10 october 1997
The melodic post-punk guitar screech adopted by bands like Nirvana and their
many followers was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1986. That's when Charles
Michael Kitteridge Thompson IV adopted the moniker Black Francis and recruited
his college roommate, Joey Santiago, and local musicians Kim Deal and David
Lovering to round out a band whose influence would far outlive its brief career.
The Pixies went on to blend gnarled surf guitar riffs and intergalactic lyrics
into a sound that sprawled across four albums and earned the band the descriptive
tag of "the Beach Boys on acid" before calling it quits in 1991.
Six years after the band's demise, its influence still endures as artists from the Foo Fighters to Man or Astro-man to David Bowie continue to pay tribute to the Pixies on stage, on record, and in the press.
This week, a two-CD set arrives in stores chronicling the band's career, and we at MTV News Online marked the occasion by mining the depths of our archives to pull together vintage concert and interview footage of the band and revisit the heyday of this highly influential band.
So come on pilgrims... check out the Pixies.
On this record there's a lot on aliens, how'd that all start out, where did that come from?
BLACK FRANCIS: There's only - how many aliens on that? One or two? - But we have had them before, now they're jumping all over us about the aliens. There's the dance of the Manta Ray, and Manta Ray, and I know there are a couple others in there, other UFO material.
KIM DEAL:0 They're all B-sides though, maybe that's what it is.
BLACK FRANCIS: So what?
There's the surfer, the anagram song, what's that song?
KIM: Is that about an alien?
BLACK FRANCIS: NO!!!
Its called Surfer...
BLACK FRANCIS: Yeah, what does that have to do with aliens?
But doesn't it mention about some otherworldly, silver-skinned person?
BLACK FRANCIS & KIM: Velouria.
Tell me about Velouria.
BLACK FRANCIS: Well, the sister continent of Atlantis is Lemuria, sank in the Pacific Ocean, and the remnants of a culture are holed up in Mount Shasta, which is in Northern California - its a hollowed out mountain. They live in the mountain today, because it's an ongoing kind of thing. So lemur skin, fur, Velouria rhymes with Lemuria... kind of, and that's sort of what that's all about.
KIM: So that exists or it doesn't exist, this... you said that they live there today...
BLACK FRANCIS: Yeah!
KIM: But they're just supposed to live there, but they don't really live there?
BLACK FRANCIS: No, they live inside the mountain.
KIM: They really do? People really live inside the mountain...
BLACK FRANCIS: Yes!!!
You just sing this stuff and you don't know if it's true?
KIM: I only have to sing it, so I don't know if its true or not.
Do you ever wonder what he's singing about like on Rock Music
or something like that?
KIM: On that one I didn't think he was singing anything, but I just recently found out he was actually singing something...
But, do you ever worry that he's singing "let's string up Kim and throw darts at her?"
KIM: Well I would know that wouldn't I?
When I was listening to you guys rehearsing before and you were out there singing
"Is she weird, is she white" do the songs even have to mean anything, or is it
cool just to say some stuff and play guitar loud?
BLACK FRANCIS: That's what's its all about for everybody.
Do you write a song about someone or just find something that's cool to say and
just scream it and bang on the guitar?
BLACK FRANCIS: Well I think probably the format is guitars, bass, drums, vocals, and vocals as an instrument, is pretty much what it always has been I think, as the way I see it. Unless you don't have vocals in which case its instrumental, but its still kind of instrumental with the vocals. I think its instrumental just to make the vocals, vocals and not much else.
So how do you find the lyrics?
BLACK FRANCIS: Well you know, well, A plus D plus E spells R, you know what I mean, you know letters and syllables and consonants, you know it doesn't really have to be, be-boo-ba-looba-be-bop-bam-blam you know...
But how do you find... you sort of have to be inspired to get up on stage every
night and do this.
BLACK FRANCIS: We make pretty good money! It's all about money, NO, you know you just got to come up with some stuff to sing.
A lot of people derive their inspiration from the words that they sing.
BLACK FRANCIS: But I think that most don't, even though many claim that they do, I think that most don't. I think that its the format, and we're all following the format here: kick, snare, kick, snare.
But you don't really follow a format, I mean it not all kick-snare. One
of the things that's fun about listening to the music is it changes format.
BLACK FRANCIS: No, I mean the format's good - I don't mean that it's bad - its just sort of like I don't know, you got a pen and a empty piece of paper and you can scribble anything you want pretty fast, so there are lots of things inspirational about music without the sort of... Because you can't understand what they're saying anyway, in a club anyway, or at a concert. Not usually.
So its just a matter of making the right noises?
BLACK FRANCIS: I mean "I am the walrus, I am the walrus," you know what I mean, its like ba-ba-baloo-ba-ba-ba-bam.
I just want to sit on this a little more. So "your bone has a little machine"
is just verbal jamming?
BLACK FRANCIS: Well its not like scat singing, but kind of.
You just got off the European tour. Was Boston the first US date?
BLACK FRANCIS: Springfield Mass.!!!
Tell me about Europe - you're like gods there apparently.
BLACK FRANCIS: We can't even experience death when we're in Europe because we're so godlike.
Why is that, why are you so big in Europe?
KIM: I don't know, we are though! I don't know.
Any neat things or funny oddball things happen while you were over there?
KIM: Lots of things...
BLACK FRANCIS: We made a lot of francs in France, we got big in France this year, something happened, it just clicked you know, France was... I think we're going to be like Johnny Holiday.
Lets not get out of hand here, I mean he's money.
BLACK FRANCIS: Johnny Holiday's big in France and Belgium.
And they all think he's American.
BLACK FRANCIS: He's Belgian. He's fifty this year.
When we did the interview last year, Kim, you said you were not looking
forward to getting larger or bigger having a lot of people turn out.
KIM: But we did that festival and we were good and you can be big and be good like the Cure did, that seemed like a good festival to go to, a big good nice arena show. But there isn't a whole lot.
What kind of adjustments have you made to the bigger venues?
BLACK FRANCIS: Much bigger amps and stuff.
KIM: Bigger lights...
Do you feel any different sort of relationship between you and the record
company and the industry, do you feel like you are getting sucked up into
that whole thing, you have a lighting director now and also the fancy
accoutrements, how do you cope with that?
BLACK FRANCIS: Well, we have a hummus on our rider, and we usually just drown our sorrows in a big ol' mess of hummus and pita bread [500k QuickTime] and maybe some carrot sticks. Close the door, you know.
Can you get that stuff in the midwest?
BLACK FRANCIS: Actually in the midwest we got the largest portion of hummus ever in an airport hanger in Nebraska - they made it themselves - I guess they looked it up or something, and they made a big vat of horrible humus.
Everyone says that you're very important and cutting edge. Do you agree with
this, or have you observed that people are saying this about you?
BLACK FRANCIS: Well I don't know, I did this interview with this radio station today, for a program called the Cutting Edge, so I think that maybe, that maybe, we are... could be cutting edge, I don't know, I mean he seemed to think we were.
What edge are you cutting?
BLACK FRANCIS: It's a fine line, I don't know, the cutting edge of pop I guess. Yeah we're pretty damn important.
Why do you think people are saying that?
BLACK FRANCIS: I think probably the reason why people are saying that we're important is because we're not phenomenally boring. I think that probably sums it up.
An interesting note about being boring, you guys stand very still on stage
yet you somehow generate a lot of excitement, and I think a lot of people
remark on that, I find that very interesting.
BLACK FRANCIS: Its an expensive ticket you know, they're going to like jump around and... I don't know, no you're right we get a good crowd jumping around.
Did that always happen for you, that people went whack...
BLACK FRANCIS & KIM: Yeah!
Were you suprised? Is that what you were setting out to do? Did you go out
there when you guys formed the band and expect people to be slamming into
KIM: No, it started in London.
BLACK FRANCIS: We use to get scared...
KIM: Yeah, The whole stage would move, the PA would fall down, I mean people would have to brace it with their feet.
We have this video tape of you playing in London, do you know the one I'm
talking about... and the people are going wild for the music.
When you see the shows here in New York, you're just standing there not
inciting a riot or anything and people are just bouncing off the ceiling!
What do they get off that, what do you think they're picking up on, what is
BLACK FRANCIS: Its that crazy backbeat!
OK you're being...
BLACK FRANCIS: No I mean, really.
What's your relationship with David Bowie, when you guys met?
KIM: We just met, we have no relationship with David Bowie. (to Black Francis) Do you have a relationship with him?
BLACK FRANCIS: Well he bought me Indian food.
KIM: He bought everybody Indian food!
You know he likes you guys a lot, he says things... we have an interview
where he says you are the Talking Heads of the nineties.
KIM: We heard that he like us, and he says it in certain interviews and stuff.
BLACK FRANCIS: Well we like David Bowie so its not that weird you know.
Do you think there is an apt comparison between you and the Talking Heads?
KIM: People have said that before...
Why do you think they have said that?
KIM: Probably a woman bassist, and he talks sometimes on something, raps like...
BLACK FRANCIS: I'm kind of nerdy, huh?
KIM: And he can't dance either.
You need a bigger adam's apple to qualify...
BLACK FRANCIS: And I've got to start jogging.
How long have you guys been on the road?
BLACK FRANCIS: Three years.
I mean do you live some place that you call home and go there and spend time.
KIM: Joe doesn't, he doesn't have a place, David just decided that he wanted to live in L.A., he wanted to move to L.A., so he says he lives in L.A. but he doesn't, he can't just say that, he actually has to be there for a while, don't you think?
Where do you live?
KIM: I live in Ohio with my sister. Charles (Black Francis) lives in L.A.
BLACK FRANCIS: Because Dave Kendall lives there.
You did a solo tour across the country. What was that like?
BLACK FRANCIS: It was boring, it was for money, to pick up some gas money.
KIM: Was it good?
BLACK FRANCIS: It was good, it was fun.
Did you play any Pixies song?
BLACK FRANCIS: Yeah, I just pretended they were there behind me.