There’s a guy named Charles Thompson. He formed a band with Kim Deal, Joey Santiago, and David Lovering called the Pixies and christened himself Black Francis. After the band broke up he inverted his fake name and became Frank Black. He had a band called the Catholics. The Pixies reunited but the guy stayed Frank Black. He released an album called Frank Black Francis and some others as Frank Black and still others as Black Francis. He made a record with his friend Reid Paley. They are Paley & Francis. Recently the Pixies spent a week in a rehearsal room in Cambridge, MA, where a guy named Charles met me for coffee and a conversation.
Q: You moved back to Massachusetts from Oregon with your wife and kids a few months ago. How come?
A: I think we were bored with Oregon. It’s isolated, it’s a long way from anywhere, we were disappointed with the schools there, and my wife’s kind of East Coasty, even though she’s from Kansas City. She’s Jewish. She’s not timid. And she’s real strong and smart and funny. She uses Yiddish all the time. Even when she can’t think of a Yiddish word she makes up Yiddish-sounding words.
Q: Are you an honorary Jew now?
A: I like to think so.
Q: So, why Western Massachusetts?
A: We’d been talking about moving for some years and I suddenly got this inspiration to go to Western Mass. I’d gone to school there, and there’s this school my kids go to called the Waldorf School. We were looking at Waldorf schools in France because I really wanted to move there, and the older kids speak pretty good French because they were going to an immersion school. But then I was talking with my grandma. I’ve got this game with her, she’s like 93 or something, and she’s says, so when are you moving back? This has been going on for 20 years. She’s on Cape Cod. After this last time I said, I should look at Waldorf in Massachusetts, and one turned up near Northampton.
Q: Are you happy to be back?
A: So far, so good. We totally love Amherst and Northampton. I think we’re actually going to move to the middle, to Hadley, right next to the school.
Q: Wait a minute. Didn’t you just buy a house in Northampton?
A: Yeah. We’re already moving. It’s a little more in the country. They want to have chickens and grow flowers and stuff. We got rid of TV, there’s no computers, no electronics. It’s old school. And the kids haven’t said peep about it.
Q: How old are the kids?
A: Three, five, six, eleven, and thirteen. It’s so loud. It’s crazy.
Q: You do loud and crazy.
A: Yeah, yeah. Everybody’s loud. Let me show you some pictures [on his iPhone]. This is my wife and my youngest, Jude. This is the five-year-old, Lucy. She’s too much. I can’t even get my head around her sometimes. I can barely think straight. As soon she started talking it was all over. Whatever you want, just tell me what to do. The whole daddy-daughter thing is crazy. This is the eleven-year-old at ballet. That’s my six-year-old, with a serious face. And Julian is the oldest. Big, curly hair. He looks like a Gap model. He looks like his mom and his biological dad. He’s a teenager now so we don’t get as many pictures of him.
Q: Did you fantasize about having kids? Is this something you’d always wanted?
Q: So how does this big loud family change your life as an artist? Does it?
A: I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure it out. I just sort of forget I’m an artist when I’m at home. I don’t really do artsy stuff anymore. I get caught up. You end up in the thick of it. I do stuff when I go on the road.
Q: You don’t have a studio at the house?
A: No. They won’t let me, anyway. You’re home and they’re in your face.
Q: Some people would just close the door and say dad’s going to work now.
A: Yeah. It doesn’t work. I’ve tried that. It seems like I do more work on the road, and it’s almost like I’m motivated to do more work because I’m thinking, how can I make more money? I mean, we don’t downplay the fact that we don’t do straight jobs. We don’t hide it. They get exposed to plenty of the rock. They go on the road sometimes with me.
Q: Have you written a song about your kids?
Q: People start doing that, you know.
A: I definitely will never do that. One day they’re going to be older and maybe they’ll listen to me or think about it or observe it from some angle and I want them to think I’m cool, that I was true to my art.
Q: Does having kids and the prospect of them listening to your songs make you think differently about lyrics?
A: I don’t hold back anything. I don’t worry about them being surprised by anything. Hey, it’s art. That’s really sexual. That’s really violent. That’s my mind. It’s OK.
Q: Has your musical life unfolded the way you imagined it would?
A: I guess so. When I started here, I knew I wasn’t going to be in some big arena rock band or something like that. I’m coming from the DIY, post-punk, indie-rock, shoe-gazing, wrinkled T-shirt and jeans scene, playing at the Rathskeller and watching the bands come through from New York or Europe on little indie labels. And yeah, sure, you want to have success and make a living, but you just do it. You make records. Maybe you have success and maybe you don’t, but screw it. You just do it. I remember when I was working at a warehouse down by the wharf, and Joey [Santiago, the Pixies' guitarist] worked at another warehouse, and I don’t know why they mailed the art for the first record to me there, but I opened it up there, and it was proof that I was in this club of people that made records. I gave my notice that day.
I’m in and I’m not looking back. We went on the road touring an import when we didn’t have any business playing outside of town. But I think I knew that it was important to get out of town, that that was another sort of legitimacy. You see it, every town has it, the local hero thing, winning the battle of the bands contest. And it seemed like a real nowhere kind of trap. To be a big fish in a small pond was not what I wanted. I just wanted to be on the circuit. I wanted to play and put out records.