Friday, November 19, 2004

Interview with Frank Black of the Pixies

Raw! Uncut Q&A with Charles Thompson, the man, they myth, the legend and the ghost leader of the Pixies.
It's true, people, i just did a story for the Detroit Free Press on the Pixies.
And damn, it was good.
So sayeth me.
and so sayeth my flock of geese.
Here's the final version of the story that ran:

Wave Of Admiration: More than a decade after breaking up, alternative rock icons The Pixies reunite for a run of sold-out shows

and the corresponding sidebar:
Lost in the Lyrics

very exciting, huh? too bad none of the photos run on the website.

yeah, yeah, and yeah.
dammit jim, i'm a doctor not a fornicater.

or something like that.

ok, well, now that we have your attention.
here's the full unexpurgated, unmitigated, most high, Q&A with mr. Thompson. uncut!
unwatched! unwashed! unmussed!




FB: Sorry for the wait. I went a little over talking to my girlfriend.

The one I just read about in yesterday's Salon story?

FB: In what?

Did you see that?

FB: No.

Did you do an interview with Salon recently? (long pause) You probably
don't remember. Basically, you were railing about Spin magazine and

FB: Oh, was I whining about Spin magazine?


FB: Ok.

I didn't say whining. It was kinda funny, actually. Anyway� So, how
are things going?

FB: Fine.

Where are you calling from?

FB: Phoenix.

Ah. I saw you guys, I caught the show in Berkeley and I also saw the
Coachella show. I first actually saw you open for U2 back in '91 on
the 'Achtung Baby' tour. My first question is, what would be the
difference between seeing the Pixies back in 1991 and today?

FB: (long pause) Well, we were a lot grouchier in 1991. I guess that
would be the main difference.

You weren't talking to each other then?

FB: Not a lot (chuckles).

What inspired you to get back together after so long?

FB: Say again.

What instigated, what made you decide to get back together?

FB: Oh, I don't know. A whole bunch of circumstances, you know what I
mean? Unforeseen circumstances. Unplanned, spontaneous, you know? Not
any one reason or factor.

Back when the band ended, did you end it, was it you that spurred it
or was it more of a mutual thing? There was always rumors about that
you ---

FB: I don't know how they found out but i did send a fax to our manager's office and quit the band, essentially breaking them up.

so would it be fair to say it was your call to get back together?

FB: Was it my call? Well, yeah, sure. i mean, initially i suppose, ultimately it was everybody's call. If someone wouldn't have wanted to do it, it probably wouldn't have happened.

When you decided to get back together and go out on the road, were you surprised at the level of adulation you received? Or was it something you kind of suspected would happen?

FB: I suppose it was more along the lines of something i would expect.

Cuz you've been performing with the Catholics.

FB: Different bands. Whole other vibe. What does that have to do with it?

Just the differences in playing to a huge crowd on a giant stage say like Coachella. Do you feel more comfortable on stage now? You seemed a lot looser.

FB: Who?

From Coachella compared to Berkeley.

FB: That's a natural consequence of touring. i think if you go see any band at the beginning of a tour and go see them again six weeks later, you're gonna see a slightly different band.

Are you guys pretty loose as far as planning your sets? Because the show i saw at Berkeley it seemed like you guys didn't make a set list. Is that something you do a lot?

FB: Sometimes we don't do one. Frequently, I deviate from the set list. Not really a big deal, you know.

A lot of bands on the so-called comeback trail are often derided by people who say "They're only doing it for the money." Would you say that played a role at all in coming back?

FB: Oh, but of course. If there was no demand for us to go play out again, I don't know if we would have. We might have, simply for old time's sake. Something for artistic ambition or whatever. You know, that was not going to be the first order of business if we did get back together. Obviously, there was so much demand.

Why do you think there is so much demand for the Pixies? Why now? Do you happen to think this was the perfect time or it just happened to all fall in to place?

FB: There has been a perfect time for us about every few years. It kind of goes up and down, i think. And this year happened to be one that was up times.

It seemed, at Coachella at least, that most people were there to see you guys.

FB: Yeah, I mean.

That has to be gratifying, it has to feel really good.

FB: Sure. It is gratifying.

Do you feel any more motivated to possibly do something in the future with these guys or are you keeping it open-ended at this point? As far as like, are you going to write music, how long you gonna tour, because it seems like you've been touring for the majority of the year.

FB: Well, that was sort of the plan. You only get to do the reunion tour once.

Well, for some bands.

FB: No, but i mean realistically, i mean, as far as the audience is concerned, you only get to do that reunion tour once in terms of the interest or buzz you create. We'll go out...if we go out next year, there may be just as much interest even or more interest in us, i don't know. But it's got nothing to do with how many people show up. The bottom line is it won't be a reunion tour anymore. That will be gone. Just like you can only be a naive beginner band one time. You know, that first couple of years of your existence, and then after that, it kind of goes away. Put out a couple records, do a couple tours and you start to have some experience under your belt and you're not that naive first-timer anymore. So in terms of like, you know, does the fact that we're popular right now in our reunion tour make it more likely we'll go and record again? I don't know. It probably more than anything will make it more likely we'll play more concerts but i don't think we're really that, i don't think that we're that kind of band. I don't think we would mint a record simply because we might make some money on it. That wouldn't be a reason to make a record, that would be the wrong reason, that wouldn't fit. You really need to have some firm aesthetic reasons for making a record. Because you want it to be good. The fact that you're going to make some money off of it maybe is sort of icing on the cake or par for the course. Whatever. That will happen the way that it happens, either it'll be a big failure, a big success or something in the middle, whatever. It will do whatever it's going to do, but to go out and make a record simply because you're selling a lot of concert tickets is, you know, it isn't that kosher.

Do you find that now are you reinterpreting any of your older songs differently compared with the way you recorded it?

FB: Not really, no. We're playing them probably the same way that we've always played them. Maybe a little more muscle. We all have a little more muscle than we used to. I'm probably literally speaking, you know, just because we're older and we're not 80 years old, and therefore have less muscle. We actually all i think literally, everyone in the band is literally more muscular. Because we're in our late 30s and early 40s, as opposed to early 20s, so there isn't that, physiologically we're at that stage in life where, yeah sure, we may be balder and fatter but everyone's also more buff.

You could take each other out if you need to.

FB: Yeah.

Now you released that one song 'Bam Thwok' and released that on iTunes. Is that even a possibility at least, of releasing individual songs, even if you don't record an album?

FB: It's an option, sure, or recording EPs and selling them at your gigs, or whatever. There's definitely more than one way to release a song, i suppose.

What do you think about that? Obviously a lot has changed in the music industry since the Pixies were around the first time with iTunes and downloading. Some people are opposed the concept of downloading songs instead of albums. What do you think of all that digital media and downloading as a band. Or even as yourself.

FB: I don't know what i think about it. I guess it's an interesting enough topic just to talk about but i don't really have a strong opinion about it one way or the other. I mean, it is what it is. That's just the way technology and cultural habits change. They just do. They always do. It's always changing. Fifteen or 20 years from now there will probably be another, at least slightly different scenario, so i'm not for or against anything in particular. It is what it is, so the question is how do you fit in. How do you use it to your advantage as a person who makes a living as a musician or a songwriter.

I know at least some of your shows there are CDs being sold almost immediately, as a recording of that show. Have you been doing that?

FB: Yeah, we did that for quite a few shows. Well, we didn't do it but this company we're working with did it.

It seems like a possible way to thwart people who are trying to bootleg you or anything else. I don't even know if you worry about that.

FB: I suppose, yeah. No, not really. Bootlegs, especially for a fringe band is not really a negative thing. It may be a negative thing for Bruce Springsteen or something like that or U2, who's immensely popular. Theoretically they're losing a lot of revenue because a bootleg is created of a U2 concert and it's sold to tens of thousands of people or something like that. And so you can say, "Oh gee wow, there's all this income being generated and it's being sold as official product maybe in all these record stores, whatever." From a business point of view, that could be a concern for an artist like that but fringe artists who aren't necessarily selling millions and millions of records all bootlegs indicate is that you have some street credibility. And it's not really the number of bootlegs that are being manufactured and sold, even the ones that are really being sold illegally really blatantly is not enough, it isn't worth it to go after these people. They're just not generating enough revenue to make it worthwhile. So you just kind of go 'oh well, what are you gonna do? I guess people like me. Hopefully they'll go out and buy the real record, which is what i think most people do. Who goes out and buys bootlegs, you know what i mean? They sound like shit.

It's not worth the money you spend on bootlegs, usually.

FB: Yeah because with very little effort you can make your own recording of your favorite band just as easy. You hit the right little Walkman and the right little microphones and clip 'em to your glasses.

Do you ever see people trying to record you guys?

FB: Oh, well, what's there to see? Lots of people are doing it. We don't really care if we don't know about it, we don't care. We don't like people taping microphones to the wall and making a big deal out of it. But as long as they keep it to themselves, i don't care.

All your albums, the Pixies albums i'm referring to, throughout the 1990s would you say they continued to sell throughout?

FB: Yeah, they've always sold. Some seasons they sell a lot and some seasons they sell hardly at all. There's not really any sort of...i can't really give you any explanation as to why.

I'm saying that given the context, that the albums are still selling, there's still a market for the Pixies. People are still really into us.

FB: Yeah, you know, the records are still in print and they're available and they always have been. I don't know if they're in like every record store.

Well, there was the "Purple Album" that was released and there was some B-sides and stuff. I noticed more things being released the last few years, it seems like that anyway. Cuz there was a Greatest Hits record that was released not that long ago.

FB: Sure, there's a fair amount of mining going on. What else can we squeeze out of this? I don't think there's anything wrong with that. There's sort of like, it's just being your own archivist you know what i mean? it's just sort of looking at all your tapes and, you know, you get recorded in so many different kinds of situations and people are interested in hearing it, so you kind of go, oh there's this thing that's never been released. Let's put that out. People can say, oh yeah gee, you guys are just really being whores or something like that. But you know, we're not, really. We're just trying to be smart businesspeople, you know? Hey if there's a market for it and there's an interest in it and this is rock music that exists, then what the fuck? Put it out. Who gives a shit? We're not really making a big deal out of it. We're not getting all precious about it with all kinds of over-precious liner notes. We're not real precious about anything. It's not really our attitude.

I think that's why people like you too, though.

FB: Yeah, i think that's definitely part of our appeal is that we're a little bit like everybody else, we're a little bit like the audience on some levels.

I would totally agree. I think people find you guys relatable.

FB: Yeah. We're not pretentious. We may be pretentious with our music, with the songs. I'll be the first one to admit that a lot of my music is kind of arty farty, or whatever, however you want to characterize it. But in terms of our demeanor onstage, like our personalities, we're totally like, what you see is what you get. That's who we are, we're not pretentious in terms of the way we're presenting ourselves to the crowd or whatever, it's like, it's really straight up.

I like the fact that at Coachella, for example, with this gigantic stage, you just go up there and you play your songs. I think i was more stoked about that than anything else that it was just a straightforward Pixies show. It just happened to be at a big venue.

FB: Yeah. Definitely that's our personality but also that's sort of like from where we came from -- 1980s college rock, that's really the vibe for a lot of those bands, i think. We were totally being anti-mainstream, whether you were a punk band or whether you were a jangly guitar band or whether you a synth band, whatever. All of that so-called college rock is very much about just getting up there and doing your songs and not really, not a lot of flash. And i don't think there's anything wrong with flash. I think there are really great theatrical performers that really do a great job and i'm not...i'm not against anything really (chuckles). It's not that i'm against it, it's a free country, a free world, whatever, it's a stage, it's a rock stage. Go up there and do whatever you want to do. See what people think. Hit 'em over the head with a stupid stick or do something smarter, whatever, the choice is yours. Who's to say that you're right or wrong, everyone has their own opinion, but definitely we are not the kind of band who like to kick the beach-ball out into the crowd and go 'heeey-yo, heeey-yo" and there seems to be a lot of that these days, especially in the festivals. A lot of the younger crowd in the festivals kind of sometimes have been looking at the Pixies this year like 'So when are they going to start kicking the beachball out here? Why are they just standing there?" They don't really get it. Whereas in 1989 i don't think the audiences at a lot of these festivals in Europe, they never would have questioned that. They just would have been like, "oh yeah, cool."

It seems like your crowd, at least from the two shows i saw on this tour, that you had the older thirtysomethings -- i'd be in that group -- that remember you from the first time around, so it's super-exciting for us, and then you had a lot of the younger crowd too. Is it a strange dichotomy at all? Because obviously there are people that are expecting a little more theatrics, a little more livelihood, a lot of it on the stage and--

FB: Not to be totally crass but at the end of the day, as long as people pay their money to get into the door, i don't care if they're little old ladies. It doesn't bother me. You know, i'm glad that they're there and i'm going to try really hard to do my thing and hopefully everybody will get their money's worth and that's sort of my attitude, so i'm not really freaked out or weirded out by a young audience versus an older audience or whatever, whatever. It's not really anything i can control and i just have to deal with it the best that i can. It's fine. It's more challenging. There's a lot more girls in the crowd now than there used to be. And there's a lot of young people who aren't riding the wave of Pixies popularity because that already happened in 1988 or whatever. This is a, there's no wave going on right now. Sure, there's lots of people buying tickets to our show and everything and that's great, but it's not the same thing as when a band is first starting out, they're right out of the gates and the word-of-mouth kinda thing happens and everyone's excited -- and there's a lot of boys, generally. They're really raising their fists in the air and singing along, it's a different kind of thing. People now are a bit lame and the younger crowd are way more curious, they're just standing there taking it in. They're not really ... freaked out because their favorite band came to town. They're kinda like "Ohhh, so this is who they are, this is what all the hoopla's about."

Oh, i think that's because there's so many bands that have cited you now as being an influence, for better or for worse. That plays a role for sure cuz i can't count how many bands i've read that here and there, where it's just like "oh, the Pixies..." -- how much time do we have left?

FB: I don't know, i suppose i should think about calling my next interview.

Well, it was great talking to you. I actually have also seen you play with Frank Black & the Catholics too. Are you still going to be performing with that band too.

FB: I don't know, actually. We're on sabbatical as well, so... the last time i took a sabbatical with a band it ended up being 11 or 12 years, so we'll see what happens. Right now i'm totally focused on playing with the Pixies and enjoying it as they are.

It was great talking to you. I've enjoyed seeing you and your bands in various incarnations over the years.

FB: Yeah, thank you very much. It's good to talk to you. Take care.


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