The Pixies: Points of Departure
No band is an island. The best songwriters tend to be sponge-like soaker-uppers of music, film, fine art, literature and other forms of culture, be they popular or obscure, and these influences often find their way into the music, helping listeners branch out and develop new interests. With Points of Departure, we use our favorite groups as springboards for broader cultural investigations and highlight some of the cool things you might get into via your record collection. This week: the Pixies.
In his 22 short years, Buddy Holly influenced just about every musician that's come along since 1955, from the Beatles to Weezer and beyond. Pixies frontman and principal songwriter Frank Black is no exception. Holly’s compressed song structures became the leading model for popular music, with most of his songs clocking in at under two minutes. While recording the Pixies' second studio album, 'Doolittle,' Black was adamant about each track getting to the point, while Producer Gil Norton insisted the band try to make more “ commercial” songs. Black responded by taking Norton to a record store and handing him 'Buddy Holly’s Greatest Hits.' Once Norton saw that most songs were under two minutes, the two went back to finish 'Doolittle,' and the album became the short-and-sweet set Black wanted.
Though they hail from Boston, far from the Southern California shores, the Pixies have plenty of surf rock infused in their sound. They're avid fans of the genre, and the band's most experimental album, 1990's 'Bossanova,' features surf-rock riffs in tracks like 'Cecilia Ann' and 'Allison.' But it’s the chords in their song “Here Comes Your Man” that could have been ripped from the Beach Boys or Link Wray catalog. Black and fellow Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago have both claimed surf rock as a major influence, introducing a new generation to rapid alternate guitar picking and upbeat electric instrumentals.
The Pixies have always incorporated psychedelic elements into their music, using dreamlike imagery with lyrics like, “An underwater guy who controlled the sea/ Got killed by ten million pounds of sludge,” in 'Monkey Gone to Heaven' and, “I've kissed mermaids, rode the El Niño/ Walked the sand with the crustaceans,” in 'Wave of Mutilation.' Even though Black’s infatuation with surrealism is apparent in a lot of the band’s songs, the brainy Boston rocker decided to pay homage to the genre with a shout-out to one of the most famed surrealist artists in the song 'Debaser.' After mentioning “slicing up eyeballs,” Black sings “But I am un chien andalusia,” paying homage to the Salvador Dali film ‘Un Chien Andalou,’ which happens to feature a razor slicing into an eye. The song 'I Bleed' also conjures images of the surrealist film 'Vampryr' by director Carl Theodor Dreyer, which tells the horrifying journey of a young traveler into a town of vampires.