Interview: Fred Schneider

superionsIn 1976, Freddy “Boom Boom” Schneider busted straight outta Athens, GA with a dollar in his pocket and a dream: to bust mad stentorian rhymes about wild planets, private Idahos and monsters in his pants. Over a 30-plus year career, Schneider has carved out enough fantastical, transgressional “Southern grotesques” to make him the New Wave acid bastard love child of Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. Now he’s touching the holidays inappropriately with his new band The Superions and their album Destination…Christmas! The inexplicably illeistic Cait Brennan spoke with Schneider and discovered that the “Cancerian from New Jersey” still likes collecting records and exploring the cave of the unknown.

Cait Brennan: Tell me about the new Christmas record with the Superions.

Fred Schneider: Well, it’s the greatest Christmas record ever recorded, it’s gonna top “White Christmas”…(laughs) I’ve had all these Christmas song ideas, we didn’t even do all of them, and the only way to do it would be with the Superions (his band with Noah Brodie and Dan Marshall), so ‘voila’. We actually did seven songs in nine days, and one of them was a Halloween song. That’ll be coming out next year. We want to concentrate on a regular album, full-length, first. That’ll be out probably summer or fall.

CB: What’s it like working with Noah and Dan versus working with the Bs? Are you able to do different kinds of material, more experimental stuff?

FS: Yes, all of the above. I write all the lyrics and with Dan and Noah come up with music that works really well with more ‘out there’ tongue in cheek thing that we do. But I think it’s also entertaining. I think we’ve done a really good Christmas record even though people say it’s the most out-there Christmas record they’ve ever heard. I’ll accept that—I like that. I never said it’d be traditional.

CB: Are you a fan of oddball Christmas music?

FS: Oh yeah. I love it all.  I love…a lot of the stuff on the John Waters Christmas album I have, like “Santa Claus Is A Black Man” (by Akim and the Teddy Vann Production Company—CB.) “That is one of the best Christmas records. I didn’t know if it’d be politically incorrect to buy it, but it was fifty cents so I bought it and I’m glad I did. Also there’s…what’s her name, Sandy Faye or Sandy Kaye or something, “The 12 Days Of Sickness”—that’s legendary. Barbie’s Christmas record, which is horrible. Anything like that, where they’re just shilling to make money for some character that’s in a cartoon or something.

CB: I remember Huggy Bear from “Starsky and Hutch” put out a Christmas record.

FS: That would be better than, say, the Smurfs’ Christmas.

CB: I have a lot of that stuff, like the Pac-Man Christmas album.

FS: What better way to celebrate the holiday than with Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man?

CB: What do you get the couple who has everything?

FS: Yeah, go figure.

CB: What was the holiday season like around the Schneider household growing up?

FS: Well, we’d always have a real tree, and the lights and trains, and my mother would hand us the Sears catalog in November, and we’d put down what we wanted, the page number and the item number and the description, and then she tried to hide gifts all over the house for six odd kids.

CB: Did you have any favorite holiday specials?

FS: I was in RuPaul’s Christmas Special—that was my favorite.

CB: I just saw a clip on YouTube where baby RuPaul interviewed you from like 25 years ago. (For “The American Music Show” at the 1985 New Music Seminar–C.)

FS: We’re as old as the hills.

CB: You and me both.

FS: I need to ask him if that’s on DVD…That was a real good one.

CB: What was filming that like?

FS: I played his rotten manager who told him he had no career—I sort of stuck a pin in his Christmas bubble. And the elves were all snorting…snow, I guess. And I mean, it was just lunacy, it was great.

CB: I really enjoyed “Who Threw That Ham At Me”—it’s also holiday themed, really.

FS: Anytime you bake a ham—hello, Easter! And Thanksgiving! I’m a vegetarian, so—throw a vegetarian ham on the grill.

CB: Are there any other urban legends you’re planning on incorporating into Superions songs?

FS: You know, we call it ‘winging it and swinging it’. I adlib a lot—I mean, some of the songs I just come up with on the spot, and then when I have to learn ‘em I realize the structure is not your typical A-B-A-B-chorus. They say “oh, you should just sing the track” and I’m like “hello—there’s no cues, it’s just me singing”. We just work…sometimes we have music, sometimes we have lyrics, or a lot of times we’ll finish a song, and then they’ll play a little bit of something and I’ll say ‘Hey, wow, I’ve got an idea for that’ and they’ll start jamming on that, and I’ll just get…we do everything in their house, and, I mean, that’s how I work with the B’s, too, just off the top of my head, except now I don’t smoke pot anymore—I haven’t for 18 years (laughs) so I guess I can still do things without mental enhancement.

CB: I love the surrealism in your work…Do you still write poetry or stories outside of lyrics?

FS: Actually, I’m writing some stories for the Halloween record…we have a song called “Bad Baby” and the flipside is “Scary Halloween Story” so, who knows. I’ve been so busy with the Superions and the B-52s that I don’t really have much time for anything else.

CB: It seems like you have a very full schedule with the B’s, you guys do lots of dates every year. You were just here in Phoenix with the B-52s a few weeks ago…

FS: I didn’t get to see John and Cindy, but c’est la vie.

CB: Aw, they didn’t show up?

FS: His tongue was dragging on the ground, and there were so many pills in the medicine cabinet they didn’t want to leave the house.

CB: Yeah, you may be right.

FS: I’m not saying who John and Cindy are.

CB: Could just be a random John and Cindy. I remember you guys playing here a lot when I was growing up in the early 80s—it was a lot more of a redneck town back then. Do you have any memories of playing here? How were you guys received?

FS: Wherever we went we were like the breath of fresh air coming to town. We rode into town and…left it happy. (laughs)

CB: Who were some of your influences? Any favorites?

FS: Dada. I love Dada. And Surrealism. I love Edward Lear—I like John Lennon, who was obviously influenced by Edward Lear for his books and things. Humorous verse. Soupy Sales. I got to meet him just before he passed away, I was so lucky.

CB: That’s very cool. What was he like?

FS: Well, he’d had a stroke and was not doing well, but it was such a– he could still understand. They were trying to keep him going because everyone loved him so much. I think he really appreciated the fact that people still were big fans. My best friend from where I grew up, Jolene, and my other friend Laurel, who I’ve known since first grade, we were watching a marathon of Soupy’s stuff on DVD last year and we were just howling. A lot of it holds up really well. I like British humor and ridiculous humor.

CB: That’s great—what are some of your favorite shows?

FS: I love Absolutely Fabulous and The Young Ones. So many. I love SCTV which is Canada, but it’s that same…Mad TV, In Living Color. I never found Saturday Night Live to be that funny.

CB: Yeah.

FS: I don’t get it. They always fire the women, or let them go, and keep the men, who I don’t think are funny.

CB: That’s exactly right. I don’t think they can write for women.

FS: It’s a shame, ‘cause the men aren’t funny. (mocking Belushi impression) ‘Hamburger Hamburger Hamburger—so what? Or Cheeseburger Cheeseburger Cheeseburger–Yeah, that’s hysterical.

CB: I interviewed Elvira a few weeks ago and she’s a big fan of the B-52s—she used to have a show on KROQ in LA and she said she used to play your stuff a lot.

FS: Oh yeah…I wrote two songs for her, they’re on her Halloween record. “Zombie Stomp” and “Here Comes The Bride…of Frankenstein”.

CB: She’s got her show back on, and it seems like you and the B’s were also influenced by those sci-fi movies of the 50s and 60s. Did you have any favorite “bad” ones?

FS: Well, I liked Million Dollar Movie. They had movies like The Giant Behemoth which I love. And, oh, what was that other one that used to scare me to death—they made a remake of it, and the Martians go underground and put something on the back of people’s necks to make them zombies. Of course I can’t remember the name, I’ll remember it as soon as we hang up. (Caitie’s note: I’m guessing it was 1953’s excellent Invaders From Mars.) Village of the Damned and Children of the Damned. Love those. But those are good movies.  As far as “bad” movies—anything like Plan 9, Glen or Glenda.

CB: Classics. I love Ed Wood.

FS: And his wife threw all that stuff in the garbage.

CB: I don’t think she was thinking ahead there.

FS: And I loved working with Doris Wishman. I was in her last movie, “Each Time I Kill”. She was a hoot, I loved her. People would say ‘how can you watch that stuff’, always. It was just surreal. And actually a lot of it’s more real, when you think about some of it, I mean, because it’s so lo-fi, in certain ways it seems like home movies…the people in home movies are like naked, or looking dead, or…

CB: The Sexy Saucer Gals on the Superions records, Varba, Go-Go and Lotron are in that same spirit.

FS: I guess Noah and Dan actually have a book called Those Sexy Saucer Gals. And actually I have one called Sin In Space where an astronaut is watching a girl take her sweater off. Sexy Saucer Gals was a good title. I love the remix, I think WeHaveLove did a great remix of it.

CB: If you were putting together your favorite work you’ve ever done, including B’s tracks, Superions, Just Fred, the Shake Society record, what are some of your favorite–

 

FS: Oh, “Monster”, “Sugar In My Hog”, “Your Kiss Is A Whip”—I’d pick the Christmas record, I’m very proud of it. I think Noah and Dan did great music and I think I rose to the occasion with the lyrics. And we have sleigh bells, so what more do you need?

CB: Exactly. Sleigh Bells and cannibalism.

FS: Cannibalism and avalanches.

CB: Yeti.

FS: Yeti. You’ve got new Christmas traditions.

CB: Stuff Crosby just didn’t have the guts to go for.

FS: And the Andrews Sisters overlooked.  There’s “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”, but this is a little more out there than that.

CB: It’s a great record. I love Christmas music…

FS: I like it all. I even like Barbra Streisand singing “Ave Maria”. Of course then I’d segue into “Hava Nagila”, but…

CB: The “Fruitcake” video was great.

FS: We have five Christmas videos coming out. “Fruitcake” is the first and we’re going to stagger the others, so be prepared for an onslaught of Christmas atrocities.

CB: Are you thinking of doing any shows at all?

FS: Well, Noah and Dan have full time jobs in Orlando. When we have our quote “regular record” out that’s when it would make more sense to do a tour. We could still do “Fruitcake” ’cause that’s year round. Why not do Christmas songs in July, who cares? But we want to get a full-length out. I might do “Crummy Christmas Tree” here and there, and maybe “Fruitcake” if I can learn it. I just did it off the top of my head when it was done.

CB: I hear you guys are doing a record with Peaches?

FS: That’s done! We just need to mix it. It’s called “Three Way Freeway”. Peaches is going to redo some of her vocal and all that but I think it’ll be out on Shunda K’s record, or Peaches, or both, or ours too—which will give us an R rating, but c’est la vie, who cares.

CB: Are there other collaborations in the works?

FS: I have a song out with Ursula 1000 called “Hey You” and I did a song with Big Stick, which is a band–they’ve been around for a while but haven’t done a record in 10 years, called “Hot Sauce”…I keep busy.

CB: Yeah! Absolutely.

FS: I wrote some songs for Hunx and his Punx. Hunx used to be in ‘Gravy Train!!!!’ And now it’s Hunx and his Punx. (laughs)

CB: Do you have any idea how many records you have?

FS: Oh lord, Let’s see, these are 13 foot ceilings, so…1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 levels of records, 13 feet by 20 feet plus 50 boxes downstairs, boxes at my mother’s house, boxes in storage…I need to purge. I have been purging, I just donated 700 records to an archive, so…

CB: What kind of stuff did you donate?

FS: Everything from good jazz to bad jazz to vocals, nonsense, everything.

CB: Any special favorites? What are your most prized records?

FS: There’s so much I like. I mean, I’m just a music nut. People think “you must watch TV all day long”—I don’t. I don’t even put it on a lot of days. I like listening to music, and I’m writing music. And now I realize if I write something on my iPhone I better send it to off right away. The last time I backed everything up I lost everything.

CB: Oh no!

FS: I know. iPhones suck! So be careful when you’re backing up your iPhone if you got a new one.

CB: Is there a record you’ve always wanted but haven’t managed to get your hands on yet?

FS: The Honey West TV soundtrack. It was 70 dollars the last time I saw it and I didn’t want to spend that, you know. But, you know, it’s a tax write off.

CB: Business expense.

FS: But I need to be purging….but if I see a box of records at a yard sale, there I am.

CB: Any acting projects coming up? You have such a distinctive voice, and everybody in the world thinks they can do a Fred Schneider impression—of course they’re all idiots.

FS: Yeah, such talent.

CB: But did anyone ever ask you to do a book on tape? Are you doing more animation voiceovers?

FS: I did a voice for The Cleveland Show, the spinoff from Family Guy. But I don’t know what happened to it, if they ever used it. That was fun. I played a female bank teller who happens to sound like Fred Schneider.

CB: Did you go out to LA and record it or did they do it where you’re at?

FS: They have a studio in New York too, and that’s where we did “Glove Slap” (the B-52s “Love Shack” parody, in “E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)” from The Simpsons’ eleventh season—C.)

CB: On a more serious note–one of the things I always loved about the Bs records, I always identified with your records because they were about having fun, but also being an outsider and having fun. With all the stuff in the media about bullying right now—when you were growing up, did you ever go through anything like that?

FS: Oh yeah, it was torture going to high school. That’s why I have no interest in going back. Kids were rotten. They made up a rumor, and, you know, other people…actually I started getting allergies because my stress level was so high. But once I left high school, I found myself, and had a great time in Athens…to a degree. I mean, the town was dead as a doornail but we had fun. But yeah, I want to get more involved in that.

CB: Have you seen any of the “It Gets Better” videos that Dan Savage has on YouTube?

FS: I haven’t seen any of that. I barely get to my emails, much less…I’m one of the guilty ones. “Didn’t you check your emails?” No, text me.

CB: I read that when you came out it was a non-event?

FS: She was vacuuming. She said “Oh, I know, Freddie”. And then she continued vacuuming. So, whatever. And I wasn’t even successful then, so that was nice.

CB: What’s happening with the Bs?

FS: We have a couple more shows this year, then New Year’s, and we’re booking for next year. We’d love to do a tour with Blondie. We’ve played with them before and we’re big fans of theirs. Debbie’s a dream, and Chris and Clem are great guys. That would be great. We’re both bands with recent albums so we’re not oldies rehashes.

CB: I know you guys have a live album in the works.

FS: We have three shows recorded, and I’d love to get those out. We have to pay to have them mixed and mastered, and all that. We’ve got to see, because supposedly live albums don’t sell, but if they’re good…it’d be great to have a documentation because the only live album that’s any good is a bootleg from Europe from Good Stuff, but Cindy wasn’t on it, and the other stuff from the 80s was just horrible. It’s obvious someone had a crap tape recorder, for one, because you hear people talking at the table while we’re playing….(laughs) it’s like “what the hell”?

CB: You guys have very loyal fans. I have no doubt they’ll turn out to buy the live album.

FS: They stick by us, we stick by them. We’ve evolved a lot but we still give—we’re still a fun band to go to.

CB: Anything else we should know about Destination..Christmas!?

FS: Don’t just check out one song. Listen to the others…it’s a very varied record.

Gather round the tinsel tree and put the plastic balls up, or get a—what do they call those ones that change colors? One of those trees that changes colors? Create your own traditions!

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