Preview: Pioneering band The Pixies return with first new material in two decades


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Back in 2010, Frank Black gave one of his more cantankerous interviews in which he declared that the Pixies "ain't about the art anymore."

"Now it's time to talk about the money," he told the Quietus.

Part of that equation seemed to be a resistance to freshening the Pixies catalog, which came to a screeching halt when the seminal Boston band split in 1992 after seven years and four albums that helped breathe new life into punk, indie, alternative ... whatever label you want to put on it.

The Pixies
Where: Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets: $47-$70; www.ticketfly.com

The on-and-off reunion, which started in 2004, has been about celebrating the legacy, as frontman Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV (aka Frank Black or Black Francis), has continued to churn out solo albums with alarming regularity.

The most recent tour, in 2009, focused on the 20th anniversary of "Doolittle," the Pixies' surrealist masterpiece that best exemplified its jolting quiet-to-LOUD mood swings.

But what next -- another anniversary, another nostalgia tour for a fan base not keen on nostalgia?

"After the Doolittle tour, it was like, 'OK, we've done that. We've celebrated that record now. Let's make new stuff,' " says guitarist Joey Santiago. "We tried it three times to record a new album. We're Charles' toughest critic. He knows that you have to impress the [expletive] out of us. Charles finally hit a home run with these collections of songs. So it was like, 'OK, It's time to go.' "

It's "collections" plural because rather than issue a new album to compete with a "Doolittle" or "Surfer Rosa" or "Bossanova," the Pixies chose to do a single, "Bagboy," and a series of EPs: "EP1" last September, "EP2" this month and "EP3" in April.

"We're finding that our philosophy as of now is that the album format is just dead," the guitarist says. "I know there are curmudgeons out there who would go, 'No way!' Well, yeah way. It was done for economic reasons back then. You had that black piece of vinyl that you had to fill, and it so happens that it's a certain length of time.

"What if that disc were the size of a paella dish? What would that be like? Or if it were the size of a tea saucer? People just think the album thing, that 33 minutes or whatever, is like a standard, but it was due to a physical object. And now there isn't a physical object, so it doesn't have to be 'I gotta have 11 songs and it's got to be this length to be a record.' No, wrong."

The Pixies in the studio was great news but for one crushing detail. During the recording in Wales, beloved bassist-singer Kim Deal, now juggling Breeders and Pixies reunions, abruptly told the Pixies she was quitting and flying home.

They filled in with a different bassist, Simon "Ding" Archer (AAAK, Frank Black, PJ Harvey), for the recording and turned to another Kim, Shattuck of the Muffs, for touring. It didn't last long.

"It was weird. It was a different energy -- someone bopping their head," Mr. Santiago says. "It was like, 'Oh [expletive], I think this might be the wrong energy.' You know, hopping around and singing very 'singy.' We missed her. That's when we missed [Ms. Deal] when we saw those shenanigans, like, 'Oh, [expletive] we picked the wrong person.'

"We, uh, we miss [Ms. Deal]. But after a while, after the second, third gig, it was like, 'OK, what time do we show up for this gig?' We never really mourned because it was a very amicable decision for her to go. It was a shake-hands, like, 'Congratulations, Kim, we wish you the best.' So it was a decent breakup and we went on. We gotta keep going, we gotta finish this record."

The second Kim was released in July, not long after an incident in Los Angeles where she excitedly jumped into the crowd. She got a call from management with a terse: "The Pixies don't do that."

The search was on again for another female bassist because while the Pixies may not be the Pixies without Kim Deal, they surely aren't the Pixies with four dudes standing up there.

"All the records have that female energy to the backing vocals," Mr. Santiago says. "Otherwise we'd have to have someone on the side squeezing the dude's [testicles] to hit those registers. You can't play a bass and squeeze your [testicles] at the same time, so there's gotta be that job someone would have to do. We didn't want to see that."

For this tour, they've landed Paz Lenchantin, formerly of A Perfect Circle and Zwan.

"We got one of the best female bass players out there for sure. So, ha ha ha, we got her. Too bad, other bands looking for a bass player."

She gets to be a part of the rollout of the new material, which varies in the extent to which it captures the weirdness and rawk-ness of the Pixies. Songs like "Indie Cindy" and "Bagboy" mix seamlessly in with the vintage stuff, while "Andro Queen" is more shimmery, "Another Toe" borders on Bad Religion/Weezer power-pop-punk, and "Blue Eyed Hexe" is a surprising trek down the "Highway to Hell."

"My girlfriend likes to read the comments on social media," Mr. Santiago says. "And she would look at the comments and tell me, 'Oh, man, people are thinking it sounds like AC/DC.' I'm like 'And ...? So what's the problem?'

"We listened to it [in the studio] and were like, 'Yeah, we sound like [expletive] AC/DC!' We knew it. And we were excited. Like, let's add the [expletive] cowbell on this one. Let's just embrace the hell out of it."

If the Pixies vary from song to song, well, that's the way it always was, the guitarist says.

"We've never really had a theme sound on an album. We weren't trying to do 'Dark Side of the Moon' -- ever. We just try to be a radio station, like, 'Here, flip on this station, check it out.' "

Some fans and critics are embracing it. Others sharpened their knives, waiting to rip into an aging three-fourths reunion band that couldn't possibly live up to its legend. Pitchfork gave "EP1" a shocking 1.0 out of 10, with the reviewer saying it made him wish the reunion never happened.

Did Mr. Santiago's girlfriend read THAT one?

"I think so, and she, uh, she almost broke up with me," he says laughing. "[Expletive], man. Who is he? Come on, let's meet, let's meet in an alley. Words are cheap, buddy. I mean, I'm not violent but I'd like to, you know, slap him silly. It was a publicity stunt for his benefit. Who hates music that much? Who possibly couldn't find a redeeming quality to what we do? There's gotta be an ounce of it.

"It just shows that the critic wasn't even a fan and I even doubt he listened to it. It's like, 'Did you listen to this or did you just go pop-pop-pop, 'OK, I listened to five seconds of every song. Uh, Kim Deal's left and these guys, I don't want them to ever make a record, so I'm gonna slam them.' I don't think we even had a chance. He probably already had his adjectives. It was already written before he even heard it."

While the Pixies might be out there preserving their legacy, another band is taking a piece of it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nirvana, which borrowed heavily from the Pixies and their contemporaries, goes in as a first-ballot inductee in April.

"One of the things you do in a rock band is that you hope you influence people. Hopefully you're going to be one of the bands that encourage people," Mr. Santiago says. "It's a very good compliment for even Kurt Cobain to put us in that soup. And Dave Grohl doesn't even hide it. He's like, 'Yeah, we ripped off the Pixies.' I saw a YouTube clip where he said, 'My God, we ripped off the Pixies.' "

In that interview clip, the drummer actually said that the band almost threw out "Smells Like Teen Spirit" because it seemed too much like the Pixies.

"Congratulations," Mr. Santiago says. "They made it to the Hall of Fame -- which for me I really don't care about. Its just a silly thing."


Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.

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