By Andrei Khalip
LISBON (Reuters) – Beloved of David Bowie and a generation of influential UK and U.S. guitar bands, American alt-rock combo the Pixies have sold out across Europe as they tour with new music for the first time in over 20 years.
There is talk of a joint tour with Bowie, 66, whose own new album has made waves in the past year for the first time since his 70s and 80s heyday, and the band expect to follow this year’s four-song “EP-1” with more new releases.
The Ziggy Stardust creator has called the Pixies the “psychotic Beatles” and rates their music as “just about the most compelling of the entire 80s”.
If lacking some of the band’s youthful, surf-punk folly, the new songs have plenty of drive and the trademark shifts from quiet and melodic to loud and screamy that influenced Nirvana, Sonic Youth and others in the late 1980s. The cosmic sounds of “Andro Queen” connect with Bowie’s space-themed compositions.
The band got its start in Boston and had a string of hits in “Hey”, “Debaser”, “Where is my Mind” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven” before breaking up in 1993. They reunited in 2004 only to have bass player Kim Deal quit in June for a second time without much explanation, leaving the three other Pixies “shell-shocked”.
Frontman Black Francis, 48, lead guitar player Joey Santiago, 48, and drummer David Lovering, 51, spoke with Reuters in Lisbon during their global tour about regrets over their first breakup, Deal’s possible return, and the future.
Q: Your new song “Indie Cindy” appears to refer to your new audience, you’re begging it to “carry me” like you’re not sure.
Black Francis: It’s about the audience we’re trying to woo, it is personified in the song. There’s doubt, that’s because we haven’t made a record in 20 years. And here we are going, “Hey, what do you think, do I still got it or do I still got it?”
Q: And do they like it?
BF: Our shows are sold out, and they cheer a lot.
Q: Your audience now – is it young, or nostalgia-driven?
BF: There’s at least a third of the audience that’s really young, another third is a bit older and another third, they’re, like, they got no business being in a rock concert!
BF: But I think that all such ageism will die with the death of rock music as we know it. With their iPhones and devices, people now have access to all this music, images, its history, facts and factoids and they can see through age groups, fashion, sexiness – all that’s being defined in a certain limited way.
Q: You have a much greater fan base in Europe than in the United States. Why is that?
Lovering: I’d say Europeans have better taste.
Santiago: Europeans are more eclectic, I guess.
BF: Rock music is culturally much more on a pedestal in Europe than in the United States. Here rock’n’roll initially was an outsider, like jazz before it. So it was put up in a place of reverence, art. In America it’s not art, it’s just part of the fabric of everything. Jazz survived so long thanks to Europe.
Q: Do you regret your first breakup, and could you have done anything to avoid it?
BF: I regret it, but maybe something else would have caused it eventually. But I wish that the manager or someone at the record company would have been a little more tuned in to the dynamics of a young band being on the road and making records, someone to advise a different schedule, or maybe say “Hey, you guys are due for vacation like right about now” or “Hey, you all do your solo albums”… We never really got that sort of common sense advice, or at least I was too stoned to hear it.
Lovering: I guess we’re lucky enough, because of that (breakup) we got back together and it’s all working out nicely.
Q: But now Deal has left. Is it still Pixies without her?
Santiago: Yeah it’s Pixies, that’s one against three.
Q: Do you miss her presence in the band?
BF: We probably most miss her voice, a lot. I think that was one thing about her that was really consistent.
Q: Do you think she will return, is that door still open?
BF: She could come down these stairs now, you never know.
Q: Bowie said you “changed the format for delivering harder rock”, Kurt Cobain paid you the ultimate compliment by ripping you off. In your own words, what’s your contribution to rock?
Santiago: Being original, influencing Nirvana so they could rip a song. I’ll admit it – if Kurt Cobain fessed up to it, I’ll agree with it, you ripped us off.
Q: Do you wish you were more famous, richer?
BF: I think that we’re quite happy with our status and our position in the music business, we’re sold out wherever we go.
Q: What’s the Pixies song you enjoy playing the most?
BF: Lately I really like playing “Vamos”. We don’t really know how long it’s gonna go for, there’s an element of chance to it and at the same time it’s really minimalist.
Santiago: Yeah, that, and I was gonna say “Dead” too.
Q: Do you imagine going back to solo gigs?
BF: The question is do I want to perform in these big venues or do I wanna play the rinky-dink night club? You know what I mean.
Q: You said you want to work with Bowie as a backup band. Is it going to happen, is it some special sign of respect?
BF: It’s David Bowie! Come on! We could do that. Bowie, the Pixies, together at last! … I think that Dylan and the (Grateful) Dead tour kind of served them both very well.