The Pixies were never quite as big as their ‘80s and ‘90s contemporaries in The Smiths, Soundgarden, and Nirvana. Despite dropping a half-dozen acclaimed albums with ace engineer Steve Albini (Cheap Trick, Helmet, Bush) and uber-producer Gil Norton (Foo Fighters, Counting Crows), the Boston quartet wasn’t able to transcend to mainstream MTV audiences. Heck, even bassist Kim Deal’s other band—The Breeders—scored a bigger radio hit with the slinky “Cannonball” than any singles released from The Pixies’ Doolittle, Bossanova, or Trompe Le Monde.
Not that that sort of success ever appealed much to singer / guitarist / principal songwriter Black Francis, guitarist Joey Santiago, or drummer David Lovering.
But the group did cultivate a sizeable following prior to disbanding in 1993 with its mutant blend of garage noise, surf music, psychedelic rock. And Francis’ offbeat, scatological lyrics about aliens, incest, and violence trickled down to the boys in subsequent superstar acts like Weezer, The Strokes, and Radiohead.
Black’s post-Pixies career continued with Frank Black and The Catholics. Deal formed The Breeders with twin sister Kelly. Meanwhile, Santiago formed a band with his wife. Lovering stepped away from music completely.
For a while, anyway.
Proving you can’t keep a good band down, The Pixies reconvened in 2004 and fired up the touring machine once more. And they’ve been at it ever since.
Guest bassists were brought in to play on the band’s secret 2012 sessions in Wales after Kim absconded. Simon “Ding” Archer laid the grooves on a couple stellar new EPs, which yielded the digital single “Bagboy.” The new tracks were later compiled on the Norton-produced 2014 full-length Indie Cindy, which boasts artwork by longtime Pixies collaborator Vaughan Oliver.
Kim Shattuck (The Muffs, Pandoras) was enlisted for select concert dates. Now four-stringer Paz Lenchantin (Queens of the Stone Age, A Perfect Circle) pins down the Pixies’ bottom end onstage.
Deal apparently has an open invitation to rejoin whenever she likes, but it’ll be Paz thumping bass on new tracks like “What Goes Boom,” “Magdalena 318,” and “Andro Queen” when the group plays Cleveland Masonic Auditorium on May 17th.
We got the lowdown on The Pixies’ musical evolution, latest album, and 2015 tour when we chatted with Lovering by phone earlier this week. The brainiac drummer replaced his sticks and skins with science-based magic during his time away from the band, but it turns out resuming his Pixies percussion (and recording new material) might’ve been just what the doctor ordered.
EXAMINER: Hey, David! Have you guys started up on the road yet?
DAVID LOVERING: Ah, no! We’re actually gonna meet up on Sunday for rehearsals for four days, and then go from there!
EXAMINER: Might I ask where you’re calling from then? I mean, where’s home for you these days?
DAVID LOVERING: I’m in Santa Barbara County, in the San Fernando Valley. I just moved here about six months ago. I was up in Boston until…I’d been in Los Angeles for about twenty years. Then six months ago I moved from L.A. up to here.
EXAMINER: So what prompted The Pixies reunion a few years back, and what brought you all around to recording new music?
DAVID LOVERING: What had happened was—I think around 2011—we’d been touring on this reunion since about 2004. And in 2011 we all realized, “Holy crap, we’ve been touring seven years now.” And that’s longer than we’d originally been a band! So that was a surreal thing. And that was more of the impetus for doing something new. We’d been enjoying what we were doing, and we decided, “Let’s do something. Let’s post some music.” And it was from that inkling of thought that it took about another year to get everyone on board, to where we could go ahead and do it. We shopped the songs back and forth, did some pre-production, and finally did it in 2012. Or 2013? I can’t remember [laughs]! But we finally got something done!
Watch the video for The Pixies’ “Indie Cindy:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=PDa3cY7U6NA
EXAMINER: Last year’s Indie Cindy album is comprised of three Eps the band piecemealed out to fans between 2013-2014. How’d that come about?
DAVID LOVERING: Oh yeah. I should add on that, the original thing was that when we were talking about new music, we were only thinking of EPs. Maybe do three or four songs, and that would be it. And that idea stuck with us. And then when we got some of it into the studio, it kept going and going. But that idea stayed with us. Because we kept recording in secret, we thought, “Why don’t we just release the music and surprise everyone?” So that became EP 1, and then EPs 2 and 3.
EXAMINER: And then the decision was made to lump ‘em all together for a full-length?
DAVID LOVERING: I think it was more, you know…we didn’t have record company. We did everything ourselves. We were fortunate enough. And I should say also, it’s not Charles’, Joe’s or my idea to have done it this way. We weren’t crazy about the format. This was something we’d never done. And we were like, “Let’s try it this way.” So we carried through with the record ourselves. Considering the climate, and the way things are, I think we pulled it off.
EXAMINER: I’m not familiar with Simon “Ding” Archer, who played bass on most of those tracks. But I’ve seen Paz live in concert with Zwan and Queens of the Stone Age. What’s it like working with her on stage?
DAVID LOVERING: Paz! Yes. All I knew, Pete, was playing with Kim Deal for all those years and years. And I didn’t think anything of it. That was the band I was in. In the studio, what was funny was…it’s very rarely that I play live. Sometimes we track live, but on the majority of stuff it’s just me playing with nothing in the headphones. Me just humming the song to myself and playing. But then again, with Paz now…she’s something else. She’s a really great player. What it’s making me do is, it’s making me step up my playing, because I don’t want to be embarrassed [laughs]! I’ve stepped up my game since she’s been playing with us. I’m thinking about it more. I’m pushing myself a lot more now.
EXAMINER: The band members push each other, and nobody gets complacent. You keep each other on your toes, then?
DAVID LOVERING: Yeah, I think so. I honestly think the band is sounding the best we’ve been in years. And I should say, really, we did seven years previously—and now we’ve in gotten ten or eleven more years. So all that practice has helped!
EXAMINER: The Pixies have a nice box set out now, Minotaur. Does that set sort of collect everything the band has recorded up until now?
DAVID LOVERING: That’s correct. It’s everything except the pre-Indie Cindy. It’s just like, the ultimate box set.
EXAMINER: You’ve been known to dabble in magic. Could you tell us a little about learning magic during your downtime from Pixies in the late ‘90s and early 2000s?
Watch the video for The Pixies’ “Bagboy:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGdSYPh5_BI
DAVID LOVERING: When The Pixies broke up years and years ago, I had some free time. So I went to this magic convention. It blew me away! And from that point on, I just wanted to learn magic. I read every book, bought every video, took classes, and joined all the clubs. I just studied a lot and practiced. I actually slept with some of that stuff! That’s how much work I put into it. But yeah, eventually I started going parties and doing things like that. You’re heard the phrase, starving artist? There’s another phrase we have, about the dying magician. Because it’s not a very wise career choice [laughs]! I was in a position for a while where I’d put down the music, and was just loving the magic. And I put together a stage show that was something a lot grander. It was called The Scientific Phenomentalist. Which is basically everything that I am; it’s not a character. I was an electronics engineer before The Pixies, so I was into science and lasers and all that. And I’d come out in a lab coat, and do neat science and physics experiments. I kind of blurred the lines between science and magic. Then after a number of years , it was back to The Pixies. So the magic has gone a little by the wayside now! The Pixies’ schedule kind of dictates that. But I still do close-up magic, the one-on-one magic, which I feel is much more powerful anyways, and more fun to do.
EXAMINER: How’d you start up on drums to begin with?
DAVID LOVERING: I think just being a kid in elementary school, they offered classes. So I took drums. I had different teachers. It was just learning how to read music. There was a lot of jazz early on. You had bands around then like Led Zeppelin, Chicago, Steely Dan. Those were the big three that I learned to play. That was really it. And I played up through my teenage years. I was in one band where we had just one gig, and then I just gave up drums. It wasn’t until a couple years later—when I got a call from Kim Deal’s husband—that I took my drums back out of the closet for The Pixies!
EXAMINER: So there was a spell where you’d actually stopped playing, and being a professional drummer wasn’t even on your radar?
DAVID LOVERING: Yeah. I stopped playing…1983, or something. That’s when I started at college and got an engineering degree. I think it was senior year at college that I got the call about gigging.
EXAMINER: Rumors has it you’re a big Rush fan, a fan of drummer Neil Peart.
DAVID LOVERING: Oh yeah. Any quality musician like that, I love!
EXAMINER: Frank’s real name is Charles, but to fans he’s known as Black Francis or Frank Black. What do you guys call him?
DAVID LOVERING: I call him Charles [laughs]!
The Pixies. Sunday, May 17, 2015 at Cleveland Masonic Auditorium / Performing Arts Center (3615 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland OH 44115). Tickets $42.00-$60.00. Doors at 7:00pm, show at 8:00pm.
Advance tickets here: http://tinyurl.com/powfypk