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Joey Santiago Discusses the Pixies’ Lasting Impact, Vinyl + More

Joey Santiago
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

The Pixies have been making music for nearly 30 years, but have, surprisingly, only released six studio albums. Their latest, ‘Indie Cindy,’ hit store shelves earlier this year after more than two decades since the release of ‘Trompe le Monde.’ Even so, the influence and impact of the band has never waned; in fact, it may be stronger today than it ever has been.

As he gears up for a run of dates throughout North America with the Pixies, guitarist Joey Santiago took a moment to chat with us about their latest studio effort. He even opens up about music critics, what’s in store for the band and his own personal affinity for vinyl.

Now that it’s been a few months since the release of ‘Indie Cindy,’ as you look back on it, how do you feel about how the record turned out?

Excellent. I love the way it turned out. I loved it in the beginning and now I’m appreciating it more, you know? I happen to think that it’s one of our better pieces of work.

I get that. After not having a studio album from the Pixies for so long, it definitely felt like a perfect “re-entrance,” if you will.

Yeah, it’s certainly not derivative of the other stuff that we put out.

How much stock do you put in the public reception of an album?

I don’t pay attention to that. I don’t give a rat’s ass about it. It’s because, whatever the critics would say, I don’t know what we would do with that information. We’re not going to appease one guy or something like that. We’re trying to entertain ourselves, you know? When we’re in the studio, it’s our turn to get entertained. When we play live, we entertain the masses. Selfishly, when we’re in the studio, it’s like, OK, it’s our turn. We don’t think about how it’s going to come out. It comes out the way it comes out and it’s always going to sound like the Pixies. We keep thinking that people are going to love what we create.

Is that how the band has approached every album?

Yes. We just try to do our best. People are also asking if we felt pressure. We felt the pressure from the first album, and then the second one and the third one and the fourth one. There’s always been that kind of pressure to put out something good. [Laughs] This wasn’t any different. Here we are again, it was nothing different to us.

And you released this on your own label, yeah?

Did we? Hold on a second. [Pause] Yeah, I guess we did.

So I take it from your reaction that that really didn’t have an effect on the process?

Not at all. It is what it is, you know? It’s what we do. We go in there and just do it.

Obviously one of the bigger differences of “doing it” is that Kim Deal left the band. What was that like?

Well, she was there in the studio and she left midway. When she left, we just thought that we had four or five weeks left out of our seven weeks in [the studio in] Wales. We had to finish the session, whether she left or not. A minute later, it was like, “What the f— was that?” It took us maybe two days to just keep working. Gil [Norton, producer] would call us in one by one, because the songs were half-baked so we had to cook them. That was really the thought process. We didn’t really think about it, we just forged ahead.

You really had two choices: forge ahead or don’t forge ahead.

Yeah, but that’s not even an option. We’re at the point of no return.

Is there still a relationship between the band and Kim?

No, but that’s not strange at all. When we’re not working together, we really don’t keep in touch with each other anyway. This break, I haven’t heard from anyone.

Is that how it’s been for your whole career?

Yeah, everybody just keeps to themselves. I think that’s what makes it more interesting. When we get back together, it’s like, we haven’t seen each other and we catch up and then we get back to work. I mean, it is work, right?

It is, and you with ‘Indie Cindy,’ the way you released your work was great. I’m a big fan of vinyl, so I really appreciated you releasing three EPs exclusively to the format. Why is pressing new music still important to you?

We’ve always wanted to press our music. Always. We always want to hit analog, too, you know, on tape. These days, though, it’s impossible because it’s so hard to find the tape. Every tape sounds different, so it’s hardly even an option. Pro Tools sounds really good now, too. It’s sounding fantastic. The way we released the vinyl, it was for the purists, you know? We half-mastered it, it plays at 45 RPM. You get more information at 45 than 33.

How important is vinyl to you personally?

I am an aficionado. It’s the ritual to me, putting the platter down, and when you do all that stuff and you carefully set up that system, it won’t just be background music. I sit down and I listen actively. I do that with MP3s, too, but with a vinyl I’m right in the middle of my speakers. My ears are right there, I get the best overall sound. I tweaked my speakers at an angle so I get the most stereophonic sound. All that stuff.

What’s your personal collection like?

Ah geez. I just noticed when I went through it that I don’t have enough rock and roll! I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz lately. I like anything that Rudy Van Gelder does, it’s not masterbating jazz, you know? The sound of it, you can hear maybe three microphones. You can actually hear the musicians’ dynamics. They mix themselves. You don’t hear a lot of fader moves. I just like to feel the performance. There’s another value to listening to music, it’s you feel the musicians, you feel something else. You don’t just hear the sounds, you feel what they did at that time. I love it.

There’s something special about dropping the needle and the whole ritual of it, like you said. You miss that when you’re listening on your phone.

Yeah, MP3s, I get tired after awhile listening to them. It’s not a pure sound wave anymore. There are these steps. Your mind is trying to fill those missing steps, so it’s exhausting. When you listen to vinyl, your brain melts and you just go, “Ah, finally.” You know what I mean? And then you finish and you’re like, “S–t, I’ve got stuff to do.”

The time flies by.

I can’t even read a book when I’m listening to vinyl! I’m just right in the middle. I’ve got the perfect chair, the whole thing, man.

And of course, a major part of the experience is holding the 12-inch cover in your hands while listening.

CDs are kind of dead right now. According to our manager, vinyl is the biggest seller for us, for physical product. Nobody’s really buying the CD anymore. It’s not just the artwork, it’s the credits and liner notes. Who engineered it, where was it recorded, that kind of stuff. People don’t know that with MP3s. It’s right there with vinyl, it’s there.

Exactly.

I just picked up an album from “Pretty” Purdy, ever hear of him? He’s one of the best drummers. Right there, right in the back, there are liner notes just talking about everything. They just talk about him. It’s great.

As you gear up for the fall tour in just a couple of days, is there anything special you do — or do you enjoy the break for as long as you can?

I embrace the freedom. [Laughs] I’m an avid cyclist. I’m one of those funny guys who wear those tights. I scream down a hill at about 45 MPH. I just love the speed. You work to get on top of the canyon — I live in Los Angeles — and the payoff is the downhill. I do that, and I do a lot of things with the kids. All that stuff, you know, just normal stuff.

As a guitarist, are there any odd practices you do to prep for a show?

Nah, not really. I’ll listen to the albums and go over 30 seconds of the songs and then I’ll get everything back. Sometimes I’ll fool around with a guitar and I try to do country stuff.

Yeah, country?

Yeah, double stops, all that stuff. When you’re playing that style, it makes more sense, rather than me just doing the single lines and people will probably go, “What the f— are you doing?” With country, it’s melodic. It sounds good.

When you go out on the road, what’s the vibe like between the band now compared to 25 years ago?

Well, geez. You know, there was a rub back then, which is good, because it lent itself to the sound that we have. Now, though, we’ve already got that sound, so it’s automatic. Live, this is probably the happiest we’ve ever been. Paz [Lenchantin] is awesome, she’s just great, she’s very intelligent. She’s a great bass player, she’s great to hang around with. And you know, she does her own thing too when we’re on the road. Everyone disappears on our days off. I don’t see anyone. I go out on my own. We all do.

That sound you mentioned, why do you think it’s lasted as long as it has? With ‘Indie Cindy,’ fans were rabid for the release — not many bands have that lasting of an impact.

It’s the honesty of what we do. It’s just what we do. We happened to get lucky that we painted ourselves into a corner that people actually like. We could’ve ended up in a corner that sucks, you know? Let’s face it, they’re great songs. [Laughs]

That pretty much sums it up.

And that’s the bottom line. They’re great songs. We sound different, we don’t sound like anyone else. We’re not the only ones for crying out loud, but people get lucky when they chip away at a style. The songwriting is good, we have this sonic fingerprint, we’ve covered songs from Neil Young to Leonard Cohen. It just keeps sounding like the Pixies. It sounds like us. We have a certain sound.

And they’re really good songs!

Yeah, and we have the accidental sonics, you know? We’re just a bunch of people plowing away with our instruments and we’ve gotten lucky.

That lasting impact was obvious over the summer when Arcade Fire covered ‘Alec Eiffel.’ What do you think about a young band like that covering the Pixies?

I want to see it, you know? I haven’t seen it yet, I am going to look it up. I respect those guys. When we tour with them, Win [Butler] and I would have this camaraderie. We’d have a drink together and then we’d go on our way because we had s–t to do.

It just speaks to your sonic fingerprint.

Yeah, every successful band out there has their own sound. Arcade Fire definitely has it, Sonic Youth, Husker Du, you know, they just have it. We’re all lucky.

Have you guys started talking about your next follow-up?

Yeah, you know, we talk about it. We’re definitely going to release something in the future because the cat’s out of the bag. We’re going to keep doing this. Whatever, we’re just going to keep forging ahead. The music is always going to be there. But now you have to hit them with a different way to release it. Now it just drops out of the sky so you have to take advantage of that technology, you know?

We won’t have to wait another 20 years?

Nah. Not at all. You’re going to wait about six months. [Laughs]

The Pixies hit the road beginning Sept. 27 in San Diego, Calif. through mid-October. Get their full tour itinerary here.

Next: The Pixies Premiere 'Ring the Bell' Music Video

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