The Pixies’ Irreverent, Alternative Magic

Joey Santiago grew up on 1960s surf rock with bands such as The Ventures and The Shadows commanding him to pursue an emotive, uninhibited style of lead guitar.

April 11 | 7 p.m.
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“The song titles were apropos,” he says. “If the song was called ‘Chicken Running,’ it sounded like a running chicken. I was entrapped by the guitar, but some of words came through by osmosis.”

Once they started gigging the Boston area, the Pixies quickly caught the attention of a young, enthusiastic college music scene with their obscure lyrics, inane guitars and minimalistic arrangements.

When he met Black Francis (born Charles Thompson IV) in a University of Massachusetts dormitory in 1986, the spark of the Pixies was born.

“He had my vague, not-necessarily-on-point sense of humor and he was writing songs that were original and that’s what I always wanted to do,” says Santiago.

Both artists dropped out of college and moved to Boston where they put an ad in a local music magazine, The Phoenix, looking for a female bass player who liked both Peter, Paul and Mary and Hüsker Dü. The only person who responded was a 25-year-old named Kim Deal, who showed up to the audition without a bass because she had never played one before.

“It was all organic,” says Santiago. “At that point we were just trying to put together enough material for a 30-minute show.”

Once they started gigging the Boston area, the Pixies quickly caught the attention of a young, enthusiastic college music scene with their obscure lyrics, inane guitars and minimalistic arrangements.

“It was all about keeping it sweet and simple,” says Santiago. “Then I’d try to do something weird, laying off the blues scale, creating jagged-sounding parts while staying true to the chord progression, not getting in the way and getting in the way at the same time. I worked with what I had.”

Back in those early days, Pixies’ rehearsals were actually quite disciplined.

“We all had jobs and we would meet after work and we knew we only had two or three hours tops to do something constructive,” says Santiago. “We were working together almost every day. We all really enjoyed it, but we weren’t ever precious with it. We didn’t need to coddle it. It was more like my kids: you can run, you walk, you can eat, now get the f*** out of here.”

On releasing iconic LPs “Surfer Rosa” in 1988 and “Doolittle” in 1989, the Pixies flew to the top of the college radio charts. Although their records sales were relatively modest, their influence reverberated throughout the early 1990s alternative revolution with artists such as David Bowie, U2, Nirvana, Radiohead, Weezer and Pavement extolling the uncanny lyrics, off-beat timing and exaggerated dynamics that came to define a musical generation.

After releasing two more albums and touring the world, Pixies broke up in 1993.

“We were a bunch of pricks who couldn’t see what we had,” says Santiago. “We lost track of it somehow and stopped having fun.”

Meanwhile, Santiago started a family, dipped his toe into composing and spent two years thinking about himself and staying in bed.

“After a while, my wife said, ‘I think you have mental issues,’ ” he says. “I’ve always been very sensitive, but right now I’m actually good and it feels weird that I can’t really complain about anything.”

Almost every year, there was a buzz that Pixies would get back together.

“At some point [in 2003], Charles joked on record that we jam all the time,” says Santiago. “The rumor blew up and offers started streaming in. We got together all agreeing that if we sucked and didn’t sound good, we’d shake hands and go our separate ways; but we had fun.”

Pixies will release their seventh album this September.

“It’s a mish mosh of songs that came together, but it still sounds like Pixies to me,” says Santiago.

According to Santiago, onstage, the Pixies pretty much wing it: “It’s random. That’s the way we do it. If we have a setlist, we tend to get more lost.”

If they even ever really had any hits to begin with, they wouldn’t promise to play them for you anyway.

“If you ask us to play a song, our answer’s going to be, ‘F*** you. Thanks for your opinion, but that’s not correct. You’re input really didn’t matter. We just wanted you to feel special,’ ” he says, laughing. “We’ve always just been trying to be wiseasses who’ll have other bands listen to our stuff and be like, ‘Why didn’t we think about that?’ and also, ‘Why are you thinking about this so much?’ We’ve already got the style. We can turn anything into a Pixies song.’ ” |