July 8, 2021
2:46 PM (PT)/5:46 PM (ET)
“The Pixies name came about because it was going to be a challenge to make it good,” guitarist Joey Santiago explains over Zoom. “Because Pixies…that’s not a band. That’s not a rock ‘n roll name. Unless you know that they’re mischievous, that I liked. Now you could say that it’s a rock ‘n roll band, I guess…but you think ‘pixies’ it’s like a cute…it’s fucking… Tinkerbell.”
While pixie folklore ranges across centuries and continents, it’s believed they originated in English fireside fables, linked to the faery family. Some are indeed downright evil, but for the most part, pixies are tiny tricksters who love to dance and sing in groups, especially at night. At first glance, they’re practically human, except for their immortality and ability to create magic.
One doesn’t become a pixie—one is born that way. Whenever there’s a pixie in a story, it’s about to get interesting and take some unexpected twists and turns. Their only predictability is their lack thereof. Perhaps most importantly, they’re far from gods—downright imperfect—yet live forever among the mortals.
We know that the Boston-based Pixies originated in the mid-’80s.
Newly-out-of-academic-probation Economics major Joey Santiago met Charles Michael Kitteridge Thompson IV (Black Francis, to you and me) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and they officially formed a twosome in 1986. As the legend goes, Kim Deal was the only one to respond to their ad for a bass player, but she couldn’t actually play. Though Kim’s twin sister Kelley also auditioned for the band—and would later join Kim’s eventual-full-time-side-project The Breeders—they hired David Lovering on drums.
Now officially a group, Pixies began singing and dancing and creating benign mischief all around Boston’s underground bar scene. It’s possible they had no idea how they were about to shake shit up. By 1987, after catching the attention of producer Gary Smith, they recorded their first album Come on Pilgrim. Surfer Rosa (1988) and Doolittle (1989) followed, the latter spawning the band’s pop-chart-topper “Here Comes Your Man.” Widening fissures between Francis and Deal led to a brief hiatus before 1990’s Bossanova and 1991’s Trompe le Monde. The gigantic recording break before 2014’s Indie Cindy, (Kim Shattuck very briefly replaced now full-time Breeder Kim Deal in 2013), and then the so-far last two studio albums, Head Carrier (2016) and Beneath the Eyrie (2019) featured Paz Lenchantin on bass, violin and vocals. In true pixies character, their discography is a lesson in alt-rock history and legendary impact. Musically, they’re tough to pin down, blending their signature stop-start, “loud-quiet-loud” sound. Nirvana, Weezer and Radiohead are amongst the countless who noted their influence.
We are here today because Trompe le Monde turns 30. The band is celebrating with a limited edition, green marble vinyl reissue, available on September 24. “You’re supposed to feel like you’re in somewhere else, fooling you, but that’s it,” Joey explains of the album’s title, which translates to “fool the world.” Then, he adds: “To be honest…I don’t give a shit about album titles.”
“A lot of people claim that this is their favorite one of ours,” Santiago says, noting that the process of making it was rough at best, fraught with tension amongst the band’s members. “Bands don’t necessarily have to get along, loving, and all that crap to make an album,” he says, and of course we know this is true. “We were going through a tumultuous time and we still managed to put our head down and just say, ‘This is studio time. Let’s make the best of it. We’re going to make a record no matter what happens. No matter what the chemistry is like.’” When pressed for details, he says: “I won’t even be a politician on this. No, it wasn’t any good at all.” So not good, the band broke up shortly thereafter. “What’s the secret? Why did we break up? It’s not because we loved each other so much that we exploded,” Joey says. “That’s not the reason why.”
Perhaps the hard times influenced the album’s signature hard sound. “Yes, it was a very hard sound,” Santiago says. “I guess just what Charles delivered on the table was going to be hard. Aside from that, we tried a new amp that had more of an aggressive sound, still a Marshall but had a solid-state front and that would make it really abrasive.”
In the unpredictable 2021 wildwood of live shows, this year they played a few concerts, including Riot Fest and Summerfest. Could Joey even have imagined as an econ major at UMass Amherst, nearly 40 years later he’d be talking about his—dare we say it—legacy? “There was no way I would believe this was going to still be happening at this age because I looked at the careers of other bands that were this old, and I would ask them, ‘How do you keep going?’ There’s nothing else to do for us. We’ve had such a long career that the only experience we know how to do is this. A flower shop would probably turn me down at this point if I wanted to work.”
When asked about his favorite songs from Trompe le Monde, he says that it changes from day-to-day. “I actually like ‘Lovely Day’ and ‘Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons’. I would say ‘Bird Dream.’ It’s a toe-tapper.” He notes that he likes the “weird” ones the most, the ones they don’t play live. “It’s because I’ve heard of those other songs a million times. I play them a million times. We’ve done all these songs on the tour to support the tour. Even ‘Navajo Knobs’ is a weird one. People love ‘U-Mass’, that they love. It should have been the single. That could have been the single.”
So, what’s so special about Trompe le Monde? Just about everything, depending on who you ask. If you’re a collector, the reissue will serve as a stunning addition, and that alone is a great reason to buy, but Santiago doesn’t beat around the bush with selling points. Instead, in true punky pixie fashion, he says: “If they haven’t heard it, they should be curious why people look up to this album. As a musician, you could listen to it, you can go, ‘I see. I see.’ Or even if they don’t see it, they’re going to learn something from it. You can learn anything from an album, you don’t have to like it. Buy me a cup of coffee and buy the fucking record.” For emphasis, he adds: “Give Joe a cup of Joe.”
Joe’s done some film and TV work, and is sure to note that it’s far from his favorite. (“You can quote me on this. I’ll only take on a film and I will vet it and if I accept it, it’ll be a fucking great film.”) Now, as a 56-year-old musician, he feels he still has a lot to learn. “For myself, there’s room for me to grow, but is that growth going to be allowed in this Pixies realm? You know what I mean? I’m responsible for part of the sound. I got to remain true to that. At the same time explore. There’s so many things there’s still yet to discover.” He practices with country licks. “It’s good for the fingers,” he says. “Good for the memory,” he adds. Then, sheepishly: “Except that I forgot that this interview was at 2:30…”
It’s now a few minutes before I speak with drummer David Lovering. “I bet you he’s going to do a magic trick for you,” Santiago says. “Because it’s a video, he will do a magic trick. He will. He will. Maybe his magic tricks will be lies. Maybe he’ll play the politician…and not answer the questions correctly.”
“That’s not magic. That’s pathology,” I counter.
“If he says that we were getting along on Trompe le Monde… Lies, I say.”
And then he adds: “Be very punctual. He’s always waiting. He’s the first one in the lobby and I’m the last one. The way it goes.”
July 8, 2021
3:30 PM (PT)/6:30 PM (EST)
Drummer David Lovering is, in fact, ready and waiting in the virtual lobby. When he learns of my South Shore Boston roots, he lets out a hearty, “WICKED PISSAH!,” a New Englander salute that roughly translates to “TOTALLY FUCKIN’ AWESOME.” He’s just come from the dentist, and flashes a friendly, toothy grimace as proof. When I sheepishly apologize for wearing a Boston T-shirt, he remarks warmly, “No, it’s my favorite. I’ve lived in California longer than I grew up in Boston at this point of my life, but I’m still a Bostonian. I’m still a Massachusetts New Englander.” He was actually just back in New Hampshire dropping his nephew off at camp. He ate all his favorite foods—“fried clams, roast beef sandwiches, pizza, any seafood”— but remarks that the lobster rolls aren’t what they used to be.
“I’m 59. I’ll be 60 in December…to say Trompe le Monde is 20 years old…where’s my wheelchair?”
I correct him: “It’s 30 years old.”
“Oh, 30? Oh, no! Where’s my cane and wheelchair?!”
A graduate of Boston’s Wentworth Institute of Technology, Lovering was in his senior year about to achieve his Bachelor’s degree in electronics when he joined the Pixies, practicing in his parents’ garage and doing shows. After graduating he got an engineering job at a laser company, worked there for one short month before quitting to be a full-time band member. “We already recorded Come on Pilgrim and we got signed to 4AD at the time,” he says. “The band was something that I dreamt of as a kid and I dreamt of electronics, too.” He attended Wentworth after years of working for Radio Shack, admitting he cried for weeks when the company went bankrupt. “It was a tough decision,” he continues, of joining a band. “My parents hated it. They wanted me not to be an electronic engineer, they wanted me to be a doctor, so it was a double whammy. Anyway, I left the job and went to the Pixies and this is where I am now. One good thing about it during our years as a band, when you crash at other bands’ houses, when you’re doing tours in a band and stuff like that, I would repair their TVs, their radios and that stuff. That was the payback for our lodging.”
He’s still into electronics. “I build a lot of stuff. I’m still much of a geek. I can do magic and I do electronics and metal detecting. That’s my geek side.” Behind the woods of his Burlington, Massachusetts home, he’d scoured for Revolutionary artifacts, and even found a British coin from 1724. He found a hundred-years-old dime worth $25,000. It was so corroded he had to use electrolysis to identify it, which decreased its value. For him, it’s not about the money, it’s the fun of the find. He has underwater detectors, too.
“So…what was it like making Trompe le Monde?” I ask.
He takes a deep breath and looks upward. He starts off slow. “I think, if I recall now… Now, again, I probably have to refer to Wikipedia and everything for all this. If I remember, I knew it was kind of late in the game with us. It was our fifth album and I knew there were tensions. There were tensions always in the band. We were doing this five years, we were close at quarters, we were dysfunctional, this and that. What’s funny is, if my memory serves me right, it might have been a little awkward, if I recall. When I listen back to Trompe le Monde, it’s like, ‘What?’ Because a lot of those songs were either written in the studio or this and that and I don’t even know how the heck I came up to some of the stuff. I couldn’t even play it. Today some of the songs which we don’t play like ‘Space’ and a couple of the other songs I was like, ‘What? That was me? No way.’ Despite whatever is going on, I think that we were really doing well considering the progression as far as musicianship and stuff like that because when I listen back it’s like, ‘Wow. It’s kind of a spacy album that I think is really good in hindsight.’”
“All the albums as they went along from the first one which was a demo which became Come on Pilgrim and then it was Surfer Rosa and then Doolittle and Bossanova and then Trompe le Monde. Each album…it was getting quicker and quicker to turn them out. Now, this wasn’t because of the record company or anything. It was just because of zeal to do records and then quicker, quicker, and quicker. I’m quite surprised that we were able to achieve that considering this was bang, bang, bang, bang and quicker and quicker and having to throw everything together, how happy I am with it.”
He says “Space (I Believe In)” is his favorite song on the album. “We’ve never played that live, ever, ever. I remember, like I said, when I look back on it it’s like, ‘How did I come up with that?’ I remember piecing it together. I think that was one of my favorite songs to do because it was so complicated. It was parts upon parts of having to come up with stuff and I think that’s what– I like kind of being inventive. I don’t know so much about it nowadays, but it was fun and more inventive, and trying to come up with something like that.”
When asked how the Trompe le Monde reissue is timely for a new audience, he says it serves as a reintroduction for those who only know the newer material. “If I could compare it to the other albums, I’ve always said that all the Pixies’ albums, they’re different. They’re kind of a different eclectic kind of thing with dynamics or different songs. I can’t compare. I can’t compare a Surfer Rosa to Bossanova really, in a way and I can’t compare Trompe le Monde to Doolittle or something like that. There’s different things in them. They’re Pixies, they’re us playing and our stuff, but the songs were a little different. Like I said, I think Trompe le Monde is kind of spacy. I think it took a lot more for Charles to go on that space thing rather than religion, or some other things I think on Trompe le Monde, or that sound. I should add also, Trompe le Monde, we were adding a lot of instrumentation. There were keyboards now that we had, we didn’t do that on Bossanova if I remember. I think the only thing that we did to an extent was ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’, string session come in, but this was the first time that we had keyboards, which we actually took on the road. That added another element to it.
“I think also Joey’s brother played guitar, so we had another guitarist, as well. It was a very full sound and everything. It was much grander. I think it’s a very educated album maybe in a way, or something just where we were at that point in time.”
“When you formed the band in 1986, did you ever think you’d be sitting here talking about a 30-year rerelease?” I ask.
“No, no, no, no. It’s surreal,” he says. “It really is. It really is.” He found their breakup sad. “When we hit the seven-year point 2004 and 2011, we were like, ‘Wait a minute, this is longer doing this reunion thing that we were initially a band.’ That was surreal in itself. That point right there, and now we’re 10 years later than that. Then 2011 when we were looking like, that’s crazy. I think we’re very fortunate to have an audience. It’s very nice and I’m very fortunate to still be playing.” Does he even know that Pixies are now considered a legacy band? “I’ve learned that terminology of that, yes. Which is great. It just means we can go out and we have an audience. It’s wonderful. What is really great is we have an audience that runs the gamut of age. There are young, there are the old, there’s people my age, and kids, it’s wonderful.”
He finds it heartening that his band could have influenced other musicians. “It’s tough to think…because I’m in this band and I know these people, you don’t think anything other than we’re this little thing. It’s tough to get that when this is something that’s so ingrained, and I wouldn’t say simple to you, it’s just that all we know that we do that is wonderful, but it’s hard to really get your head around it. You know what I mean? I can’t explain it.”
And then, brightly: “It’s wonderful.”
“The only thing I think I’ve learned is everybody’s the same because we’ve traveled the world, the same feelings I have anybody else has,” he says. “I would have known this anyway, but having seen it firsthand, it solidifies it much more that everybody’s the same as you. There is no difference. To be in a band that’s another thing I do but it’s not a big deal.”
I become disappointed when it seems I’ll be the crowned winner of Joey’s prediction for a magic trick, and find myself asking for one. “I didn’t have that planned because sometimes I get crap for it from my family,” he laughs, admitting that he used to always carry magic paraphernalia on him, in case the opportunity arose. He rushes to collect his props, and when he returns he promises two tricks. The first, a pick-a-card-any-card card standard. I pick a card in my head, as instructed, I write it down. “Okay, now, I know you wrote it down but I swear I don’t have a deck of cards on me. I have nothing. I want you to tell me what card you’re thinking of. Actually, tell me honestly.”
“Two of hearts,” I say.
“Let me stand up and reach in my wallet,” he stands, moves back, then closer. “I’ll move closer. It’s pretty thin, I don’t have much in here, but I did take one thing in before I started assuming, you said the two of hearts? Oh, gosh. Let’s see,” he opens the wallet and pulls out the three of hearts.
“I win!” I exclaim, in spite of myself.
“Liza, I was off by one,” he says, smoothly. “I was off by one, but you know something?” He flips the card over and the words “OFF BY 1” are written on the back.
Mouth agape, I am floored. I am five years old again. This is the kind of stuff David regularly offers on the Pixies social channels, in case you want to check it out, on his Magic Mondays.
“I have one more for you…” he says. I’m riveted. He pulls out two rubber bands, and links them together, placing one between his finger and his thumb. “I’m going to do the other one too but I’m going to link them together, so I am fingercuffed. See that? How are they stuck together? I can’t pull through. I can’t go over the ends of the rubber band, but right there if I blow…” he blows on them. “One strand at a time just melts. I don’t know if you saw that or you can understand what I did?”
I am stumped. I have no idea what he did.
“It’s funny because being behind the drums it’s kind of entertaining, I like doing stuff like that. When I did my first magic trick I did it in front of 10 people and I ended up with so much sweat I could have filled up a Dixie cup. That kind of doing something on my own, if I can say one thing about magic, it’s confidence. It built up my confidence. I can’t say that I was confident before, but doing magic one-on-one or with people and stuff like that, it builds confidence. If there’s anything I can stress, and even my kids, just learn a magic trick because it’s a great thing that’s helped me a lot. You can take people back to being a kid in a way, like that ‘ah’, and wonder, which is nice. There’s not a lot of things that do that, so it’s nice to do.”