It seemed like a good idea to get two perspectives on the present state of the pioneering dark rock band, The Pixies, so back-to-back interviews were scheduled with drummer David Lovering and guitarist Joey Santiago.
Lovering answered at the appointed time fresh from rehearsals in Los Angeles of new songs (now, that’s news). He coolly discussed the Pixies’ reunion, the sudden departure of longtime bassist Kim Deal a couple of years ago during secret sessions in Wales for “Indie Cindy,” their first album in two decades, his life as a dying magician during the band’s decade-plus hiatus, and why he creates the band’s set lists these days.
Santiago did not answer at the appointed hour. Nor did he answer a couple of subsequent calls. Nearly three hours later, he called, wondering if I was the guy who was mixing his latest movie score. No, I wasn’t, but, yes, he had time to talk while he tooled around LA.
“You guys are out there rehearsing some new songs?”
“Yeah, how did you know?”
“David told me.”
“Oh, David’s going to get a beating now (laughs).”
“That’s supposed to be …”
“I don’t know. I don’t give a shit. I’m sick on playing politics, Jim. We’re like a little United Nations. That’s what we are.”
What follows is a rambling, funny monologue about his dislike of gravity, the irrelevancy of time, his preference for some days going to Bed, Bath & Beyond rather than paying attention to world politics, and his desire to one day be the best movie extra.
Oh, and there’s a hint about the new songs and new record: “I’ll tell you one thing musically about this record,” he says. “Kanye is going to think Beyonce’s records are superior to what we’re about to put out.”
Lovering and Santiago agree that new bassist, Paz Lachantin, is a great fit. After Deal left, Kim Shattuck of the Muffs joined the band, but she didn’t last. Lachantin, who Santiago was his first choice (“Not to pat myself on the back, but she was my first choice. I’m always right. I am going through a divorce so I’m always right.”), has been with the boys for about a year.
“It’s a joy,” Santiago says. “Every time you go through a change there’s trepidation — uh oh. how’s this going to be? What’s it going to be like once you’re working together? It’s different with Paz. She’s so easygoing. She’s arty. She melds in well with us. She’s got great tact. So that all works for us. Basically, she’s talented and not a &%^$%$ing asshole.”
“Paz is just fantastic,” adds Lovering. “She’s a joy to be around. She’s a wonderful player. She sings well. Most of all, the audience loves her.”
The latest Pixies upheaval came when the band was hanging out in a coffee shop in Wales while secretly recording songs a couple of years ago. They’d laid down a handful of tracks, but Deal was done. She told the band she was taking a flight home the next day. “It was a shock,” Lovering says. “There was nothing you could say. You had to let her go and wish her well. We panicked for about 24 hours and then decided we must forge on. It’s something in the past. I can’t say why. It’s over and done.”
Her departure ended a Pixies reunion that lasted longer than the band’s original incarnation. Deal answered an ad from Santiago and Charles Thompson IV (Black Francis) in 1986 looking for a bassist with no chops into Peter, Paul, and Mary and Husker Du. Deal had met Lovering, who was into Rush and Led Zeppelin, among others, at her wedding reception so he was offered a slot.
Santiago selected pixies randomly from a dictionary and the band started playing dive bars around Cambridge Massachusetts. Soon, they were signed to 4AD. Over four years, they released five albums, including “Surfer Rosa,” “Doolittle,” and “Bossanova.”
But creative differences — Deal was a songwriter though the group only recorded songs by Black Francis — as well as the usual drugs, infighting, and other divisions led to the band’s demise. Deal formed The Breeders in 1990 and had a huge mainstream hit with “Cannonball.” In 1991, Black Francis broke up the group by fax.
Lovering played with a few other groups, then gave up music about 1994 after becoming enchanted with close-up magic, thanks to an introduction from Grant-Lee Phillips. The man who played drums for a band that performed for tens of thousands found himself doing birthday parties. “When I started I wanted to make some money so I did birthday parties, 13-year-old girls’ parties,” he says. “It was awful.”
He opened doing magic occasionally for rock bands, including Cracker and even, in a surreal twist, a Pixies cover band. He says people like to refer to starving musicians, but making a living as a magician is harder. “It’s dying magician,” he says. “It’s a really tough gig.”
But it did give him confidence. “I was unfazed playing (drums) before 100,000, 200,000 people. I never got nervous,” he adds. “Then when I did my first magic show for ten people, I sweated bullets.”
Now, he’s comfortable dealing one-on-one and speaking in public.
Santiago worked with Thompson on his solo records, wrote soundtracks for television, and fronted The Martinis with his then-wife.
He jokes about the time that has passed. “Charles and I met up the other day. I was having my dirty martini wearing shorts and a T shit. Got to do yin and yang. Can’t wear a tuxedo with a martini. Charles walks in and the first thing I said was we’ve known each other for 32 years. He goes, what? He didn’t know. I had a calculator, the iPhone. That’s all I use it for some days — messages, the date, and the calculator. “
In addition to the new Pixies songs (shhhh), Santiago is working on a movie soundtrack. “My next goal is to be the best at something in the movies,” he says. “The best extra. I’m on a different plane. Some people are paying attention to the plot, they’re into the plot. I’m paying attention to the extras.”
He jokes that he wants extras named on the credits at a movie’s end. ” “Ben Hur’ would take a while,” he laughs. “It would still be rolling now.”
During the hiatus, Loevering never entertained dreams of a reunion. “I was resigned to the fact it would never happen,” he says. “I thought it was over and done. I had no second thoughts. Even if you told me it would happen, I would never have believed it.”
When the Pixies reunited in 2004 and played to a huge audience at the Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival, it was great timing for Lovering, who says he needed the gig.
What surprised him was how the younger audience, an audience that was not around the first time, knew every song along with the older folks sweating in the desert. “These kids, 13, 14, 15, they knew all the words,” he says. “That was surprising that our music got passed on to a new generation. Now in 2015, it’s the same thing. We still have 13-year-olds in the audience who were three 10 years ago.”
He figures fans of Radiohead and Weezer became turned on to the Pixies, creating a legacy.
Lovering says he’s playing better than ever and so is the band. “We were spotty back in the day,” he adds. “We’re better musicians now.”
One thing Lovering and Santiago both say is that they don’t know any Pixies lyrics. “I don’t pay attention to lyrics,” Santiago says. “I get the gist of it. I’ll go with one word. Charles writes the lyrics and it’s great. But I’ll read it once.”
“Charles writes all the songs,” Lovering says. “I don’t know any Pixies lyrics. I really don’t pay attention. When I hear Charles talking about songs to the press and stuff, that’s how I find out what the songs are about.”
Lovering writes the set list these days. For a while, the band just called out songs on stage and sometimes fan favorites didn’t make the cut. Lovering says he knows fans show up every night expecting certain songs and he makes sure they’re played. As the drummer facing the audience, he can see what appeals. “I just took the reins. I said this is what I’m doing,” he adds. “The sets weren’t working out. My objective is to make it a great show.”
Both say the rehearsals are the first true jams by the band since the early days. Over the past decade, Thompson brought in the songs. Rehearsals for shows often were just a couple of days before a tour began. This time, they’ve been in LA for a week working together on new songs.
“They’re good,” Santiago says. “We’re working them out. Paz had great, awesome ideas.”
“The reason we’re here is we want to try a couple of new songs on the road,” Lovering adds. “Brand new songs. We haven’t done a rehearsal, going into jam in a place (in a long time). We wanted to try it as an experiment. It’s so much better. We’ve been here almost a week. It’s been a joy. It’s working.”