Even if you aren’t on a first-name basis with Kate Pierson, you’ve heard her voice. Since “Love Shack” was released by her band The B-52’s 25 years ago, it’s become a staple at wedding receptions, high school dances, and classic rock radio. Maybe you’re also familiar with their hit “Rock Lobster,” or Kate’s song with R.E.M., “Shiny Happy People.” Kate has also performed on tracks with The Ramones and Iggy Pop, and is BFFs with Debbie Harry—which is to say she’s been a part of rock ‘n roll history since the the early ’70s.
So it’s kind of crazy that it took until now for Kate to release her own solo album. Guitars & Microphones comes out on February 17, and was co-written with today’s most-sought after songwriter, Sia. Recorded while Kate was on break from touring with The B-52’s (who are still active with the four founding members, outside of Ricky Wilson, who passed in 1985), the album is straight up positive pop rock, a fun collection of upbeat tracks that fans of Kate’s previous work will be happy to add to their collection.
Outside of music, Kate co-owns and operates two kitschy hotels with her partner, Monica Coleman, who she met in 2003. Kate’s Lazy Meadow in upstate New York and Lazy Desert in Joshua Tree, California, are must-sees for fans, although they might not get a glimpse of the happy couple while staying there. Monica is part of Kate’s new album, as well, photographing the album artwork and directing her first new video for single “Mister Sister.”
We spoke with Kate about recording her first solo effort, collaborating with her partner, and why people were surprised when she came out.
AfterEllen.com: I really enjoyed the album. I’d love to hear about how you decided that you want to do this solo album how you came to work with Sia.
Kate Pierson: Well doing a solo album is something I’ve wanted to do for about 30 years. We took a break after we did [1992 B-52’s album] Good Stuff, and Cindy quit the band for a while, then we came back, we did Good Stuff without her and toured a lot. Then after that my mother passed and father passed away and I went through a really hard time. Then I got an offer to go to Japan and do a side project. Like a supergroup—it got me to work with Yuki and this producer that used to be in The Plastics, a Japanese band that opened for us. Long story short, we were with Sony and we went to number one. I toured Japan, I co-wrote songs with Yuki. We didn’t even speak the same language but, like, it was a miracle the great songs we were able to write.
So it opened up that creativity and gave me confidence that I could pretty much write for anyone myself. So then I started writing my own songs, toyed with the idea of a solo album and I performed some with a group. I started performing at Joe’s Pub and every time we performed I would write a new song, but then the B-52’s started doing [2008 album] Funplex and I got swept up in that.
So anyway, finally, we took a break from touring. And a few years ago my partner mentioned to Sia—we’re friends with Sia. She said, “Kate always wanted to do this—can you give her a little boost?” So we started doing songwriting sessions together, collaborating with the people she’s worked with before. So we started doing that and started writing. The process was great. Very quick, actually.
AE: So where did you write most of the songs. Was it at your home or did you come to LA?
KP: Well my partner, Monica, and I moved out to LA for a few months; brought our dogs and rented a house. We started going on writing sessions. We would go to people’s studios. We were just on our GPS driving all over the map. Most people have a little set up in their house, so we’d just work very specifically at limited locations to create the bones of the song. We’d get it written, the lyrics and the demo part, in one day. We wound up with about 16 songs. I think.
AE: How different was this experience writing songs than with The B-52’s?
KP: Similar process in that it’s collaborative. I don’t know that many people who write together in the same room at the same time. For B-52s, most of our songs are done collaboratively. And usually Keith does all the instrumentation parts and Cindy and Fred and I do the melodies and harmonies and lyrics, but we would jam. We would have a whole process of jamming, sometimes for days. Hours and hours of jamming. We had days and days and several versions of “Love Shack,” and we’d find parts like a collage and put it together.
When I worked with Sia we had a clearer idea. We wanted a verse, a bridge, a chorus. Once we found a melody we retrofit the lyrics to the melody. In most cases I have lyrics written down and a title, and Sia helped shaped the lyrics to the melody. So it’s a quicker process.
AE: You’ve worked with so many different people throughout your career. How was collaborating for your own solo album?
KP: This whole process was very emerging collaboration because, the same with The B-52’s:, you don’t want to think who is writing what, it’s sort of happening all at one time. You don’t want to have a lot of ego in there. You don’t want to think, “Oh, this is my part!” You are just thinking in service of the song. I think that’s the real jamming way of doing things. There are exceptions, but most of the time it’s everyone in the room at once.
AE: Would you say there’s an overall concept for the album or is every song a very individual piece?
KP: No there’s no overarching themes, really. Writing with Sia, she started getting really busy and I started writing more on my own. Three songs she wrote specifically for me that she wrote with other people that I didn’t participate in, but she wrote them specifically for me and totally got me. She wrote songs that I felt, I would have written with her so it worked out. Those three songs have a consistent sound. I picked Guitars & Microphones for a reason. That’s a really autobiographical song.