“People Always Respected Us” PIXIES Interviewed

Backstage at their intimate Manchester show...

The legacy of PIXIES truly precedes them. With each release, these alt-rock legends have continually reforged their own sound; whether it be indie surrealism, sobering surf rock or all-out art punk, the PIXIES have delved into the guts of countless sonic landscapes, re-emerging entirely transformed. This brazen hunger for reinvention is what keeps them sharp – and it’s why you’d be hard pushed to find a band more integral and iconic in the alt scene.

35 years on from the release of their debut, the band are still as daring as ever. Eighth studio album, ‘Doggerel’, out September 30th, is sure to yet again push the boundaries of their off-beat, unpredictable palette. Moving on from the gothic rock of 2019’s ‘Beneath The Eyrie’, this release is set to explore more of an indie rock sound… but it wouldn’t be a PIXIES release without a few ineffable surprises.

In order to get to grips with this new release, we caught guitarist Joey Santiago for a quick chat before their most intimate UK gig in years. And that’s how we find ourselves sat in the glistening,freshly renovated Band On The Wall mere hours before 500 eager fans are unleashed upon the venue. But, right now, we’re dead-set on chatting about ‘Doggerel’, refusing to stick to the same old sounds, and the future of music…

So – big show tonight! How you feeling about it?

I feel pretty good. We got some practice in, and we’re gonna do four new ones from the new album. So it’s gonna, you know, keep me on my toes.

Think you’ll make any mistakes?

Yeah, probably!

Is that why you chose a smaller venue: less people to see any mishaps…? How are you feeling about playing a 500 cap venue when last time you were at Castlefield Bowl?

I hadn’t thought about it until I came into the venue – it’s definitely intimate. And it probably wont fully sink in until people get in. But, honestly, it’s more of a challenge with a small audience. With a big one, you can ‘hide’ a bit more. And, since we tend to stay quiet, let the music do the talking, it’s a lot more revealing in a smaller room. But it’s vital, to have smaller shows. And it’ll be fine – again, you know, it’ll keep us on our toes.

When was the last time you did a gig this intimate?

I think the Troubadour in Los Angeles – 2019? I think that was the last time we did something like this. 

Do you prefer the intimate shows?

I don’t ‘prefer’ them, no. I like variation. You know, there’s festival season, which is great, and then it’s great to come back to theatres.

Do the smaller shows remind you of the earlier days, playing in weenie venue?

Yeah – aside from hopping our own gear!

Does it ever remind you of any awful shows back in the day..?

Oh – we have had some awful, awful shows haha…! But, luckily, generally they were pretty good. They were great. We definitely got lucky. People always respected us, they liked what we had going on. We were packing out clubs before we had a record out. 

Did you hope that that same spark was going to keep the magic alive after the break? Coming back in 2004 – did you ever worry word of mouth and luck wouldn’t be on your side?

Honestly… we kind of knew it’d be alright. I mean, the canary was out there when we had Coachella. So there was no doubt people were going to come and support, really.

So, thinking about where you are now. Eighth record – fourth new record in the second incarnation of the band. How is your approach different from the first incarnation of PIXIES?

Well, it’s the same in the way where… both times, we want to be good. It sounds simple, but it really is the main focus. Hopefully it’s not boring – that’s first and foremost. And then what’s different is nowadays we HAVE a style. We forged a style back then, and now we’re lucky to draw from it. Or, not even draw from it, it just happens naturally. 

Yeah, you guys are very much a tastemaker band – never followed in anyone’s footsteps.

No, I was never really was interested in doing that. Cuz the bands I admire most are the ones that are breaking boundaries. Velvet Underground, you know, the Beatles… Bands like that. Band that truly created something.

Even this show could help out new bands like that – all the profits are going to Band on the Wall’s The World of Music learning programme after all…

Yeah, it’s to help out younger people who don’t have access to instruments or access to music classes.

It’s like you’re helping to potentially forge the next generation of sound, in a way.

Exactly. It keeps it going, it keeps it alive. I would like to think that the next big thing is out there somewhere in someone’s garage right now. Nothing fancy, nothing expensive, just someone building something new. Hopefully something is bubbling away in someone’s house as we speak.

And hopefully they’re listening to PIXIES.

Yes, of course! Or inspired by any of the greats – maybe they’re interpretting Debaser and turning it into something else…

So with this new album, what can we expect from it? Is it completely new?

I think it’s just good. 

Fair. If it wasn’t good I’d be a bit surprised…

Honestly, I think it’s the best one we’ve gotten post breakup. You could even argue it’s stronger than our stuff further back. It fits into our into our vernacular, our world.

Is it intimidating having to make something that definitely fits in with such a solid back catalogue?

Not really, because we know our sound. The only real concern is how people will respond: will it get ignored? You know, there’s bands out there who have been around a while, they’ll record an album… and you kind of wonder “is it gonna be any good? Should they even bother?” And I know I’m not the only one with that attitude. 

Does that make you even more certain that each album has to be better, almost – so nobody ever, ever thinks “should they even bother?”

It just has to be interesting. You know, I don’t know what ‘better’ is for us, but… I would like to think it’s getting skin to a place you know. We don’t try to be in competition with the old albums, but I mean… if you look at that ‘Come On Pilgrim’ and ‘Surfer Rosa’, ‘Doolittle’ sounds different… You can just keep going. And ‘Trompe le Monde’ – would you have thought that was the same band that released ‘Come On Pilgrim’?

Not at all. And I guess that’s what’s so great – you can put on a different outfit every time.

Yeah – we know out sound. We forged our sound, so we know what direction it’s going in.

If you absolutely HAD to compare ‘Doggerel’ to any of the older stuff, is there any album you could compare it to, though? Any album you think it has elements of, or it improves on? 

I have been joking about this album being ‘Doolittle Senior’. This is the father of the ‘Doolittle’ album. It’s like, you know, the Star Wars trilogy – we’re gonna give you the prequels. THIS is where ‘Doolittle’ came from. 

Love that – PIXIES meets Anakin Skywalker. Any tracks on it that you’re particularly proud of? 

Well, tonight we’re gonna play ‘The Lord Has Come Back Today’ and I’m very proud of some of my contributions and co-writes on this album myself. And ‘Dregs of the Wine’ – I love the way it builds up, and then there’s just a chorus at the end. And that’s it.

Oooh okay – so were you really trying to toy with song structures?

I wish I could say that – but, if I’m being honest, I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t figure out how to get out of that chorus. It was an oddball thing, I just couldn’t get out of it. We could have written the whole goddamn thing, but I didn’t wanna do that – it already FIT. And, in a way, I like the fact that it had an ANSWER. In my eyes, there was only this solution. There was no other way to go about it. It trapped me. And it felt great. It already had a road to follow down.

So it was like working backwards, in a way?

Almost! You know, I fought it for a while. But then I was like, “okay, this is it.” It’s just gonna have to go there.

Any other songs that you’re particularly excited for even people to hear?

The first track, ‘Nomatterday’… I also like ‘Haunted House’ you know. They’re all solid. And people are gonna hear some tonight, and we’re gonna do them justice.

So, what does the future hold for you guys?

Well, we’ve already started working on the next album. And we defiitely have a lot of touring coming up. Which is great. We’re gonna basically go around the world before December. So it’s good. With just a smackling of the states – but we’ll get back to them. Next year we’ve already got some dates in Europe planned, too. The state’s we’re still working it out. But with the states, you know, it’s our territory. And you can’t miss anyone unless they disappear for a while, so that’s what we do.

And you definitely did that with the UK – three long, long years Joey…

Sorry about that! But that was sort of to do with COVID too…

Well, distance makes the heart grow fonder.

Haha, I guess it does!

‘DOGGEREL’ will be released on September 30th

Words: Emily Swingle

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