When reached on the phone, Black Francis said that he was fine to chat but that he might need some caffeine at some point during the interview. Turns out he would not – the leader of the alt-rock pioneers the Pixies was alert and as engaged as ever. The band (which formed in 1986, split in 1993, and reunited in 2004 as a touring outfit) has just released the four-song EP-2, the logical follow-up to last year’s EP-1. In advance of a pair of Canadian dates, Black Francis spoke from his home in Massachusetts.
I gave the Pixies new EP-2 a listen this morning. Sounded good and fierce, but I don’t think my little computer-desk speakers did the material much justice.
Welcome to the club. I’m not much of a music collector. I’m not very good at maintaining a stereo system. I have five children. Needless to say, I live in a lovely state of chaos. So I listen to music on iPhone docks around the house.
Neither EP-2 or last year’s EP-1 feature original bassist Kim Deal, who has left the band. Is it possible that people won’t accept the Pixies without her as the true Pixies?
That’s certainly a valid projection. It’s a possibility. I can’t really do anything about that, though. Except to cower in fear and say “I won’t do it. We’ll just stop!” But, we’re talking about music. We’re talking about a rock band. It’s beyond First World problems. It’s problems that aren’t really problems.
When Kim Deal left in 2013, you replaced her with Kim Shattuck, and now you’ve replaced Kim Shattuck with another female bassist, Paz Lenchantin. Should male bass players even bother to apply if the job opens up again?
I was willing to go with a non-female replacement. But Joey [lead guitarist Joey Santiago] was very firm on it. He was like “No, that’s the DNA of the band. It’s the vocal dynamic between you and her.” Ultimately I ended up agreeing.
There’s the legend of the original ad you placed for a bassist when the band was starting up. You wanted a female player who was into Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul and Mary, right?
That’s pretty accurate. I always thought of it as a joke, but I actually love Peter, Paul and Mary. So, maybe there really is something psychological about it. When you get a bunch of dudes on stage, and if you have even one woman who walks on stage, the whole dynamic changes. Basically our general understanding of life on earth is that it’s a binary system. So, when you have a woman and a man on stage, you have those two big two halves.
Seems so obvious. Makes you wonder why you don’t see more of it.
Right. We never set out to have a particular sound so much. However we were attempting to not sound like certain things. There was a lot of macho-strutting stuff going on in the early eighties. It was kind of offensive – just really dumb. It was the kind of people I tried to avoid like the plague when I was in high school. So, we didn’t want to have anything to do with that.
The Pixies do have a particular sound now, though. Do you feel you have to stick to it, particularly when playing live, to please the fans?
Our relationship with our fans is traditional. We don’t hang with them. They are our patrons. I get pissed off sometimes when they get too proprietary. They want to hear certain songs. They want us to work with certain producers. I get offended by that. But, at the end of the day, there is some validity in that kind of attitude from them. They are paying the money for tickets. They are buying the albums.
We just were hit with a lot of best-of lists for 2013. There wasn’t much representation from guitar rock, other than the Queens of Stone Age album, that I saw. What’s your take on the state of music?
Stuff shifts around, but it’s all the same as far as the range of material that’s out there. I don’t want to come off as too cynical by saying that the new stuff stinks, because that’s probably an ignorant thing to say.
The Pixies play Toronto’s Massey Hall, Jan. 15, and Montreal’s Metropolis, Jan. 16.
This interview has been condensed and edited.