Pixies: ‘In all of our minds we think we’re a viable band and all we want to do is record and play shows’

Veteran indie rock band Pixies return this month with a new album and tour. Drummer David Lovering spoke to Duncan Seaman.

Pixies: from left, Joey Santiago, Paz Lenchantin, David Lovering, Black Francis. Picture Travis Shinn

Now into their 33rd year, Pixies’ career has certainly been storied. The quiet-loud dynamic they pioneered on albums such as Surfer Rosa and Doolittle would go on to become a staple of US alt-rock, while their once cult following would grow considerably in the 11 years between their break-up in 1993 and reformation in 2004.

Bass player Kim Deal would quit in 2013, and her replacement Kim Shattuck lasted little more than five months, but since the arrival of Paz Lenchantin they have become much more than a touring band. New album, ‘Beneath The Eyrie’, is their third in five years.

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After the feisty roar of its 2016 predecessor Head Carrier, Beneath The Eyrie is tonally more sober. Drummer David Lovering feels the band – and their principal songwriter Black Francis, aka Charles Thompson III – have never been set in their ways.

Pixies. From Left: Paz Lenchantin, David Lovering, Black Francis, Joey Santiago. Picture Travis Shinn

“We think that we’re professional and that we can do any kind of genre of song, because songs are so dynamic in that we do, so we think we can tackle anything,” he says. “We have really no formula. With this one, there was no thought of trying to get this sound from the past or from that album. It’s what Charles is coming up with and the progression of where we’re going.”

Guitarist Joey Santiago recently described Beneath The Eyrie as “grown up surf music” that had abandoned its surfboard gone off into the desert to ride a horse. “Is it grown up?” Lovering muses a moment. “I don’t know that we’re cognisant of that. When I listen to it all, it is a little dark, the tempos and stuff like that, but it’s not a cognisant effort or anything like that.

“Even though we think we get older and wiser, no,” he says with a gentle laugh. “We don’t get wiser; we just learn to tolerate other people. It could be a little wiser, but we don’t know it, we’re not thinking of that. It’s in the eye of the beholder, maybe.”

Lovering does, however, agree that Pixies have evolved with Lenchantin in their ranks. “When she first came in we were just recreating all the classic songs,” he says. “Paz is a wonderful bass player, she’s a virtuoso, she’s so good that I’ve had to step up my game to play better because I don’t want to be embarrassed around her. In the shows I’ve really got to think what I’m doing.

“And being like a muso that she is, so up on things, she does have input, so for Head Carrier and especially Beneath The Eyrie she had a lot on input in the way we were doing the songs. She is definitely an integral part, I wouldn’t say in changing the songs that Charles comes up with drastically, but in having some input in the arrangements in some way or the way we play things.”

The album was made with Grammy-nominated producer Tom Dalgety in less than a month. Lovering explains: “This is the second album that we’ve made with Tom and he only wants three weeks with us, and that’s great. The nice thing about it is that we had pre-production of I would say about a year before that. We met a few times and just did rehearsals and ran over the songs that Charles was coming up with. We kind of had a list of songs that we were going to do on this album. We did about 18 songs in total. When we got into the studio we had ten or maybe 12 and then I think another six we just came up with on the spot.

“It’s very comfortable going into the studio knowing what you’re going to play. Those other songs that came up out of the blue we like ‘oh gee’, you’ve got to get to work and think about it and get it right because they’re so new, and what was great is under that pressure they all came out as equal. We were able to pull it off.”

To accompany the album, the band made a series of 12 podcasts, giving fans a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of their creative processes. The idea was suggested by their management, but Lovering says the band found the experience interesting. “When they told us there was going to be someone in the studio the whole time that we were there I mean oh ye yay. We were all a little trepidiatious. The thing is after a while it became the norm, that’s the way it was, and you got to open up a bit more, rather than being guarded.

“I did appreciate one thing I could equate to – one of the bands that I really love is Rush and I’ve seen them in concert, I have their DVDs and all that. I watched one of their DVDs one time where it showed the three of them in a restaurant and they were just chatting – that was the best thing I’ve ever seen of Rush in my life because you’re getting an insight into them as people. It’s hard for me to have this position of looking at it, but I’m sure there are Pixies fans who will really appreciate hearing us as people just talking and playing music. I think that’s a bonus that this podcast has done.”

Lovering agrees with Thompson’s observation that band members have become more accommodating of each other. “We’ve had a second opportunity to do this and having that opportunity you do appreciate it way more, as well as look on it differently,” the 57-year-old drummer says. “Like I said, you don’t get older and wiser, but you’re willing to tolerate everyone, and that’s what it is. People somewhat change, they don’t change that much, but you learn to tolerate as you get older, and that’s what we’re doing and we’re having a grand time.”

On tour Pixies work with a tight-knit crew. “We have about six guys, a mixture of British and American, and they’re family,” Lovering says. “We get along, we’re one unit. When I do a Pixies show the thing I’m proudest of is my crew because they put this on. They’re the first ones in there and the last ones leaving that have a rapport with the venue. When we get asked back, it’s not because we sold out tickets and we’re whatever band, it’s because of this relationship of not only guys that can do a job and do it better than anyone else but they’re gentlemen. I think the world of them, and we think of us as one unit because we all work towards that one thing of putting on a show.

“We did two co-headline tours with Weezer, we did all the amphitheatres across America and then we went up a level and did all the arenas. Every night we went on first, that was what we wanted to do, and when we were finished we would set up our chairs outside, the crew and the band, in a giant circle and we would just drink and talk, and that Weezer crew was the most jealous crew in the world. You don’t see that in [other] bands, it just doesn’t happen. A lot of bands they alienate people that are working for them. I’s a joy, I can’t wait to see everybody when we start this tour.”

With the benefit of hindsight Lovering feels Pixies became a runaway train in their first incarnation between 1986 and 1993. “That’s what it was,” he says. “Charles wanted to write and write and write, and he still does. If he can do anything we’re just going to rattle them off. Since Indie Cindy, I don’t know the timeline of how rapid it was, but in all of our minds we think we’re a viable band and all we want to do is record and play shows, and I hope it still keeps going.”

Their tours have even got longer. “It’s good,” says Lovering. “There’s more work and less play now.”

On the ‘Head Carrier’ tour the band played an expansive setlist that stretched over two hours and included several deep cuts from their past. Lovering suggests they’ll take a similar approach on their latest UK tour. “I think as of ten years ago we had maybe a 70-song catalogue and we could probably play over 50 of them. A couple of albums on we’re up to 80 or 90 and I think we pride ourselves on doing that, of being able to call up our songs. We don’t do a setlist, we just go up there and we know what the first song is and we kind of know maybe what the last song is, everything in between we’re just talking to each other or giving hand signals.

“Of course with the Pixies there’s no break between songs, we don’t talk, we just go bang, bang, bang, and that’s our schtick, that’s what we developed in the last 15 years since we reformed. We think we’re doing it right,” he smiles, “and what’s great about it is the setlist changes every night. We know the classic songs we’ve got to play but we get to pick and choose all those little deep ones which make it fun.

“We’ve been doing it so long we know certain songs go hand in hand or I might kick off something because I know it goes hand in hand to keep up the fast beat. Charles has a microphone that the audience doesn’t see which is behind him and we’re all on in-ears or monitors so we can chat with each other and nobody knows it.”

Beneath The Eyrie is out on September 13. Pixies tour the UK from September 12. www.pixiesmusic.com