Inside the Mischievous Minds of the Pixies
Why the Pixies Will Always Be Relevant to Anyone With Good Taste
With their feet in the air and head on the ground, alternative music fans still love their Pixies. There are very few people these days who haven’t heard their music in one form or another. This band has done it all. They’ve been featured in movies, TV commercials and conquered the radio airwaves. What is it about this band that just makes their fans so looney tunes cartoon crazy for them? To understand that, you need to go back to their roots. The Pixies were formed in ’86; they’re from Boston. The original founding members were comprised of Black Francis (lead vocals / rhythm guitar) and Joey Santiago (lead guitar). Later additions included Kim Deal (bass / vocals) and David Lovering (drums). Sonically speaking, their music is a mixture of psychedelia, surf pop and rock. They simply put out a sound that is distinctly Pixies. If you’re not familiar with the band, their music is kind of like the Velvet Underground meets Primus meets Twin Peaks.
The thing is this band achieved decent success in the states, but they are insanely popular throughout the rest of the planet. Their tunes have influenced bands like Blur, Smashing Pumpkins, the Strokes and Weezer just to name a few. U2’s Bono called the Pixies one of America's greatest bands ever, while Radiohead's Thom Yorke said that, while he was at school, Pixies changed his life. David Bowie said the Pixies made just about the most compelling music of the entire 80’s; Kurt Cobain said Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit was a conscious attempt to co-opt the Pixies style. OC Ska-punk legends Reel Big Fish put out a tribute album in honor of the Pixies. I don’t care who you are, those are serious props that any musician or band would kill for.
Depending on your preference, the band has six great studio albums. The string of albums that are the soundtrack of many people’s lives include their quintessential first two albums Surfer Rosa (1988), Doolittle (1989), as well as Bossanova (1990), Trompe le Monde (1991), Indie Cindy (2014) and now their latest, Head Carrier. They also have five EP’s and six compilations. Call it being a victim of your own success, but anything they put out these days will always be measured by that level of greatness found in Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. That’s a great challenge to face if you’re an artist.
Francis is the primary songwriter, and some of the lyrical references include subjects like extraterrestrials (Area 51 type of Aliens!), bible-related characters and violence, mutilation, popular culture as well as sex (and incest). This may come off as odd topics to write music about, but the end result is anything but odd; it works! Their music has touched their fans with tunes like Dig For Fire, Debaser, Here Comes Your Man, Head On and Monkey Goes to Heaven. Songs like Gigantic display the band’s extreme and dynamic shift that can take place in a drum beat, while Bone Machine and Mr. Grieves touch on the abstract.
Before addressing newer music, consider how the band got to the top of the pantheon of great alt-rock bands. Santiago and Francis met when they lived next to each other in a suite while attending the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The guys were influenced by a range of different artists and musical styles. Luckily for Pixies fans, Francis and Santiago came from two different musical backgrounds, and that’s a good thing. When Francis first started writing songs for the Pixies, he was listening to Hüsker Dü, Captain Beefheart, Iggy Pop and the Cars. What’s interesting is like many great musicians, as a kid, Francis listened to '60s music and religious tunes. His diverse interests included the Talking Heads and another favorite, Emerson Lake and Palmer.
Meanwhile, Santiago listened to '70s and '80s punk, everything from Black Flag to Bowie. Other Santiago guitar heroes include Jimi Hendrix, Les Paul and George Harrison. After recruiting Deal, they brought on Lovering. Oddly, the band’s name was selected simply from Santiago randomly picking the word "pixies" from the dictionary. The meaning was perfect for the quartet…. it means, mischievous little elves! Once it all came together, the albums and Peel sessions followed; and it was nothing less than an electrifying time to see these bands play.
All that being said, the band has had lineup changes. This has not gone unnoticed by their legions of loyal fans. Like any family, there were disagreements and they disbanded acrimoniously back in ‘93, then reunited in ‘04. Then in 2013, Deal left the band. The dust has settled, and Deal is enjoying success with the Breeders. Muffs and Pandoras guitarist/vocalist, Kim Shattuck stepped in to helped the band tour. It was interesting how at first, some fans had the attitude that if there was NO Kim, there was NO Deal in giving the Pixies a chance! Like with anything else, life goes on, and fans eventually accepted the fact that Kim was no longer in the band.
The current lineup still has the three founding members. Lovering is dynamic as ever on drums; Francis and Santiago are electric on guitar. Francis still has that voice we all fell in love with. The new addition to the band is bassist, Paz Lenchantin. Here’s what we get with her; a perfect fit for their new material. Most importantly for the band, she gets them, she gets their humor and the result is a new swagger that is amplified by their new music. Truth is, Paz is NOT Kim, nor does she come off as being the little deal. When you go to their shows, you’ll see, she is the real deal. She’s an accomplished musician who’s reinvigorated the band, and sounding great while at it.
It’s been years since the last GREAT Pixies album. Then in 2014, the band came out with Indie Cindy. Although the namesake song, "Indie Cindy", was the draw, songs like "Blue Eyed Hexe" really caught the attention of their followers. The album and this song in particular had a sound that brought a smile to the faces of alt-rock lovers everywhere. The new album is entitled Head Carrier, and it’s nothing less than a return to form. From the first beat, the new album is loud, brash and carries a melody. A trademark we’ve all come to love from this band. The first single to hit the airwaves a few months ago is "Um Chugga Lugga." This song is best described as a cross between the Reverend Horton Heat and a Revolting Cocks mashup, which is definitely signature Pixies. Beal’s Back is in your face cool, while the title song Head Carrier may have their fans looking forward to life again with new Pixies tunes. The new album also marks the first release that features Paz.
Another aspect of the legend that is the Pixies is the impact of social media. There are countless bands that just never went away, regardless if they were together or not. Be it YouTube, FaceBook, Spotify, iTunes or whatever, music from back in the day has been a source for new discoveries for many newer music lovers, which includes the Pixies. Hollywood has even had a helping hand in marketing not so new music. Songs like "Monkey Gone to Heaven" was featured in Grosse Pointe Blank. This film has a fantastic soundtrack (next to Pretty In Pink and Valley Girl, it’s one of the best alternative movie soundtracks ever). After all, who doesn’t love a John Cusack and Mini Driver 80’s-themed flick! Thanks to another feature film, Fight Club featured Where Is My Mind.
This Pixies tune became a new anthem for teens and tweens who heard the Pixies for the first time through the magic that is the big screen. Apple also got on the Pixies bandwagon using Gigantic as part of a national iPhone marketing campaign. More recently, bands like Nada Surf were popular again when their cover of "Where Is My Mind" was featured in a national Samsung Galaxy marketing campaign. This commercial introduced music lovers to a virtual new world that included the Pixies. Commercially, their talents have been in high demand. So-much-so, Santiago and Paz scored an Acura TV commercial that aired last year.
Aside from the commercial successes, what can you expect at a Pixies show? That’s just it, you just never know. That’s something the diehards love about the band. Most of the time, the band doesn’t even know what the set list is till show time. It’s hard to quantify this, but there just seems to be a fresh new feel and joy in the band. Some attribute that to the life force Paz has brought. Whatever it is, they are back to form and we can all see that band again that made us cool for just knowing their music.
All things being equal, NOW is a good time to be a Pixies fan. The band kicks off its 2017 North American tour April 21st. They have a few shows here in the southland, and roll into OC on April 23rd at the newly re-opened House of Blues, Anaheim (April 24th). They’ll be back in September for the Ohana Festival. What can I say about this band that hasn’t been said before? Their music is abstract and macabre, and it’s amplified by bad-ass tunes. There’s just no way Bowie, Bono, Cobain and Yorke missed the mark on this band… neither have their fans! If you want the surreal sonic experience from true music royalty, Pixies are (and always will be) a must see.
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