BACK IN BLACK
Ten years ago, last month, one of the most influential pop bands ever to shatter the largely uniform contours of America's musical soundscape began to take shape in Boston. Under the largely authoritarian songwriting dictatesof its mildly eccentric and overtly opinionated founder, Black Francis (referred to in the Thompson family simply as Charles), the foursome known as the Pixies went on to conjure up vividly imagistic, aurally gripping albums that hold fans both new and old under their spell.
Joined by bassist Kim Deal (The Breeders, The Amps), guitarist Joey Santiago (whose Spanish heritage lent an unmistakably alive element to the compositions) and drummer David Lovering, Francis steered the band through five albums in five years: Come On Pilgrim (1987), Surfer Rosa (1988), the massively acclaimed breakthrough LP Doolittle (1989), Bossanova (1990) and Trompe Le Monde (1991). Then, without explanation, Francis unceremoniously called a halt to the proceedings via faxed firings to all band members in 1992.
Now, on what would have been the band's tenth anniversary, comes a 17-track collection of some of the Pixies best-selling material representing, if unequally, all previous releases. In classic if somewhat epitaphical form, it's tilted Death To The Pixies, 1987-1991 after one of their earliest attempts at self-promotion.
Black Francis, now pursuing his interest in UFOs and a variously successful solo career under the name Frank Black, agrees to speak about himself and, to a certain extent, the band that in some senses has become his nemesis:
HOUR: Why are you giving interviews for this thing? You've got a reputation for being notoriously interview un-friendly.
BLACK: That's a rap that I think I've earned, perhaps, unfairly. I don't know that I'm that difficult of an interview. Certainly I've done lots and lots of interviews over the past 10 years and some of them have not gone well. I get in some little spat, some little pissing match with the journalist, and we end up hanging up on each other. And then he goes back and whines to the magazine and they tell two friends and so on. Next thing you know, I've got a reputation for being really difficult. It's definitely not a fair portrayal. I'm not complaining - I don't care.
HOUR: I didn't think you did.
BLACK: I mean I do! I do! I don't want people to think I'm an asshole, professionally speaking. But I've done interviews where I thought things went perfectly fine, and then I pull into town in my rock tour bus and the tour manager says [affects nasally voice], "hey man, here's your local press," and some guy's totally laying into me below the belt. Like, ouch. It's gut wrenching.
HOUR: I'm embarassed for my ilk.
BLACK: Well, I'm embarassed for MY ilk. Don't feel bad. We're on even ground now. [Laughs] Now give me a question! Come on!
HOUR: I already did. So why do interviews now?
BLACK: Oh, right. Well, I had two choices: do 'em or don't do 'em. I figured if [you] didn't ask ME the questions [you'd] go around asking the other Pixies. And I don't really want that. I might as well have the last word.
HOUR: Why don't you want people to talk to the other Pixies?
BLACK: Because I feel if somebody's truly interested in the music, then I think it would be nice to have the perspective of the actual songwriter, y'know? I'm not trying to... Well, actually, I AM. I AM raising myself above the band - what can I say? Give me some credit. That's all.
HOUR: How did the Death To The Pixies project get underway?
BLACK: I assume the record company realized, 'Hmmn, we better get something happening. We haven't had a hit in a while - let's sell off a few of the family jewels.' That's what THAT's all about. And, again, I'm not being cynical, that's just how it is in the music business. You know as well as I do what it's all about.
HOUR: I remember the last time we spoke you really wanted to avoid any questions about the Pixies. Now it seems ironic. I can't imagine you getting any enjoyment out of this.
BLACK: Well, I enjoy talking about rock music in general, and usually the conversation goes that way sooner or later. It doesn't only become [assumes snotty, subservient tone], "Sooo, y'know, do you guys, like, still talk to each other?" For some people, that's all they're interested in.
HOUR: I've still got a Death To The Pixies T-shirt kicking around somewhere...
BLACK: It was the first T-shirt and it was also the first poseter that stuck around town. It had this nude picture of me, same as the T-shirt. It was a thumbs-down gesture. Death! Kill 'em! Kill those damn Pixies. It was that kind of vague, slightly funny, slightly exclamatory language to draw attention to the band and hopefully get a few more customers.
HOUR: Your solo albums haven't done as well as the stuff you did with the Pixies. Is that ever a cause for reflection?
BLACK: I don't question it. I think that's the way it goes for a lot of people... Sometimes it isn't as good. I hope that's not the case with me - I try not to let it be so. I think sometimes it has to do with the fact that you can't always be Mr Popular. It's boring for everybody.
HOUR: Any surprises up your sleeve?
BLACK: Not really. My next album isn't my blues album. That hasn't happened yet...
HOUR: It's not your techno-influenced...
BLACK: [Laughs] DEFINITELY not a techno album. It's about as un-techno as you can get.
HOUR: So what happens if radio picks up one of the songs off Death To The Pixies and it becomes a huge, post-mortemesque hit?
BLACK: That would be weird. You know wht those radio stations, like KROC in LA, do? Every Frank Black record I've ever put out, they steal a riff, like the opening guitar riff, and they use that as their little ad/segue thing, and they talk over it. And then they go and play the new hamburger band. [Laughing hard now] They won't play my songs but they'll use them for the cool little zapper moments. They've done that with every fuckin' Frank Black record, and probably with the Pixies, too.
HOUR: [A year and a half ago I jokingly asked him about the possibility of a Pixies reunion. His response? "No way, Jose." If nothing else, give him points for consistency.] So how about that Pixies reunion?
BLACK: No way, Jose.
Last Updated 12-19-97