Cadenza Profile: Joey Santiago of the Pixies plots next move
Few bands have left as lasting an influence on American rock music as the Pixies. Though the four full-length albums they released from 1988 to 1991 didn’t see much in the way of sales, the band’s abrupt dynamic shifts and jagged guitar riffs played a major role in paving the way for indie rock in the ’90s and beyond. (Nirvana lead singer and songwriter Kurt Cobain framed “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” perhaps the definitive ’90s rock anthem, as a blatant Pixies rip-off.) For the 11 years after their initial break up, the Pixies’ legend only grew while their members struggled to find similar success through various solo albums and side projects.
The band reunited in 2004, playing to larger audiences than ever before. Aside from one-off single “Bam Thwok,” they released no new material until 2013, justifiably content to reap the long-overdue rewards of a stellar discography. But last year, “It was time to be a real band,” as guitarist Joey Santiago puts it. The departure of bassist Kim Deal briefly complicated matters, but Santiago, lead singer Charles Thompson (known by stage name Black Francis) and drummer David Lovering decided to continue under the Pixies moniker, releasing a single (“Bagboy”) and EP (“EP1”) before year’s end (a second EP—“EP2”—followed early this year).
But the specter of unreasonable expectations loomed large over the new material, leading to a noticeably chilly reception from fans and critics. And while Santiago admits that “at first we were thinking about [fan expectations],” he and the band learned to ignore the naysayers. “We never cared about [critics],” Santiago revealed, “and that’s what made us different.”
Instead, they focused on innovation. Many artists have struggled to adapt to the seismic shifts in the music industry, but the Pixies have embraced the changes. The single and EPs were recorded and released on the band’s website without the help of a label or any advance notice. “I never got this notion why people have to tell us when they’re going to release something,” Santiago remarked, adding, “It’s the digital age.”
And if the response at the Pixies’ live shows is any indication, fans may be warming up to the new songs. Santiago noted, “The fans are still rabid” and described their attentiveness, saying, “When they look, they’re not passing a die around; they’re actually listening [to the new material].” During their best shows, Santiago “feels like we grasped [the fans], right from the very first note.”
No longer in danger of devolving into a legacy act, the Pixies have big plans for the future. “The next time around, we’re certainly going to shake it up,” Santiago revealed. “Personally, I want [the music] to get harder…more of an assault.” And while “the conversation isn’t mutual” just yet, the band has expressed interest in touring with David Bowie. “We would love to,” Santiago gushed. “I know Charles [Thompson] wants us to be his backing band…which would be awesome, and we’d probably Pixie-fy his stuff,” a prospect that’s sure to fill the dreams of music nerds across the globe.
But no matter what the future holds, Santiago is confident in the direction the Pixies are headed. “We made a conscious effort to sound this way. And people will understand us in the future—like always,” he said. If the past is any indication, he may very well be right.