At the height of the hard rock era – with heavy sounds and serious, dramatic lyrics - came a band from Athens, Ga. Their signature style then as now is marked by frenetic, retro outfits and hairdos, syncopated keyboards and disarmingly daffy verses about interplanetary travel in the name of love, an ungrateful dog dyed green, a rock lobster, and one’s own private Idaho.

At the height of the hard rock era – with heavy sounds and serious, dramatic lyrics - came a band from Athens, Ga. Their signature style then as now is marked by frenetic, retro outfits and hairdos, syncopated keyboards and disarmingly daffy verses about interplanetary travel in the name of love, an ungrateful dog dyed green, a rock lobster, and one’s own private Idaho.


All that will make plenty of sense to any fan of the B52s. Formed in 1976, their eccentric song subjects are offset by accessible dance beats, a blend that made them a college radio favorite and eventually earned them a footing on mainstream stations.


The 1989 album “Cosmic Thing,” and its hits “Roam” and “Love Shack,” made the band a household name and prompted new appreciation for their earlier works.


Along with R.E.M., Talking Heads and Blondie, they are in a sense, travelers between different universes, at home within the realm of pop rock as well as that of punk and alternative music.


The band – with their ubiquitous big hair and upbeat sound – is currently touring.


Kate Pierson – whose band duties include vocals, keyboards, guitar, bass guitar and percussion - recently spoke about the band’s long history and what lies ahead.


Q Please tell me what’s planned for your shows.


A We did some rehearsals before the tour and added some “new” old song, such as “Wig” [from the 1983 album, “Whammy!”]. We mixed it up a little bit, with some old favorites. People were having a great time, coming and wearing wigs. It’s really a great crowd. They are always super-enthusiastic.


The old fans come with their kids, which is great. They say that this is their kids’ first concert, so it is great there are a lot of young people in the crowd, too.


Q The band has been together a long time – since 1976. And although the band’s sound has never been static, the core identity of the band is the same – there is still that signature B52s sound.


A We have such a unique sound. We don’t sound like anybody else … it is still essentially the B52s, with our voices together. It’s always going to sound like us. We didn’t ever make an effort to be different, because why do that? We might as well be who we are, and that is the world’s greatest party band.


Q Did the band ever feel pressure, perhaps from your label, to be more mainstream – maybe not so many references to other planets or songs like “Quiche Lorraine,” about a “dog dyed green?”


A Not really. The mainstream came to us. We didn’t ever really try to be mainstream. We started more as something to amuse ourselves, back in Athens. It all comes from stream-of-consciousness writing – all the stuff there, about science fiction and other planets and all the characters. It all comes out of our crazy heads.


At first we thought, “We are weird, and who is going to like it?” But our friends came to hear us at house parties. The key to it is that the music is danceable, so it grabs you. So I think there has been no real pressure to change.


We have wanted to evolve, which we have - in our depth and breadth of sound, but essentially it is still the B52s. This last record [“Funplex,” released in 2008] was more in a clubby direction, but the sound hasn’t changed.


Q In 1985, the band experienced a great tragedy with the loss of Ricky Wilson [a founding member who died of complications of AIDS. He was the brother of band member Cindy Wilson.] What affect did this death have on the band?


A It made us, I think, write songs that were more personal. We did still write about outer space and such, but I think many songs were more reaching back, to the early times when we were all together. Even “Love Shack” is about places we went. We were all feeling his presence in a way, and conjuring those experiences in our songs.


Q When you think about him, do you think about the AIDS crisis through the lens of time – and how attitudes toward the disease are different nowadays?


A Absolutely. It’s unbelievable. Back then there was just this stigma. So many people didn’t want to know about it, and it was just a huge scourge – so many people died, and so fast. All of us lost so many people, so many friends – it wasn’t only Ricky. With the new medications and everything, I often feel that it’s so sad that they had to die.


It’s horrible now that some people think, “It’s curable so it must be safe.”


Back then, there was so much secrecy – a decision was made not to tell Ricky’s father about it – I felt we had a special responsibility to counter that … we have certainly done a lot of charity stuff, not only for AIDS, but other causes. Maybe sometimes we have socially conscious lyrics, but we really want to put the money where the mouth is.


Q I think of the B52s as a band with a lot of strong talents and personalities. Is it sometimes a challenge to balance that while working so well as an ensemble?


A Oh, yeah. I think when you have three singers [Pierson, Cindy Wilson and Fred Scheider] there is that challenge. There is not room for everyone to express their musicality ... you have to kind of share. We might have one song jam that could be made into three or four songs, but have to hone it down to one song. When everyone is there, the jam could go on for hours and then pick things out. We have to say, “there is the chorus, and there is the verse – trying to piece it together, it’s like a collage of our songs.


Q Do the solo projects provide an outlet?


A Yes. I have Kate’s Lazy Meadow Motel [a motel in upstate New York, co-owned by Pierson and her partner, Monica Nation]. Fred has The Superions [a recent side project], and he is working on a Christmas album. I have been performing solo stuff for a long time, and I want to get an album out, too, that’s more singer-song writer-y, with some country songs. Cindy has been doing some solo shows in Atlanta, and Keith is always writing instrumental tracks. [Keith Strickland, originally the band’s drummer, has been the guitarist since Wilson’s death.] The motel takes up a lot of time.


Q The band has gone through many transitions over the years, including Cindy’s departure in 1990. [Julee Cruise replaced her; Wilson rejoined the band in 1994.]


A She left after “Cosmic Thing” because she wanted to start family, and she wanted to leave on a high point. You always feel you have to follow a big hit with a big hit, so it was hard when she left. Julee Cruise joined us, and she did a great job, but no one can replace anyone, really … when Cindy left, it was an open door. I think we all assumed she would come back.


Q The band also took a 16-year hiatus from making albums. What effect did that have?


A It’s amazing how fast that time went. We were doing the same songs, over and over, and all of a sudden, it hit us. It took a few years, and we all had to meet in different places, and we all had to jam.


The record companies are in such shambles now … it’s up in the air. It’s refreshing, because there are new groups coming and new ways of marketing, but it’s also hard.


We were co-headlining with Blondie, and sometimes we switched who was headlining. Debbie Harry was saying it’s just hard now, just to do a record.


Q You are also playing some smaller venues since the days of “Cosmic Thing.” What are the differences?


A I prefer the outdoor venues. We sold out in Portland and Seattle, and some festivals. It’s nice to play at a place like Boarding House Park, or House of Blues [in Boston] because you can see the fans and see the audience. We prefer that.


Q  But is that ever hard, looking back on playing the huge venues?


A I think we all feel really, really lucky to be playing this long. If we had put out more records – I guess we could have been more ambitious. But this way, it allows us to have a home life, and still do other things. To keep touring – after 24 years, we are still going strong.


Q Tell me about the band’s style and wardrobe – like the big hair. As you say people come dressed up like people in the band. Where did that style come from?


A We have gone through a million things. I have worn every style. I have spacey things we have had made, we have worn hot pants, and every kind of vinyl dress, but it always looks like us. We have worn big bouffant hairdos and beehives. We did it all on our own – we don’t coordinate, except when doing an album cover – but somehow it all works.


Q What do you think the B52s’ legacy will be?


A The world’s greatest party band. I think the legacy is, people have come to see us and have had so much fun. Even if they have seen us multiple times. They say to us, “I haven’t danced like that in years.”


The band has brought so much joy and so much fun. Some bands, they might feel sad, or aggressive – whatever their sound is meant to be – for us, people have fun at our concerts.


Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor at GateHouse Media New England’s Northwest Unit. E-mail her at msmith@cnc.com.