Friday, January 31, 2014

Pixies' Joey Santiago: The Cream Interview

Posted By on Fri, Jan 31, 2014 at 6:02 PM

For a rare instance in Tennessee, rock music fans that count the fucks they give about watching the Super Bowl on zero fingers have respite from this weekend's red-blooded Bruno Mars bullshit and jock-a-thon when alt-rock legends Pixies play the Ryman on Sunday.

Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago talked with the Scene in advance of the show — and you can read an article about that here. You can also read the (mostly) full Q&A with Santiago after the jump, in which he candidly explains the whole Kim Deal/Kim Shattuck/Paz Lenchantin bass player sitch, talks about how the band got back into the studio after nearly 10 years of reunion touring and more. He also refers to the The Breeders as Kim Deal's "pet project." Burn!

You guys are in an interesting spot these days, re-launching the band as a recording entity. At this point Pixies have been around as a reunion act for longer than it was ever together releasing records. Did it come to a point where touring the nostalgia circuit — touring Doolittle for two years, etc. — started to feel like the band had sort of beat that into the ground?

For us, yeah. After a while [we] just went, "Enough is enough, already! Jesus Christ, let’s make some new music!" It was as simple as that. … "Let’s be a band!" We were obviously getting along — we’d been together longer than [we’d been] before the initial breakup. So there was the chemistry there already. That’s what he had to test, really. And we could have really done it three years into the reunion, but at that time we’d went around the world, and then there was another demand for us. We just didn’t find it was apropos to do new songs yet. But then after a while, you now, we just felt we were too much of a nostalgia act — which is great, we’re lucky to have that catalog where people just, like, go gaga over when we play, we like to watch that. So that’s one aspect why we keep touring — we like to watch people get happy. And also, they’re so young. They wanna see us live. That’s part of being an entertainer, is giving the people what they want. Once we’re in the studio, we are entertaining ourselves.

Last year I talked to Charles [aka Black Francis, Frank Black] and he was describing playing in Pixies like it was just a really cool job, with a nice paycheck.

Yeah, yeah. It is, it is.

Did you have to wait for touring the old catalog to run its course before you could be creative again? Because I remember when you first reunited there was that song “Bam Twok” which was really great. And there were all of there rumors for years that the band was working on a new record. Were those true? Were there times when the band came together to record and the process failed to launch?

We tried it three times. Charles knows that we’re the toughest critics on him, if we’re gonna do this again, and he knows that. So we tried three times, just trying the process out. The third time [Charles] just wrote this killer batch of songs and it was like, "OK, now it’s time." Everyone was on board; Kim [Deal] was very excited. It had finally piqued her ears. Unfortunately she had to leave mid-recording for some reason.

Do you not really know what that reason was?

No, she didn’t really say. She hinted. She took us to dinner and said she’s just outgrowing something, outgrowing the touring aspect. And, you know, I think that’s a double meaning, meaning maybe with the Pixies, we thought, or just touring — and the way we were gonna tour, we tour incessantly, that’s what we like to do. She’ll admit that she’s really not into that, she like a lot of breaks. Also maybe she’s outgrown it meaning that she needs to pay attention more to her pet project — The Breeders. So, you know, it was very amicable. We had dinner, which was hinting towards that. And then we coffee the next day, and that’s when she officially told us.

Was it surprising in that it didn’t come of the heels of Doolittle touring, instead it came while recording new music?

No. I mean, she left mid-session. She did love the material, otherwise she wouldn’t have, like, flown to another time zone [to record]. That’s it. It’s mysterious, and it’s not at the same time. She hinted at something like that. It was fair enough, very legitimate and very, ‘Alright, Kim, good luck! We wish you the best!’ And she wished us the best and that was that.

Was it emotional for the rest of the band? Was there upheaval?

Well that day, Charles and I had a little pow-wow. When she dropped that bombshell I said, "Oh, I’ve gotta get a slide guitar anyway" — because that was the reason I was in town, I was going to get a slide because the lighter wasn’t really working anymore — so that was my excuse. And then Charles followed suit. I got the slide really quick and then we went to a pub and just thought things through a little bit. We were quiet a little bit. Then we’re just going, ‘Oh shit, this is an obstacle.’

We pondered it for about a day, and then Gil [Norton], the producer, goes, ‘Alright, we’ve got work to do. ‘We can’t finish these tracks half-baked, you know, we’ve gotta cook ‘em all the way. Us being, like, working class and, you know, pro, and having, like, four weeks left in the studio that have already been booked and paid for, that was no brainer to keep continuing. And then Charles got inspired to write four more ditties right as we were recording. All of the sudden it was like, ‘OK, it’s a band again.’

What went wrong the first two times the band tried to come together and record?

Kim doesn’t vocalize, and we don’t vocalize — we’re what you call shitty communicators [laughs]. You know, it’s like any other band, really. People think we’re, like, an example of it, but I guess we’re a prime example of that. When we don’t kind of, like, dig it, we kind of go half-assed — not half-assed, but uh, Kim will just go, ‘hey, alright, nice demo, nice whatever.’ One time we were kind of rude and, like, didn’t call [Charles] back and respond, like, ‘Hey, thanks for the demo!’

The second time [tried] to go through a process of me and David [Lovering] in the studio. We tried that, but it was too spur of the moment again. Charles just came up with stuff. The third time, I went [to work with Charles]. I don’t know if I was his muse, but I was there so that he could work in his hometown. … He came up with this great stuff and that was it. He fleshed out in the studio and then went over to Gil’s place in London and fleshed it out some more, presented it to Kim and Kim just goes, ‘Oh my god! I bumped into her at some art opening and that’s when she just said, ‘My god, this is awesome.’

So she was into it and then she kind of wasn’t into it?

Yeah! … She was into it, she was really gung ho about it.

At this point, now that you’re playing new songs live, after playing the old catalog for fans that might be easier to please hearing you do a record as beloved as Doolittle, and to be doing it without Kim in the band, does it feel like the band has something more to prove now? Is that exciting?

Yeah. But even with the old stuff, we always had something to prove. Because we know there are people out there that are going to see this thing live for the first time, so there’s that pressure, you know?

Even after years of doing it?

Yeah! I mean, believe it or not [laughs], on my end, it’s still a challenge for me, because I play these weird shapes. It’s like, I’ve gotta remember it. It’s not like, ‘I know it’s in the key of D, blah blah blah, and I’m on this spot because the school of music told me that’s what it’s gonna be.’ With me, it’s like, ‘oh, it’s in a fucked up spot.’ [Laughs.]

Coming in to write and record your parts on the new material, was there pressure to write guitar parts within that style, or is that something that just comes naturally?

Gil was very aware of it, and I put the ‘signature’ stuff that I do one song and he said, ‘that’s not really the right place to do it.’ I was like What?! The fuck?! And then we [put] it in another spot and it’s [like], ‘Oh, this works too, goddamn you!’ So he’s a producer and we trust him.

With the new material, and Gil urging you to play parts in spots that seem counter-intuitive, and with new members in and out of the band, are you trying to create a situation where the band is out of its comfort zone?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. The new stuff is definitely keeping us on our toes. We did a song from the new EP [EP2] for the first time last night, live …

Oh, which one?

“Snakes.” And Charles even had to learn it. And I had to kind of learn it. That song was piecemealed in the studio. … We hadn’t played it together. And our excellent [new] bass player Paz [Lenchantin] was actually explaining the structure. … We played it last night and we were definitely on our toes. I think we pretty much nailed it.

I noticed that in your latest press photos, it’s just you, David and Charles. When Kim Shattuck was in the band, she was in promo photos. Does that say anything about what Paz’s status is in the band? Is she hired gun? Were the photos just taken before she joined?

Kim Shattuck, I don’t know, um, she was never in the band. Do people know that?

I don’t know. I think people figure she was in the band because she was in the promo photos and there was just so much attention around her joining. ‘One Kim out, another Kim in’ makes an easy headline. I like a lot of people don’t really know how band partnership agreements work or who’s a hired gun and who’s a member, creatively.

Well you know what, we went into the studio [a few weeks ago] and recorded a song with Paz that, oh, I’ve gotta tell you — and I don’t know when we’re gonna release it — but she was stellar!

What’s the song called?

Oh, I can’t tell you.

Aww.

We’ve been doing radio shows and TV shows and [Paz] has been playing the violin. Right on the spot she’s just making up shit, like, ‘Wow!’ Impressive, you know? We’d like to work with her in [a greater] capacity, creatively, of course.

So it sounds like she’s maybe on her way to being a member of the band, creatively?

Well, you know, we’ll take it one step at a time. That’s all I can say. The door is probably ajar now.

It got uncomfortable with Kim Shattuck because he had told her that she was only going to be with us until [through] that tour we did. And then she was talking about, like, ‘Where’s the next itinerary for January?’ And it’s like, ‘Oh, shit.’ As a band it left us [feeling] uncomfortable. ‘I’m not gonna tell her! I’m not gonna remind her! That she forget the memo. What the fuck are we gonna do???

So it was like a relationship where you’re casually dating and the other person wants to commit?

I know! I know!

It was like, ‘all right, the manager was the one that called to hire her, you tell her the opposite end of that. Sorry.’ We’re not gonna go, ‘Geez, did you remember? Did you forget?’ What kind of fucking conversation is that gonna be? Talk about uncomfortable. It’s like, ‘Sorry, we’re fucked up! But we’re uncomfortable telling you what the memo said.’

Switching gears. The whole decision to release two EPs instead of a record, was that in part to avoid expectations and hype that comes with having a new record, and instead just spring something more casual on people? Or is it just the band rejecting the album format in 2014?

No, the expectation had nothing to do with it. It’s just us being little imps and little pixies, we just wanna surprise people.

As far as the album format, and we think it’s no longer needed — there’s a lot of sides to that. First of all, there’s the physical aspect of it, which defines what an album is. It’s like, 33 minutes, blah blah blah. That’s all due to the physical shape and speed that that thing goes around. Also, the album format being dead is; there aren’t many turntables around anymore. So why does it need to be 33 minutes long? … You also don’t have to put it in a truck anymore.

The thing is, though — Doolittle, Surfer Rosa, Bossa Nova, Trompe le Monde — those records are each so individual, and they each are a musical statement on their own, as collections of songs — can you do that with a series of EPs? Are you even thinking about it that way?

No. Because the EPs — EP1 suggests there’s an EP2, that there’s going to be a continuation. Breaking down to EPs is just us saying, really, ‘this is the new business model.’

So it’s like you’re making episodic television instead of feature films?

Exactly! It’s still 99 cents a song. And then you get new artwork that you can look at, and that’s the way we appreciate fans — surprising them, giving them artwork, limited releases.

When you’re talking about music continuing in the episodic sense, one thing I noticed about the EPs, especially with songs like “What Goes Boom” or “Blue Eyed Hexe,” those songs, to me, sound closer to the, like, hard-rock element of Trompe le Monde. In a way, were you trying to pick up where you left off?

Yes! Exactly. Going into the studio, we had no intentions of reminiscing. None. We were going to go into the future, like we’ve always done. We’re not going to be one those bands that rehashes the ’70s. We want to be ahead of the curve. That’s why people loved us. And it’s fucked up that we get criticized for doing that now.

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