[image-1] When Boy George and Culture Club performed in Cary, N.C. a few nights ago, the sky was not on their side at first. The B-52’s, who took the stage after Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins, had to cut their set short. Culture Club persisted through the rain. “We weren’t sure if we were going to go on, but we did eventually go on and then the last two songs, the sky opened up and people got soaked,” George says. “But they were amazingly resilient and it was beautiful. There’s just a lot of love out there. If you’re willing to stand in a rain storm and listen to a band, you’re onto a good thing.”
The singer has done a lot to earn adoration the world over since forming Culture Club in London in 1981. He went on to do everything from making solo hits (see 1992’s “The Crying Game”) and DJing around the world to winning a Tony (Best Musical Score for 2004’s Taboo) and working with reality TV shows like The Voice UK, The Voice Australia, and Celebrity Apprentice — he’ll soon appear on BBC’s ancestry-tracing show, Who Do You Think You Are?
On top of that, George recently launched a new record label (his third of his career), has written an album for Culture Club called Life that’s due out this year, and, of course, is on Culture Club’s current Life North American tour with the band, which, for the record, isn’t a reunion tour.
“I just look at it as, this is what we do,” he says. “I’d be pretty unemployable were it not for being Boy George; I don’t know what I would do. I do other things, and when I get to come back and be Boy George, it doesn’t feel like a chore to me. It feels like fun.”
Rather than breaking up, Culture Club, George says, goes on “breaks” (yeah, yeah we see the Ross-Rachel parallel, too), which is why it’s taken five years to release their latest record. George laughs before explaining, “We partly recorded it four years ago and then we had a break and then we started again about six months ago. We rerecorded everything, so basically went back to square one, took all the tracks we recorded before, and just rerecorded them because I really liked what the producers were doing.”
George describes the Culture Club sound these days as “a reggae-funk, soul-funk combo from the United Kingdom,” but the sound coming from the Live LP is different than earlier releases, particularly when it comes to the songwriting. When he was younger, George penned songs sort of like journal entries. “I used my songwriting as a personal diary and I really had things to say and I really felt like everything that went on in my life was important to share with everyone,” he says. “I suppose I’m less interested in doing that now. I feel like I want to leave a little bit room for the listener to take the song on a journey, take the song somewhere else. The songs are always about something, but they’re never literal anymore. I try not to write from a literal perspective anymore.”
Guiding new acts through the songwriting process and more is something George gets to do with the new label, Boy George Presents (BGP). BGP is another way to keep music as part of George’s daily life. It’s an independent label, and George uses the platform as a way to promote bands he likes, to work with artists whose music he wants to help develop. “It’s all of those things, but it’s really a way of exercising those creative muscles,” he says.
Whereas some artists who got their start decades ago see digitally big changes in the music industry as a dismal thing, George embraces them. “It’s quite punky the way things are being done now,” says George, who himself was the epitome of punk when he eschewed rules and first appeared on the 1980s music scene wearing makeup (which is still on fleek), long dreads, and a colorfully feminine fashion sense. “There are no rules anymore really, and what rules there are are changing all the time, which I love.”
With plenty to do on band breaks, it’s no wonder George is able to return to Culture Club refreshed and ready to be work as Boy George again. Maybe that’s how Culture Club continues to thrive after all these years — that, and there’s a lot of compromise. “You have to choose your battles, but the reward is the live show and going out in front of the audiences and turning them onto new music playing things they know surprising them with some interesting covers,” he says. “Where the love is is where the rewards are.”