By: George Varga
Frank Black is, as was once said of both Iggy Pop and Joe Walsh, an interesting bunch of fellows.
No, the leader of indie-rock pioneers the Pixies, in which he is better known by fans as Black Francis, doesn’t have multiple personalities. But he is a multifaceted musician who is constantly re-examining his thoughts, sometimes seemingly in mid-sentence, as he discusses his enormously influential band (which he launched in Boston in 1986, broke up in 1992, reunited in 2004 and is now embarked on a world tour).
If his constant self-reflection means contradicting himself during a 45-minute phone interview, so be it.
Case in point: Despite numerous well-documented reports to the contrary over the past 15 years, he insists there’s no tension between the Pixies’ members — bassist-singer Kim Deal, lead guitarist Joey Santiago, drummer David Lovering and singer-guitarist Black (real name: Charles Michael Kitteridge Thompson IV).
“We get along great. We always got along great,” Black said.
“Having said that, you can’t get along great very day,” he elaborated. “Much has been made about us not getting along, but that’s because people can’t pin us down. There’s not really an angle on the band. There isn’t a strong visual representation of the band (because) we have no image. (Writers wonder:) ‘What can we say about those guys?’ ‘Oh, we suspect there might be some tension in the band.’
“Perfect. Finally, you have a damn angle on these guys. The problem is that it’s not an angle. It’s not a correct angle. It’s because certain writers, over the years, have been so hell-bent on finding an angle that when they finally did, they elevated it to this position that is out of whack. I’m not criticizing you. I’m addressing the myth.”
Why, then, did The Pixies implode in late 1992 (a breakup Black first disclosed in a radio interview, before any of the band’s other members knew about it)?
“I have no idea why,” he said. “Because that’s what bands do. Every good band gets about five years before it self-implodes. But if you looked at every band, you could find a whole bunch that last five years before something traumatic happens. And that’s just because people get sick of each other.”
Cited as a key influence by the late Kurt Cobain — who described Nirvana’s 1991 breakthrough hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” as a “Pixies rip-off” — the Black-led band recently completed the second leg of a world tour that found it performing, in order, every song from its landmark 1989 album, “Doolittle.”
Did he or the band have any idea at the time that “Doolittle” would have the enduring impact it did?
“You know, at that particular time, or even now, I don’t really thing about it in terms of, well, you have the hope it will remain ‘in print,’ as they say,” he replied. “I don’t think the long-term lasting impact bounces in your brain; you just want to make a cool record and put it out. They are not religious (songs). I’m not trying to start a revolution.
“I think it’s always safely (judged) in perspective. No matter how emotional I get about the Velvet Underground or The Beatles, at the end of the day, it’s a bunch of dudes with guitars and that keeps it real for me.”
Black was 21 years younger when “Doolittle” came out, a young man with a big vision. Does he need to revisit his mindset from back then when he performs the album’s songs now? In a word, no.
“In more words: I’m a performer. I’m a (song) writer. But after I’m done writing it, I perform it, so it’s not method acting. I don’t need to get into some kind of intense head space to be able to perform it. It’s not like I imagine acting to be. There’s not a lot of trying to connect the past, or the future, or the meaning of ridiculous songs. It’s open (to interpretation). It’s not: ‘Whenever I play this song, I always think about this.’ It’s not like that for me.”
Fair enough. But with no new songs or album on the horizon, do the Pixies risk becoming an alt-rock nostalgia act?
“Well, yeah, that’s a definite reality,” Black said. “That is eventually what happens and you just have to ask yourself: ‘Do you want to go there, and do you get away with it?’ I haven’t been to a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young show before, but that’s the question you have to find out. After your experience, if it was a mind-blowing experience, then (good). I’ve seen X before and they are very true to form. They sound like X, the renditions of the songs are great and you don’t come away saying: ‘That was oldie fogey (music).’
“Because — it’s just what they do with it. Sometimes, you see other performers who haven’t put out a (new) record for years and years, and, yeah, it comes off as not that deep or something. I hope that whatever we end up doing, that it’s deep and not a medley of mediocrity.”
Is Black, whose first rock opera will soon debut, a happy man? At first he dodged the question, asking in return: “You mean with my solo records?” Told the question referred to both his solo career and with the reunited Pixies, he laughed.
“I don’t know,” he said. “You’re asking me how happy I am on the happy meter. It all depends on what side of bed I got out of. Some days, it’s a three, some days a nine. Sometimes, it seems very meaningful. And on other days, it’s: ‘Is this worth anything? Does it mean anything?’ On other days, you’re on a mission from God. That’s my personality. So, when someone asks me: ‘How happy are you, on a scale from 1-10?’ I have no idea.”
To find out more about George Varga and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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