It’s Cindy Wilson’s day off, something that’s become a rarity of late for the B-52’s vocalist. She and “The World’s Greatest Party Band” are in Sydney, Australia, when we interrupt her breakfast to talk about her very full work schedule. But before we chat about the intriguing turn her music career has recently taken, she shares her plans for the day.
“I’m gonna go see Guns N’ Roses tonight!” she says, breaking into a warm peal of laughter. “Yeah, they’re playing tonight, so I’m going to see them here in Sydney, so that’ll be fun. There’s a lot going on right now, but it’s all good. The band’s having a good time and is actually having kind of a renaissance.”
The same might be said for Wilson. Besides celebrating her band's 40th anniversary with shows across the globe (including a May 20 date at Houston's House of Blues), she’s touring with her own solo project, which began from the very humble roots of a family birthday party and is now catching the attention of music fans everywhere. She and the band make their Houston debut Sunday night at Walters with local support from MIEARS. Then she heads to SXSW, where she’ll showcase with another Houstonian, DJ Baby Roo, and speak at the music conference later next week.
So, yes, she’s busy. And we feel bad for disturbing her down time. But we’re also excited because she is Cindy Wilson, one of the architects of American New Wave music. She’s friendly and laughs freely and we try to out-drawl one another, Georgia vs. Texas. Then we get back to business so she can get back to relaxation.
We talk about the new project. Those who have heard the music describe it as “a psychedelic, joyous party.” The Washington Times called it “a sultry and shimmering mix of electronica, crooning and folky goodness, with a dose of rock New Wave tossed in.” Most have simply focused on how different it is from the B-52’s. The upcoming full-length album is appropriately titled Change.
“It’s a good ‘car-listening’ album,” is how Wilson describes it. “You’re traveling and you can just leave it on and go, which is how I listen to most of my music these days. I’m very excited.”
Also excited is Ryan Monahan, Wilson’s writing partner on the project and fellow band member. He spoke with us earlier in the week, stateside and preparing for the approaching dates. Monahan is a classically trained musician from Connecticut with film and TV licensing credits and plenty of band experience. He moved to Athens, Georgia, years ago to continue his music career and started a Beatles cover band to supplement his income. When Wilson’s husband, Keith, booked the act for their son’s tenth birthday party, the two hit it off and eventually started jamming together.
“It was really kind of one of those preparation-meets-luck moments," says Monahan. "Everything I had been working on up to that moment led to this fortunate chance to meet with Cindy. From there, we started playing shows around Athens.”
That was about seven years ago, Monahan adds. It was only within the past few years that they started focusing on the project in earnest. They added Suny Lyons as music producer; he was assimilated into the band and gave the project some direction and a “shoegaze, pop aesthetic,” offers Monahan. Marie Davon and Lemuel Hayes round out the band.
“She’s very much into the spirit of experimentation. She was very open to the idea of trying something new,” Monahan says of Wilson.
Initially the recordings were bluesy, but as Monahan and Lyons introduced Wilson to bands like Tame Impala, Beach House and Broadcast, the music veered in a more dream-pop direction.
“The thought came up, like what if this was as little like the B-52's as possible, just a totally new thing where you could kind of reinvent yourself and be this different kind of persona almost. That’s where this idea of her singing in this more hushed, breathy voice came in,” Monahan says.
“It’s a surprise to a lot of people,” Wilson admits. “It’s been a learning kind of thing for me. I’ve just had a blast trying different ways of approaching emotions and singing. Back when I started, it was the punk era and new wave and yelling,…kind of a different approach. You can accomplish a lot with a softer kind of touch. I guess it’s kind of like acting. You don’t need to overdo it.”
Wilson is a veteran and can spot a fan pretty easily. She volleys between discussing her solo work and the B-52’s with us. We ask about the anniversary.
“It’s kooky, man! Forty years, oh my God…I’ve got a wig that’s 40 years old in my closet,” she says. “Doing the B-52's songs now, it’s just a release and it’s wonderful, but this, to me, seems to be a different approach. It feels modern to me.”
The new project is very D.I.Y. We ask her what it’s like to be able to hit reset on a music career and do something more grass-roots. From recording to touring and creating visuals for the stage show, Wilson and her cohorts are doing it the way many new bands are these days.
“It’s like starting all over again. It’s not like people are coming to hear the B-52's songs, so I’m starting over but it’s kind of cool and I’m really excited," she says. "It’s very theatrical, but it’s not like bouffants and camp. It’s a little deeper, a little darker, which is interesting. The similarities are beautiful harmonies, amazing harmonies.
"But it flows," adds Wilson. "I think it’s surprising a lot of people, and I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from it. It comes from a real place like a band would do and I love it. We’re doing everything so it’s real close to our vision. A lot of bands get the best video person, let’s say, and they have their vision — this is our vision and it’s right in the band. It’s really cool.
“I’m loving it. I don’t mind having to start over. I don’t want favors, I just want to do it like it is and wherever we get, we get.”
Something reminds us that it’s Wilson’s day off and we start to wrap when she asks, “Is there any one question that you have to know, like from me?”
“Like two…if it’s cool,” we ask sheepishly, which is met with that really wonderful laugh, the sort that feels so genuine and ebullient that you just want to hear it more and more. If only we had a funny question to ask. We note that her new album teams her with some young, creative men as she once teamed with her brother, Ricky, to make some of the most unique music ever heard. Mostly it gives us a chance to wax about the late guitarist’s under-heralded work.
“There are many similarities to that. It’s like these guys are [like] my brother," Wilson says. "I’m in awe of their talent. It’s very comforting to me."
We ask why the B-52’s are not yet in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Does the band even care, we ask?
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“A lot of people on the outside give that more credence than we do – you gotta know that it’s just a racket, right?!” Wilson says as we both laugh. “B-52s, we’ve always been on the outside, we’ve always been not-quite-accepted. We ride this fine line, you know, and it’s okay with me if we just stay there.”
We thank Wilson for sharing her off day and tell her to give Axl our regards. Anything you want to tell Houstonians, we ask?
“Tell everybody I’m excited to come and to please come and see the show," she says. "We’re gonna have a good time.”
Cindy Wilson and special guest MIEARS perform 8 p.m. Sunday, March 11 at Walters Downtown, 1120 Naylor. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $35 for a meet-and-greet.