"I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it [smiles]. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band - or at least in a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard." (Kurt Cobain about how he wrote "Smells Like Teen Spirit", from a Rolling Stone interview by David Fricke, 01-27-94, reported by James R. Butcher)
The death of the Pixies has been greatly exaggerated.
I know this, because I spoke with drummer David Lovering via telephone recently about how excited the group is to be finally putting its new material to the ultimate road test. He was funny, upbeat, and honest regarding their decision to soldier on following the departure of original bassist Kim Deal.
If you’ve seen Steven Cantor and Matthew Galkin’s documentary “loudQuietloud: A Film About the Pixies,” you’re already acquainted with the substance abuse and internal backbiting that led to their disbanding in 1993. The filmmakers stripped away any shred of rock star mystique by capturing them as everyday people working through everyday issues, a reality which was exacerbated by the fact that their 2004 reunion tour carried with it the expectation that things would go back to exactly the way they were at the beginning.
While the arenas were sold-out and the music was swinging as violently as it ever did, something wasn’t right within the band’s dynamic. The creative differences between Deal and singer/guitarist Frank Black flared up again, which led to the amount of time the band spent in each other’s company away from the stage becoming nearly non-existent.
They simply went about their business in a matter-of-fact way, leaving fans to question just how long it would continue.
Why did the Pixies matter so much? Why did the entire musical community salivate at the mere suggestion of a reunion for a band whose brief run had ended more than a decade earlier?
Well, the spontaneous combustion of their first three records gave birth to a whole generation of alternative up-and-comers in search of the magic touch. Kurt Cobain, being the savvy pop culture sponge that he was, admitted outright how Nevermind represented his attempt to craft an album in the Pixies mold and he was subsequently hailed as the musical genius of the ‘90s.
I’m not saying Cobain wasn’t great in his own way. I just think we need to give credit where credit is due by finally acknowledging how the Pixies paved the way for much of what MTV profited from during the so-called ‘Grunge’ era.
Perhaps the fact that the band is hitting the road with two new EPs in tow will spawn renewed interest in their legacy, because I don’t think anyone can argue against new Pixies material entering the marketplace.
Given how sluggish the concert scene in Western New York is during the winter months, I urge people to venture out into the world and experience the Pixies within the confines of Toronto’s Massey Hall. It’s a quick jaunt from the border, and heaven only knows when we’ll actually be able to catch them in the immediate area again.
If you take only one concert road trip in 2014, let it be the Pixies.
If the thought of hearing “Crackity Jones” played on the same stage where Neil Young gave us so many sacred moments doesn’t seal the deal, my chat with Lovering should take care of that.
Question: How does it feel to be recording new material once again?
Lovering: Great, really. We released those five albums way back in the day, but now our process gets quicker and quicker. I’ve enjoyed working together again, because I didn’t realize how much I would miss it following the break-up. I love sitting down at the kit to settle into the Pixies style after all this time, so things are going well.
Question: How has the band dynamic changed following the departure of bassist Kim Deal?
Lovering: Not that much. It’s essentially the same, because we have Paz (Lenchantin) playing with us now, and she’s female and a really great musician. The Yin and Yang dynamic is still there. We realized how difficult it would be to replace someone like Kim, but I don’t think we’ve lost anything.
Question: What does Paz Lenchantin bring to the table that makes her a worthy replacement?
Lovering: Professionalism, mostly. She plays bass like crazy and has a great voice, so we’re excited to tour with her.
Question: Did you guys have any parameters when it came to finding Kim’s replacement?
Lovering: Just a female. That’s all it was, really. It helps that Paz is such a terrific player, but it wasn’t that complicated.
Question: When Pitchfork panned your EP back in September 2013, did you think they were simply trying to generate publicity?
Lovering: With a name like Pitchfork, what do you expect? We’ve never gotten a lot of bad press, so it was certainly surprising.
Question: When the band reunited in 2004, did the rush of sold-out shows surprise you at all?
Lovering: It was a complete surprise for me. We began talking about getting back together, but we didn’t have any idea how quickly it would take off. I remember playing Coachella and seeing kids in the audience who weren’t even born when we had our initial run of success. They were singing along to every word, which was an amazing thing to see.
Question: Given that you’ve all been through personal struggles in the past, do you feel as if you’re in a much better place now?
Lovering: I think so. We’re older and wiser than ever before, so we’ve conveniently found a productive way to work together again. Everything has been nice and easy. We were fortunate to break up in 1993, because, had we not, I don’t think we’d be able to play together today. Things had gotten quite contentious around that time, so the time away was good for us.
Question: Now that Nirvana is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, do you think that more attention will be paid to just how influential Pixies were for that entire generation of alternative bands?
Lovering: It’s possible, I suppose. I don’t know a lot about that process, but I think people are well aware of our impact on the industry.
Question: How did the idea for The Scientific Phenomenalist come about?
Lovering: When Pixies broke up in 1993, I gave up the drums for the longest time. I hadn’t been doing a lot, but I ended up attending a magic convention that initially got me interested. I took classes, bought videos, and practiced relentlessly. I began performing at parties and soon realized that developing an on-stage routine is often tougher than being a musician. I focused my act on magic that incorporated as much science as it did entertainment, which was really satisfying for me.
Question: Do you feel that magic has been a good creative outlet for you when the band is on hiatus?
Lovering: Incredibly so. Magic strengthened my confidence in a lot of ways, because playing music in front of thousands of people never bothered me. It was only when I started putting on magic shows in front of a much smaller audience that I would begin sweating bullets, so I’m much more focused now.
Question: Of the five albums the Pixies released, which one do you consider your favorite?
Lovering: I would have to say that “Surfer Rosa” is my favorite, because that material really sticks with me. I’m not saying it’s our best sonically or musically, but I love those songs the most.
Question: What are your long-term plans once the touring wraps up?
Lovering: Right now, we don’t much on the schedule outside of touring. The more songs I receive, the more I believe that we’ll release a full-length album at some point, but nothing is for sure at the moment.
Pixies play Massey Hall on Jan. 15. See http://www.ticketmaster.ca for details.