Frank Black

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

Q: Do you feel the urge or the need to start funneling fresh ideas to the Pixies?

A: Yeah, but you have to have the license to do that. That’s the problem doing things the second time around. Just by coincidence it’s been mirrored in our corporate structure. We’ve had a corporation for many years, for our accountants, for paperwork. I remember the manager sitting us down and going, who’s the president? Charles? Joey, you can be vice-president. Kim, you’re secretary. David is treasurer. And it was, ha ha, I’m president. I never thought about it again. Then years later when we got back together we had to resurrect that corporate structure to pay our taxes and stuff, and we had to pick officers again. In that moment we switched it around and didn’t think about it. Now I realize I’m not the president anymore. I’m really not. I think I might be the secretary now.

Q: Don’t tell me. Kim’s president.

A: Yeah, yeah. Everyone’s older. When you’re first starting out it’s like, are you in the band? We’re gonna make it. We’re gonna get out of town. We’re gonna go to London and play a show. We’re a band. Then years later everyone has lives and it’s real polite and it’s not the same. It’s kind of like, are you available to do the blah blah blah next summer? Well, I’m available but I can’t do this and I don’t want to do that. It’s a lot more democratic. I can’t lead the band in the same way and I miss that. I miss being able to say I’ve got a bunch of ideas and let’s do it, man. See you down at the rehearsal space. We’re trying to change that but it’s hard.

Q: What are you trying to change? The culture of the band? You can’t go back to that feeling of we’re gonna make it, which is such incentive and such a driver of, well, everything.

A: That’s true.

Q: So what do you replace it with? A paycheck?

A: I think the incentive has to be fairly pure. All art and no commerce. They thought we were good the first time around and they liked our encore so the only thing that’s left is to do something new. Because the reason you accepted us the first time around and during the reunion tour and the reason you would accept this new thing is because it’s still just as good, or just as interesting, or just as creative, just as vital, just as strong. The material is still strong. That’s the only thing that can really satisfy, is “you guys are the shit.” So it’s just a matter of getting everyone to want to do that, you know?

Q: To press into the future? To make a new record?

A: Yeah. We have to become a band again. And it’s kind of hard.

Q: Do you have faith that it will happen?

A: Yeah, I mean, we’re all in a room together. There’s a set of drums, there’s amps, there’s guitars.

Q: Do all the years as a solo artist come to bear on the Pixies? Has it made you a different kind of band member?

A: I don’t know. I’m basically a bossy songwriter kind of guy. It’s kind of special playing with them. Sure, I can work with all these top notch people and maybe you can do something great in those situations, too, but it’s not the same as playing with that little ragtag band of people you met in Kenmore Square all those years ago when we could barely play and just wanted to be in a band.

Here’s a recording made on a cassette machine of the Pixies (minus drummer David Lovering) rehearsing “Break My Body” at J. D. Furst practice spaces in February 1987, a month before making their first demo tapes at Boston’s Fort Apache Studios. Special thanks to Gary Smith, who produced “Come On Pilgrim”  for digging up the tape.

Break My Body/Pixies Rehearsal/February 16, 1987 by Middlemojo

Q: Your sound was remarkably intact from the start, and it still sounds remarkably distinctive.

A: It’s funny, when I’ve been away from them for a while and then come back, as soon as we play it’s like, oh yeah. There’s this certain thing, it’s indefinable. You can’t have that same experience with other people. It’s not the same thing. It’s not the same thing at all. We go on tour and play those old songs and to our ear it sounds huge. There it is. There’s that thing. We feel special. It really is bigger than us. It’s the sum of the parts. It’s not me. It’s these four people and they do their little number and it’s like, wow.

Q: A lot of people associate that feeling with being young and being in the moment when all these feelings and sounds, that visceral sense of freedom and possibility, come together and explode. But you still tap into that.

A: I don’t think it’s connected with youth. There are certain things that happen when bands are young that are really great. This naivete. It is a special moment and you can never have it again. It’s over once you have any success. You can kind of replicate it by performing to a bunch of people who have no idea who you are. It’s like, oh yeah, this is what it’s like when you’re nobody and you’re trying to prove something.

Q: So it’s not an age thing but rather a beginner thing.

A: Yeah. You go see X, and they sound the same. They sound amazing. And they’re all old. I bet they sound better than they used to.

Q: But there’s a bias against age. The world isn’t as interested in older people. Do you experience ageism?

A: I don’t think I do, but maybe I do and I’m too egotistical to think it’s happening to me. People are probably going, look at the silly middle-aged man still playing in that rock band. But I just think I’m cool.

Q: How does your sense of place in the culture affect you? Does it?

A: I’ve always divided the world in passive listeners and active listeners. I remember when I was in high school and all the kids on the football team, the ones with cars and girlfriends, I’d see them at the lunch table with their Journey t-shirts that they got the night before at the concert, and I’d think, you guys want to hang out in your shirts from the big rock show and think that you’re cool and the rest of us over here went to the used record store and are listening to Devo and Leon Russell and we’re not popular and we’re not cool and we’re way more invested in this music thing than you’ll ever be. And we get it. And you guys can enjoy it but you don’t really get it. They think they do. But to us snobs over here, you guys are hitting the beach ball around. You might be in a band that’s even more popular than mine. But you’re doing the call and response and it’s shallow. I don’t have goose bumps.

Q: Ten years ago I interviewed you in Northampton and you said you were thrilled to be out of your 20s. How do you feel now? Does it still feel good to be getting older?

A: I don’t think about it too much. I think about it a bit when I look at my kids and think about mortality and their future. But when I’m just doing my thing and being in a band I don’t even think about it.

Q: Do you look back and wish you’d done anything differently?

A: No.  A snake can’t deal with that stuff.



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