For 'Velouria' they wanted a damn video, so we made a video

An Interview with the Pixies

During their recent European tour, I caught up with Pixies (aka The Pixies, but their publicist tells me that the “the” was never actually part of the name). I interviewed front man Black Francis (Charles Thompson IV) for a separate article, but got to spend some time with the other band members, in the minutes before their show (while hanging out in a space designed by the subject of my PhD dissertation, which was an added level of coolness). Joe Santiago (guitar), David Lovering (drums) and recent addition (to replace the on-off original bass player, Kim Deal), Paz Lenchantin spoke to me about how Pixies practice, European tour schedules, and what it’s like to be so influential in the history of rock.

Noah Charney: You were the first band that I loved though no one told me I was supposed to love you. When you got to work with different, famous producers, like Gil Norton and Steve Albini, what did each producer bring to the table that was new for you?

Joe: I guess with Albini, it was just recording us. That was exciting right there. With Gil Norton, it was pre-production. I’d had no idea what the hell that was about.

What did that entail for you?

Joe: Just getting ready for the recording, instead of just showing up! With Albini we just showed up, he pressed record. He archived us, basically.

Is recording different now, in the digital realm, when you used to like to record analog, live into two tracks?

David: Speed. When we did it on tape, editing took a lot more time. Especially with Albini. I remember splicing. With digital, it’s so easy.

I’m curious, Paz, when you first joined, what were the practice sessions like?

Paz: I can’t say we practiced that much. The shows were gradually getting better. My first practice was, I think, making a single. We recorded in one of our first rehearsals, we recorded a single for “Indy Cindy,” a B-side “Woman of War.” That was exciting, to go straight to the studio in one of my first days with the Pixies. I knew immediately, once we made a new record, it was gonna be a lot of fun, because the experience was so good.

When you learned you’d be joining them, did you start looking at sheet music, or did you already know how to play their back catalogue?

Paz: I definitely didn’t look at sheet music, because I’d be interpreting someone else’s interpretation. So I just listened to the songs, and played along with the record exactly as I heard it.

Did any bass lines change when you joined, or did you stick to the originals?

Paz: The only things I might have changed were in “Indy Cindy,” some of the transitions, but other than that, you know, I just go by the record. It’s not broken, so why fix it.

How developed are the songs when Charles brings them to you, and how does it get added to? He writes them on acoustic guitar, right?

Joe: Just the chord progressions, that’s all I want. I like to have them ahead of time, because it takes me awhile to work things out in my hand.

Are you each jamming to develop your own parts, then?

David: Generally, when Charles presents it, it’s a song in itself.

At what point do you have enough songs that you say, We’ve got an album here? And by extension, do you feel like an album should have a through-line to it?

Joe: It could just be a bunch of stuff.

Maybe this is the sort of thing over-enthusiastic fans, like me, do, but many of your followers read deep meaning and symbolism into your individual songs and entire albums. Is there intentionality there? Is there an idea you’re supposed to come away with, after listening to a whole album?

David: Maybe at a subconscious level, but practically we were always following what the record format was. 72 minutes or something. A lot of our songs were short, so we needed to put 15, 20 songs on an album. Whatever could fit, we’d include.

You always resisted making music videos. Was that Charles disliking the idea of the lip-syncing? And was there pressure to do it in the 90s, which was how bands developed a bigger audience?

Joe: We didn’t like the lip-syncing business about it. That’s the only rule we really had. And yeah, they did want a video. For “Velouria” they wanted a damn video, so we made a video. And we didn’t have enough footage, so we just slowed it down. That was it.

What about Paz made you decide she was a good band member for the long-term?

David: It was right away. The way she played live. And when we recorded that B-side, “Woman of War,” the demeanor, everything about her was perfect. It was easy. It was just boom. All the elements that you want, good live and good recording.

But you also have to get along socially on these crazy tours. Your manager told me you have to get up at, like, 4 tomorrow morning… Is it still fun, or does it feel hectic, like something you have to get through?

David: It’s more fun now! Four in the morning, that’s a one-off. Not normal.

Do you ever get to visit the cool towns on your tour?

David: Oh yeah.

Paz: Luckily, we really don’t do sound check, so it gives us all day to explore.

You guys are so influential. What does it feel like to hear that? In the histories of rock and roll, you guys kick off chapters, which is special and cool.

Paz: What does the monk say?

Joe: We don’t know what to say, either. This is just what we do.

David: You don’t think about it.

Joe: But I’m glad people want to do music, and we’re one of the bands that inspires them.

There are a lot of bands that continue a trend in music. But there are very few who start entirely new trends that others follow and refer back to consciously. That’s pretty special.