tv Talk to Al Jazeera Al Jazeera April 10, 2016 8:00am-8:31am EDT
>> this week on "talk to al jazeera", one of the most recognizable singers of a generation - kate pierson of the b-52s. >> (singing the song "love shack"). >> the greatest thing i think a band can do is give people this joy and make them happy and make them dance or sing or just, you know, just kind of give them a joy. >> the group was once given the title "america's favorite party band" by rolling stone, but pierson said beneath the bee-hives, there was a message.
>> we felt we were misunderstood and we felt like everyone's just calling us wacky, wacky, wacky and they didn't understand the incredible seriousness of the band. >> the band's cult following continued to grow until a tragedy in the '80s, when lead guitarist, ricky wilson, died of aids. >> we didn't know he had aids until he passed away. so we were told to be silent and that was very very difficult. >> her first break into music was a protest band in the civil rights era. >> so we were the sun donuts and we all wrote and one of the girls wrote about environmental... you know, tomorrow there would be no more sun. >> now, after decades in the bs, kate's going solo with a song "guitars and microphones" - a look back at her life. the video; however, backfired among some in the transgender community who called it stereotypical and degrading. >> i care a lot about gay
marriage and equality and i've always been very supportive of trans people. >> i spoke with kate pierson at her private recording studio in woodstock, new york where she lives with her partner monica. >> i think most people look at you and their reputation of you is beehives, crazy dancing, love shack, what more is there to kate pierson? >> ooh, well it's all that, it's all that. um, no beehive. beehives, we sort of put them, well we revive them sometimes. >> you are now a solo artist. >> yes. >> your first solo album coming up, i heard it took you a long time to put this together. why? >> it didn't take so long to put it together, it just took me a long time uh, to start it because it's a lifelong thing. i've always wanted to do a solo project. i've always known i wanted to be a musician. i've always wanted to be a musician. i love music from like i probably sang when i was born, you know just like something, and i used to stick my head out
the window when i was a kid and sing at the top of my lungs and makeup songs and i didn't think my parents could hear me, um, my father played uh this beautiful gretch guitar, he was in a big band, and then when he got married, he stopped, he played all the time at night, but he stopped being in the band. >> so you grew up around music. >> so i grew up around music, i played piano, i was in chorus, and choir and stuff in school, and um, so the b-52s started, um, i had written a bunch of songs. i always was songwriting in high school, writing you know songs while i was supposed to be you know listening to the teacher. and then when the b-52s started, it was a collective writing experience, so i didn't really write much on my own and i just always thought, i have you know, stuff i want to express and it just seemed so all encompassing and we toured relentlessly, and we did even though we didn't put out that many albums, we, it was a long writing process because of the collective nature of the writing.
>> do you feel a little sense of freedom doing a solo project? >> i do, i mean i have compared it to having wings. i just feel like i can express myself in a different way than with the b-52s. and yet, there's an anchor there that the b-52s are the mother ship but you know i can satellite off and um, do my thing. >> the b-52s been around since 1976? >> yes, that was our sort of, our first show, it was at a house party in 1977, valentine's day. >> what was that like? >> amazing. we um, we brought the, literally brought the house down. it was in this little house that's still there in athens, known as opposite the taco stand. um, and we had borrowed this equipment and we had some uh little speakers and stuff, and i remember they were on bookshelves, and they were shaking and people had to hold them against the walls and we had um, cindy and i had these fake fur pocketbooks that i found at the diana shop. and they were white, and so we turned them upside down and
teased them out a little bit and so they were like white fros. and we hung a couple of barbie dolls and we you know made it look all punky and funny and uh, so but the house shook. and our friends danced like crazy. so we knew wow this is, we had no idea how people would react, but that first you know house party, our friends went wild, so we knew something was good. >> why do you think they reacted like that? >> well everyone loved to dance, our group of friends in athens loved to dance. >> did you have any idea at the time that years later rolling stone magazine would call the b-52s america's favorite party band? >> well we're self-proclaimed, uh tacky little dance band from athens, georgia. and sometimes america's greatest party band. um, but... >> is there a tacky element to the b-52s? >> oh yeah and at first it seemed to overshadow the band, it seemed to be like the wigs, you know the, the outfits and the hairdos and you know our lyrics we felt were misunderstood.
and we felt like everyone just calling us whacky, whacky, whacky, and they didn't understand the incredible seriousness of the band. >> there is a seriousness to some b-52's songs you're saying. >> yes, but i think you know the greatest legacy of the band, i realized later is like that people are allowed to have fun, to let their freak flag fly, people can like bust loose, it gives people joy and it actually helped a lot of people get through life which is something i never, you said, you know did i expect this to happen. no, never did i expect people to say like, you helped me through high school. you got me through this hard time, you know i was a young gay boy or a girl, whatever, or it just having you know hard times or being bullied and it was okay to be different i think the b-52s message is definitely just by example. it's okay to be different. >> let's talk about rock lobster. that's really the song that put you guys on the map in the underground music scene at first. what is it about that song? why did people gravitate towards
that? >> it's got, well in fact, keith strickland always tells this story that he went into our study at, in the morton building in athens and ricky was sitting there, and he said, i've just written the stupidest guitar line ever and it was (demonstrates)...and i think it's just the, the guitar hooks in that are just like incredibly can't help but dance. and then fred, uh had this whole like crazy lyrics about crustaceans and he had been to this disco and seen these like crustaceans that were uh, i guess projected onto the walls. so had, he had this idea for a rock lobster. >> what is your favorite b-52 song to sing and perform? >> well, um, i can't say that. they are like many children you know you can't really pick, but i have to say that rock lobster is always fun, it's always sort of new because the beat and love shack too, there's something
about the beat that can always you know get you going and seeing the audience reaction and they're so, having so much fun it's like electricity that gets you know transferred back to us, so it's like this whole you know party fun with the audience. >> let's go back to the earlier days when you first started touring. what was that culture like back in the late 70s and the early 80s? >> it was really exciting to come up from athens, cause there wasn't any place to play in athens. the fans from atlanta suggested that we go um, to new york and bring a tape, so they you know went up and brought a tape to cbgb's at max's kansas city and so we got some gigs there. so we started just blazing a trail from new york up to athens, athens to new york. each time we went to athens we're write a few more songs, practice, go to new york. and that early club scene, we opened the mud club, we played cbgb's, max's kansas city, hoorah's, uh it was so exciting cause other bands, you know, uh,
blondie, devo, talking heads, you know we were all like, they came to see us and it started this buzz, yeah, and they were like and patty smith and all those that were punk, the ramons, you know were our icons. and when we started we weren't that aware. i mean we were in our own athens bubble, so we started writing, it was just, i think that's why we were so different. we didn't really have a prototype exactly to follow, which is like our crazy blend of everyone's personalities into a genie in the bottle brew, so um, when we went to new york, that was very friendly, you know debbie harry and chris stein invited us to their apartment, and we saw their gold records like um, on the floor, sort of leaning against the wall and we're like whoa, so it was very exciting to meet all those other bands and have them be supportive. it wasn't a rivalry, and also people started dancing. and that wasn't typical. a lot of people were leaning against the wall in their leather jackets, but people
started you know peeling themselves off the walls and dancing. >> was it exhausting ever? energizing these crowds all the time? >> well in the beginning i remember we did uh, i think it was cbgb's where we did at set, i think it was like at midnight and then another one at 2 a.m. so i think even when you're young, you know, it's, it's a tiring thing. and we drove the first gig we did, we drove up to max's kansas city, we had like six songs and they asked us to cut our set short. cause there were a bunch of other bands playing, and okay, we drove all the way from athens and we did the songs, i think we made $14. >> and years later you release love shack which goes on to become one of the most popular songs in america, everybody can sing the lyrics to that for the most part, right? why do people love that song so much? >> i think it's you know, it creates, it's very cinematic, it
creates this like, conjures this place uh, that is sort of idyllic, you know a place that everyone's accepted. everyone can go there, everyone can dance, everyone's free, um, and it's got you know a sexy element to it, you know there's glitter on the mattress and um, i, i think, and the beat, you know it's the beat really. and i think people, everyone can relate to the chorus, you know can sing the chorus and... >> i love your new album, i think it's absolutely great. >> thanks! the title song, the video just came out for "guitars and microphones", it's a little nostalgic. why are you taking this nostalgic look back at your life? the new title track? >> well the album's not, i still like to call it an album, it's not all nostalgic, but that one particular song is very autobiographical. so that's why i wanted to title the album guitars and microphones cause i'm not only playing guitar again, uh but also it's very personal. i have all these old photographs which i thought this will be great to kind of uh, it's about
childhood and leaving childhood and leaving your friends and loves in childhood. and so i thought this would be a great opportunity to kind of show people, kind of more personal look at my past. >> you dig up those old pictures and you're a little girl in pigtails. >> oh some of the embarrassing pictures. >> now you're 66 years old. is your age relevant? >> i don't, i mean i feel like i'm still a 10 year old girl at heart, cause i love glitter clothes, and um, you know, that kind of crazy plastic earrings and stuff. >> is there a difference for a woman in rock and roll versus a man as they age? >> oh, i mean there's tons of ageism, there's a lot of nasty comments you know sometimes online that can be directed at women. and there's definitely a different standard. i also think you don't see many people that are older on magazine covers. it's just, you just, it's like it's a race, some sort of science fiction world where you
know like the twilight zone, the only people you see really are kind of perfect and photo shopped, i'm conscious of how i look and i want to have makeup and hair and stuff but um, you know at the end of it, it's just, i want to be myself. in my hair and makeup. >> up next, kate opens up about the messages in her solo album. and a controversy that put her in the cross-hairs of the transgender community.
>> i'm adam may, you're watching "talk to al jazeera". my guest this week is kate pierson, one of the lead singers and founding members of the b-52's >> a lot of your songs seem earthy to me. are you concerned about the health of our planet? >> i read a, a, the silen--, a book called the silent spring when i was in junior high school. so uh, that was like a clarion
call to environmentalism, like the world is ending basically and there'll be no more birds singing. and i've been an environmental activist ever since then. uh i always think that that is the most kind of taking care of our planet is the most important thing as, for all politics i think we are all guardians of the planet and the animals and so animal rights and environmental uh, activism is very important to me. >> animal rights, you mentioned you were arrested once during a peta protest. >> i was arrested in my fabulous todd oldham. all the women went up to the vogue offices and chanted you know something, i can't remember like anti-fur. and we even stormed anna winter's office. we pounded on the wall, on her, i knew she was in there, and ingrid newkirk and i, ingrid newkirk who's head of peta said come on, kate, let's you know let's see if she's in there. >> why did you do that? >> um, well it was actually kind of a peaceful protest.
it wasn't you know like spraying the walls or anything. we just went there, there were only a few of us. um, we sat on the floor, you know we refused to leave. >> you're pretty big into reclamation recycling, right? >> well our um, motel, lazy meadow that's just down the road from here, we did reclamation recycling. we did, we used everything we could, it's a 1952 uh roadside motel that we transformed to, back to its former glory. and we uh retrofit some 50s, mid-century turquoise cabinets and pink cabinets and old refrigerators and old stoves, but we kept everything we could, the knotty pine, all the kind of uh, wood on the outside. we kept everything we could and you know tried to keep it all uh recycled, everything recycling. >> i know another issue that is dear to your heart is hiv and aids. a member of the b-52s, ricky wilson passed away in 1985. how did that affect you? >> well when ricky passed away
in 1985 the band, we were, a decision was made by uh, ricky and cindy's family to her uncle wanted to protect uh, their father and so he said, let's not mention that ricky had aids. and aids was like a new disease then, i mean they were still, some people calling it a gay virus. we weren't even sure that, i mean we didn't know ricky was sick, and until a certain point, you know then we realized. but we didn't know he had aids until he passed away. so we were told to be silent and that was very, very difficult. people thought we were ashamed, which we weren't, and you know it was a very, very difficult time. >> was it scary? >> it was, it was just heartbreaking. i mean i didn't think we could go on, none of the band members felt like we could continue the band. so we took a long break, and then we realized, gosh, life is so precious, we're precious to
each other, and what we have together, actually brings ricky's spirit back in, it brings, you know doing new music actually conjures his spirit. it's still with us. and we also did cosmic thing as a healing process, you know to be together and a lot of the songs we wrote, you know were about back in the day in athens, like dead beat club, so you know then we became, once we were able to say he had aids we were, um, and it turns out ricky's father was totally knew and was totally you know accepting and so i think you know our involvement with aids activism was very important at that point. >> a lot of people may not know this, but when you first started playing music you were in a protest band. what was it called? >> it was originally called the sun downers. and then uh, there were three of us, three girls with three guitars and we, there was another band called and we were a high school band, you know... >> late 60s, protest band...
>> yeah, and... >> what were you singing about? >> and so you know, we changed it to the sun donuts. so we were the sun donuts and we all wrote and uh, one of the girls wrote about uh, environmental, you know tomorrow there will be no more sun and then i wrote a song called cauley lee wilkins is free. and cauley lee wilkins was a, a, he shot um, a civil rights worker, a civil rights activist, i wrote a song about civil rights, as a member of the sun donuts and it was uh the time that topical songs are really big and folk music was like pop, you know all the folk, folk rocks... >> like bob dylan. >> bob dylan, joni mitchell, the byrds, crosby, stills, nash, & young, you know all these bands were, had political kind of uh lyrics and they were uh, some of them were very overtly political >> one of the songs on your new album, mister sister, caused a, kind of a stir in the trans community. they said it was stereotypical. were you surprised by that reaction?
>> i was very surprised. i was very taken aback because i thought it was very uh, posive, sort of gender positive towards anyone i said that it was about anyone who was a self- you know expanding and tran--, and making a transition, anyone who felt betrayed by the mirror. so i meant it to be all inclusive. >> and that's an issue dear to your heart. >> well i you know i transitioned from being, you know i'm bisexual and i was always with men and now i'm with monica for 11 years, and going on 12, and so um, you know this is an issue that i'm, i care a lot about. i care a lot about gay marriage and equality and um, and i've always been very supportive of trans people, um, so i, i was surprised, but it's really not about a trans woman. it's about my friend, tangela, who uh was a drag queen, and uh and wig stock a lot, his name is allen and he um, anyway we used to bandy about and call each other mister sister.
and so really it could, i just wanted to be very much about anyone who felt not in their own body, they didn't feel comfortable with their sexuality or with who they saw in the mirror. anyone who felt different, really, it's like a forefront of, of a new civil rights movement. >> this is a new civil rights... >> because people don't really get it. and i learned a lot. there was a lot of terms like sis gender that i didn't know and i asked all my friends and they were like, we have to look it up, we don't know. i mean other gay friends didn't know what sis gender was either. so there was a lot to learn and it enlightened me and i think that many, many people don't really understand you know what the trans community wants to convey or how they want to be seen. >> you brought up civil rights many times during this interview., how far have we come in the course of your lifetime? >> well things can always get better. there's always a new twist and turn which is why in my album, i wrote a song called the time wave zero and it's sort of about
the end of the world, cause we always think this must be the worst time, this must be the worst thing that's happening, you know will war ever end? um, you know i think there's always, there's always something you know to be done, but i think, i think things are improving. i mean i can't believe that gay marriage is really just about to become the law of the land, and monica and i are going to get married. we just debate over whether it's going to be hawaii or here in the backyard. i don't know. >> how do you hope people are affected by your music? >> well i think uh, the b-52s the thing that people got out of it was this joy and i wanted to continue that, i mean i think it just happens that way, that this album came out to be something i feel is very joyful and very heartfelt and very sincere. and i think people are, are saying, people are telling me the feedback i've been getting is i'm loving this. this makes me happy. and that, to me, makes me happy. that's uh, the greatest thing i
>> this is "talk to al jazeera". i'm adam may speaking with kate pierson of the b-52s. >> you've done collaborations with rem, you've recently sang with debbie harry, you sang with iggy pop. is there anyone alive or dead that you wish you could sing with? >> uh, david bowie. >> david bowie, why? >> yeah, i love his voice. i just love his voice and he also... >> shall we ask him right now on camera to join you? >> david! >> call her... call kate! >> call, david!
>> would you mind playing a little something for us from your new album? >> alright, well a little snippet. >> okay a little snippet, we'll take that. now this guitar back here, is this your baby? is this your favorite one? >> yes, this is a gibson hummingbird quilt. and isn't it beautiful? >> it is beautiful. how long have you been playing on this guitar? >> um, just about a year and a half. um, i played, uh with the b-52s, i played an electric guitar and i played on 52 girls and hero worship. and so i've just uh tried to get, it was hard breaking back into playing guitar because you know you've got to get your callouses going, and uh...(strums and sings mister sister).
it's the beginning of mr. sister. >> people hear you and they know who's singing. >> on the seth myers show with fred armeson and with his band, it's better than being the musical guest on the show, cause i was on for four nights and i was part of the 8g band with fred armeson, and it was just who also is in the mister sister video and did the lyric video, he was just amazing. >> each night we did a different song and we did mr. sister, we did guitars and microphones, and of course it's just a little snippet as uh before the ad comes on, but uh we did candy and when i, when we did that in the rehearsal they were like, that's the voice on the record, you know, it's just very recognizable. >> i mean you've been in music your whole life and people are
still interested in what you have to say. how lucky do you think you are? >> um, i'm very, very lucky. and i'm very grateful too for fans and for people that listen to music and support music, um, there has to be people that want to listen to it, you know some people feel like oh, i wish i could sing, but i'm so grateful to them that they love to hear music, that you know, that they love to, they appreciate it. cause live music now, i want to play live. i want to do more shows. >> you're out there singing with debbie harry at one point. >> debbie harry came up onstage and did roam, oh my god that was, i love debbie, she's the coolest chick ever. >> cooler than you? >> cooler than me, yeah. >> every monday night. >> i lived that character. >> go one on one with america's movers and shakers. >> we will be able to see change. >> gripping... inspiring... entertaining.
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