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.
This one is personal, darlings. As a Breeders fan and a native St. Louisan, I was beyond stoked to learn that the band would be shooting a video in my city with our roller derby team, the Arch Rival Roller Girls.
The event was whispered about for months, but nobody was sure if it would really happen until about a week before the video date. There were no contracts involved, just people getting together to make something cool, completely D.I.Y. style.
So imagine our excitement when it actually happened. Right on time, Kelley Deal arrived in town with video directors Mando Lopez (Breeders bassist) and James Ford. Suddenly, we were superstars. And it was all set up by my friend, Amy Whited.
Whited is a lovable little spaz with a brain that moves lightning fast (and a mouth to match). I’ve known her since I was about 17 years old and she was a cool older sister type who had a band and hosted riotgrrrl concerts in the basement of her ramshackle house.
As far back as I can remember, Whited’s true love had always been music- specifically the Breeders. She’d met the band, seen them play countless times and she has artwork from a Breeders record tattooed prominently on her upper arm. She even adopted two little mixed Dachshund puppies and named them Kim Dog and Kelley Dog.
Whited explains, “They were my most favorite band. I loved the Pixies before them. I was on a mission to meet them cause I saw them in Columbia, Missouri in April 1994, and I was thinking that I must speak to Breeders at Lollapalooza. And they were nice!”
Her dedication all of these years resulted in a spectacular success: arranging for the Breeders to record the bands latest video in St. Louis with her roller derby team and newest obsession, the Arch Rival Roller Girls.
The shoot was scheduled for early on Valentine’s Day and despite the drizzle, the roller girls turned up en masse. During the eight hour video shoot they had to skate pretty much constantly, but they hardly even took breaks. In fact, the rollers seemed to rally near the end of the day.
“We kind of got delirious around hour number six, ” explains Arch Rival Roller Girl Lauren Busiere, “We had to keep skating all day and we were all exhausted. We were completely bonkers. It was like a child’s slumber party in the middle of the day- except Kelley Deal was there. It was really awesome, but completely crazy.”
The spirit of the day was greatly helped along by Deal, who has endless enthusiasm and a contagious smile. She trotted around the rink, sprinkling encouraging words, heartfelt ‘thank you’s and pats on the back wherever needed. Her main role of the day, however, seemed to be to coach the performers with the song lyrics. She wanted the derby players to be the ones singing the song in the video, so she spent much of her time standing behind the camera, holding up a lyric sheet and singing along.
I talked to Kelley yesterday and asked her about Whited, roller derby, the video, her new EP and the Breeders’ future plans. The interview is below.
— Jaime Lees
JAIME LEES: Ok, so let me just say, I’ve known Amy Whited for about a million years.
KELLEY DEAL: Oh, me too. Do you know the story of how we met her?
Yes, but please tell me all of it.
Ok, the Breeders- this was in 1994, the Breeders were on Lollapalooza and we were in Chicago. And my mom and dad had gone to that show ’cause they live in Dayton. So, of course they have all the backstage passes and all that stuff. So we were out walking around and stuff and then we go back to say hi to my mom and dad and they have this, like, 16 or 17 year old little blond-headed girl with them. And they introduced us to her and we were like “Hey, well Hi, how are you?” and my mom is like “This is Amy. She’s joining us back here.”
I guess they started talking to her and they discovered she’d hitchhiked from St. Louis, Missouri to Chicago to go to Lollpalooza. So, of course, my mother and father were just appalled at that idea. So they kind of adopted her that day. So we said hi to her and got her a pass and we hung out back there. And I know before the end of the day my mom and dad gave her money and made her promise to take a bus home back to St. Louis.
You know, I never did ask her how she got home. I need to ask her that. Cause if it were me, I’d have spent it on drugs, you know? Wouldn’t you? But, so after that, years would go by. And any time the Breeders went out, any time we were close to St. Louis like Chicago or Cincinnati we’d be like “Hey, there’s Amy!”And eventually we exchanged phone numbers and then when the email came along we exchanged email.
And the last time I saw Amy was back in the summer when the Breeders came to St. Louis and we met up and we were talking to her and her and some of her friends and roller girl friends came on to the tour bus and we hung out there and stuff after the show. And Amy and I were just talking about how cool it would be to do a video with the derby involved in it somehow. Like the Breeders could play in the middle of the rink or something and we both thought it would be a great idea but then we just kind of forgot about it.
So we left and then the Breeders did this Vote Early, Rock Late rally. It wasn’t for Obama but it kind of ended up being for Obama, if you know what I mean. And it was in Cincinnati and we’re hanging out after our show and we’re talking to these girls and one of them had a derby shirt on for the Cincinnati roller derby and I’m like “Oh my god, are you guys in derby, too? Oh, do you know Amy?” Thinking that everybody knows everybody, you know how that is. So then… That was in October and in November, you know, I had my knitting book out.
So there’s this thing called the No Coast Craft Fair in Minneapolis in November and they invited me to go out there to do a book signing and to
judge craft contests. It was really fun. There was five teams and it was me and several other judges. And one of the teams was the Minnesota roller girls. And they actually won the contest. But they actually deserved to win. It wasn’t just that I liked roller derby and so they won. (laughs) Yeah, so I was like “What is going on with this derby stuff? This is crazy! Ok, I can take a hint.” And so I called Amy up and I said, “Amy, listen, we’ve gotta do this.” And since then we had a new song we had done. And I was like “That new song, ‘Fate to Fatal’ would be perfect for this.” But then the idea of us all getting together… We were taking a break, the band was taking a break and two of the people live in Los Angeles.
And Kim and I are in Dayton and I’m like “How are we going to get all of our people down there to do a live show?” And at the same time, I was thinking about how cool it would be if the [roller] girls would do the lip-synching. That’s way more interesting to me, to have them do the lip-synching. So we started thinking, how could that work? Cause there’s not any real narrative to it. It’s not like there’s really a story, and I never really wanted there to be a story, I really just wanted it to be about their derby and how fun it is and how rad it is, you know? And that’s it. I don’t think it needs any story. It’s a fantastic visual. And it’s a great song. So it just worked out perfect.
So how did you decide to do it here [in St. Louis]? Are the Dayton/Cincinnati roller girls pissed?
Good point, good point. At one time, Amy and I were talking and we had talked about all of this a lot. And we’re like, what we could do- I was calling them away games but they’re not they’re called “road derby” or something. And they were going to be going through Detroit and I was like “Well, you guys could come through Dayton, and you could, like, play against the Dayton derby.” And that would have been cool. But the thing is, logistically, where are we gonna set all the girls up? And they’d have to come through here, we’d have to get hotels or find houses for people to stay in- it just made more sense [to film in STL], because there’s so many derby girls there in St. Louis. I mean, there’s the whole league, and it’s not just Amy’s team. And it took me a while to put that together. I was like “Oh, so there’s not just 13 of you rolling around.” “Oh no, there’s tons of us, and we could actually play against ourselves on our teams.” And I’m like, “You know what, Amy, it will just be easier.” And I drove down from Dayton in my car. And then Mando [Lopez] and [James] Ford, they flew out to St. Louis. And you know, cameras are so good now, and Mando- he’s the bass player in the Breeders- he actually does it for a living. He does camera work for a living.
So you were like, “Well, we don’t have to get a camera guy…”
Exactly. So then it was like, how is this gonna work? Cause I’d never been to the Skatium before. And I’m like what about drinks? Cause people are going to be thirsty. And what about food? And I’m just… all of these are question marks, cause we were in the middle of doing something else right then.
Kim and I were driving to Chicago to do this benefit we do with Second City, it’s like a 24 hour comedy and music thing. We’ve been doing that for a few years and it’s really fun, so we were rehearsing for that cause you’ve gotta kind of tear all the songs apart and make them interesting for just two people to play. And we had to figure it out. Kim would be like, “We could do Pacer, Kelley, if you play the bass part.” And I’d be, “OK, well how does the bass part go?” [Kim,] “Well, wait, I don’t remember. So I’ll play the bass part and sing.” So we were kind of re-learning that. So it was really busy, and Christmas was coming up, and it just seemed really busy so I was so worried it wouldn’t come together. That I was just going to drive into the Skatium and I was just going to go “Uh… here’s the lyrics. Go! Make magic!” So I get there, Amy has it completely— I don’t know what she does for a living. I think it has something to do with, like, organization and shit, doesn’t it?
Yeah, it’s some kind of office something right now.
Yeah, exactly. You can tell. Everything was completely mapped out.
Dude, if Amy wants to get something done, she just gets it done.
Oh my god! And gets it done well. Yeah. It ran like clockwork. I mean, I was so fuckin’ impressed, man. Yeah, I was really impressed.
She has some kind of weird motivating skills, do you know what I’m saying? She got all of those chicks to show up and skate for eight hours straight…
Oh my god! They skated like dogs for eight hours. Without drinking. No beers.
They really did.
I’m impressed with that. They’re really good about not drinking and skating. At least, they seem to be. Maybe somebody is there with a flask takin’ a nip, but I was pretty impressed with that. There’s a lot of socialization there, too. You wanna talk with your friends and you wanna have fun, so the idea of not drinking when you’re doing it for eight hours and it’s on a Saturday…
Well, what’s kind of great about that derby is that most of those girls didn’t know each other before they got involved in it. They all just kind of made their own family and it’s kind of sweet to watch. Cause they wouldn’t really know each other otherwise.
Oh, I know. It’s so cool. And, you know, when you get older you have all of your high school friends and all your neighborhood friends and then you have your work friends but as you get older you kind of start losing the number of friends somehow. I think, I don’t know what it is, how that works and shit, but something like derby, having those relationships with girls- it’s so good. And it’s not work relationships. I used to work in an office, you know, and everybody in the office goes out to dinner afterward, you go to a bar, meet up or something like that, but then you invariably start talking about work, or people at work. But the derby it just so great cause it’s something other than work.
I mean, I was shocked by how much they just- they just skated for eight hours straight and then all of those tricks at the end? I had no idea they could do that stuff.
Oh I know, oh my god. I don’t know if it’s out right now, or if it’s going to be out in the next couple of days. Have you seen the video? Mando called it- he titled the making of “Skate to Fatal.”
Yeah, I saw the clip on Rolling Stone.
They were really cute talking about- I mean, you see all of these wipe-out shots- it was pretty bad at the beginning there.
I watched saw James [Ford] take a serious fall. I wasn’t sure if he was going to be OK there for a minute!
Ha! Oh my god! Yeah! Mando was talking to me, about an hour into it, and he’s like “Man, I’m telling them to slow down but they can’t slow down. Listen I don’t know how this is going to work, but it’s not going to work how I thought it was. They can’t slow down. They’re unable to.”
Yeah, you just have to get out the way!
Yeah! So the video is cool. It’s awesome. There’s so many wipe out shots that look really bad ass. I don’t know all the girls and stuff, but there’s this one girl that’s got long hair and she’s doing push-ups. As a chick, I just really love it. And there’s at the very end, the whole thing ends with Grave Danger absolutely wiping out and she’s just laughing- it shows her laughing on the rink. It’s so cute. And they were all so patient! And they were willing just to try everything and they had enthusiasm and they looked great and the shots were amazing.
And they were doing those jumps and spins and shit. I mean, I’ve seen plenty of games, but I didn’t know they could do stuff like that.
So were you technically a director?
No, I was the… how do you say… I was the idea person.
Well, it was hard to tell, cause it seemed like you had some stuff planned out. But then it would be like “OK, wait, now to this.”
Right. I mean, I had a vision. And Mando respected that.
And I appreciate that he let me, you know, work on it.
You know, he sings like… (long pause) he sings like an old black man. He has that resonance of life, love, love lost, dreams smashed, forlorn- you know what I mean?
It’s like he sings like a serial killer would.
It’s kind of really spooky and eerie and kind of dangerous but soothing, too, in a really weird way.
It’s half soothing, half really sexy and I’m always confused about how to react when I hear it.
(laughs) Yeah, right, exactly. Like, “Should I be afraid of that voice?”
Yeah, am I scared or am I turned on or what?
Totally. Yeah, should I be turned on or not?
So why did you put out an EP and not a full album? Are you going to make another one?
Well what happened was last summer Kim got into a little writing frenzy. So we were doing some songs and we decided to record one of the songs, Fate to Fatal, in England at the very tail-end of the tour. And then we came home until, like, November. And we had a month, month and a half break there. And then we worked some more. And we worked some more. And we knew we were going to do All Tomorrows Parties, do you know about that?
Yeah, we’re curating and we’ve got really good bands. X is doing our party. Gang of Four is doing our party. Wire is doing our party.
I know, it’s so awesome. And Teenage Fanclub…
(gasps) Don’t even talk about Teenage Fanclub. Love them!
Yeah! I like to call it “my party.” (laughs) And so we were going ATP and we’re going, “Geez, we’ve got these songs, we should release, like, an EP around that time. It’s be fun. It would give us new songs to play- cause we just did Europe- we were just there. So we can do some new songs and people would actually know the new songs cause they’d have been released.” So that’s what we decided to do- put out an EP. And then we were talking about how we should release it, and we talked to 4AD a little bit and it was, like, overkill, so we thought “we should just do it ourselves” so we did.
And now it’s going to be on vinyl and digital download?
Well that’s the best way to do it now.
I think so, yeah. It just so happens that we were doing this the same time that Record Store Day was coming up. It’s this Saturday, so we were like, if we wanted to, we could just make the release date Record Store Day. So we just did that and it will be available for download on iTunes the following Tuesday. We’re doing the in-store at Shake It Records and that’s this Saturday. Shake It Records is a local vinyl store in Cincinnati, and Kim and I are going to drive down there with some guitars and play for like a half an hour or 40 minutes and I think we’re going to sign some records, too.
Everything just seems to keep lining up in the right way. And when I was looking up the release info it said that Pod and Last Splash were being re-released on vinyl, too. Is that true?
Well, we’ve never had a release that has not been on vinyl. So yeah, it’s all coming out on vinyl and I think it’s great.
So are you gonna summer tour? Are you coming here? What up?
That’s a good question. I know we’re doing… we’ve already… dates are already starting to get confirmed for August in Los Angeles. We’ll start working that out then. We’ll start moving out from there. I think we might do this San Diego street fair- Street Scene or something like that. Then opening for Elvis Costello who is doing something with Jenny Lewis at some bluegrass thing. He’s doing something with her and some other people. I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s a bluegrass kind of thing. I think it would be awesome. Whatever Elvis Costello does- I’m so happy to open for him. Oh my god. So yeah, some more touring. I don’t know exactly where or when we’re coming.
Well, that’s nice. But when you do the midwest again you know you’ve got to come here cause you know about a million more people want to come.
Oh my god, I’d love to. I can’t wait for those guys- and for you, too, cause you were there during it- to see the video.
Oh my god, I stayed the whole time, it was so long.
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…
Bare Is My Mind? Bobby Bare Jr. covers up with his ace Pixies and Breeders tribute act. By Jaime Lees Published: January 2, 2008
Call him what you will — Charles Thompson, Black Francis or Frank Black, but as the frontman of the Pixies, ol’ what’s-his-name deserves a little praise. From 1985 to 1993 Black pulled lead singing and songwriting duties for America’s preeminent alternative band — and is credited with bringing killer caterwauls, magnetic guitar hooks and paranoid, UFO-themed lyrics to the masses. The Pixies reigned over college radio and youth culture for a time, and the bands that followed in its sonic wake still hail the power of the quartet as a revelation. (Most famously, its loud/quiet/loud dynamic was claimed to be the sound inspiration for a blue-eyed, blond-haired guy fronting some band called Nirvana.)
Nashville singer-songwriter Bobby Bare Jr. counts himself among the Pixies’ many fans. As the son of country musician Bobby Bare, he grew up around music and has the distinction of receiving a Grammy nomination at the age of five. First fronting the rock band Bare Jr. — and now as a solo artist churning out stripped-down, bittersweet compositions that push the envelope of alt-country — Bare has found genuine success throughout his entire career.
But for now, Bare has put all solo and future plans on pause in order to squeeze one more project into his busy schedule: His very own Pixies cover band, Is She Weird, Is She White. (Appropriately, it’s currently touring with a Guided By Voices cover band, the Teenage FBI.) Bare’s Pixies covers can sound much different than the originals, often changing the tempo or the tone of the songs — making these interpretations insightful, if not asking the audience to listen again with fresh ears.
Which begs the question: Why would Bare, a renowned solo artist and pedigreed musician, start a cover band? That scene is usually a schlocky, dirty world populated by balding has-beens and portly never-beens. Why would Bare take the chance of sullying his good name — and embrace another artist’s music?
“Because the Pixies fuckin’ rock!” Bare explains, enthralled.
And indeed, his love of Black Francis is well-documented. The lyrics to “Dig Down,” a song found on Bare’s first solo album, Young Criminals’ Starvation League, include Francis in an exalted list of historical rock icons. Bare sings about all of the distinguished dudes who have used up all the soul and original ideas in the world of rock & roll, listing Francis in a pantheon of recognized legends including Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry and the Beatles.
When we catch up with Mr. Bare via phone, he seems honest and charmingly childlike, as though he can’t contain any emotion — be it excitement or insecurity. He comes off as a hyperactive kid on a sugar high when talking about music that thrills him, and he’s eager to relay fanboy stories of Frank Black and the Pixies (like a fantastic, “freaked out” moment when he sang background vocals on a recent Frank Black record). And of course, Bare’s most eager to discuss his past and future work — and undying love for the Pixies.
Bobby Bare Jr.: I obviously have been a fan for a long, long, long, long time. Because it’s like, I don’t know, do you dress up for Halloween?
Jaime Lees:Oh, hell yeah.
It’s exactly like dressing up for Halloween, for a musician. It’s just fun to be somebody else.
How do you have time to get all of this done?
It’s a whole lot of work. Usually for a real set you learn fifteen songs — like, for an hour [long] set. If you learn fifteen Pixies songs you’ve only learned 30 minutes worth of music. So, you know, we’ve got to learn twenty-something songs. And we do some Breeders songs.
What’s your favorite to sing? Or what do you most look forward to?
What songs? The ones like “Gigantic,” where I just play guitar. ‘Cause I never, ever get to just play guitar in any band. So that’s what’s fun to me.
Are the people who come to the shows your fans? Or Pixies fans? Or a mix?
Um, I think they’re just mostly Pixies fans. We’ve only done this in Nashville. This is going to be our first show out of town.
The St. Louis one is?
Yeah. We’ve only done probably four of these. It’s me; the former drummer from […And You Will Know Us By the] Trail of Dead [Doni Schroader]; and Beth Cameron, both of whom are also in a band called Forget Cassettes. And a girl named Leah [Paxton] who’s been in bands with the other two people.
How did you get hooked up with the Guided By Voices tribute band?
It’s other people who have been in my band. It’s my drummer from my last tour who is also the drummer for Clem Snide [Ben Martin]. The guitar player is William Tyler; he’s in Lambchop and the Silver Jews.
Did you go see any of their [Pixies] reunion tour shows?
Yes, I saw three of them. I played Sasquatch in Seattle and Austin City Limits in Austin where they were the headlining band….But they played the Ryman Auditorium [in Nashville] and that was the best show I’ve ever seen anybody do anywhere. Seeing them at a festival where there’s 75,000 people was just OK, but at the Ryman it was transcendent.
Did you hear any of the new Breeders album yet?
No! When did it come out?
It didn’t come out yet, but they leaked a single online last week.
Oh, wow. Is it good?
It’s really good. It’s sort of like, sleepy-time Breeders, you know? It’s really pretty. They said that they’re going to have a whole U.S. tour in the spring and do South By Southwest…
For the Breeders? Holy cow. Awesome. Isn’t there supposed to be a Pixies album, too?
I don’t know. No one ever gives a straight answer on that crap.
Do you think anybody will come out and see us?
Heck yeah. We’re big here on fun shows…So are you gonna call yourself Bare Robert or something?
Naw, I’ll just be Bobby.
9 p.m. Thursday, January 3. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. $10. 314-773-3363
01-02-08 Riverfront Times (St. Louis) – article link
12-17-07 reprint in the Nashville Scene (Nashville) – article link