92.5% of all my celeb chats are your basic, garden-variety interviews. Verbal volley, I call it. But every once in awhile, there’s an interview so zany and kooky, you’re never quite sure which direction it’s headed. Such was the case with The B-52s frontman and founding member Fred Schneider who allowed me to switch gears so many times, it became more of an Olympic ping-pong match of Q&A.
The day we spoke, The B’s fans were buzzing about the hive. Seems an Instagram meme was being shared around which randomly claimed Fred once pulled a knife on a flight attendant back in 1993. (Uh, he did not.) But, of course, I had to ask about it. “A friend of mine told me about it. I was, like, what the f*ck is this?” says Fred. “I’m gonna see if I can sue the person or have that Instagram account shut down.” When I laughed and mentioned it wouldn’t be a knife, but likely a shotgun, Fred picked up on my joke. “Shotgunned a joint maybe,” he chuckles.
For folks not in the know, when Fred’s not holding court on stage, he’s got about a bazillion different irons in the fire at any given time—global pandemic notwithstanding. One of those endeavors is his burgeoning coffee empire. Turns out Fred is a java junkie who’s formed an alliance with Breyting Community Roaster—a civic-minded coffee company located just outside Orlando—several years ago. It was a match made in caffeine heaven. (More on that later.)
Seems Fred’s penchant for coffee started relatively early. “Back in the stone age, my grandparents used to put Coffee Time—a coffee-flavored syrup—in my milk at breakfast,” he mentions. “I started drinking coffee, I guess, in, like, 8th grade.” Now Fred is a bit of a coffee purist—in fact, he’s “neurotic” about the preparation. “I do the thing where I use the measuring spoon with two level tablespoons of coffee and six ounces of water. I’m pretty neurotic about that. That’s how you make the best cup of coffee, the recipe,” he says. How does Fred take his coffee? “A little bit of milk or a little bit of half and half. No sugar,” he mentions. “Although some people like maple syrup.” (Must be a Southern thing.)
When he’s out and about touring and/or on the road, Fred seeks out mom and pop coffeehouses. “I do try to hit local coffee shops when I travel. It’s not always easy because there’s a Starbucks on every corner,” he says. When I quizzed him if he’s been drinking more coffee whilst being quarantined, he said nope. “Three six ounce cups, that’s it,” he admits. “I don’t drink in the afternoon anymore because it’s hard to sleep.”
During our phone gabfest while Fred was hunkered down in his Long Island digs, I asked about how the connection started between Fred and the Deland, Florida coffee gurus. Turns out, it happened organically. (See what I did there?) Fred and Community Roaster co-owner and chief branding partner Von Coven had an ongoing 25-year friendship that turned into a coffee collaboration over “a bottle of white wine,” says Coven. The coffee company donates 10% of proceeds back to local growers in Laos, which is where the shade-grown and organically grown beans are harvested. “They use it for anti-venom for snakes and to get rid of all the bombs we dropped on Laos during the Vietnam war,” says Fred. (The entire backstory can be found on Community Roaster’s website. Read more here.)
Coven says once Fred wanted to get involved, it’s been an ideal match—pretty much from Day 1. “It’s been pretty awesome. There would literally be no other business partner on the planet that would say yes after I suggested we create the company around snakes and bombs and caffeine-crazed monsters,” laughs Coven. “No other business partner would say, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea.’ Fred just gets it. Their music has always been ahead of the curve in many ways and he totally gets what we’re doing—and I love it.”
Fred’s original Monster! version started as a concoction of a couple different blends of coffee. (Fans will note the name came from a song off his 1984 solo album.) Now there are about a dozen different brands on the horizon—“one being rolled out every quarter,” says Coven. The newest, you ask? Fred’s Mocha Loca Love—which had a soft launch around Valentine’s Day, but is just now entering the public’s stream of java consciousness. “I do like mocha—a chocolatey flavor in my coffee,” comments Fred. “My Monster! blend has overtones of mocha – but this has chocolate in it and is limited to only 1,000 boxes.”
Given Fred’s penchant for philanthropy, it’s no surprise that Breyting Community Roaster is also hyper-focused on giving back and raising monies for organizations. The coffeehouse is poised to open up an event space where, as Fred chimes in, charities can hold coffee klatches and raise money on their own selling coffee. “It’s good people doing good things and wanting a win, win, win for everyone,” says Meka Nism, community engagement officer. “This company wants to have a positive effect on the community—from the small farmers that it works directly with to the coffee drinker that get to experience a really high-quality cup of coffee—and also the non-profits that get to have fundraisers and the artists that get to be involved. It’s a collaborative process and I’m excited the more I get to witness it every day.” (It should be noted that Meka—or Ms. Nism if you’re nasty—also has her own blend of coffee, Meka Nism Shaman Blend. (Natch!) “I bless the beans when they come in before they get roasted. Intentional beans. I’m a spiritual healer and rock musician. I use that intention to have my own style of coffee,” she says.)
Once the world re-opens for business, Fred is eager to “get back to Florida and work on the coffee and work on music,” he says. “I have several other projects in order: I’m working with (Brian) Hardgroove from Public Enemy on an album. I just did a song with the Fabulous Downey Brothers—they’ve got really great vibes. They’re also going to re-release Superions’ Christmas album—with some added tracks. Oh, and I’m also writing lyrics—another song— for Elvira.”
Sounds like he’ll need more coffee.
This interview, meanwhile, was a month in the making. Fred and I were originally supposed to connect several weeks ago when The B-52s were set to perform on The 80s Cruise. I went. The rest of the band stayed put—along with Bret Michaels, Loverboy and several other bands who also backed out over coronavirus concerns. “We thought they would cancel. Better safe than sorry,” he says. “Very irresponsible of that company. And I heard the weather was horrible.” (It was.)
The 80s Cruise was one of only a handful of concerts the band had scheduled in early 2020 after a grueling, but well-received 40th anniversary tour last year alongside OMD and Berlin. “It was done really well. We have the best touring band—they’re our friends and family now. I was very happy,” says Fred. “I hate the traveling, but I do enjoy being on stage. I always wonder if people understand the really bad jokes I say and all those crazy introductions.”
When asked if Fred has a favorite song that gets him going on stage, he defers. “I don’t really have a favorite. I enjoy doing so many of them,” he admits. “I love it when someone in the audience is doing something ridiculous—and we give each other the signal and go, ‘Uh-oh, what are they doing?’ People do weird things, weird dances and we’re like what dance is that?” When I mentioned perhaps it was the Watusi, Fred pinged in. “More like the Bat-usi—because it’s pretty batty.”
If truth be told, he was probably talking about my (lack of) dance skills. Can I blame it on too much coffee? Probably not.