For nearly 40 years, Kate Pierson has been one of the two most recognizable voices in the signature sound of the B-52s, the new wave party band that came together in Athens in 1976.
Helping anchor the likes of “Rock Lobster,” “52 Girls,” “Roam” and “Love Shack,” Pierson offered clarion calls to the dance floor, while serving as the B-52s’ buoyant multi-instrumentalist.
While her vocal foil, Fred Schneider, has managed to put out two solo albums during the B-52s’ continuing reign, surprisingly, Pierson’s first solo work, “Guitars and Microphones,” was released in February.
The project features an interesting cast of collaborators, including eccentric hitmaker Sia, who co-wrote and produced, and Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi, who offered some indie rock chops.
On songs such as “Throw Down the Roses,” “Crush Me With Your Love,” and the title track, Pierson, who is 67, explores her life in music and sings about love in a much more personal way. But even on the ballads, an ebullient, quirky sense of fun still comes through.
Along with her first album, 2015 marked Pierson’s first solo tour, which will bring her to Variety Playhouse in Atlanta on Friday and the Georgia Theatre in Athens on Saturday.
Last week, Pierson phoned from her home in Woodstock, N.Y., where she lives with her partner, Monica Coleman, and their two dogs, Athena and Zeus. Here’s some of what we talked about, edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: You’ve been doing solo shows in addition to dates with the B-52s this year. Has that been hectic?
A: The B-52s aren’t really touring as much. We’ve wound down and we’re only doing like three shows a month, and sometimes not even every month. So that’s given me the opportunity to do more shows solo.
Q: The obvious question is how does solo feel versus the B-52s’ shows?
A: I’d say it’s almost like going back to the beginning of the B-52s. That kind of excitement of all the new stuff. And I’m getting a great reaction to the songs. I’m playing with the Mike + Ruthy Band, who are friends and neighbors up here. They have a new record out called “Bright as You Can.” They’re sort of in the folk realm but they can play anything. And it’s great to have that familiarity.
Q: What’s the story behind making “Guitars and Microphones” with Sia?
A: Monica and I went to LA with our dogs, and Sia and I started going on writing sessions and working with different people she had written with before, like Nick Valensi and Dallas Austin. It was kind of daunting at first because I knew Sia as a friend but I hadn’t written with her and I didn’t know the other people. But each time, it just worked. We got a great song and a great demo, usually in one day. So it was just very empowering.
Q: What is Sia like?
A: Sia has an incredible knack for zeroing in on people and their kind of songs and what they would write. She’s very empathetic. But she is also a genius songwriter. I don’t know where it comes from. Her lyric sense and melodic sense is just amazing.
Q: How did all that come through in the album?
A: It’s something more personal, a little more autobiographical, and more emotional. … People ask me a lot, did you set out to have a concept for this to be really different from the B-52s? It’s totally different. But it’s still upbeat and danceable. And there are some ballads. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that and I’m really finding new territories of my voice. That’s been so much fun to play with.
Q: Do you enjoy getting back to Athens and Atlanta on tour?
A: Every time I go to Athens, it’s not just a trip down memory lane, there’s some surprise. I always meet somebody new or some crazy party happens or there’s some amazing event. It’s a magical place. When we started, there was nothing really happening as far as the music scene there. But there were still very creative people and we made our own fun. That was the whole point. I love Atlanta. I feel really at home in Atlanta. We spent a lot of time there. But Athens is like home to me.
Q: Anything else?
A: I would just say that I’m adding some surprise songs in addition to the set. A couple of songs that it might be fun for people to hear. Songs that they might have heard me sing on but some new interpretations of those songs. The audience reaction I’ve gotten so far is people sing along with the words and some dancing has been going on, so I think it will be a really fun, interesting show.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.