Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago talks about touring and life after Kim Deal
By Jaime Lees
Thursday, Feb 6 2014
“Other than Kim not being around anymore, for me personally, really nothing has changed,” Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago explains from a hotel room somewhere in the northeastern United States. “I still appreciate it. I’m still enjoying it. I look forward to the first day of the tour, as always. I still count down. Like, ‘How many more days until I get back on the road?'”
Santiago is on tour now, on an off day between shows in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. A couple of minutes into our interview, he mentions that he’s going through a divorce. He is referring to his personal life, but his band has recently gone through a divorce, too. Fan favorite Kim Deal, Pixies bass player and vocalist, left the group last year, leaving fans and critics to wonder what would become of the seminal act. Will they be declared dead? Will there be some kind of Van Halen-like Pixies version 2.0? Will the Pixies ever knock it off with the drama?
The group initially imploded in 1993, just as the alternative-rock movement gained international momentum. It was no secret that its members struggled with constant friction, ego problems and personality differences. Santiago says he and the rest of the group are “very passive-aggressive” — an understatement, considering the band originally broke up via fax. But their popularity seemed to skyrocket shortly after that, leading most to conclude that the angsty crew peaked just a little too soon.
The members of the Pixies are seen as the godfathers (and godmother) of modern indie rock. Started in 1986 by Santiago and vocalist/guitarist Charles Thompson (a.k.a. Black Francis) as a college band, the foursome that soon included Deal and drummer David Lovering accidentally sparked a movement that would become the early ’90s alternative-music revolution. The band’s trademark “loud/quiet/loud” song structure was aped throughout the indie uprising, most notably — and blatantly — on Nirvana’s megahit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” At the head was Santiago, the shy, quietly talented figure who still holds the key to that Pixies sound in his fingertips. If Charles Thompson and Kim Deal were the Lennon and McCartney of the group, Santiago was proudly the George Harrison.
He tells RFT Music that his contributions are usually the last piece of the puzzle: Thompson writes the song and lyrics, and it’s Santiago’s job to add the finishing touches and not “barf all over it,” as he eloquently explains. “Let’s keep the story line,” he says. “Blend in when you have to, in a good sonic way that doesn’t get in the way. And when it’s time to divert; [the guitar] needs to start rubbing against the music. That way it kind of lives in its own world.”
After the breakup, each member spoke of unresolved issues and seemed to have little contact with one other as they moved on to other pursuits. Santiago found work as a Jonny Greenwood-type, scoring films and television shows. Lovering tried his hand at being a magician. Thompson plugged away at a notable solo career and formed a new band called Frank Black and the Catholics. And Deal took her talents elsewhere, starting up the Breeders — a band that became, arguably, more successful than the Pixies. So it came as a surprise when the Pixies announced a reunion tour more than ten years after its disbandment.
The very idea that a band who seemed to kind of hate each other would get back together was slammed by critics as a moneymaking maneuver, but most Pixies-starved fans didn’t seem to care. To the great joy of the many younger fans who missed the alternative heyday, the group reformed in 2004 and played worldwide to sold-out crowds. It was all of the original members playing their now-classic songs, making the tour feel less like a cash grab and more like a victory lap. Each show was celebratory, a deserving band finally getting its due.
But a decade has passed since that initial comeback, and there have been some major changes to the lineup. Since Deal left last year, her bassist/female singer slot has been replaced twice — first by Kim Shattuck of the Muffs, and now by Paz Lenchantin of A Perfect Circle and Zwan. Santiago sings Lenchantin’s praises, saying, “With Paz it’s a no-brainer for me. I just love it. She’s got a great reputation. We’re lucky to have her.”
This shuffling of the standard lineup brought the same old issues with fans and critics, making it even harder for naysayers to give the benefit of the doubt. Deal was an integral part of the Pixies sound, especially live. Fans wondered how they could go on without her — they also wondered if this was finally solid proof that the band members were just in it for the money.
“Yeah, you know, of course that’s part of the reason. But that’s not all of the reason. If that was the only reason, we wouldn’t be doing this at all,” Santiago bristles. “As long as people still wanna see it, that’s reason number one. And a close second? Yeah, it’s for the money, you know?”
“What do they want us to do?” he continues with a laugh. “What if I started digging a ditch? Would they be like, ‘You’re just doing that for the money!’ Fuck it, this is the only thing we know how to do. We enjoy it. We’re really good at this. Does it make money? Of course it does! Why? Because we’re good at it!”
Despite having to adjust to a new member, Santiago says, most of the songwriting process remains the same. “We’re one of those bands that, when we get together in the studio, it’s like we have this magic that just happens,” he explains. “We have a certain sound, you know? It’s because we have good quality control. Charles probably writes subconsciously to impress us. When he writes for the Pixies, he’s writing for me, for David, for Kim — but she’s gone now. But he’s writing for us. We’re very stylistic. We’re individuals.”
He’s right — those individual styles, when combined, still make magic. The Pixies recently released some singles and a pair of EPs that are almost too good to be true. The efforts don’t sound like a group of past-their-prime musicians trying to recapture a long-lost spark; the music is solid and, well, just sounds like the Pixies. So, what’s really changed for Santiago in the last decade? Not much, he says — his eagerness to explore new musical territory while still proving himself onstage as a Pixie remains strong.
“I’m a Renaissance man! This is what we do!” he says, laughing. “It’s just a matter of me keeping busy. It keeps me off the streets. And, you know, I like to flex my brain muscles. I like to challenge myself.”
8 p.m. Thursday, February 6.
Peabody Opera House, 1400 Market Street.
$39.50 to $59.50. 314-241-1888.
link: Riverfront Times
She’s Crafty: The Breeders’ Kelley Deal talks knitting, nudity and Steve Albini’s bodily functions
By Jaime Lees
Published on May 07, 2008
Kelley Deal co-leads the Breeders with her sister Kim, who’s best known for being a member of the Pixies (and later, the Amps). The Dayton, Ohio, quartet first found fame in the early ’90s with songs such as “Cannonball” and “Divine Hammer” and is in the midst of a most welcome comeback thanks to a new album, Mountain Battles.
Its first release since 2002’s Title TK, Battles displays all of the familiar Breeders qualities — i.e., sugary vocals and inventive songwriting — while highlighting genre experimentation and improved instrumentation. Written and recorded over years with quite a few influences (most notably, engineer Steve Albini), Battles is an album that becomes more accessible with each spin, as its dazzling subtleties grow more prominent.
The sisters’ voices together are as striking as ever, producing Phil Spector-worthy harmonies that sound angelic in any language. (No, really: The Deals sing one song in Spanish and another in German.) Other album highlights include “Here No More,” a simple, prairie-style folk song and “We’re Gonna Rise,” which is a shifting and hopeful ballad. “It’s the Love” sounds the most like a classic Breeders pop tune, and seems to be a crowd favorite.
We caught up with Kelley last week while she was on a tour stop in Las Vegas.
Jaime Lees: Tell me about when you were recording your album. I love Steve Albini and obviously you like him, ’cause this is the third Breeders album you did with him.
Kelley Deal: Well, here’s the thing: We did not do that much of this record with him. But people read his name and just go [with it] because he’s such an interesting character, and he has such an interesting history with the Breeders. The thing is, on the album credits, we don’t go through everything, ’cause we went to a lot of places and worked with several different people.
The guy we worked with most on this record? His name is Manny Nieto. We met him in East Los Angeles. He had a studio there and his people call him “Albiner” ’cause he’s a huge Albini fan. He knows Steve, he talks to Steve. Now, we did go to Albini’s and we recorded. “Here No More” and “Walk it Off” were recorded and mixed by Steve. He recorded “Overglazed” and “It’s the Love” and he mixed “Regalame Esta Noche” and he did some other stuff. But “Overglazed” was mixed by Manny, “Bang On” was recorded and mixed by Manny. “German Studies” was recorded and mixed by Manny. So he actually did most of the work.
And there’s this other woman, her name is Erika Larson, she recorded “We’re Gonna Rise” and “Regalame Esta Noche.” But it’s interesting, I’ve noticed when I talk to people they say, “So you worked with Steve Albini again on the record.” And I explain it, but a lot of times they just say “worked with Steve Albini” and I don’t blame them, ’cause Steve Albini is a freak, basically. He’s a wonderful character to talk about.
Yeah! I always wanna know if he’s as serious as he leads on. I’ll watch him in interviews, and he’s just so serious.
Oh, totally. You know, in the middle of a serious discussion, he’ll lean over a cheek and fart without blinking an eye. And it’s not like he’s doing it to get a reaction, and it’s not like this huge stinky thing. [He’ll say] something about, “It’s a natural bodily function.” He’s just gonna give it a poot! If you did the same thing, he wouldn’t blink an eye. He’s just the weirdest guy. He’s so smart, too. He’s so smart it’s weird.
All of the records he makes always sound really good in my car. Does that make any sense?
Absolutely! That’s the mark of a great engineer.
OK, so, tell me about your knitting book. [the forthcoming Bags that Rock: Knitting on the Road with Kelley Deal]
[Laughs] Yes, you know, I like to knit. I did an interview with somebody in San Francisco, and when we got there I saw the interview [in print] and the caption said “Kelley Deal knits up a new record.” And I started blushing. ‘Cause, you know, it’s so uncool. But on the other hand I’m like, fuck that, man. I’m not gonna be embarrassed by it. You know, I’m gonna let my freak flag fly. You know, I like to knit, fuck everybody else. But just the word “craft.” “I craft.” It’s so lame. But anyway, yes, I like to knit. And I have a book coming out in October. Enough said about that.
What else are you doing on tour to just, like, chill?
Let’s see, what else are we doing on tour? What do I like to do? You know, I do a lot of reading. When you’re on a bus with a lot of people, when you get some time, you kind of just want to have “me time,” whatever that is. Also, I’m in Las Vegas, I’d really like to hit up a meeting, as they say. A twelve-step meeting. I’ve been to a meeting before here in Vegas, and there’s nothing cooler than that, go to an AA meeting in Vegas. You can bet it’s raw, you know? [Laughs] Like, “Oh, look at that guy. He sold his car. He gave his baby away.” But I want to go, even though I feel like I’m just an observer. I mean, and I need to go, I think it’s a good idea.
I think it’s great that you talk about stuff like that.
I never… everything is kind of open, it’s all up for grabs. I’m totally, I’m so Midwest, you know? Like, Chatty Cathy. I don’t feel like people hold back or, like [whispers], can’t ask me something because it’s inappropriate.
I’m glad the tour is going well. When I saw you guys in Austin in March you seemed kind of nervous. Oh man, but the audience was freaking out. They were really stoked to see you.
Oh good. Damn! Good! You know when we play the new songs, people love ’em. They fit right in. It’s not like people are just sitting there looking at us.
So you’re gonna come here to St. Louis. Do you know about the place you’re playing? It’s kind of like that place you’d go to see a Journey cover band.
Ha! The place that we’re playing there? Really? Oh God, I hate when you tell me shit like that, it’s so weird!
No, it’s a fun place, but it’s in East St. Louis, and it’s sort of like, you have to stay on that street or you die.
So don’t go roamin’ around there.
OK. I mean, will people not come because of the location?
No, you can totally go there, you just have to go straight there and then leave. Its like, in the middle of a couple of strip clubs.
I can take my clothes off, that’s what you’re saying?
Well, uh, next door at least. Or, uh, probably there, too. It’s your show.
I’ll just take ’em off there, too.
8 p.m. Saturday, May 10. Pop’s, 1403 Mississippi Avenue, Sauget, Illinois. $17 in advance, $18 at the door. 618-274-6720.
Using Their Illusion: Ferocious — and funny — locals the Livers hope video builds the radio star
By Jaime Lees
Published: April 23, 2008
9 p.m. Friday, April 25. The Bluebird, 2706 Olive Street. $7 21-plus, $10 under 21. No phone.www.myspace.com/bluebirdstl.
BFFs Scot Freeman and Luke Roulston hit a rough patch last year. Mired in typical twentysomething malaise, they found themselves working too hard, drinking too much and continually complaining about their lack of a creative outlet. Both were seasoned musicians who admired each other’s skills and former bands (Freeman’s Chiaroscuro and Roulston’s Poe’s Music for Weirdos), and so as an extension of their bromance, these multi-instrumentalists decided to quit their bitching and put together a new band.
There was just one problem: They only wanted to play with each other.
Freeman and Roulston began trying to find a way to multiply their sound without adding any extra people. They jokingly wished they could form a band with clones of themselves to fill out the empty instrument positions. As the story goes, one day Roulston said, “What if we just did that?” And so after considerable preparation and months of trial and error, they managed to invent something brand new: a four-person rock band with just two band members.
This is accomplished by both Livers playing guitar in front of a prerecorded video of themselves as the rhythm section (with Roulston on bass and Freeman on drums). But the virtual band members don’t just play, they also have names (Karl and Merl), distinctive personalities and sassy attitudes. Through the magic of painstaking video editing and green-screen wizardry, all four band members have the ability to interact with each other. (In fact, the video Livers frequently talk back to the live Livers.)
This elaborate presentation is helped along by Zak Thenhaus, the unofficial third (fifth?) Liver. Similar to the Wizard of Oz, Thenhaus fills the role of the unseen magical man behind the curtain (or video screen) who assists the real-life Livers in their video interactions, largely by handing them props. Between songs every last Liver gets to catch a break as hilarious commercial-like clips — such as a Laverne & Shirley spoof, or one for Evan Williams brand whiskey — appear on the video screen. (These riotous, between-song bits are also known as the “interstitiary videos” in Freeman’s professional-speak.)
The result is both spectacularly effective and logistically bewildering. Roulston dryly explains, “Yeah, it’s kind of our motto: ‘To do everything the hardest way possible.'”
Entering the Livers’ headquarters — a.k.a. Roulston’s spacious Benton Park bedroom — one immediately begins to get an idea of just how detailed the band’s production process must be to pull off this kind of act. The vast space is part living area and part artist workshop, with enough cameras, lights and cables to outfit a television studio. In addition to the clothes, electronics, books and numerous art pieces strewn around, tiny strips of green tape on the wood floors mark frequently used instrument and filming positions. It is here that all of the “rhythm section” and comedic segments are taped.
Though these ingenious videos and fun live additions make the band instantly unique, without competent songwriting and playing prowess, the Livers would be little more than an interesting live art project. But the band’s tunes stand alone and can be enjoyed, even separate from its shtick.
The admitted “control freaks” extended their hands-on attitude to their debut album, Vino in Uriam Mutando, which they self-mixed. Recorded locally at Firebrand Recording studios, Vino sounds strikingly professional (with solid lyrics, wicked riffs and intimidatingly heavy drum hits) and contains recordings of a few songs that are quickly becoming audience favorites. Freeman’s “Autistic Girlfriend” was written as a “rock juggernaut” about a cold lady with insincere feelings and “a hole where her heart should go.” In contrast, Roulston’s “She-Wolf” is a wistful, gently sung pop-punk musing on missed opportunities and misdirected emotions. Other standout tracks include the sweetly seductive “Humble Plight” (a salute to the pleasures of love and makin’ love) and “2 Legs to Dance,” a jolting bass-and-beat-filled swoop into the world of dance rock that implores listeners to get up, get drunk and start dancing.
Between the Livers’ unprecedented musical presentation and strong tunes, it’s rumored that the young band has already been fielding label and distribution interest. When questioned on this development, both guys just smile and coyly decline to discuss this topic on the record, claiming superstition. It wouldn’t be surprising; the band contains the kind of natural charisma and overflowing raw talent that label scouts are always looking to unearth. Plus, Freeman and Roulston seem to have a very brotherly relationship — where both compliments and playful ribbing are common — and both are good-natured, smart and funny as hell.
On meshing their musical styles:
Scot Freeman: Luke’s music is really complicated and the time signatures are all weird and stuff and I can only play, like, uh…
Luke Roulston: 3/4 and 4/4 or a combination thereof. [Laughs]
Freeman: Yeah! Really, just like, Top 40. I just wanna play riffs and sing soaring choruses and that kind of stuff. So when I write a song it’s usually really simple but his stuff is all over the place and I’m like, “I’m gonna go ahead and dumb this shit down.”
Roulston: Well, that’s called “rocking it up.”
On their perfectionism in the videos:
Freeman: I think I’ve worked harder on this than on anything I’ve worked on, ever. There have been times that my actual job has bummed me out, but there have been times with this shit where I wanna cry.
Roulston: It’s toil.
Freeman: There’s been times when we worked on this 50 or 60 hours a week, while still working our regular jobs 40 hours a week. I mean, [we were] working to the point where it’s almost ruined friendships and relationships.
Roulston: But the best thing about it is, the other members of the band? They don’t seem to argue! [Laughs]
Freeman: On the videos, I’m of the opinion that Luke could pretty much fake it, that he could hit some wrong notes. But he refuses. He refuses to hit one wrong note, even though it wouldn’t matter.
Roulston: If there was a bass player [in the audience] that actually had perfect pitch and knew his shit, he would know.
Freeman: And that’s why he obsesses. We’ll get done taping and he’s like “I missed a note,” and I’m like “I played it fucking perfectly! I’m bleeding!” and he’s like “Let’s do it again.” And I’m like “Fuck!” and I fucking duct-tape my hand back together, [and] do it again.
On the band’s sound and influences:
Roulston: Thus far, we’ve been compared to ’90s music. But I love ’90s music. Our big influences are the Jesus Lizard and the Pixies and Nirvana and the Foo Fighters and, you know, just hard-hitting drums. And he [Freeman] plays better than most drummers I’ve ever seen.
Freeman: Yeah, all my favorite bands are fucking gone. Jesus Lizard and fuckin’ Seaweed, Failure, whatever. Bands that nobody remembers.
Roulston: At least the Pixies came back, I guess. You know what I liked? When Frank Black came to the Duck Room. That was a really fucking awesome show. I have nothing but respect for him. Actually, I have nothing but respect for anybody in the Pixies. They’re just… God! What a great fucking band! I would say, like, that’s the band that I would aspire to lick their…
These snaps were just too hot not to post.
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: Dead Confederate
WHEN: Wednesday, March 12, 11p.m.
WHERE: Stubb’s BBQ, big outside stage
NOTE: This band opened for R.E.M. (Athens represent) and might have been the best surprise of the festival. Read our coverage here.
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: AA Bondy
WHEN: Thursday, March 13, about 9:30p.m.
WHERE: The gorgeous poolside rooftop stage of a heavily sponsored free party.
NOTE: This was one of 12 AA Bondy shows in a 3 day time span in Austin.
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: downtown Austin, TX, view from the AA Bondy rooftop show
WHEN: Thursday, March 13, late night
WHERE: at 3rd Street and Guadalupe looking East
NOTE: There should be more rooftop shows. Always.
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: Autolux’s Eugene Goreshter
WHEN: Friday, March 14, afternoon
WHERE: Red Eyed Fly backyard venue
NOTE: Goreshter’s amazing vocals on Autolux albums? Not studio magic. Dude actually sings like that.
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr, solo show
WHEN: Saturday, March 15, mid-afternoon
WHERE: Garden Party (read: gorgeous yard), the French Legation Museum
NOTE: J Mascis is a God among men (who just happens to use a baby pink Razr as his preferred cellular device.)
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: Thurston Moore and the New Wave Bandits
WHEN: Saturday, March 15, afternoon, slot after J Mascis
WHERE: East Austin, French Legation Museum
NOTE: Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore stole the show with his expansive talent and boyish charm. Read our coverage here.
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: The Breeders
WHEN: Saturday, March 15, about 9p.m.
WHERE: Waterloo Park, north of downtown, 2nd stage
NOTE: Two Deals are always better than one. Read our coverage here.
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: Kid Sister at the Fool’s Gold Showcase
WHEN: Saturday, March 15, 1a.m. (after Flosstradamus, before Chromeo)
WHERE: Volume nightclub, next to the told Emo’s on 6th Street
NOTE: Kid Sister claimed she was crunk but she still held down her raps with a little help from brother Josh “J2K” Young (of super-fly duo Flosstradamus) as back up.Category: Music, Reviews, SXSW, Snapshots