Nearing the end of a European tour, Pixies are a band in fine form.
Their second post-reunion album 'Head Carrier', released in September, is a blistering collection of songs, clocking in barely 33 minutes in length.
It's also their first LP with new bassist Paz Lenchantin, the band's first permanent replacement for Kim Deal, whose departure was announced in 2013.
I caught up with frontman Black Francis shortly before their Cardiff show...
Head Carrier seemed to have been a more straightforward recording process than Indie Cindy [the band's first post-reunion record, released in 2013/14]...
We love playing with Paz. She feels like she’s always been there. It feels very natural to be with her and we really enjoy her companionship.
It’s definitely more band-oriented than the previous effort. The previous effort was a band that had not recorded together in a long time.
The ambition is the same. Not be boring! That pretty much sums it up.
We do rock music and generally speaking, whatever is mysterious about it is mysterious to us too.
All you can do is create the environment for something more magical and mystical to happen, and do everything you can to facilitate that. It’s not like you can demand magic.
This is the longest run of shows you've done in UK since the reunion began in 2004... with the first Welsh show you've played since 1989!
If you tour a lot, you always at least go through Wales, on your way to Ireland or on your way back. Stop off at Holyhead and all that stuff. And we recorded in Wales a few years ago. We’re starting to be more familiar with the country I suppose.
We have a master setlist that we’re drawing from - like 70 or 80 songs.
So it’s just kinda fun to call them out. You can read the crowd a little bit and kind of when you’re in a mood give them a little bit of what they want.
There’s a little bit of curiosity from some of the crowd now, because they didn’t see us the first time around.
It’s validating that there are a lot of younger people in the audience, but I don’t presume that the audience is going to be a particular age or have a particular outlook or whatever. Let’s try to win them over!
These are long shows as well...
I’m taking my cue from other people. You go and see someone who’s been around for a long time. They don’t do a 55 minute show!
A lot of people who are coming to see our shows - they’ve got a lot of itches that need scratching. It’s not always about how can I challenge them and make them annoyed at me! It’s not the appropriate setting!
We don’t pander. There’s enough non-pandering going on with our show. We don’t talk to the audience. We don’t do any of the “HEY, HOW YA DOING?”. We don’t do any of that.
Any acknowledgement we do is like Harpo Marx *mimes silent wave and grin*. We don’t talk.
They don’t need us to also be completely difficult at all times. They want to hear ‘Where Is My Mind’, ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’, fine. We’re going to do those too. It’s all part of the repertoire!
I love going to see artists that are difficult! Super challenging. I don’t think we ever were that kind of band. We weren’t necessarily a band that was trying really hard to be very commercial, or appealing in a general poppy kind of way. We’re just in the middle. We want to do both.
You’ve always been a prolific songwriter. From the Pixies initial run, throughout the Frank Black era, and the reformation of the Pixies too...
Well that’s just my style. There are some people who take long breaks, and they work a really long time on something, and that’s perfectly valid. And there are other people who are a little more anxious or something and are like “let’s try it again, let’s do some more”. It’s just a different kind of anything.
So you end up being ‘prolific’ and whatever, but it’s really a willingness to not self-edit quite as much as other people!
Not that there’s anything wrong with editing or self-editing, making sure that you’re only letting the cream rise to the surface or whatever, but at the same time it’s kind of fun to just let your hair down and just kind of not be afraid to fail artistically.
I think it’s liberating in another way rather than “WE NAILED IT! WE MADE A CLASSIC ALBUM!”
I think it’s also liberating to think of it as a snapshot of what we did and where we were at that time.
I think both are valid. If artists only were sort of conservative in the way they presented themselves, then I think you’ve have a lot more boring records.
There’s clearly a lot of weight of expectation putting out new material. Are you a little more relaxed about it now that you’ve got two records out?
Well yeah, we’ve been around for a while, so even though there’s expectation, we’re not the new young hot band that just came out of nowhere. We’ve done that. You can’t really replicate that. And we’re not the Beatles or whatever.
There’s some expectation, but there’s also a lot of narratives that observers or our career or whatever are more blasé - “you haven’t impressed me lately” sort of attitude.
You get a lot of it over the years, so how seriously am I going to take all this pressure?
You set your own narrative in a way I suppose. You’re not in your 20s, you’re all got life experiences now and other responsibilities, like family?
I suppose it’s more focused because it’s like “this is the time that we’re going to tour. This is the time that we’re going to practice or record things.
You have a lot of energy when you’re young, and that’s good, and there are good results that can happen with that young naive energy!
But I suppose that one of the things you begin to learn over time is that younger man’s energy basically just keeps you up too late. And you get results of diminished returns, and it takes a long time to make peace with that.
You don’t need to obsess on anything all night long. You start to learn your ways. You start to learn when you’re good and not good.
[Playing shows] is kind of connected with a lot of people’s - say people who don’t listen to my music - it’s connected to their notion of what showbusiness is.
To me it’s kind of satisfying. If you want to remain in the club, you’ve basically got to get in the van and go!
Over the year you’ve amassed quite a lot of guitar gear. You’re playing Vox amps again now. You’re a Telecaster man as well. Have you ever been tempted to move away?
I try to break out of my comfort zone a bit but it’s hard to do! I generally play Telecasters and Vox amps. I’m the rhythm guitar player. I need to do my job but it’s also good that I don’t crowd in on other players’ sonic space.
The Telecaster is a very bright guitar, and the Voxes are darkish amps, so that balances out a bit.
I bought a new amp in Glasgow the other day, and it was maybe half a mile from my hotel. And I thought it was too close to sit around and get taxi, and it’s not that heavy. I can handle it! So I carried it down the big shopping street to my hotel.
I had to keep stopping and readjusting how I was going to carry it. Just a little Marshall combo amp. Nothing extravagant! Just a little sonic nuance that I wasn’t getting with my current backline.
As a band, you seem to really enjoy playing the Head Carrier songs. Is there more new material on the way?
I hope so! Our producer [Tom Dalgety] and our previous producer Gil [Norton] I believe are both coming to the show tonight!
I’d like to discuss some kind of recording session. That’s the part that I actually enjoy slightly more. I mean I love playing shows - I love it - but it’s the recording part that is slightly more addictive.
I really like that aspect of being a musician. So I’m always trying to work out how we can get into another session without feeling like it’s a waste of time for anybody.
We have a lot of songs that didn’t make it on the record. We like them, generally speaking, but we haven’t quite figured out how to deliver the material yet.