Kim Shattuck definitely wasn’t the first bassist to be terminated unceremoniously. The firings and infighting that go on within bands easily rival the Hollywood drama that each week fills up fleets of grocery store tabloids. Such happenings hardly seem newsworthy — you know, unless the bassist in question gets fired from Pixies, one of indie rock’s most enduring icons, and then goes on to question the decision in a high-profile interview.
“I get the feeling they're more introverted people than I am,” Shattuck told NME after her November dismissal from the band. (Pixies are currently touring behind a 2013 single and a pair of EPs, their first new material in more than 20 years. The group plays the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium on Saturday, Feb. 1. “Nobody really talked about deep issues, at least out loud. There was a show at the Mayan in Los Angeles where I got overly enthusiastic and jumped into the crowd, and I know they weren't thrilled about that. When I got offstage the manager told me not to do that again. I said, 'Really, for my own safety?' And he said, 'No, because the Pixies don't do that.'”
Major music outlets jumped after the story with the bloodlust of gossip rags, turning every minuscule quote from the Pixies into that day’s top headline. This, it turns out, is the cost of being beloved: Everyone has an opinion about everything that you do, no matter how trivial.
“That means they care,” reasons guitarist Joey Santiago. “The Pixies are like their baby, and they want to see every transition go their way, you know? But a lot of people embrace our decisions. We can’t please everyone. And not to sound corny, but we’ve got to please ourselves. People don’t know all the details. You can’t please everyone. Even with the new songs, you just can’t do it. And that’s what’s important.”
Pixies soldier on. This, after all, isn’t the first bassist the group has had to replace during the past year. Kim Deal, a founding member and the ringleader of the similarly influential Breeders, parted ways with the band back in June. Following that setback, the remaining trio entered a studio in Wales and produced a mountain of material, eight songs of which ended up on September's EP-1 and this month’s EP-2. Santiago and drummer David Lovering both gush about the sessions, talking excitedly about how the new numbers have energized the band. But, as Santiago hints, reaction to the songs hasn’t been particularly positive.
While diverse, both EPs are a little too clean and land with a blunted edge compared to the Pixies’ high water marks. Whether tidied (1989’s Doolittle) or left unkempt (1988’s Surfer Rosa and 1987’s Come On Pilgrim), the group’s best work excels through frantic energy, with the wily yelps of Black Francis — né Charles Thompson — soothed just slightly by Deal’s sardonic coos, while straightforward riffs twist into torrents of powerful fuzz.
The EPs don’t sound bad, per se. On the first, “Andro Queen” is awash with delicate reverb. “Blue Eyed Hexe,” the most striking cut on either effort, mangles a swaggering cock-rock riff with fierce distortion and clever countermelodies. It’s fun in its way, but “Blue Eyed Hexe” — like the rest of the new material — can’t touch the complex thrills from the Pixies’ past.
“It’s definitely different,” Lovering admits. “We’re of a different age. I can see it’s different. I would say that EP-2 doesn’t sound like Come on Pilgrim. But Surfer Rosa doesn’t sound like Trompe le Monde, and Trompe le Monde doesn’t sound like Doolittle, and Doolittle doesn’t sound like Bossanova, and Bossanova doesn’t sound like EP-1. It’s just a difference in it all, and we’re happy with it.”
As with the overblown bass upheaval, the Pixies’ new music is held to a different standard than pretty much any band working today. The remaining trio will keep going, now joined by former Zwan and Silver Jews backer Paz Lenchantin. The band’s current tour schedule is busy through next spring, and there will likely be more EPs released during that stretch. Rest assured, the Pixies feel the weight of fan expectations.
“We know there’s a lot of pressure,” Lovering says. “What we’re doing, it’s a tricky thing. We did a bunch of songs, and we knew that they had to be of some value. We had a lot of songs that we actually threw away. But we were very happy with everything, and we knew what was behind it and what people would think about it. There was a little trepidation, but we’re happy with the final product.”
who: Pixies with Cults
where: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, ticketmaster.com
when: Saturday, Feb. 1, at 8 p.m. $59.05-$69.30