Black Francis on Pixies’ New LP, Making Peace With Kim Deal
Near the end of the Pixies‘ upcoming album, Head Carrier, new bassist Paz Lenchantin steps up to the microphone and directly addresses Kim Deal, the woman she ultimately replaced in the band. “Remember when we were happy?” she sings on “All I Think About Now.” “That’s all I think about now/If you have any doubt/I want to thank you anyhow.” Those lyrics were penned by Charles “Black Francis” Thompson, who phoned up Rolling Stone to chat about Head Carrier (in stores September 30th), where his relationship with Kim stands at the moment, the group’s exclusion from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, upcoming touring plans and why he’s done making solo albums.
Tell me the backstory of this album. Last time around you started by releasing a series of EPs. You obviously took a different approach this time.
When we made [2014’s] Indie Cindy, we were aware that it was going to be broken up into EPs. I think maybe even Kim [Deal], when she was still involved, it felt like there was just going to be an EP and I think that probably appealed to her given the amount of time we had booked and the kind of tour that was being proposed to us.
But I think that Joey [Santiago] and David [Lovering] felt like we needed an LP’s worth of material. We went to a studio, hung out for a couple of months, and had a pile of songs this high. The EP thing was something the manager came up with. At the end of the day, we just want to make music. We don’t get involved with the other things.
You’ve worked with producer Gil Norton on every album going back to Doolittle in 1989. Why did you switch to Tom Dalgety this time?
We had a new bass player. This was feeling very much like our comeback record as opposed to Indie Cindy, which felt like a transitional moment even when we were making it. This time, we felt like we wanted to get out of our comfort zone. I think working with a different producer certainly ticked a lot of boxes in terms of getting out of our comfort zone.
How long did the process take?
The actual tracking was only about three weeks, but the whole thing was about three months. The tracking of the record would have been in spring, around March. But we spent some time rehearsing on our own in Toronto for about three weeks. We spent some time rehearsing with Tom for about two weeks in November. I guess we spent a week or two back in L.A. over a year ago just meeting in our rehearsal space and bashing out some new chord progressions.
Do you write differently for a Pixies album than you would for something solo?
Uh … no. Although I’ve become aware, over time, that there’s kind of this notion that other people have about what sounds more like a Pixies song versus something from a Frank Black solo record. But I can’t set out on my journey on each song and say, “OK, I’m going to do this kind of song.” Just at some point I can kind of determine, at least based on other people’s comments, “OK, this is sort of not feeling so Pixies and maybe not worth pursuing.”
But we don’t want to get locked into that because that means you’ve got all these rules you’re clinging to. “Well, it’s not a Pixies song of it doesn’t blabbity-blah-blah.” We don’t want to get too locked into that because we might wanna make our own reggae record or something.
How has Paz joining the band changed the dynamic?
A lot. We just really love her and get along great. She’s very excited to be in our midsts. We kinda, especially me, had to lose any kind of tired cynicism we might have about the whole thing. You don’t want to project that onto some new person that’s all excited to be in our band. We gotta be like, “Oh, yes! All right! Here we go!” It’s been nice to be like, “This is an exciting time and we’ve got something positive going on here.”
She’s the third woman in a row to play bass in the band. I imagine having a woman is just part of the DNA of the band. It provides a real balance.
Yes. Exactly. I mean that was the plan from the very beginning. It wasn’t defined, but I had some flaky notion about why that should be and because there’s a female bassist in the Talking Heads. I don’t know exactly where it came from, but it was a good instinct. I don’t know. I didn’t analyze it at the time. It was just the thing we did, but in hindsight it meant that all this male energy was balanced out. If it was just my energy leading the charge it would have been kind of exhausting. Having a woman there just kind of smooths it out, and it just makes it more pleasant and a little more lighthearted and more romantic-sounding. There’s just so much that happens having that male/female dynamic.
Tell me about the song “All I Think About Now.” I know you’ve said it’s about Kim Deal.
Paz sings that one, of course. She misinterpreted some demo that I had done very quickly with Joey because the quality of the recording was poor; it was just done on an iPhone at the apartment at the studio. I think she was out that night and Joey and I were really excited about it. I emailed it to her and she wrote this whole passage of music thinking she was coming up with the bass line for a song, but she misheard the music and when we went to do it, it was like, “Oh, no, this is not it at all. But this bass stuff works.” She said, “I think it’s good. Maybe it can just be another song.” I said, “Of course. And you will sing it.” She said, “Of course, but you will write the words.” I said, “OK, what should it be about?” She said, “I want you to write a song about Kim, kind of like a thank-you letter. That kind of tone.” That’s what I did. She sang it great and I’m very proud of our collaboration.
It’s not an apology, but more like looking back fondly at the good times, right?
Sure. When you look back fondly in a poignant kind of way, you have a lot of ups and downs mixed together. I guess that’s what it’s about. It’s about regret. It’s about good memories. It’s about bad memories. It’s about if … if …
Are you still in contact with her at all?
We’ve all got each other’s numbers.
I take that to mean you aren’t speaking with her.
I mean, you know … It’s … you know … It’s kind of like she’s one step removed from being in the band. And even the people I’m in the band with, we don’t sit around and call each other all the time, like hardly ever. We get back for a tour or a recording session and I don’t speak with them until the next time we’re together. We don’t live in the same town and we’ve all got lives and wives and families and everything. The only person I occasionally talk to is Joey, and even that is just an out-of-the-blue conversation and it’s usually strange and not anything to do with anything.
I feel like a certain segment of your fan base has an intense emotional attachment to the older albums and little interest in anything new, regardless of how good it is.
I mean if you’re that much of a fan of anything you’re going to be closed off to change. I’ve experienced that with other artists that I like. If certain changes are afoot, I sort of go, “Oh, I can’t listen to that anymore. It’s over for me.”
Does that frustrate you?
Not really. There’s a lot of people in the world. I don’t take it personally. It’s sort of like everybody has to make their own decision about what they’re gonna play out of their stereo.
Are you done making solo albums? It’s been a few years since you’ve done one.
Feels like. Feel like it. I can’t really justify it. It takes a lot of energy, ultimately, to put out a record. Then people want you to go on tour to promote it. The Pixies are pretty successful in the touring realm. I can’t really say, “OK, kids, I’m going on tour again, bye. But this time I’m not going to make any money. I’m just doing it because I’m an artist.” It just doesn’t feel right. It kind of goes up against my more blue-collar outlook. And I paint. If I have extra creative energy, I try to direct it there. And that doesn’t interfere with my musical career.
The Pixies are touring Europe in November and December. Are you going to come to America at any point?
I suppose so. I don’t know what the dates are yet. But I guess we’ve played a lot around the States in the last couple of years, so I guess we’re naturally avoiding it at the moment just because that’s what you do in showbiz.
Do you ever think about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? You guys have been eligible for a few years now but haven’t even appeared on the ballot.
It’s so easy to get riled about that. I mean, look at the all the people who haven’t been nominated. I mean, I don’t quite have the Ozzy Osbourne take. I loved his response about why he wouldn’t go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to accept an award. I believe his answer was, “Because it’s stupid.” But I’m not against it or anything. I guess I probably would go because it would be good for business and I wouldn’t want to let other people down that were going to get something out of it. But I don’t know. The whole battle-of-the-bands thing, you get a little of that playing festivals. It’s just in the air at festivals and that’s as far as I can go with those kinds of feelings.
Do you see this as the start of a new era of the band? The Pixies 3.0?
I don’t see it any particular way. It just feels like we’re the Pixies. It just feels nice because Paz is very motivated to be there. If someone isn’t motivated to be there and is not enjoying it or just wants to be doing something else with their life, it gets difficult. I can imagine if Kim wanted to do other things with her life and here we are, the phone’s ringing again, another tour, another thing to do, it starts to feel like a drag. I get it. I don’t have a problem with it. I totally understand.