By Patrick Prince
The Pixies were never easy to categorize. Their songs mirrored the members’ eclectic tastes, yet still sounded undeniably like the Pixies. In 2013, the band decided to independently release its first new material in more than 20 years; “EP1” arrived in September, “EP2” dropped early this year and the band's LP "Indie Cindy" arrived for Record Store Day 2014.
Longtime bassist Kim Deal left the band before the EPs were released to the public, but the core of the Pixies remains: guitarist-vocalist Black Francis (aka Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV), guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering. Although the band’s members made it clear that the door was always open for Deal to return, they needed to move on, so they hired The Muffs’ bassist Kim Shattuck to take over for a European tour last year. The partnership appeared to be a short-term agreement, and after the tour ended, the band decided not to renew it. It wasn’t a pleasant split.
Now, Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle) has picked up the bass as the band’s newest addition — just in time for an international tour this summer. Guitarist Joey Santiago walks us through the band’s recent bass player turnover, how “Pixies Theory” applies to music theory and why the band felt a series of EPs was the best way to present new Pixies music.
GOLDMINE: As a listener, it’s easy to appreciate the release of EPs instead of a full-length. It has a sort of cliffhanger technique, in some ways like a novel series or TV series would use. Do you see it that way?
JOEY SANTIAGO: Yes, definitely. I never looked at it that way, but, yeah, like the Batman TV series. (Laughs.) What is it? Same time, same channel.
GM: But after the release of the first EP, you want to hear more. It kept me interested.
JS: Yes, that is part of the deal there. Keep the interest going.
GM: And each EP then seems to have its own personality.
JS: I guess so, yeah. They were carefully chosen, and the thread, really, is to be eclectic. And we don’t try to put all the hard-hitting ones on one EP.
GM: How do you know when a song’s hard-hitting? Does the whole band just feel it will become a classic with the fans?
JS: No, we don’t know what fans will like, you know. We had no idea “Doolittle” was going to be one of those iconic albums, or “Surfer Rosa.” We had no idea. You just go in there and record and entertain yourself. That’s what it is. Our turn to entertain ourselves. We don’t think about what the audience will like, per se. We like to bring whatever entertained us in the studio to them.
GM: The fans put such high expectations on this new music, to the point where it was like, “Just let the band create their art, already.” It’s an evolution. People can’t expect a band to sound like they did 20 years ago.
JS: Nope. Not at all. We gotta grow up. When you have a baby, you want him to grow up.
GM: “EP1” and “EP2” were released on 10-inch vinyl. “EP1” sold out in one day — 5,000 copies. That’s pretty good.
JS: Yeah, wish we made a limited run of, like, a million, you know. That would have been cool (laughs). It is funny. CDs are dead. And our vinyl ... we sell a lot of those. I’m glad that format is still around. I like it. I like buying vinyl. Going to a record store — a little record store — it’s like going to someone you know. “I really like that recommendation. Can you recommend me something else, or something different?” “How about this?” There’s a conversation there.
GM: Getting back to the recording of the EPs, I’ve heard you say you had a “Pixies Theory” when recording music. Can you explain that?
JS: I can write stuff down now without even knowing if it will work. There are moments in “Doolittle,” “Bossanova,” Trompe le Monde,” where I just wrote things down on paper and went into the studio, and voilà! It works.
GM: And you’ve done scoring for films and television in between. Has that experience made you approach things differently in the studio?
JS: Well, kind of. I’m more self-conscious of it and that was due to the fact that (producer) Gil Norton pushed that on me. Just saying, “OK, now, let’s do a soundscape that makes sense for this song.” And I’ve always made [that] sense anyway. Charles’ chord progressions dictate what style I’m gonna do. I’m more into sound, because film and TV, they want that sound, you know, so you’re looking for that particular sound. And I already have it. I’ve already got that sound with The Pixies, so that was easy.
GM: There’s an atmospheric sound there already with the Pixies.
JS: It was already there anyway; it was just like a matter of doing it. It’s just one of those things. When Gil Norton said that, it was like, “All right, but I’ve already been doing that, Gil.” But it was a conversation to have, just to push me a little further, to make it the forefront of what my style was going to be on the songs.
GM: I’ve also heard you use the phrase “going sh*thouse” when recording. Can you elaborate on that?
JS: It depends on the song. You gotta really psych yourself up to “go sh*thouse,” and just go crazy. It’s just a solo moment. When there’s a solo moment, it’s like “OK, let’s do it. Let’s go crazy on this.”
GM: You must have a sense of pride that The Pixies could never be categorized. Many bands get stuck in a genre where things are expected of them and they suffocate creatively.
JS: At the same time, they created the problem. We’re just bringing all our, I guess, favorite vinyl in the studio. You know, we all have these different tastes. And depending on the year, depending on the day, it’s like “OK, this is what I like today.” That’s why we’re different. That’s why every song is different. We’re already gonna sound like The Pixies. We’re one of those lucky bands, you can’t categorize us. There’s “Hey.” There’s “Debaser.” There’s “Here Comes Your Man.” And then there’s “Tame.” But at the same time, we sound like The Pixies. We’re lucky we can do any style and still sound like the Pixies.
GM: And the Pixies had a lot to do with opening doors for bands, like, say, Nirvana. And look, Nirvana’s being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. Maybe time will come for the Pixies to be inducted, too.
JS: Yeah, that would please, you know, our parents, our relatives. You know what I mean? That’s probably all ... and our friends. And the fans, of course. But some fans don’t give a sh*t. I don’t really, particularly. I mean, I’d love to be in it. You know, just for that little feather in the cap. But it’s not a necessary thing for us.
GM: You’ve already proven yourself. It’s nice, but ...
JS: And the silly thing about it is: Do they pick up a certain number of bands that are going to be in it a year?
GM: I think so.
JS: See, there you go. That’s a fault. That’s silly. I wold love to be in that boardroom when they’ve decided on the number. I’m sure it’s based on economics: “But we’re gonna have a TV show; it’s gonna be a concert, so we can’t have that many people.” “Oh, no, it’s gonna be too short of a celebration. How about seven? Let’s make it fair and have some more people.” “Are you f**king crazy? It’s gonna be a long night. People are gonna be bored as sh*t. So what’s the number, please?” I can just imagine the silly meeting. Why don’t you just pick everyone from the ’70s? F**k it. Put them all in. Every single one of them. The ’60s. F**k it. Just everyone in there. You know, just blanket it. Don’t fool yourself.
GM: So, a new bassist: Paz. How did that come about?
JS: I called a friend of mine, an excellent drummer, Josh Freese, and I didn’t know who he was going to recommend, but he played with her anyway with A Perfect Circle. And the only bass player he recommended was Paz. “Anyone else?” He goes, “Nope. That’s it. Try her out. She’s right.” And lo and behold, she’s perfect. She fits in.
GM: Was it understood that Kim Shattuck was only there to tour with the band for a short period of time?
JS: Yeah. Yeah, I guess she lost the memo (laughs). You know what I mean? What was the surprise, you know? We didn’t have time to talk to her about it. Because after the last show, in London, the next day we all took off. I mean, when were we gonna tell her? When did she want us to tell her? Like, before the last show? Or a week before the show? Then you’re gonna be all glum, you know. It’s like, we’re sorry we didn’t talk to you beforehand. And then the manager called her the next day, because he’s the one who hired her. The three of us ... sure, we could have called her, but how would did you want us on the phone? A conference call? “Hold on, Kim. We’re gonna put Dave on the phone now. Hold on, we’re gonna put Charles on the phone. Is everybody on the phone?!” We were gonna do it, but then we thought about it, and let’s be professional about this, and let the manager do it, so there’s one conversation. And he kept saying she wanted a reason. He kept repeating that the band decided to go with another bass player. Kim, that’s the f**king reason! Do you want f**king specific details? And she went on blabbing about it on Facebook so she can cry, have tears in her f**king green tea. And it was too late. It was just too late. Why are we gonna call you now? And, you know, all these fans are going, ‘Oh, they’re f**king a**holes.’ It’s like, “Forget it; we’re not gonna call you.” And then she did an interview, and it’s like, “All right, you threw our f**king manager under the bus. The fifth member that hired you, who made up the tour for you. F**king thank you very much. Who’s being unprofessional there? There are two sides of a coin, and the bigger side of the coin is that. I mean, c’mon. Does anyone understand where we’re coming from?
GM: Once you make confessions on Facebook, you’re kind of asking for trouble. Things can be taken out of context; who knows where it’s gonna go.
JS: Yeah, I mean, a situation like that shouldn’t be a status. You gotta wait. We were gonna announce it in such a classier way. But too late. The cat’s out of the bag.
GM: So how have the audiences received the new material so far? I read a quote from you where you said that when people go to a concert and the band starts playing new material, all of a sudden everyone starts taking a bathroom break.
JS: A liquid break. You either piss it out or add more in. Yeah, it’s sad when that happens.
GM: You usually see that when a band throws too many new songs at the audience. They overwhelm them. I think you made a great point: You just blend the new songs in and that’s how the audience will receive it better.
JS: Yeah, and having that EP thingy, they’ll know it’s not gonna be like the “EP1” tour, or the album tour of this. Quite a lot has got dropped on them; we’re not gonna expect them to hear it. I mean, we’re entertainers.
GM: And you guys are going to be on tour almost until August. Is touring getting a lot different now then, say, the ’90s?
JS: It’s a lot more comfortable, more or less. It is because we get to call our own shots, and we just do. We decide where to go and all that stuff. We know when to take a break: “We gotta take this break. It’s my daughter’s recital.” You know? (Laughs.) So all that kind of stuff, we have the luxury of doing.
GM: It’s got to be nice cutting out the middleman. I’m sure there’s a certain freedom to that for an artist.
JS: Yeah, that’s part of paying your dues, isn’t it? You got to be established to do that. It took a lot of work.
GM: So there will be an “EP3?”
JS: Well, there’s going to be a surprise. Let’s put it this way: Three is my favorite number.
GM: So there’s gonna be another cliffhanger?
JS: Well, stay tuned. Same Bat time, same Bat channel. GM