Pixies on the Past, Present and Future – Exclusive Interview
The Pixies have always been about duality – twisting off-kilter jangle into sinister garage pop that granted them the inescapable loud/quiet/loud synonymy – so it’s hard to imagine the events of the past year falling anything but in line with their well-honed and divergent organized chaos.
A sudden announcement marked their first new material in more than a decade with the abrupt unveiling of the single ‘Bagboy’ only a month after the departure of founding bassist Kim Deal and slow burned into the release of three EPs, aptly titled ‘EP 1,’ ‘EP 2’ and ‘EP3.’ After the documented ups and downs of their stint with Deal replacement Kim Shattuck, the band — which consists of original members Black Francis on vocals, drummer David Lovering and guitarist Joey Santiago — finally seems settled in with touring bassist Paz Lenchantin and ready to combine the three EPs to become the full length ‘Indie Cindy,’ out next week.
With a release date notably shared almost 25 years to the day of the seminal ‘Doolittle’, ‘Indie Cindy’ also comes with an accompanying live album, ‘Live in the USA,’ which documents their past year on the road. While the EP-release format and tour dates with rising indie acts such as Fidlar give the band steady footing in the present, the live recordings reach back toward older cuts like ‘Hey’ and ‘Bone Machine’ to graciously mingle with the new.
“It’s not that I didn’t appreciate playing with the Pixies back in the day,” says Lovering. “But when you get a second chance at it, you appreciate it even more.”
In our exclusive interview with Lovering, he talks about how ‘Indie Cindy’ came together in the studio, recording with longtime producer Gil Norton and releasing new Pixies music independently in 2014.
In a recent interview, you talked about looking out in the crowd and thinking, “This is an audience of kids that weren’t even born when our records were out initially.” You just wrapped up your North American tour where you were out with Cults, Fidlar and Best Coast — these up-and-coming indie bands. You were in kind of a unique position of playing with those bands and knowing they all probably cited you as an influence at some point.
It’s wonderful. They’re all much younger bands, probably all born before the Pixies albums were ever out. But I enjoyed their music very much. I knew them way before they were opening. It’s great – we’re the elders on the road, we get treated very well.
Plus, you said you didn’t want to become a nostalgia act, which was something that helped kick start writing again.
When we reunited in 2004, we toured seven years and we realized, “Wow, we’ve been doing this longer than we’ve been a band.” But people still wanted to see us. We were still touring at the same level, and shows kept coming and coming. And not that it got monotonous, but I think we still feel like we’re a viable band. That really was an impetus in a way, just let’s really do something and make new music.
To that point, it’s also interesting the way you released ‘Indie Cindy’ – EPs are becoming more common in 2014.
When we were talking about doing new music two years back, we were just talking about doing four songs. So I knew we had an EP thought in our heads. Then when we started doing a whole bunch of new material, that kind of theory stuck with us. It made a wonderful thing, because then we had this idea we were going to do EPs. And we were lucky to get away with doing the recordings secretly, no one knew about the music at all. So all of a sudden all this news pops up – the first surprise was Kim left the band, so that was big news in itself. Then the next surprise was we have new music, and then the next surprise was here’s ‘EP 1’. We didn’t let anyone know there was an ‘EP 2’ and we didn’t let anyone on to know there’s an ‘EP 3’. As a magician, I love these surprises, and I think they worked out wonderfully and I think we’re fortunate to be a band that can do this.
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With the three EPs being released separately, and so little talked about each one, were all the songs recorded during the same period?
We went to Wales and recorded at Rockfield Studios for two months. When we went there we originally had about nine songs down. And while we were there we wrote three more on the spot in the studio.
When it came time to make those recordings public, this time around you decided to self-release with the pixiesmusic imprint. Was there a turning point where you decided releasing the album independently was the direction you wanted to go?
We didn’t have a record company, and we were very fortunate that we had a website with a huge database set-up for years. Just because of that, we’re able to do it that way. It’s worked really well for us and it’s like we don’t need a company. And that’s what it kind of is nowadays. You can do self-promotion with social media and YouTube out there. A lot of small bands can do the same thing. We were fortunate to have such a grand scale.
Do you feel like that gave you more freedom and ultimately affected the album?
I can say it was the same because when we did have a label we did have full control. That was one thing about the Pixies, we didn’t have much interference from anyone.
You’re also releasing an accompanying live album. The track list really spans a wide range, but it’s also a bit heavier on later work. Would you say these days you feel more comfortable playing your newer catalog, especially since Kim had less of a role in the songwriting during that time?
We don’t even write a set list and we’re never thinking about live recording. We never do sound checks, we just show up. We go on and there’s one microphone that sits near the drum riser and has a switch on the floor so anyone can go up, press on the switch, and talk to any of us in our ear pieces. We have one song we start off with that we all know and then from that point on, we just randomly call songs off in quick succession. It’s a potpourri of old songs and new songs. The old songs bring a bite, I’ve played them forever. I don’t even have to think about them and I still enjoy playing them. Luckily, the brand new songs, they were a little bit of an adventure when we started playing them last fall. It’s not like riding a bike; it’s a unicycle in a lot of ways. After a couple of tours, those are all very comfortable now. So the set list is nice and sprawling and we rip through song to song.
This time around you did retain working with longtime producer Gil Norton. After the hiatus, did having Gil in the studio bring any feelings of familiarity?
That’s exactly why we had Gil. When we were thinking of doing new material we did think of new producers – we thought, we’re doing something new, and thought of Danger Mouse and all these different people. But the obvious choice was Gil Norton. Just because we worked three previous records with him – we’re very comfortable with him and he knows how to handle us. Because a producer, they’re really good at crafting a song but they’re more ambassadors. You sometimes need a den mother and that’s what a good producer is. And Gil’s exactly like that. He knows how to handle us and because of that comfort level and because of our track record with him, why not continue on with something that may connect with our previous album and what the Pixies sound is?