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Pixies: "Sequels are for movie makers"

23 May 2014, 12:30

I have deleted and retyped this opening sentence about 20 times now. There is a certain weight that exerts itself upon every word. But then, I think, an interview with the Pixies was only ever going to be approached with trepidation - after all, if there ever was an exercise in trepidation, it would be to release your fifth album 23 years after your fourth. The anxiety is a little overwhelming, but I know it is but a microcosmic reflection of the weight of expectation that has rested on the band’s shoulders since their 2004 reformation ushered in a united wave of fan euphoria; a weight that certainly intensified with the anticipation of new material.

When it comes to the Pixies though, anticipation doesn’t just mean a giddy excitement, it translates more accurately as waiting for a paradigm shift. In this respect, their latest album Indie Cindy was always doomed to fail. We’re already living in a musical paradigm forged by their 1988 debut Surfer Rosa and 1989 follow up Doolittle. To gauge the extent to which Black Francis, Kim Deal, Joey Santiago and Dave Lovering have shaped today’s musical landscape already you only need to know that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was Kurt Cobain’s effort to “rip off the Pixies” (something which he admitted in a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone).

Our culture has shifted because that’s the way the world works, but the world didn’t just move on without them – it moved on because of them. To expect something as revolutionary a fifth time around is misguided at best and if you find yourself disappointed, you probably always were going to be. Black Francis’ screaming, visceral vocals are still present and correct in numbers like “What Goes Boom” – though perhaps not quite as raw as they once were – and Santiago still delivers blistering riffs on tracks like “Blue Eyed Hexe” whilst Lovering’s drumming retains its thrills. Also, have you not listened to “Bagboy”? Opening with those wonderfully uneasy electric drum beats and ferocious, scratchy vocals, it’s a perfect reminder of just how dynamic the band’s sound is. The problem, I have a feeling, is probably more to do with the fact that the Pixies existed in a mystical era of music most of us never witnessed; an era so steeped in legend and romanticised that it probably didn’t really exist in the first place. But my god do we miss it.

When you think about, the Pixies have been an active band longer in the 21st century than they were in the “glory days” of the 20th. If you hadn’t thought about it, I can guarantee you the Pixies have. In fact it’s one of the first things drummer Dave Lovering - who is working on a pretty impressive beard at the moment - mentions to me when I sit down with him and Joey Santiago (though the very first thing comes in the form of an offer to pinch some of their chips, I’ve interrupted their lunch it would seem). “The 7 year mark was kind of shocking because we didn’t realise it had gone by so fast, and now when you say it’s been 10 years, I’m like whoa. It’s been 10 years. 10 years that we’ve been back, reformed, that’s kind of weird.”

Existing as a band for 10 years without making a record is kind of weird, but when your back catalogue is as incredible and universally adored as theirs, it never felt like anything was missing. At least not for a while. “After 7 years we realised we were just half a band,” says Santiago, after he’s caught the attention of a passing waitress in case I want to order anything. Offers of food and drink become a regular occurrence. “We just really wanted to record something. To try and be a viable band. Not even try, we still are, we’re still creative but to just be a real band, right?” He looks towards Lovering who responds. “We kept touring and touring and touring, people wanted to see us everywhere, then yeah the 7 year mark was kind of a revelation. It was kind of a kick in the pants to realise that we should be doing something new.”

Lovering’s choice of words are interesting. A lot of Indie Cindy’s detractors have pointed out the ways in which the record too often recalls its “lacklustre” predecessor Trompe Le Monde, doing nothing new in the process. With Gil Norton back on production duties and Vaughan Oliver on sleeve design it’s an easy conclusion to draw, but the words “something new” linger on Lovering’s tongue. “It’s like a double edged sword,” Santiago explains - using a napkin to physically demonstrate the metaphor even though there is a perfectly good knife in front of him. “This is the past and this is the future – we’d rather die going into that. Gil [Norton] wanted that too, he wanted us to forge forward. When critics say ‘they’ve moved on’ I say ‘thank you very much’. Sequels are for movie makers.”

If we were talking in terms of movie sequels though, Indie Cindy is missing its leading lady. “It was tough,” says Lovering while Santiago nods in agreement from the other side of the table. “She was a big factor of what we were about. We were shocked. We didn’t know whether to break up or continue on. We were at the studio already with two weeks under our belt. We’d already paid for the rest. It just seemed like the obvious thing, and the right thing, to do. The mentality is to go forward, or it was for us, and we did. We also decided that at least for playing live we’d stick with a female bass player because the identity of the band, especially in the vocal aspect, needs that presence.”

That female presence first came from Kim Shattuck, and now finds its voice through Paz Lenchantin, the short lived stint from the former leading everyone to the natural conclusion that Kim Deal was irreplaceable. “One thing I will say about Paz, kind of jokingly…” Lovering pauses, swirling his glass of Malbec, unsure of whether to complete his sentence or how to best minimise any sensationalist headline that could be pulled from it “is that we’re so happy with her, it’s going so well with the audience and with our pleasure at having her around is that you know we told Kim, Kim Deal, when she left that she was welcome back anytime but I’m afraid if she comes back it’s like, what are we going to do?” Santiago laughs “Oooh nooo – bam bam Dave! That’s going to be in bold print! Holy shit!” Lovering insists that (he’s kind of) joking and shrugs off Santiago’s outcry.

No one could replace Kim – the inner tension between her and Black Francis provided much of the drive and intensity of their wonderfully fraught musical output - but perhaps in Paz they’ve found someone who fits the band’s dynamic. Lovering is certainly full of praise. “She’s the first bass player we’ve ever had. Like a real bass player. And she sings. And she looks great on stage. The only problem is that is plays so good she’s making me play better because I don’t want to be embarrassed.” Santiago is ordering dessert. Once decided on the kulfi, I ask if he thinks that she brings a new vibrancy to older material. “A LOT! A lot. She takes it to another level. She knows the vibe of us, she can work with us. Oh man, she plays the violin too. It just makes the song [clicks his fingers] just has a different interpretation and she’s really good at it. And you know, if she’s playing with a quartet she’s going to like go with that, but if she’s playing with the Pixies she’s going to roll the violin down the stairs and record that!”

Indie Cindy was, of course, recorded without Paz but Santiago and Lovering both agree that it was very easy getting back into the recording process. “We used the same method we’ve always used,” explains Santiago, “Charles coming up with the songs on acoustic guitar and then presenting them to us so we can all work out the different factions. We had a vision going in that we wanted to use different instrumentation and a Moog guitar, bass pedals and stuff to make it sound a little different. But that’s just one aspect, I mean we always knew it was going to sound like the Pixies. Literally the only difference really this time was that the studio was digital,” he continues, attempting to ignore the Kim shaped elephant still lingering in the room, “rather than an analogue studio.” Lovering cuts in – “Going in there was a trepidation though, already knowing that we have something to uphold. That was really scary in terms of the songs and then we reached a point where we were happy with but even going into the studio it was scary again because this was all new again. The process was the same though yeah, which made me feel a little better.”

The mango kulfi arrives. Santiago and Lovering aren’t really sure why it’s not just listed as ice cream. There are three spoons. I’ve already spent more time with them than I was supposed to but a few more minutes, and a few more mouthfuls wouldn’t hurt.

Pixies headline the Sunday of Field Day, Sunday 8 June. Tickets are still available here.

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