In the pantheon of highly influential American alternative rock bands that emerged from the 1980s, Pixies arguably rank alongside The Replacements in regard to being underappreciated by the likes of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This Massachusetts foursome made their mark with a sound that combined surreal lyricism, squealing noise pop, layered harmonies and an inventive use of sonic dynamics that paved the way for numerous groups including Nirvana, Radiohead, Blur, Catherine Wheel, Weezer and The Strokes.
And while a hiatus that lasted from 1993 to 2002 found Black Francis (aka Charles Thompson), Kim Deal, Joey Santiago and David Lovering reuniting to the delight of the group’s legion of fans, the good times lasted until 2013, when Deal left the band.
The drama that comes with the dissolution of a longstanding unit was eventually resolved when Perfect Circle bassist Paz Lenchantin wound up sliding into Deal’s role. With the lineup set, the Pixies followed up 2014’s Indie Cindy (which was essentially three EPs folded into one release) with last year’s Head Carrier, the band’s sixth studio album and first in which Lenchantin appears as a full-time member. For Francis, the addition of this newest member was a fairly seamless process, unlike the false start the Pixies experienced when Deal’s initial replacement, Kim Shattuck of The Muffs, didn’t get past being a touring member of the group.
“I like [Kim Shattuck] and thought she was a good fit for the band, but you don’t really know until you actually live it and do it. I think ultimately, it felt like she wasn’t a good fit. That isn’t any criticism of her. It just comes down to personality, chemistry and that kind of thing. I think when you’ve already got a thing going and you’re trying to bring in new chemistry, then it’s almost like a different thing. That’s potentially more challenging than if you were starting from scratch. With [Paz], it felt pretty natural and pretty fresh to have someone new, but someone that feels like she’s always been in the band. It doesn’t feel awkward or anything. It feels really natural.”
The new album has the usual array of songs that deal with odd topics be it rural roadside prostitution in France and Belgium (the punk-fueled “Um Chagga Laggga”), the Mesopotamian deity Baal (a howling “Baal’s Back”) and late actor Jack Palance, who is the inspiration of the alt-pop nugget “Talent.” Most intriguing is “All I Think About Now,” a song that served as a gorgeously ethereal thank you note to the departed Deal and was written by Black for Lenchantin to sing after the bassist shared some chords she was playing around with and he asked her what the song should be about. And while this could have been an awkward topic to write about, Black was matter-of-fact about how this cut came about when he was asked about it.
“It was a very quick process. There’s a certain psycho-emotional undercurrent to it all, but I think if things are sort of happening on a psychological or emotional level and you’re aware of it and you’re in the middle of creating something, analysis is not what’s going on. You’re not going to say, ‘Whoa, I’m having some feelings here. Let’s sit around and talk about feelings,’” he explained. “Those kinds of creative spurts happen very quickly, so it’s not drawn out. The muse goes very quickly when it’s there. So you know there’s a muse thing going and then it’s gone, so you just go with it. It’s outside of you, but it’s magical.”
As for what fans can expect when the Pixies hit the stage, Black points out that his band doesn’t engage in the usual live band tropes.
“Ultimately, we’re a dance floor club kind of band, even if we perform now in a theater setting or something like that,” he said. “I think people that play for two or three hours are a lot more orchestrated if you will. There’s a lot more showbiz manipulation going on. It’s not that there isn’t any interaction but I think because we’re not breaking it down and doing any call-and-response with the audience and we’re not rapping any stories—I don’t want to say that we’re devoid of shtick, but our shtick usually occurs during our songs and it’s very tongue-in-cheek, minimal and it’s not very often. We don’t really do a set list. It’s usually an awkward start and then we find out groove and we charge through it.”
Pixies will be appearing on Sept. 22 at The Space at Westbury, 250 Post Ave. Westbury. For more information, visit www.thespaceatwestbury.com or call 800-745-3000.