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The staying power of The Pixies: An interview with Joey Santiago

by on February 10, 2014

THE PIXIES/BEST COAST, THE SALTAIR, Saturday, Feb. 15, 7:30 p.m., $33 advance/$38 day of show

(left to right) Frank Black, David Lovering, Joey Santiago of The Pixies

(left to right) Frank Black, David Lovering, Joey Santiago of The Pixies

Here’s something to make you feel like you’re getting on in years—the Pixies have been together longer as a “reunion” than they were originally around as a band back in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s.

When the Boston quartet first got back together in 2004 after an 11-year breakup, they found themselves playing to rabid audiences hankering to hear the spacey, spazzy, utterly singular sound created by the collective talents of singer/guitarist Black Francis, guitarist Joey Santiago, drummer David Lovering and bassist Kim Deal.

That first reunion tour, including a mesmerizing show at Kingsbury Hall, was lucrative enough to inspire a number of old “alternative” bands to get back together for their own reunions. And it was musically satisfying enough for the member s of the Pixies  to keep them trucking along through giant festival tours in the summer, theater jaunts in the winters, tours where they played entire albums like 1989 classic Doolittle, and any residual personality issues lurking from the old days.

That changed when the band decided they wanted to start making new music again and headed to England in the fall of 2012 to record with producer Gil Norton, the man they worked with on The Pixies’ Doolittle, Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde albums. Shortly after arriving, Deal told the other Pixies she was quitting and going home, leaving the remaining trio in the lurch.

To the chagrin of some long-time fans, the remaining Pixies decided to continue without Deal’s participation. And while it was hard to imagine The Pixies without her breath-y harmonies and grinning stage presence, the results of those recording sessions with Norton that have been released so far as EP1 and EP2—each including four songs—showcase a band with plenty of life remaining.

“We’ll always have that sonic signature,” said Santiago in an interview, describing the results of the band’s first batch of new songs—save a one-off release, “Bam Thwok” a few years back—in more than 20 years. “Nothing really changes.”

As much as Deal might be missed, listening to Black Francis’ howl, Santiago’s slithering guitar parts and Lovering’s intricate percussion helps one remember that the Pixies sound remains as distinct as ever. Despite inspiring countless bands with their so-called “loud-soft-loud” dynamic, no one else sounds like the Pixies. That’s as true on new songs like “Andro Queen,” “Blue Eyed Hexe” and “Magdalena” as it was on old ones like “Wave of Mutilation,” “Where Is My Mind?” and “UMass.”

One significant difference between Pixies Mach 2014 and the old days is that the band is putting out its new music on its own, rather than through a label. And releasing the music in small-batch EPs is a realization by the band that people just don’t consume music the same way they used to, even though, as Santiago notes, “the EP concept is an old concept. People used to just release singles.”

“It’s great because we can drop [the new music] out of the sky and not tell people when it’s going to get released,” Santiago said of the first two EPs, launched just a few months apart. There are still enough songs for at least one more EP to come from those 2012 sessions.

Still, Santiago admits that, as a fan, he prefers album-length releases—and having them come on actual vinyl.

“I’m a vinyl enthusiast,” Santiago said. “I’m pretty snobby. I want everything to be designed for a totally analog system. In that respect, I’m into the album as a piece of art. I like to hold it. I like the physical aspect of it.”

That’s part of the reason the vinyl versions of the new EPs, complete with killer cover art, are the best way to experience the new sounds. But The Pixies are covering their bases—you can find them for cheap digitally, and they’ve even made some videos for new songs.

Along with a massive North American tour to support the new music, this year The Pixies are touring in places they’ve never gone, including a number of spots in South America where, Santiago said, the fans online seem particularly “ravenous.”

Filling the bass spot for the tour is Paz Lenchatin, a remarkable multi-instrumentalist who has played bass in some stellar alt-rock bands with strong frontmen—A Perfect Circle with Maynard James Keenan and Zwan with Billy Corgan. She joins after Deal’s initial tour replacement for 2013, Kim Shattuck, was suddenly dismissed from band last fall. Santiago said Lenchatin slipped easily into the role when the band started rehearsals for this winter’s tour.

“The first practice we ever had with her, she knew every song,” Santiago said. “She learned 55 Pixies songs before we ever played with her.”

Those songs should come in handy as reviews of The Pixies shows so far this winter indicate gigs with up to 30 songs, including plenty of the new ones alongside the older favorites.

With Best Coast opening, and more than two hours on tap of some of the best modern rock ever created by Santiago and Co., expect a memorable Saturday night at The Saltair.

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