MusicMusic Features

Cindy Wilson Goes Beyond the Beehive With Her Psychedelic Second Act

Born of a Beatles-themed birthday party, the B-52s’ Cindy Wilson’s new project is a fresh adventure for a longtime rocker. “A lot of people are just curious, ’cause it’s like a 60-year-old woman going back and doing rock and roll,” Wilson says with a laugh. “It’s really insane.”

While some entering their seventh decade might be ready for retirement, Wilson twinkles with excitement at the thought of starting from the ground up. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she says. “I don’t want anything given to me; I want to earn it. Like I said, it’s an adventure. It’s like going back and starting over with the B-52s. Hey, why not?”

Though the new project is eponymously titled, Wilson never uses the word “solo” to describe it. Instead, the project seems formed out of camaraderie and mutual admiration between Wilson and co-founder Ryan Monahan (Easter Island).

Monahan, who studied music formally in Connecticut, blew Wilson away when his band played at her son’s birthday party eight years ago. “They were so good!” Wilson recalls, “It was the best party we’ve ever, ever thrown. And I’m talking about adult or kid party!”

Wilson continued to hire the band for parties, and got to know Monahan well. When Wilson was asked to play an R.E.M. tribute show, she invited Monahan to perform with her. “We had gotten to know him by then, the family.” He was the only young, local musician whom she thought could get R.E.M.’s nuance right. “Anything I threw at him, he just knocked out of the park,” she says. “I’ve never seen a kid that can do this.”

From there, the two began performing together regularly, and the current project slowly took shape. After working in the studio with engineer Suny Lyons, Wilson recalls thinking, “OK, Suny has to be in the band. There’s just no doubt about it.” Lyons agreed. Lemuel Hayes joined on drums, and Marie Davon (Powerkompany) jumped on board playing strings.

The group’s music reflects its writing process, which is somewhat experimental. “I had never done this sort of, like, Pollack, let’s throw paint at the wall and see what sticks kind of thing,” Monahan says. Wilson introduced Monahan to the fun of improvisation, while Monahan brought structure to the band. “It’s a combination of both now,” Wilson says.

If you’re looking for a B-52s spinoff, you’ll likely be disappointed. Though the new project features Wilson and a lot of spunk, “this music is as far from the B-52s… as you can get,” Monahan says. It’s psychedelic pop-rock featuring layers of instrumentation, sometimes even including pencils and soda bottles. And the experimentation doesn’t stop there. Wilson says she has been “taught how to sing a different way. Not always singing [with] a rocking, hard-rock voice. Sometimes a lighter touch conveys more than the hard.” Listeners will still hear the clarity and power of classic Wilson, only with greater nuance.

Wilson’s group has a lot in store. Monahan says they’ve started working on new material, “which is kinda funny, because the [first] album isn’t even out yet.” More touring—planned for this summer—and music videos are also a priority. Perhaps most exciting, though, is interest from an unnamed record label. Though she is hesitant to say too much, “We’re right there,” Wilson says.

Everything seems to be moving forward, thanks to much hard work. “We’re still building,” says Wilson. “Like I said, we have to prove ourselves. We’ll have to prove ourselves the whole way.”

Editor’s note: In advance of her AthFest show, Wilson will appear at Wuxtry Records for a signing event from 2–4 p.m. Friday.