Cindy Wilson is proving that it's never too late to start over. After four decades of making music with the B-52s, with songs like "Rock Lobster," "Love Shack," and dozens of other hits, the 60-year-old singer has just put out her first solo album, Change. Funded by PledgeMusic, an online platform for fans to directly connect with musicians, and released by independent record label Kill Rock Stars, as the title would suggest, Change shows a side of Wilson that's different from what fans might expect.
Wilson came to fame harmonizing alongside fellow B-52s member Kate Pierson, pairing her vintage velvet purr with the deep, funky grooves and irresistible danceable hooks of the B-52s' greatest hits. While she provided a memorable vocal run on the band's 1989 song "Roam," she's a lot more than just a pretty voice — she plays acoustic and electric guitar and even bongos on several tracks, all while playing call-and-response with Pierson in matching bouffant hairdos and space-age retro costumes.
While the album is a solo project, Wilson says there was a lot of collaborating involved, most heavily with an up-and-coming band she met in Athens, Georgia — composed of Suny Lyons, Ryan Monahan, Sterling Campbell, and Lemuel Hayes. Together they created an album of psychedelic electro-pop that showcases and plays with Wilson's unmistakable Nico–meets–Yoko Ono voice. Wilson and her band are already on the road promoting Change; at the same time, she is helping the B-52s celebrate their 40th anniversary. To get a sense of Wilson's new work, check out "On the Inside," which she says is her favorite song on the album.
We caught up with Wilson the morning after a B-52s concert to talk about evolution, her new album, and why she decided to go solo after all these years.
ML: What's it like to feel like you're starting over despite having been in the business for so many years?
CW: We have to watch our budget, so we're playing small clubs and getting in the van with our equipment. It's lean and mean — and it's amazing. It's stripped down to the essentials, but we are getting a great sound and building our audience and getting a lot of great feedback, so it's kind of exciting.
ML: When did you start working with the band?
CW: We started about a year ago with a show in LA. In February we did a South by Southwest jaunt, playing several shows on the way to Austin, Texas, from Atlanta. We played a few [more] shows and got some interest from Kill Rock Stars. I bumped into Portia [Sabin, the label boss] at one of the shows and we talked, and she really liked what we were doing. We continued our conversation and months later, we were working together on this project. Having a record label supporting gives us credibility, which is a wonderful thing.
ML: But don't you think you've earned that credibility given your 40-plus years in the industry?
CW: You'd be surprised. Anytime you're not singing "Rock Lobster," you have to start all over again. You don't have a history built up with people with your solo work. A lot of people come to hear certain songs and, you know, they remember where they were when the certain song came on, and there's a lot of nostalgia with the B-52s. With the solo work, you're building up your history again. But it's also what's so great. I feel like the music is modern, and it feels fresh, and it's a real interesting blend of electronica and psychedelics. It's been a learning experience for me, so it's a win-win situation, that's for sure.
ML: How did you meet the band that you collaborated with on your solo album Change?
CW: I met Ryan [Monahan] and Lemuel [Hayes] about nine years ago. They were in a really fantastic Beatles cover band and played for my son's birthday party. We ended up hiring them over and over again. We became friends, and later on, when somebody asked me to do something in Athens and I needed a band, I asked Ryan and Lemuel if they could do something. We worked well together, so about four years ago, we decided to kick around a little bit in the studio. That's where we met Suny [Lyons]. It was Suny's studio, and he's a genius, and he's in the band now.
ML: This album sounds very different from the B-52s. Is it fun to try a whole new genre of music?
CW: It's fun being creative and collaborative; it's like a school for me. It's wonderful to make something from nothing, taking creative ideas and making them into songs and then performing them. I learned that when you perform the music, it makes it come alive. Fans of the B-52s are finding the new band, too, and coming over, if it speaks to them.
ML: How do you keep the same energy with the crowd after so many years?
CW: As a singer, I just feel very lucky. You look out into the audience and you see really happy faces, people who are so glad to be there, and you bounce off the energy. It's very much a blessing to be able to have that, and I don't take that for granted.
Melissa Locker is a writer, editor, and occasional ham-radio operator. Follow her on Twitter @woolyknickers, but not in real life.