Frank Black

Frank Black’s World Is Loud, Chaotic, and Extreme. He’s Also In The Pixies.

Q: Have your expectations changed?

A: I don’t think so. There are times when you get caught up in the business stuff, contracts and lawyers, and you have stress. Especially back in the ’90s when the record business was at its most top heavy. I remember it was considered a failure if you put out a record and sold 100,000 copies. I would love to sell 100,000 copies right now. Back then the Pixies, to a lot of people, we’d made it, man. We were totally doing it. From the business people’s point of view, labels and promoters, it was, eh, we don’t really know what to do with you.  Maybe if you go on tour with that band. We were perceived as being not really successful. I think I got caught up in that. We only sold 100,000 records. But we were making money and playing shows. I’m so glad that is over.

Q: What do you mean by “that”?

A: Now everyone is struggling. People are downloading music and no one’s selling any records and we only make a small amount compared to what we made before. And it’s a bummer, but its kind of cool too. It’s the way it should be. Things got shaken up and it’s more real. It’s like the housing bubble, the same damn deal, this big fake money bubble and it got burst and some people are going boo hoo, but as long as I’ve got money in my pocket and I’ve got a gig and I can put out a record, this is what I wanted to do.

Q: The Pixies are having a truly anomalous second act. Even though there’s no new music it doesn’t look or feel like a trip down memory lane. There’s fresh appreciation, young fans, bigger rooms.

A: I think part of it is we’re kind of an arty band. I’m not saying cerebral, but it’s kind of a quirky thing. And we came from Boston, and the scene was real anti. We didn’t have a visual image that was connected to our faces. It wasn’t real shticky. If you were an indie rock band that seemed ridiculous and kind of pathetic. All those metal pop bands. I’m trying to think of how I can say this. Its like there’s a certain aesthetic that we sort of inherited or absorbed at the time and that aesthetic is still there.

Q: But I don’t know if that accounts for the reception you received, and continue to receive, when the Pixies came back in 2004. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that after you split up that aesthetic or value system exploded and became more mainstream and you weren’t there anymore to reap the reward. I think there’s a sort of retroactive thing that happens. You’re back to collect what’s yours. How did it feel to watch other bands who were so influenced by the Pixies go on to great success?

A: I don’t really see the connection. I really don’t. Pick a band and say how they copped what we did.

Q: You’re often credited with the loud/quiet/loud thing. It’s the name of the Pixies documentary.

A: Really? Are we the inventors of that? No, we’re not. It’s dynamics.

Q: So why do you think people talk about the Pixies as if it’s a seminal band?

A: Because they’re trying to define it and it’s hard to define bands sometimes. As soon as you start defining it you start finding flaws in the definition. You know why people like us? Because we’re real people. When I say that I don’t mean some cliché about wearing dirty blue jeans. I think you can tell that we’re just four dudes that somehow ended up in a band. It really could be you doing what we’re doing.

Q: I don’t know if that’s true. It’s about the songs you write and the way you four particular people play them.

A: But it’s true to our personalities. People can tell when you’re fake and they don’t really resonate with it in the long term. Maybe when people are feeling passive, sure, people will respond to something that’s fake but guess what? A couple of years later that person has moved on and the person they were listening to is gone. A one-hit wonder. A fad. Those same passive music listeners respond in the long-term to something that’s real. And they’ll be a fan of something for their whole life. I’m not saying we don’t have flaws or get pretentious or have highs or lows. But we’re true to ourselves. That’s why people that are in bad bands don’t get it. They don’t understand. They go, I got the talent. I got the looks. I got integrity and serious feelings and opinions about issues. Yeah, but you’re not real. There’s a desperation or something. You try too hard. And other people, it doesn’t really matter what their thing is, you know? It doesn’t matter the genre. You just know.

Q: Have you lost and gained things over the years as a creative artist? What’s changed?

A: I don’t know. I feel like I’m the same. There’s moments when you’re original and others when you’re derivative. And the reason you’re derivative isn’t because you can’t think of any ideas, it’s because you like music a lot. And you go, you know what? I really want to do a surf song. And so you do it and maybe you pull it off and maybe you don’t but it doesn’t really matter because you got obsessed with something and you’ve got to do it. I think sometimes I do music and people go, oh yeah, that’s the Pixies thing. And other times I do something else and people go, oh, you’re listening to a lot of Rolling Stones records. There’s no revolution, there’s no grand statement. Sometimes you’re playing for yourself and sometimes you’re playing for other people and personally I don’t have a lot of control over it. I think a lot of people have strong artistic vision and I don’t think that I do. If I do it’s not conscious.

Q: If you don’t have artistic vision, what do you have?

A: In the Chinese zodiac I’m the snake. The snake reacts to his situations, the moment he’s living in. He doesn’t look to the future or the past very well, he doesn’t deal with hypothetical things very well. He just kind of reacts. They bite. They run away. They bite. They run away. They’re caught up in their moment. It’s all feel. Feeling your way. The monkey can climb up in a tree and look down the road and have a plan. The snake is not good with plans. He’s spontaneous.

It happens to me all the time, people I’m working with will ask, what are you imagining? And I’m like, I don’t know. What are you envisioning you wanted me to play on this song? And I’m just, I don’t know. I’m making it up, and you’ve got to make it up, too, and then it will be. That’s how I work. Other people can’t work like that. When I realized it, I stopped trying to do it the way people were suggesting I try to do it.

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