Kate Pierson of The B-52s is from Bergen County. Strange as it sounds, Pierson – booming voice, flaming red hair, killer dance moves and, once upon a time, the craziest beehive wigs on the planet – grew up in Rutherford.
"That surprises a lot of people," Pierson says, cracking up, as she happily recounts her association with Bergen County and other areas of New Jersey. "Most people assume I'm from Athens, Ga., or that the whole group is from England, somehow."
Fans sometimes imagine the band is from Athens, the college town and New Wave hotbed where the legendary pop/rock/New Wave band formed in 1976, but both Pierson and fellow B-52s singer Fred Schneider are from New Jersey.
Pierson acknowledges that her days in Rutherford helped shape her as a performer and as a person.
"I grew up in Weehawken until I was 8, and then we moved to Rutherford," Pierson says. "I think a lot of people who are of an older generation will say this, but kids could just run and play. Kids would be gone all day. There was this incredible freedom. There were lots of kids on the street, and we all played together, all ages, boys and girls. We just sort of hung out. In Rutherford, there was a lot of open land and we could just run around."
Pierson continues, "We also had really good programs in school. I was really fortunate to have a teacher, Martha Micci, who was the music teacher at Rutherford High School and my piano teacher. Her husband [Alfio] was the first violinist in the New York Philharmonic. So we got to go and hear Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts. We had another teacher who took us to a couple of Broadway plays. So I was very fortunate to grow up in this area."
These days, Pierson spends most of her time in the Catskills, where she and her partner, Monica Coleman, own and operate Kate's Lazy Meadow, a kitschy and cozy retro motel with crazy designer cottages. They also own and operate Kate's Lazy Desert in Landers, Calif., which features six fashionably appointed Airstream trailers set out in the desert near Joshua Tree.
"My father was a guitar player, and my grandmother played piano," Pierson recalls. "So I knew, since I can even remember, what I wanted to do and, luckily, that merged with my desire to travel. I guess I had this romantic idea of the Airstream trailer – of the roadside motel – where we never stayed. When I was growing up, we'd pass things like the Peter Pan Motel on our way to the lake, but we never stayed there. Then, with the band, that was my life, staying at hotels.
"I just had this romance about roadside motels," she says. "I didn't plan to get into the business. But one day, I drove by some land and saw a For Sale sign, and I stopped. It was so enchanting. There was a creek. I heard some hummingbirds. The motel was so cute, and I thought it'd be easy to decorate the rooms and create a theme. Then I started to build it, and it was so hard. There was all this infrastructure and water systems and my partner, Monica, she made it happen as a business. Then came the fun of decorating, and that was glorious because I had all this stuff stored away and I got to do a lot of shopping."
Music, of course, remains an integral part of Pierson's life. She's prepping a solo album, collaborating on it with Sia, who co-wrote Rihanna's recent chart-topper "Diamonds," and other writers as well. A 2013 release seems possible. The B-52s, meanwhile, haven't recorded a new album since Funplex in 2008, but surviving band members Pierson, Schneider, Cindy Wilson and Keith Strickland continue to tour. Pierson says it means the world to her that the group's music endures and that there's still an audience out there willing to sing and dance along to such catchy tunes as "Roam," "Rock Lobster" and "Love Shack."
"There are punk retrospectives and all these events focusing on punk, and we're never included because we're New Wave," Pierson says. "I always felt we fell between that crack. But we're so lucky because within that crack we're so unique. We get categorized as '80s sometimes, but no one sounds like us, and when you hear us you know it's the The B-52s. I guess there are some bands that sound a little like us, maybe, or some new bands that have a similar sensibility, which I love, but no one really sounds like us. That makes the music timeless. Plus it's party music. When people look back now and want to hear old music, our music is fun and upbeat. The B-52s are one of the ultimate party bands."