There’s a little bit of Toronto in Head Carrier, the first full-length Pixies release since its much hullabalooed-about 2004 reunion shows.
The group, which is composed of Charles “Black Francis” Thompson, drummer David Lovering, guitarist Joey Santiago and new official member bassist Paz Lenchantin, spent three weeks in hogtown, labouring over demos. But despite the locale, don’t expect to hear a Drake or Broken Social Scene shout-out.
“You hear good music and you go great, there's music here that I'm enjoying but it's not like it necessarily informs what I'm doing right now,” Thompson says over the phone from his home in Massachusetts. “People presume that maybe you see or hear something and you immediately ricochet from that moment to the moment of songwriting. It doesn't really work like that for me. The White Album by the Beatles, which I was quite familiar with at 10 years old, is enough to keep me going for 10 lifetimes.”
Instead, it’s safe to say the new Pixies record sounds a lot like a new Pixies record. There are shades of their previous mega-hits “Where is my Mind” and “Gigantic,” while their patented loud-quiet-loud formula makes several appearances and Thompson’s lyrics are as sardonically absurdist as ever. Save, perhaps, for “All I Think About Now” — a bracingly frank “thank-you letter” to former bassist Kim Deal.
Below, Thompson talks Deal’s departure, the cultural acceptance of "fogie rock" and carrying on the “indie aesthetic” into your 50s.
Your first post-reunion song collection, Indie Cindy, was released as four EPs. So, help me out here, is this your first or second post-reunion album?
To clarify, our last record was released initially as EPs and there are reasons for that, but that doesn't necessarily describe some sort of aesthetic we were trying to pursue. That may have been how it was released, but the way that I or we wrote it and recorded it was essentially as an album; as a body of work. It didn't get parsed out to the community of listeners in that way so I think there's a misunderstanding that we were in four different head spaces when we created the four EPs.
So conceptually this is your second, but semantically your first?
I would elaborate to say that Indie Cindy was transitional in the sense that we hadn't made a record for many years. We were getting back together, we also lost Kim Deal in the middle of the record. So it kind of was a big question mark. We sort of knew, even with Kim Deal, a lot of people were going to view the record cynically: "Hey, who do you old farts think you are making a record 19 years after your last record?" Y'know? But when Kim left it really came to be defined as this transitional moment. We could have not made the record and bypassed that experience but at the time it was like here we are, we've got our guitars, we've got our songs, we know we lost the very beloved Kim Deal but, y'know, let's make the record and it will be whatever it will be. So we always knew it was going to be a transitional moment. This [album] feels more like a band doing more band things: plugging in your amps and practising in a dingy room that has no windows in it.
Paz has been playing in the Pixies since 2014. How crucial was it to make her an “official” member?
She certainly is an official member of the band, and that goes a long way, at least as far as we're concerned. It may not mean anything to a particular fan or listener, but to us now we are complete. We're not lacking in anything.
It’s been 12 years since you reunited. Do you feel you’ve shed the "novelty" aspect of doing that in the early aughts?
Certainly we did so-called reunion shows for the better part of 10 years. And there's nothing wrong with that. There are bands that do their material of yesteryear from their heyday for much longer than 10 years. I don't know if the culture has changed but it's not unusual for 50-year-old dudes to get up there and do their rock 'n' roll thing. It's not like they're "old fogies." The ageism of it has really changed.
I think, from our personal perspective, we don't really feel older. We're just doing the same thing we've always done: we're playing in the same venues that we've always played; it's the same dynamic. So we feel current, we feel relevant, we don't feel like we're old, per se, and fortunately the pop culture has changed somewhat to encompass the notion that you can go see Jane's Addiction. It doesn't matter that their heyday was 20 years ago, it's still rock music.
What do you think that says about modern rock music?
I think realistically music doesn't evolve at the pace we think it's evolving. Look, we can talk about this from different angles. You could argue that rock music hasn't evolved so much in the last 20 or 30 or 50 years. It just is where it its. And the idea that it's constantly changing and evolving and going through revolutions, all of that is bullshit.
You used a new producer for the first time in 20-some years. Did that change your dynamic at all?
We wanted to have a new producer because we wanted to get a little bit out of our comfort zone. We love Gil Norton but in order to keep working with him we needed to not work with him. In a weird way it almost honours what we've done with him not to not work with him.
To have some juxtaposition, you gotta shake it up. As long as the guy has half a brain and he likes music ... we all know what the goal is. The goal is to come up with 45 minutes of music that isn't boring. That's the goal. It doesn't matter how great the guitar player is, it doesn't matter how shitty the singer is, all of those things don't matter. It's not about prowess, it's about understanding the ambition. The ambition is to not be boring. Period.
I have to ask about “All I Think About Now.” What was the thought process of putting a song like that on this album?
There wasn't any thinking behind it. We had an accidental piece of music courtesy of Paz — she misunderstood some chords on a demo and wrote a bass part that didn't fit so she said, "Charles, I still think this is good. It could be a different song," and I said absolutely, let's finally embark on our collaboration together. You shall sing this song. And she said, "That's fine, Charles. We need words though. Why don't you write the words?" And I said OK, I'll write the words Paz but you will sing it and since you will sing it you will tell me what I should write about, if you can." And she said, "Sure, why don't you write a little thank-you note to Kim Deal?" And I said, "Wow, OK. No problem. I get it" — so I wrote it that night. It all kind of happened in 24 hours. The whole thing. There wasn't a lot of analysis. It was obvious. She's a woman, Paz, and she had a poignant female intuition and said, "You should write about this." So I was like, "Touché, Paz."
Compassionate introspective and personal doesn’t seem like an obvious lyrical place for you to draw on. Where was your mind during the writing process?
I was going down memory lane. I was trying to think about what was important in life and what was important about the Pixies and my relationship with Kim Deal and the odyssey of our band. So, of course, you have all kinds of emotions and conflicting feelings and I tapped into that. It's worth mentioning that I didn't want to write a song that was esoteric that it was literally about anything specific. I wanted it to be open-ended. I knew it was going to be catchy so I wanted the song to be pop, so that affected the lyrics also because you had to be able to put your own story into it and not get bogged down in the specifics of my life or the Pixies.
Has Kim heard it?
I don't think anybody has heard it except for journalists.
You could have sent it to her?
Oh c'mon, you expect me to call her like "Hey Kim, I wrote a song and I was thinking about you so you should really listen to it." I mean, that's kind of putting a lot of pressure on old Kim. I'm not gonna do that to her. I mean, maybe she would appreciate it but that feels too forward. It's enough, trust me, that I've said, "Hey world, I wrote a song and guess who it's about?!" That's enough forward behaviour for Charles Thompson. I don't need to f--king FedEx it to her.
Look, when I finish a record I go to "let's make another record." I can't go into I hope we get a gold record, I hope we get accepted into the hall of fame ... we're an indie rock band. I try to keep my ambitions aligned with that aesthetic.