happening for Pisces; we’re all about reinventing ourselves. There’s a lot of work that’s been going down behind the scenes that’s now coming to fruition. I’m all for it. You can’t be afraid. Don’t let fear stop you. What’s the worst that can happen? If nothing happens, you’ll cope with it and move on. But as far as a mature woman stepping out and doing new music, that’s a pretty brave thing. But you know what? Screw ‘em all. I’m here, so deal with it.
When you just said, “I’m a Pisces,” I couldn’t help but think of the lyric, “Hello, I’m Cindy, I’m a Pisces and I like Chihuahuas and Chinese noodles!” from “Song From a Future Generation.” Are you still a fan of both?
Well, I just had some Chinese noodles, and I have a Chihuahua. I’m a mega Chihuahua fan.
Cindy Wilson, Dec. 11, at Cafe du Nord, 2174 Market St., $20. 415-375-3370 or swedishamericanhall.com