A Brief History of Pixies


Amherst, Massachusetts 1983 Songwriter Charles Michael Kitridge Thompson
IV meets guitarist Joey Santiago while living near each other in the dorms at the University
of Massachusetts Amherst. They began to regularly jam together. A couple years later, both had dropped out
of college and moved to Boston with the goal of starting a rock band. They placed an ad in the Boston Phoenix, which
said “Band seeks bassist into Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul and Mary. Please – no chops.” One person answered the ad, and that was guitarist
Kim Deal. She arrived to audition without a bass, since
she had never played bass guitar before. But she loved Thompson’s songs and was inspired
to get one. The trio began rehearsing in Deal’s apartment. Now, they still needed a drummer. Deal suggested they reach out to David Lovering,
a friend of her husband. Lovering, who had all but given up drumming
by this point in his life, was convinced and decided to join the band. After literally scouring a dictionary for
awhile, Santiago suggested the band be called Pixies. The rest of the band was like, “sure, why
not.” They began rehearsing in Lovering’s parents’
garage. Soon after, they got their first gig at a
bar in Cambridge. The bar spelled the band’s name wrong, however,
advertising them as “the Puxies.” But by the summer of 1986 they were regularly
getting gigs at bars all over Boston, and these bars spelled their name correctly. Their music was really hard to categorize,
and promoters didn’t know what to do with them. The songs were catchy, but every song was
chaos….always seemingly about to fall apart. The band was creative with how they advertised
these shows. They made posters that said “Death to the
Pixies” and featured a naked Thompson on them On December 13, 1986, Pixies opened up for
Throwing Muses at a legendary Boston venue affectionately known as The Rat. It was at that show that producer Gary Smith,
who managed a local recording studio known as Fort Apache Studios, told the band he “could
not sleep until you guys are world famous.” He begged them to record with him. Eventually they said yes, recording a 17-track
demo with Smith at Fort Apache in March 1987. Thompson’s dad paid the $1,000 needed for
the recording session, and the band finished in three days. The songs made it quite clear that Pixies
were not a band that could be easily labeled, and thus, probably not easily marketed. Sure, they were parts punk rock, and parts
surf rock, but they really were creating an entirely new sound. Around the time of the recording of the demo,
Thompson took on the stage name Black Francis and Deal took on the stage name Mrs. John
Murphy as a joke referencing her husband. A local promoter named Ken Goes became the
band’s manager and sent the demo out to labels. Elektra, Slash, SST, Relativity, Homestead,
Throbbing Lobster, New Rose…yep, all of those labels rejected them. But Goes also got the demo to Ivo Watts-Russell
of the British record label 4AD. Well Watts-Russell wasn’t that impressed
by the demo either, but his girlfriend was, and she talked him into signing the band. 8 of the 17 songs would make up the debut
mini-LP by the band, called Come On Pilgrim. 4AD released Come On Pilgrim on September
28, 1987, and it did pretty well on the UK indie album chart, peaking at number 5. That success led to 4AD giving the band $10,000
to record a full-length album. Producer and musician Steve Albini agreed
to record the band. This was before Albini had hit legendary status,
but he was still well respected at the time. Pixies recorded the album for a couple weeks
in December 1987. Famously, Albini recorded Deal’s vocals
in a bathroom for the songs “Where Is My Mind?” and “Gigantic.” 4AD released Pixies debut studio album, Surfer
Rosa, on March 2, 1988. Critics generally praised the album, especially
in the United Kingdom, where it also spent 60 weeks on the UK indie album chart. The American music magazine Spin described
the album as “beautifully brutal,” and later named Pixies musicians of the year. Despite all the love from critics, Surfer
Rosa didn’t get much mainstream radio airplay, and featured only one single: “Gigantic.” That said, today Surfer Rosa is considered
a classic album, later reshaping alternative rock and influencing grunge. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain said Surfer Rosa strongly
shaped how he wrote the album Nevermind. To promote the album, Pixies toured with Throwing
Muses all over Europe. By the end of the tour, THEY were the headliners, not Throwing Muses. Around that time, the band met British producer
Gil Norton, who would end up producing much of their music. They began recording with Norton in October
1988, this time with a budget of $40,000. These recordings would have a much cleaner
sound compared to previous recordings. Recording wrapped up at the end of November,
and on April 17, 1989, 4AD released Pixies’ second studio album, Doolittle. It was the band’s first international release,
with the label Elektra distributing it in the United States and PolyGram distributing
it in Canada. Doolittle was both a critical and commercial
success, with two hit singles: “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Here Comes Your Man,”
a song which showed they could be straight up poppy if they wanted to. Doolittle became famous for its dynamics-
you know, often abruptly going from sudden loud to quiet to loud again within the same
song- which ended up being copied by many bands afterward. The album particularly did well on alternative
radio in the United States. Despite all this success, Kim Deal and Black
Francis were not getting along very well. At the root of the conflict was that Deal
wanted more creative control within the band and Francis didn’t want to give up creative
control. After another long European tour in the summer
of 1989 and a very stressful American tour in the fall, the band decided to take a little
break. Santiago and Lovering went on vacation. Francis went a short solo tour. And Deal formed a new band with Tanya Donelly
of Throwing Muses and Josephine Wiggs of Perfect Disaster called The Breeders. In January 1990, Francis, Santiago, and Lovering
all moved from Boston to Los Angeles. Deal was in the UK recording the first Breeders
album with Steve Albini. In February, Pixies began recording new material,
again with producer Gil Norton. Francis wrote many of the songs in the studio
right before they recorded them. They didn’t have much time to actually rehearse. Eventually, Deal reunited with the band, and
by the spring Pixies had wrapped up recording. 4AD and Elektra released their third studio
album, Bossanova, on August 13, 1990. This one also had two singles “Velouria”
and “Dig for Fire.” Critics mostly praised the album, and it also
got lots of airplay on alternative radio. On August 26, Pixies played their first really
big show, headlining the Reading festival. Over the next couple months, they continued
to play huge festivals across Europe with musicians like David Bowie, who once said
Pixies, along with Sonic Youth, had made the most compelling music of the 1980s. In between tours during the first half of
1991, Pixies recorded new songs, but Kim Deal had less and less of a role on them. 4AD released Pixies fourth studio album, Trompe
le Monde, on September 23, 1991, and it would be the last to feature Deal. The album saw Pixies returning to their roots
with a more raw sound, and critics once again uniformly praised it, although it was overshadowed
by another album released at about the same time (Nevermind). Still, it featured four singles: “Planet
of Sound,” “Alec Eiffel,” “Letter to Memphis,” and “Head On.” The band once again toured constantly to promote
the album, playing huge shows in Europe and smaller ones in the United States. In early 1992, U2 asked the band to open for
them for part of their Zoo TV tour. Throughout all of these shows, playing to
the biggest audiences in their careers, that the band was probably the least happy. Deal and Francis were once again regularly fighting. On April 25, 1992, the band played its last
show of the tour in Vancouver. Afterward, the band all agreed to take a break. Once again, Deal started working again with
the Breeders and Francis began recording a solo album. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, Francis
announced that the band had broken up. He announced it on January 13, 1993 on the
BBC show Radio 5, and gave no explanation. Only later that day did Francis call Santiago
to tell him the news and, believe it or not, told Deal and Lovering about the breakup via
fax. An abrupt ending to a relatively short career,
but this story is not over…obviously. In the years after the breakup, the former
Pixies members had several projects. First of all, Black Francis changed his stage
name to Frank Black and released a few solo albums, including some with his new collaborators,
going by Frank Black and the Catholics. While Santiago still contributed to some Frank
Black albums, he also collaborated with other musicians, began writing TV and film scores,
and formed a band called the Martinis with his wife Linda Mallari. Deal continued with The Breeders, who had
a big hit with “Cannonball” from their album Last Splash in 1993. She also later formed a band called the Amps. Lovering also collaborated with other musicians,
but turned down an invitation from Dave Grohl to join the Foo Fighters. A few years later, he became a magician. I’m not joking. Meanwhile, in the years following the breakup,
Pixies were bigger than ever. More and more of their songs entered the mainstream
in various ways. Flash forward to 2003, and just as abruptly
as Charles Thompson ended Pixies, he brought them back together. Thompson called Santiago to see if he wanted
to reunite, and Santiago called the others. They did, they all did…and started jamming together again,
just like old times. Soon, the rumours got out and the world was
excited. Pixies were back, baby! They played their first reunion show on April
13, 2004 at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And then, one long, worldwide reunion tour
throughout 2004. On May 3, 4AD released Wave of Mutilation:
Best of Pixies, and it added to the hype. In June, Pixies released a new song called
“Bam Thwok” exclusively on iTunes. (instrumental) In 2005, it was no longer a reunion…they
just kept playing shows, including appearances at Lollapalooza and the Newport Folk Festival. After continuing to play shows around the
world in 2006 and 2007, journalists were wondering “why not record a new album?” Charles Thompson, or Frank Black, well actually
who by this time was once again Francis Black, said he hoped for the band to record a new
album, but said Deal didn’t want to. Yeah, I probably should point out that since
the band had gotten back together, there were once again tensions between Black and Deal. In October 2009, Pixies went on tour to celebrate
the 20th anniversary of the release of Doolittle, performing the complete album live, even including
the B-sides. In 2010 and 2011, Pixies continued to tour
around the world…but still, mostly playing the old tunes. After not hearing much from the band in 2012,
on June 14, 2013, the band announced that Deal had left the band. Though Pixies has said she is always welcome
back, she has yet to take them up on that offer. They replaced Kim with another Kim…Kim Shattuck,
who played on the 2013 European tour. On June 28th, Pixies released the song “Bagboy”
as a free download on their website. On September 3rd, they released EP1, which
featured four new songs. Gil Norton produced it, and Simon Archer,
from the band the Fall played bass in the recordings. Yeah, it got a lot of negative reviews. A couple months later, they kicked Shattuck
out of the band, soon replacing her with Paz Lenchantin, a violinist and bassist who had
contributed to many big bands over the years. Pixies released two more EPs in early 2014. EP2 on January 3rd, and EP3 on March 24th. Wow, what creative names of EPs. The reviews for the other two EPs weren’t
much better, but at least the band was getting comfortable recording together again. Pixies threw all three EPs together and released
it as their fifth studio album, Indie Cindy, on April 19, 2014. It was their first new album in more than
22 years. In 2015, Pixies toured in support of THE Robert
Plant. Later that year, they began working with a
new producer in the studio named Tom Dalgety. On September 30, 2016, they released their
sixth studio album, Head Carrier. It was the first to fully feature Paz Lenchantin
on bass, and featured four singles, believe it or not: “Um Chagga Lagga,” “Tenement
Song,” “Classic Masher,” and “Bel Esprit.” This one got better reviews, but one of the
common criticisms was that the weirdness of Pixies was long gone with these new songs. That weirdness seemed to come back in 2018. Back in the studio with Dalgety, they returned
to their old weird selves, not giving a crap about expectations from fans or critics. These new songs ended up making up their seventh
studio album, Beneath the Eyrie, which the band released on September 13, 2019. Leading up to its release, they released a
podcast to promote it, hosted by music journalist Tony Fletcher. Beneath the Eyrie was the most critically
acclaimed Pixies album since Trompe le Monde. It featured the singles “On Graveyard Hill,”
which graced us with this weird video… and “Catfish Kate,” which the band performed live
on Stephen Colbert. Despite appearing on a national show like
this, Pixies still manage to remain under the radar, rarely getting much notice in the
mainstream. But that doesn’t mean they are any less
influential. In fact, today Pixies are arguably the most
influential alternative rock band of all time. Bands like Nirvana, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins,
Weezer, and Arcade Fire all were heavily influenced by them. They were too weird for even MTV and modern
rock radio, but MTV and modern rock radio completely ate up the bands they influenced. It’s paradoxical, because they are both
obscure yet also pervasive. Even today, Pixies are in a category all their
own, and they seem more comfortable than they’ve ever been. Hopefully they’ll get weirder and weirder
the older they get. So what is your favorite Pixies song or album? How does their new stuff compared to their
old stuff? Do you think they should be in the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame? Let me know in the comments below. Oh, and my answers to those questions are…My
favorite Pixies song is Hey, my favorite album is Doolittle, their newer stuff is almost
as good as their older stuff, and of course they should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame. Thanks for watching!

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