Is it overstatement to say that late ‘80s/early ‘90s-era outfit The Pixies invented alternative rock? The sound that Nirvana pushed into the mainstream began largely with them, and hundreds of bands owe credit. Kurt Cobain was often quoted saying The Pixies’ first full-length album Surfer Rosa was his favorite all-time record and greatest influence.
The Pixies broke up in 1993, just as the popularity of the sound they helped create began to swell. More than 10 years after their break up, despite assertions from band members that a reunion would never happen, the band announced a tour in 2004. A few years after the success of the initial reunion tours, the band got together in 2009 for the Doolittle tour.
I felt reasonably intimidated interviewing Joey Santiago, the guitarist of one of my all-time favorite bands. This was interestingly juxtaposed by how surprisingly nonchalant he was about their music. Almost as though he had tripped and fallen 20 years ago, and inadvertently recorded some of the most important rock music ever made.
Xpress: For this tour you will be performing Doolittle in its entirety, as well as all of the B-sides from the album. Where did this idea begin, to model a whole tour around playing a seminal album from start to finish?
Santiago: Well, it came about when we realized that Doolittle was going to be 20 years old. So it basically started as an anniversary tour.
Can the Asheville audience expect to hear more material aside from the album?
Yes … After the last song of Doolittle, we go backstage and discuss which other songs we want to play. It’s not much of an involved discussion. Usually I pick one, and Charles [Frank Black] picks one, Kim picks one, Dave picks one, and that’s basically how we decide.
It seems that the sound of the band changed a lot after Doolittle. The first three albums (Come on Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa, and Doolittle) all seem to me to have a similar sound, then it seems like Bossanova and Trompe le Monde were a very different direction. Was this a conscious decision, or more of a natural musical progression?
I think it was pretty natural. The songs for Bossanova and Trompe le Monde were put together mostly in the studio … We didn’t really play these songs out live before we recorded them. For the first three records we performed the songs to a crowd before we recorded them. Like for Doolittle, we tested those songs on the audience before we recorded them, so we had kind of a quality control. Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde are more studio albums than the first three.
It’s a common perception with music critics and audiences that The Pixies were the genesis of what would later be called alternative rock. What are the band’s feelings on being considered the godfathers of the genre?
Well, there has always been an alternative to the pop scene. We thought bands like The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Violent Femmes, Sonic Youth and Husker Du were alternative. That was our “alternative.” The phrase “alternative” just hadn’t been coined yet. Then a phrase gets coined, and then it’s like you’re the godfather. Let’s face it, “grunge” was around long before Nirvana, it’s just no one had come up with the word. Also, it’s not like you’re defining jazz, like when jazz came about. I actually don’t know who came up with jazz. But “alternative,” it’s not a definitive genre.
According to legend, you were the one who came up with name for the band. I read somewhere that the original band name that you came up with was Pixies in Panoply. Is this true?
I’m not sure how you pronounce Panoply, but yes. I just wanted to make it a long name. I liked the fact that the initials were PIP. I just flipped through a dictionary. You’ve got to keep the ball rolling, you know? Charles and I were going to start a band, and we needed a name.
What was the band’s approach to lyrics? It always seemed to me that most of the lyrics to The Pixies songs were fairly nonsensical.
Well it’s certainly more interesting than “Dear diary,” or “Whoa is me.” I like it. We would sometimes throw some Biblical stuff in there … It’s a good change, know what I mean?
You mean like “If man is five, then the devil is six, and if the devil is six then is God seven?”
— Par is a music promoter, DJ and freelance writer in Asheville.
who: The Pixies
where: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
when: Sunday, Sept. 12