Pixies Guitarist Joey Santiago Talks Bass Players, Pitchfork Reviewers, and Long-Awaited New Releases

by | May 2, 2014 | MUSIC

In the past year, Pixies have released a stand-alone single (“Bagboy”) as well as two four-track EPs (aptly titled EP1 and EP2) [and, since this article went to press, a third EP, EP3, and an LP, Indie Cindy, that collects all three EPs–ed]. Besides a one-off song in 2003, this is the band’s first music in over twenty years, and the first music of any type without bassist Kim Deal.

In the past year, Pixies have released a stand-alone single (“Bagboy”) as well as two four-track EPs (aptly titled EP1 and EP2) [and, since this article went to press, a third EP, EP3, and an LP, Indie Cindy, that collects all three EPs–ed]. Besides a one-off song in 2003, this is the band’s first music in over twenty years, and the first music of any type without bassist Kim Deal. More importantly, this music is nothing short of a sharp departure from the Pixies’ trademark sound. You could definitely argue that every one of those songs has some element of the Pixies’ trademark sound, and that the band does have an eclectic catalogue of music. But for hardcore fans of 1989’s Doolittle or any of the band’s other amazing albums, a song like “Andro Queen” is going to be a big shock, whether you end up liking it or not.

Whether you like it, love it, hate it, or don’t care, there’s no denying that it’s a bold step forward for the band. While other bands can be content touring behind old material for what seems like forever, the Pixies are challenging themselves to not only make new music, but make different music. And why shouldn’t they make different music? It’s 2014, not 1989. Doolittle is one of the greatest albums of all time, but trying to duplicate that record 25 years later is not only a lost cause, but also slightly delusional, and perhaps pathetic too.

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Talking to Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago about the band’s new music and the past year of their career was very surprising. After losing Kim Deal, firing her replacement Kim Shattuck, and having to sit through some of the most brutal reviews of all time (in particular, Pitchfork scoring their new EPs 1 of 10 and 2 of 10, respectively), you’d think he’d want to vent for hours on end. Instead, it’s the exact opposite. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some bitterness there; the man’s only human after all. But as the legendary guitarist speaks about his band’s new work, his words are practically dripping with optimism and a regained enthusiasm for music. This is a man who loves what he’s doing and, above all else, that quality will always create music worth hearing.

How does it feel to be touring with new material again for the first time in about two decades?

[Laughs] Awesome. We feel like a band now. You know, bands record and make music. Obviously, I’ve always felt like I was in a band. The reunion tours we’ve been doing were great and all, but obviously this is something different, and it’s just fantastic.

Any butterflies about presenting this new music out to the public?

No, not at all. Because deep down, I just think it’s great. People will either embrace it or they won’t. It’s like when we were recording Doolittle or something. We didn’t give one shit if anyone would like it or anything. We just don’t care, because we like it. That’s it. That’s all that matters. When we record stuff, it really is all about entertaining ourselves. For the people, I feel like if we’re entertained, then they will be entertained.

What did you make of some of the reviews you got, especially the 1 out of 10 rating from Pitchfork?

We don’t give a shit. That’s Pitchfork and I know it’s kind of what they’re known for, but I think it was a joke. I think it was their way of getting readers or getting noticed or publicity or whatever. I mean, I just don’t know what the guy did to review it. The idiot probably didn’t even listen to it. Maybe for a second, or just a half-assed listen in the background, but I don’t think he really listened to it. I mean, how could you slam something like that and not find anything good about the music? You don’t even deserve to be a music critic at that point. At that point, it seems like you don’t even like music at all. Just seems like you hate everything. Jesus Christ, the guy probably would have slammed Picasso when he went through his cubism stage, writing something like “What the fuck is this?” What an asshole. He just seems to enjoy destroying music which is the exact opposite of what I want to do. I want to create. He wants to destroy. Guy’s a dick. Let me know where that fucker lives, all right? [Laughs]

I’m sure you’re not the only one to feel that way toward Pitchfork. Anyway, did it feel weird to move forward without Kim Deal as part of the band?

It did initially, and it does on occasion. I think about it, but now we’re on this schedule, so that kind of consumes my mind. We have to be here at a certain time because we wanted to and we booked it that way. There’s barely time to think about it until you’re up on stage and she’s not at the other end of the stage. Outside of that, it’s just the schedule. What time do I have to do this interview, get on this bus, do this soundcheck, etc.

Was Kim the one putting the brakes on releasing new music as rumored?

Well, she was definitely one of the main hang-ups, but she wasn’t the only one and it’s not like she was completely against it. Charles [Thompson, aka Black Francis] was kind of a hold-up too. He was very concerned about where the sound was going to come from or what the sound direction was going to be. The birth of a song and waiting for the muse to happen, those sort of things. I don’t write the songs, so that was on him. He comes up with the songs and then presents them to us. At that point, we become his toughest critics, except we actually really listen to his songs, unlike other critics. He just had to get us all on board.

So then how did your first single back, “Bagboy,” come about?

He’s always had it. At first, it was a blues riff that was a lot faster. He simplified it into just the two notes to create more space for the other parts of the songs. We had it before with Kim Deal. Kim recorded “Bagboy” and three other songs with us and that was it. She was on board with the new stuff and totally loved it. For some reason or another though, she had to go. She had to leave. That’s a mystery to us. We had dinner, she told us, and she wished us well. It was pretty sad, but it was a very amicable parting because that’s how professionals part with each other, if you catch my drift. I mean, it’s nice to have one Kim that’s professional.

Going off that subtle reference, how’s your new bass player, Paz Lenchantin, working out?

Oh, Paz is awesome. She’s a professional. She does her homework. She learned the lyrics without even being asked. She’s flawless as a bass player and as a singer. She’s got great manners too and we welcome her with big open arms. Hopefully, she loves us more than we love her. We got in touch with her through a recommendation from a great friend of mine, Josh Freese. He’s a great drummer and he played with Paz in A Perfect Circle. When he recommended her, I asked him if there was anyone else he could think of, because we were doing tryouts so we didn’t want to just have one person show up. Josh called me back and said, “I don’t have anyone else. Just try Paz.” He was basically telling me that we didn’t need to try out anyone else but Paz. We tried her out and she was just awesome, so Josh was right. It was a great fit.

So moving forward, will Paz be a part of the recording process or just a touring member?

Well… I don’t know? Has she recorded with us?

You tell me!

I don’t know, man…

All right, all right. Well, how important was it for you guys to get Gil Norton back as a producer for this new material?

Very important. I mean, he’s worked on the vast majority of what we’ve done. He knew the history so he was going to be the guy to help us write the next chapter of our catalogue. I think he did a great job too with directing our sound. It’s a lot cleaner sounding, which is different. That’s all right, but there are still a lot of gritty moments. “Blue Eyed Hexe” is not a friendly-sounding song, you know? Helping us with the sound was half of wanting to work with him. The other half is that he just gets us. We have our quirks so we were afraid to scare off a new producer. Like we get some hot-shot young producer and just scare him off. He’d go tell everyone, “Those guys are just fucked up.” I mean, everyone’s like that, but the three of us are just a different kind of fucked up. It wasn’t even a question of should we get Gil or not. It just went without saying.

Would you say that “cleaner sounding” style is what led to some criticism?

Well, we’ve always had this disparity in style, which is what I don’t understand from some of the criticism. “Hey” sounds nothing like “Tame.” It’s not like there was never any old Pixies sound on these new songs. On the chorus for “Bagboy,” my guitar part is classic and I love it. It was such an epic moment and the song was just begging for it. Nowadays with my personal sound, I place things very carefully, and that was just a moment where I was like, “This is it!” There are a lot of moments on the EPs where you can hear the grossness, or my own personal sound as opposed to some of the cleaner sounding stuff. But then again, I can’t help it. I can’t help sounding like me. It’s a silly statement, but I got to be me. Even with my own sound, all the songs are different. We’re like a radio station. Maybe a fucked up one, but still a radio station. We have tons of different kinds of music. In the end though, it still sounds like the Pixies, right? We’re a factory that just can’t help but produce Pixies sounding stuff. Even when we cover stuff, like Neil Young or Leonard Cohen, it ends up sounding like the Pixies. We just can’t help it.

How would you compare EP1 to EP2?

Honestly, I don’t know. “Blue Eyed Hexe” could be compared to “What Goes Boom” sonically, but I mean, all the songs from the EPs are different. That’s what they have in common – they’re all different. They’re EPs. There should be a variety of songs presented. It doesn’t have to be as coherent as an album and that’s a good thing for what we’re doing right now.

So what about making an album?

Well, we’re not at that stage yet. We’re on touring mode so we’re not down with talking like that right now. [Black Francis] will come to me with an idea to do this or that every now and then. We’ll entertain the idea, but then we’ll just get busy with whatever. It’s hard for us to set aside that time right now. The EPs work for what we’re doing right now. We like it and I think the fans like it too. Maybe down the line, but it’s not on our agenda right now.

So how many more EPs should we be expecting?

Oh, God! Well, at least one or two more. We’re just going to keep on recording, so there’s going to be infinite more. We’re going to record again and really act like a rock band again. Rock bands keep recording, so we will too. I don’t know how many EPs there are going to end up being, but it will be more than one and I’m pretty excited for them.

Photo by Sarah Nunnally

Sounds like you’re just having fun in music again.

Having fun and more importantly, appreciating music again. I’m just tired of all the moaning and bitching in music today. It’s a great life. It’s why anyone picks up the guitar, really. I’d say 97% of people who pick up a guitar aspire to tour the world and “be a rock star” and make a bunch of music. I just love it. Even though I miss home at times, I got to earn money and this is the best way to do it. Not only the best, but the most awesome. I don’t think I’ll ever be breaking guitar strings with my teeth again unless [Black Francis] tells me I got spinach in my teeth, but overall, I’m loving music again and being a band again.


Keep up with new material by the Pixies at their website, pixiesmusic.com.

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

Former GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.

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