For anyone subject to nostalgia for grittier times, there’s no one quite like the Culture Club to remind us that there was a time when weird was hot before everyone else decided it was. Boy George was a definitive icon for the gay community in the ‘80s, and his much-loved flair for the dramatic kept him a mainstay of the tabloids for much of his life; the show went on long after the encores faded. And yet, in the end, everyone grows up (at least a little), and Boy George is no exception. The Culture Club is back with a new album, Tribes, and they’re out on tour bringing a little smutty joy to their fans around the world. We sat down with the band (all except drummer Jon Moss who was home in London) to talk about many things: the new album, romances, skinheads, selfies, “the kids today,” what it means to be gay now and more. Most importantly, we can report that Boy George’s eyeliner is as enviable as it ever was.
Tell me a bit about this new album and what it’s like for the band to be back together after all these years.
BOY GEORGE: Well, we’re older. I think we’re a bit more relaxed. The album we’ve just made feels like a grown-up us. ‘Cause I think the trick in life is to grow into yourself, isn’t it? Of course there’s still trouble and a bit of work, but if you’re lucky, you kind of figure out who you are.
ROY HAY: For me, coming back to my bandmates is like George always says: it’s kind of like going home for Thanksgiving. There’s tension, but also familiarity and appreciation for them as musicians and songwriters and people. Bands are very special. There’s a reason that people go back to their bands.
MIKEY CRAIG: I also think there’s a certain magic in the style of music we make. It’s always very eclectic. There are different styles, different tracks, different genres of music all fused together on this one album. But most of all, I think George’s lyrics now have a broader appeal—for me anyway. They’re less personal I think.
BOY GEORGE: It’s true. I don’t really have relationships anymore, so I don’t really have anything to write about in that department. I’m happy, and that’s an interesting challenge. [laughs] I’m not saying I lived my whole life being unhappy, but I always used to draw on drama to write. So my process has broadened out now. I read a lot, and I use a lot of the things I need. I try to find other ways of coming up with a subject. There are so many songs that have been written about love. I think human emotions, especially when it comes to relationships, are not that unique. What can I add?
You don’t have relationships anymore?
BOY GEORGE: Well do sometimes, but they’re very different now when I have them. They’re not claustrophobic. They’re not needy. In fact sometimes I think something is wrong with me because I am not obsessive like I used to be. But I can’t bear the thought of ever feeling like that again, even though I got great songs out of it. [laughs] I just can’t think of anything more hideous.
How did you come up with the album title Tribes?
BOY GEORGE: This album is kind of a homage to all of the things we grew up with, from punk rock to reggae to ska. All sorts of things. The reason I thought Tribes was a good name is because in the ‘70s and ‘80s every music style was always associated with a fashion aspect. You had the skinheads, the molten rockers, the hippies, the glam rockers. So in a way the album is a homage to all those fashion tribes that were around when we were growing up. We saw all of them. I wore most of them myself! Actually I never did a skinhead look. But I fancied a few skinheads. I still fancy a few. [laughing]
ROY HAY: It was very like that in England in the ‘70s and ‘80s. You were rockabilly for a little bit, then you were punk, then you were a soul boy. And it was all dominated by music. Fashion went wherever the music was.
BOY GEORGE: Oh I went from being like a full-on soul kid, with army fatigues and Hawaiian shirts and a little bit of military style—to wearing ripped clothes with safety pins and paint all over them. I know some kids now feel like the selfie is new. But when we were kids we used to go to the photobooths in train stations. We’d dress up and we’d go and take photos. And we put them in a book. The selfie is not new. It was just more of an event. We’d have to get on the bus and risk life and limb—a whole bunch of us. If there wasn’t a club to go to, we would spend the whole night dressing up and painting our faces and then we’d go off and take photos. We were just as self-obsessed as kids are now.
So how do you think things are different with kids these days?
BOY GEORGE: You see kids now walking around with, you’ll see a kid with an old band t-shirt, and they don’t know who the band is. In the ‘70s and the ‘80s, you would never have gone out of your house with a t-shirt of someone you didn’t know and love. You’re into Bowie, you wore a Bowie t-shirt. That was part of your statement. But now kids are like, I don’t know a fuck in hell who these people are, I just love the t-shirt. And it’s kind of liberating in a funny sort of way, but the downside is that you don’t get that kind of same loyalty that you did.
You were really a pioneering icon for gender fluidity. What do you think of how social perceptions have changed, especially in recent years?
BOY GEORGE: You know, Sam Smith coming out was such a nothing thing, and there are reasons for that. We have this insane media now with the Internet; it’s so frenzied that news just doesn’t hang around. It has to be something actually colossal. You need a massacre or some awful event. So someone’s sexuality is like whatever, next. What’s she wearing? What’s her selfie like? Is she bringing anything to the part? And I kind of feel like that’s the world I wanted to live in 30 years ago.
You always wanted people to focus on what made them truly exceptional, instead of their obvious differences.
BOY GEORGE: We’re all minorities if you really boil it down. We’re all ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, we’re all other. And you think that being different you would become more tolerant but often, the people that are other or different can be the most intolerant. My whole thing when we started Culture Club was that it wasn’t just about being gay—it was anyone that felt outside, anyone. Roy always likes to say that people who grew up with Culture Club are better people cause they’re not judgmental. If you could put up with Boy George you could put up with anything.