Brian Eno famously said that everyone who bought a Velvet Underground record started a band — the rub, of course, being that not that many people bought their records. When the Pixies broke up in 1993, they were about where the Velvet Underground were twenty years before: respected by musicians (Kurt Cobain confessed that Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a Pixies ripoff), big in Europe and playing clubs (not arenas) back home.
Before reuniting this year to tour, the Pixies — singer/guitarist Frank Black (formerly Black Francis), bassist Kim Deal, guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering — spent a decade apart. In that time, American listeners caught up to the Pixies and are now flocking to their arena shows. Frank Black took a break from the road to talk about being an unlikely new sensation.
Did you anticipate this kind of response to the reunion?
It’s been overwhelming, but, without sounding like a braggart, I knew it would be well received. The Pixies have always been met with a celebratory atmosphere at our gigs — even our earlier ones. It was always like, “Woo! They’re here! The band that we love!”
Last year you told us that a reunion would happen only if you were “penniless or a family member needed a kidney transplant.” What has changed?
I got a little bit older, a little more chill. I went to the psychiatrist and got some chill pills. And certain personal dynamics changed to make it possible.
At first, was it awkward being in a room together again?
Maybe the first hello. I always feel at home with them, while at the same time there’s always been an air of awkwardness that permeated the band. Comfy but weird.
Was there a moment, when you were rehearsing or playing those first gigs, where you knew it would work?
The second day of rehearsal. The first day, I was abysmal. They had all rehearsed without me, and I showed up and hadn’t practiced. I was relying purely on muscle memory and that didn’t really kick in until that second day. But by then we were all like, “Yeah, OK, let’s go play a show.”
The night of each show, you guys are selling live discs of the performance. Have you heard any of them?
I’ve always avoided listening to live concert recordings — they’re embarrassing.
There’s been some talk of the Pixies making a new album. Do you think that would be more difficult than touring with the old material?
Certainly not the act of being in the studio and playing a song — we’ve done that a couple times and it was easier than it’s ever been. I think we’re aware of the fact that the material would have to be creme de la crme but we’re not really in a rush to go there yet for a few different reasons: we’re in the middle of doing a tour, we’ve got to write some good songs, and the record business being what it is right now it’s not like we can sell millions and millions of records. We were putting out records when the radio world was a lot friendlier to quirky music than it is now. Right now, record companies are shitting in their boots.
You’ve said that you might want to put out a new album without a label. Are you seriously considering that?
Without even thinking about it, we’ve done two songs this year, just kind of fit them in our schedule from outside requests. Maybe we’ll get a little bored and try to record another a song or two just to have in our back pocket. It seems there are a lot of opportunities now to release your own music, and that could be more interesting than “Here is our next grand LP statement.”
One of those songs was “Bam Thwok,” which you wrote for Shrek 2 but wound up on iTunes instead. And the other?
We did “Ain’t That Pretty at All” for a Warren Zevon tribute. Kind of Stones-y, punky, in the vein of “When the Whip Comes Down.”
Which of the old songs have held up best for you?
The stuff that pretty much always held up, your A-list songs: “Gigantic,” “Where Is My Mind?,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven.” We haven’t played everything yet, so there might be one or two surprises left. But people don’t really want to hear [B-sides] “Bailey’s Walk” or “Manta Ray” — they don’t know those songs.
Has the meaning of any of the songs changed for you over time?
Yeah, I suppose. But they’re pretty abstract. You can just kind of sing them and enjoy the Jabberwocky aspect of the lyrics.
Do you subscribe to the theory that the Pixies were far ahead of their time, and that it’s taken until now for listeners to get it?
If there’s something pulsing in me that is the same thing pulsing through the rest of the culture, then so be it. But it’s not my intention to represent my generation or anything. That’s beyond my control.
Pixies tour dates:
9/18: Austin, TX, ACL/Ziker Park
9/20: Phoenix, AZ, Mesa Amphitheater
9/21: San Diego, RIMAC
9/22: Los Angeles, Greek Theater
9/23: Los Angeles, Greek Theater
9/24: Berkeley, CA, Greek Theater
9/25: Berkeley, CA, Greek Theater
9/26: Berkeley, CA, Greek Theater
9/28: Salt Lake City, Kinsbury Hall
9/30: Denver, Magness Arena
10/1: Kansas City, Uptown Theater
10/2: Lincoln, NE, Pershing Auditorium
10/4: Columbus, OH, Veterans Memorial Auditorium
10/5: Columbia, MO, Hearnes Center
10/6: Nashville, TN, Ryman Auditorium
10/8: Tampa, USF Sundome
10/9: Miami, Mizner Amphitheater
10/10: Orlando, Hard Rock
10/12: Birmingham, AL, Boutwell Auditorium
10/13: Atlanta, Fox Theater
10/14: Atlanta, Fox Theater
10/16: New Orleans, Voodoo Festival
10/17: Houston, Reliant Arena
10/19: Dallas, Next Stage/Nokia Live
10/22: Phoenix, AZ, Dodge Theater
10/23: Irvine, CA, Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
10/24: Santa Barbara, CA, Santa Barbara County Bowl
11/9: Milwaukee, Milwaukee Theater
11/10: St. Paul, MN, Roy Wilkins Auditorium
11/11: St. Paul, MN, Roy Wilkins Auditorium
11/13: Chicago, Aragon Ballroom
11/14: Chicago, Aragon Ballroom
11/15: Chicago, Aragon Ballroom
11/16: Chicago, Aragon Ballroom
11/18: Detroit, State Theater
11/20: Detroit, Fox Theater
11/21: Akron, OH, Rhodes Arena
11/22: Dayton, OH, Hara Arena
11/24: Toronto, Arrow Hall
11/25: Toronto, Arrow Hall
11/26: Montreal, CEPSUM Arena
11/27: Montreal, Cepsum Arena
11/28: Hull, QUE, Arena Robert Guetin
11/30: Amherst, MA, Mullins Center
12/1: Lowell, MA, Tsongas Arena
12/4: Camden, NJ, Tweeter Center
12/5: Camden, NJ, Tweeter Center
12/6: Norfolk, VA, Constant Convocation Center
12/7: Washington, DC, Constitution Hall
12/8: Washington, DC, Constitution Hall
12/11: New York, Hammerstein Ballroom
12/12: New York, Hammerstein Ballroom
12/13: New York, Hammerstein Ballroom
12/14: New York, Hammerstein Ballroom
12/15: New York, Hammerstein Ballroom
12/16: New York, Hammerstein Ballroom