Cindy Wilson Nurtures Her Inner Child

Cindy Wilson Interview
Cindy Wilson - Sean Dunn

Cindy Wilson is a veritable legend of the pop and rock world, managing to make music that was both fun yet boundary pushing for 40 years with the B-52’s. After 2008’s Funplex however the B-52’s performance-focused atmosphere meant that Wilson needed a new outlet for her creativity. Finding magic with a cover band, she quickly went to work on several EPs, and just released her debut LP Change this month. With 40 years of performance behind her, Wilson is starting over with the wisdom to make a record that would stand tall among her modern contemporaries, even without her name beside it. We chatted with Wilson about what led her to her new project, playing clubs again and how Tame Impala inspired her new record.

Northern Transmissions: After 40 years with the B-52’s what inspired you to start putting out EPs last year on your own?

Cindy Wilson: The people that I’m working with. I had time off to play in the studio with friends, and one step went in front of the other, it developed pretty great. I loved the direction it was going, and it kept blossoming until the release date, I can’t believe it.

NT: How did the people you were playing covers with at the time end up influencing the writing process, since this was a solo record built around collaboration?

CW: I’m comfortable in that setting and support, and it works very well. A lot of ingredients are going in that way and I love it.

NT: I also heard you felt this process was like when you first started playing with Fred, Ricky, Keith and Kate back in the 70s?

CW: The thing is, the B-52’s haven’t been writing for a long time now, it’s mostly performing which is fantastic because I love doing that. One of my favourite parts is jamming with Keith, Kate and Fred, and seeing interesting things come out. To me that alchemy is really mystical the way it happens. I wasn’t really learning because we were in a performance mode, and that’s what the B-52’s are for me now. For this solo project, it’s new, it’s modern and I can keep pushing my boundaries and be creative. It keeps the mind healthy and the soul too. One of the perks of music is it keeps you childlike, and I love that.

NT: Coming off of your last album with the B-52’s what inspired you towards the synth-fuelled dance-pop on this record, I heard Tame Impala was being played a lot?

CW: It’s partly the collaborative effort, but I mentioned Tame Impala when people asked what I interested in. I love the way psychedelia brings you into a magical sphere. I love the new sound where you can hear interesting textures within the music, it’s wonderful to experiment with that. All those techniques with beautiful harmonies and melodies, it makes for angelic parts in our sets. There’s a lot going on with our electronica, psychedelia, and pop, so it really takes you places.

NT: What inspired the more dreamy vocal style of this record considering your iconic timbre isn’t too present here?

CW: I can do a lot with my vocals. With the B-52’s I got to a lot of different things. From the screechy punk parts of “Hero Worship” to the cooing rhythm and blues yells of “Dance This Mess Around” and even anthems like “Roam” and “52 Girls.” I’ve done the dreamy voice a little bit, but this pushed it a little bit further and let me play with it.

NT: What inspired you to crowdfund Change and how did you come up with the strange prizes like cooked meals?

CW: It’s a way to have the fans participate in making the record and all that goes with. It’s really changed the business of trying to make music, and we’ve done it from grassroots, trying to earn it. It feels like we’re really earning it, and that’s the best way to really do a record. You own it and can feel good about. It was a way to help the record and also help get those fans involved. We tried to be original about the prizes. You have to come to Athens but I’ll cook you a meal, and we’re actually doing a couple so it’s going to be great.

NT: I thought it was interesting considering the overt electronics and dance pop on the rest of the record, ‘Brother’ had a heavy rock (Give Me Back My Man, Private Idaho, or gritty Whammy era B-52’s) vibe to it, so where was this coming from?

CW: I love playing “Brother” in the set too, it has such a power to it and it’s fun. It comes when we’re in a meditative state and just hits people in the head. We’ve actually added some more rockers in the set that aren’t on the album but are from the EP. It’s good to interject those throughout the set, it makes it flow really well. It has a real crucial part on the record, but lyrically it’s not as important. It’s actually a tribute to an 80’s Athens band called Oh-OK, that didn’t go all the way, but they were certainly important in Athens. I had performed this song before, and it was such a record that we had to put it on the record and make it more extreme. I loved the energy and how it came out, it had such a great texture.

NT: How did you get involved with Olivia Jean on tour, I understand you guys would even play covers together?

CW: Lemuel (drums) lives in Nashville, and he knew Oliva. Our manager was arranging it and Olivia was really eager to come out with us. It was such a wonderful thing, I even came out and sang with Olivia, she really rocked the hell out of “Hero Worship.” It was thrilling. She was such a pleasure to work with so I hope we get to work together again. She’s working on new stuff so I’m thrilled for her.

NT: I understand your year is getting pretty hectic again in 2018, so are you planning on much more touring and music or will this be on the backburner for a while?

CW: Well it’s the B-52’s 40th anniversary so there’s going to be a lot of touring with that. But with the solo band we’re going to Europe, Hello! We’re very excited about that, we’ve got a good feeling and tickets are already selling, and we’re super excited about the record release.

NT: How does touring with your new band compare to how things are now with The B-52’s?

CW: It’s opposites, and I love it. Last night we played this teeny tiny club, and it’s fun because it’s just like when the B-52’s began. I’m thrilled that I get to relive this, absolutely.

NT: Launching a completely new project, did you feel nervous at your first couple shows like 40 years had never happened?

CW: Not at all, that’s the funny thing. I don’t know if it comes from maturity or being in the business for so long. I’m surrounded with really talented people, funny, smart and cool people. So we got this!

Words by Owen Maxwell