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The Pixies Keep Rolling, Minus One

After founding bassist Kim Deal quits, the alt-rock pioneers return to the studio

Joey Santiago, Black Francis, David Lovering and Kim Shattuck of the Pixies perform in New York City.
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
October 3, 2013 10:00 AM ET

The Pixies were in Wales earlier this year, recording their first batch of new songs since 1991's Trompe le Monde, when bassist-singer Kim Deal dropped the bomb. "We were at a little coffee shop near the studio," frontman Black Francis tells Rolling Stone. "Kim walked in at some point and said, 'I'm flying home tomorrow.' She quit the band. It was an awkward moment. We didn't hug or shake hands or anything. [Guitarist] Joey [Santiago] and I just stood up and said, 'Okay.' Then we had to get out of there, so we immediately went to a bar. I had to move from coffee to alcohol."

Two nights earlier, the four members of the band went out for Indian food. "There weren't any managers, producers, roadies or anything," says Francis. "I can't remember the last time we all sat down and had a meal, just the four of us. It was wonderful. We broke bread together, shot the shit and had a nice meal. After the meal, Kim wanted to go back to her lodging, so we all walked her to a cab. Thinking back now, I realize this was her saying goodbye. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I think it was meant to be our last supper."

For a couple of days, it seemed like it truly may have been the end for the band. The Pixies had been Black Francis, Kim Deal, David Lovering and Joey Santiago since they first started playing dive bars around Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1986. Carrying on without their most charismatic member seemed like a daunting task, even though the group had seven weeks of studio time booked with producer Gil Norton and a batch of demos they all felt lived up to their classics. 

Find Out Why the Pixies Made Our List of the 10 Messiest Band Breakups

"For three or four days, we were in mourning," says drummer David Lovering. "But we didn't have time to keep doing that because we had this studio booked and lot of overdubs to record. We just rolled up our sleeves and said, 'We might as well finish this.'" The group erased Kim's parts and recruited PJ Harvey bassist Simon "Ding" Archer to sit in for the sessions.

"Everyone was just devastated," says the band's manager, Richard Jones. "But everybody believed in the songs. We decided to just carry on and see what happens."

They couldn't have been completely surprised, though: the only really shocking aspect about Deal quitting the Pixies is that it took her 28 years. She got the gig by responding to an ad in a local Boston paper in 1986: "Band seeks bassist into Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul and Mary. Please - no chops." She was the only person to show up and the band soon found a huge cult audience, but tensions surfaced quickly. "Kim is a songwriter in her own right," says Santiago. "But in the Pixies, we make a special flavored pizza. We don't want to detour from that palate." 

While a couple of Pixies songs were co-written by Francis and Deal ("Silver," "Gigantic"), the vast majority of the catalog was written solely by Francis. "I remember just one time this even came up," he says. "She came to rehearsal out of the blue and said, 'I have a bunch of songs.' This has never been previously discussed. We played them and said, 'This sounds way different than our other stuff.' She was like, 'Okay, fine.'"

It's quite possible that Deal has a different take on the songwriting issue (she wouldn't comment for this story), but in 1990, she formed the Breeders with Tanya Donelly and released the much-loved Pod, which built on her already large fanbase and proved her ability to write catchy songs. "She had a lot of charisma," admits Francis. "She was cool standing onstage with her cigarette, and she's cute and people just fell in love with her."

The final two Pixies albums didn't have a single song with a Kim Deal writing credit, and her trademark sugary backup vocals were largely absent. "That led to a lot of backhanded compliments about me," says Francis. "People thought I was Paul McCartney trying kick John Lennon out of the Beatles. I got really resentful about that. People would be like, "Oh, that Frank Black guy, he's a bit of an asshole.'" 

After a soul-sucking stint opening up for U2 on the Zoo TV tour in 1992, Francis broke up the band by fax. Not long after that, the Breeders scored a massive crossover hit with "Cannonball." "I didn't have any problem with that," Francis insists. "Another indie-rock musician had success. Great."

Black Francis inverted his name to Frank Black and released a series of cult solo albums, never matching anything close to the sales or acclaim of the Pixies' catalog. The Breeders, meanwhile, climbed all the way to the main stage of Lollapalooza until Deal's drinking problem lead to an almost decade-long hiatus from the studio. 

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