Why it took Boy George and Culture Club 19 years to make a new album
Boy George said in a recent interview that members of Culture Club are always threatening to quit the band. So, who was the last one of the quartet to suggest they might walk out the door?
“Probably me,” says the singer, laughing over the phone. “It was some stupid thing. I wanted to do a particular song, or I wanted to do a cover of something, and Roy [Hay, the band’s guitarist] wasn’t into it, and I went, ‘Oh, I’ll just leave the band, then.’ He started laughing and he went, “You went there?” You know, one to a hundred! But I’m a Gemini. That’s just who I am.”
On Oct. 19, Boy George and Culture Club will release Life, the act’s first collection of new material in 19 years. Why did they want to put out a new album now? “We’ve done lots of tours over the years, and that’s always been pretty easy,” says George. “I was the one that always wanted to record a new record. I was the one that said, ‘Well, if we’re going to play live, we do need new songs.’ Without new music, you’re just doing a nostalgia thing, which has its limitations. Too much nostalgia is just boring. It was a very different process making this record, I was a lot more open to suggestions. My thing’s always been the lyrics and the melody. With the melodies, this time I let Roy and Mikey [Craig, bassist] make suggestions, and I was quite open to them — to my surprise!”
Ahead, Boy George details the new LP, name-dropping Michelle Obama, and touring with the B-52s.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You essentially recorded Life twice, first with the producer Youth and then again with the duo Future Cut. Why?
BOY GEORGE: We rerecorded it because of the mood that we were in. I think we were just in a better space. We’d been on the road and we’d played a lot of these songs live. It’s a bit of a luxury to be able to play songs live and then record again, because they do actually change. I mean, one of the songs on the record, “Runaway Train,” was a complete country, Johnny Cash-sounding track and now it sounds like Gladys Knight & the Pips.
“Runaway Train” also has a lyric that references Michelle Obama [“So many people trying to be someone/Michelle Obama, you know my name”]. What’s that about?
I wrote the lyrics during the Obama administration. I was actually on tour in Boston. It was really a travelogue, which I’ve never done before. I used to laugh at the idea of people writing about being on the road. [Laughs] I used to say, “Who writes about that?” But I set myself a challenge to write about traveling around America. That particular tour was the first tour I’d done since my life had got quite complicated and dark. [The singer, whose real name is George O’Dowd, had a history of substance abuse and served time in 2009 for assault and false imprisonment.] I suppose I really realized how lucky I was to be on the road, to be making music, to be out there, being loved and adored.
You’ve been touring with the B-52s and Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins. What’s it been like to play around the U.S. at this point in its history?
My sense of things is that you can’t talk about politics without upsetting people. There’s been a few nights when Fred Schneider from the B-52s has made some comments to the crowd about his political views, and people don’t like it! [Laughs]
It’s fascinating that people could come to a Culture Club and B-52s show and then be surprised that some of the people on stage were liberal.
Be surprised that Fred Schneider is a Democrat? [Laughs] It is kind of bonkers. I guess it’s like, “Spare us the details!” Like, “Yes, you’re a bunch of weirdos, but we don’t want to hear about it!” I suppose it reminds me a little bit of when I came out as a teenager, and the ’70s was very much a “Spare us the details!” culture, you know what I mean? “Don’t frighten the horses!”
A few of the tracks, including the single “Let Somebody Love You,” have a strong reggae vibe. Did you listen to a lot of that while making Life?
I’ve always liked reggae music. I’m always surprised when people don’t love it, but there are people out there who don’t. Look, there are people out there who don’t like Bowie! I’ve met them! I’ve met people that have said to me, “Yeah, I didn’t ever really get into Bowie.” I’m like, “Well, which period did you [not] get into?” Because there’s so many different parts of Bowie. And I think the same thing with reggae music. People who don’t like reggae music, I think, are quite disturbing.
You were on The New Celebrity Apprentice last year. Do you keep in touch with any of your castmates, if that’s the right word?
[Laughs] I still chat online with Matt [Iseman], the guy who won. You’re always friendly to people when you see them. Yeah, I only fell out with Vince Neil, but I’m sure if I saw him, he would give me a big cuddle.