An Interview with The Pixies Lead Guitarist, Joey Santiago on The Band’s Past, Present and Future!
Posted On 02 Oct 2014
Tag: Black Francis, Bush, Coachella, David Lovering, Fight Club, Gil Norton, Greens And Blues, Hollywood Bowl, Iggy Pop, Indie Cindy, Japan's Summer Sonic Festival, Joey Santiago, Kim Deal, Kurk Kobain, Mr. Grieves, Nirvana, Paz Lenchantin, Pixiesmusic, Puerto Rico, Radiohead, Studio City, Sydney Opera House, The Beatles, The Flight Of The Bumblebee, The Pixies, The Stroked, The Velvert Underground, TV On The Radio, UMASS, USA Today, Velouria, Violent Femmes, Weezer, Where Is My Mind
When it comes to legendary and mega-influential bands, The Pixies are at the top of everyone’s list. The founding and current members of the band include Black Francis (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Joey Santiago (lead guitar) and David Lovering (drums). Throughout musical history, their jarring pop sound subsequently influenced bands such as Nirvana, Radiohead, The Strokes, Bush, Weezer and many others.
Their music has covered a number of offbeat subjects like extraterrestrials, surrealism, incest, and biblical violence. The Pixies‘ legacy and popularity grew in the years following their break-up, leading to sold-out world tours following their reunion in 2004. In more recent news, The Pixies released their sixth studio album, Indie Cindy this past April. It is the band’s first album since 1991.
Despite a bit of bad cell phone reception from his home in the Studio City hills, I chatted with The Pixies‘ lead guitarist, Joey Santiago about the band’s past, present and future.
Can you remember the moment that you all decided to start a band?
Yes, right when I got to college and right when I met Francis. And then you know, we wrote each other with stamps back then. He was in Puerto Rico studying abroad at the time and I was still at UMASS but we met and we wrote each other and in one letter, he goes:
“It’s time. It’s time. I’ve had it with this.”
And you know, I was getting bored with being in college. I was getting straight As, yeah I was getting 4.0’s and it was boring and the kids there were I don’t know, I just felt like such an outsider. And I got sick of eating lunch by myself! Ok, I’ll admit it! <Hahaha>
What music were you into at the time?
Well, I had just started listening to more adventurous stuff at the time. It’s what you do in college. It’s what you are supposed to do. But some people didn’t! Iggy Pop and The Velvet Underground… You know all this music wasn’t really new but it was interesting to me at the time. Oh and Violent Femmes came out with an album around then. So, yeah, stuff like that!
Numerous bands have credited The Pixies with changing their musical style like Radiohead, Nirvana and many others. Which bands do you think sound most like you?
I mean, you know I have to agree with Kurt Cobain that they were. But you know, I regard them highly. It’s just because they kind of did but they had their own take with it. They weren’t derivative, even though they sounded like The Pixies, you can hear the influence. Like with us, you can hear the influence of The Velvet Underground but it’s not derivative. You know? You just hear the influence of the music.
Have there been covers done of your music that you’ve particularly enjoyed? What are they?
You know I did like what Weezer to “Velouria” and I also like TV On The Radio. They do an acapella of I think “Mr. Grieves” and it sounds killer!!
Between 1993 and 2004, The Pixies disbanded. What brought you back together?
You know, we got this offer, there was a rumor that we were going to get back together and then we got a Coachella offer. So we were like, “Really, wow! I think we should really think about this one.” But they are always going to be rumors. Every year.
Do you regret breaking up during that time period?
No, not at all because I knew it was coming. Eventually a band has it’s lifespan and you know I got down and I picked myself up during that time. I learned how to compose for films and TV. So I’ve always got that in my back pocket! When we disband again which might happen or will, I at least have this skill to fall back on.
What was it like playing together when you got back together? What were the emotions you were experiencing?
I mean, we were just vibing off the crowd and they were really really excited to see us. We’ve done this awhile, so we were like, “Don’t fuck it up!” But yeah, it was exciting and so much fun to be playing together again!
Your song, “Where Is My Mind” is played at the end of the film, “Fight Club”. How did that happen? What did you think of how it was used?
Yes, of course! Well, that came together really fast actually. You know, it just happened. It was just one of those moments. We almost always say yes to everything. But yeah, I think it’s one of the best placed pieces of music. It’s at the very end. It’s all electronic music and then this pinnacle thing happens with the buildings all falling down and the first thing you hear is that acoustic guitar. So it was very juxtaposed and very cleverly placed. It’s a great spot for it!
How was the 7 year reunion tour that began in April 2004?
We were not aware of the length at the time. You know we were having fun and like the saying which I guess is true, time flies when you are having fun. And it’s not always fun for me, when I’m not having time, goes really slow but not with this tour. Why stop a good thing, right?
And I could give a good example of me having fun and it’s taken a long time cause I’m an avid cyclist. I’m one of those people that dress like white stripe-tight shit and I’m having fun climbing a hill but fuck, sometimes I think, when is this going to be over?! <Hahaha> I do cycle a lot over here in the hills. I go to the canyons too.
What’s it been like having to work with a variety of touring bassists since Kim Deal left the band?
Well, it was about finding the right one and Paz Lenchantin was the best replacement. I know there’s only been two but still, she’s the best. And also it just goes to show you that after awhile it’s just the songs that speak for themselves. You know what I mean… That and my goddamned guitar! <Hahaha> They cannot survive without me!! Actually, I would refuse, I would go like, “Don’t fire me!!” Yeah! No, they would never do that! <Hahaha>
What led the band to start their own label, Pixiesmusic?
Oh, well because we don’t need another label. I mean, we are very lucky that we are well known amongst music fans so we really don’t need to be with a label and get ripped off anymore. We are independent. And the label will tell you that too, yeah, we do rip off bands, they’ll agree with me. <Hahaha>
Regarding your newest release, Indie Cindy, USA Today was quoted as saying, “Well worth the wait”. Indeed, this is the band’s first full studio album since 1991. Was it hard to go that long without creating something new for yourself and your fans?
You know, no, not at all. Obviously, in the first three years, we were going to release something new because people did want to hear the classics. When they started really demanding a new album, we were all like “Ok, lets be a real band and record, let’s record a damn album.”
Oh man, we are incredibly proud of this album. We did a great job. It does show the growth we’ve gone through. As songwriters, we’ve bridged over and we’ve been progressively getting better, musically. You can definitely see the arc of that and we are lucky that we still get to sound like ourselves. Even with this new record, it’s in our DNA!
How critical was working with Gil Norton as the producer of Indie Cindy?
Yeah, because there were enough variables up there. We worked with him for 10 years, and we didn’t need another variable. And you know, we were afraid a producer would run away, and drive us nuts.
So where do you find inspiration for your songwriting now? What are some of the ways the internet has altered it?
Nothing has changed about our songwriting process. You know for me, when we are about to record, I listen to a lot of music but I don’t let it influence me. Because you got to have your own niche so you just can’t do it. You just can’t get influenced by it because I just like to get entertained when I listen to music. You know what I mean?
Has what compels you to make music changed at all since the band started?
No, I do it cause I love the band and our music. That and not having to work at a loading dock anymore or deliver auto parts. I mean, now I’ve gotten something else to fall on in TV and film but that’s work. That is work. This is a lot better and more fun. I mean, let’s face it, for me, I think it’s the best job in the world. It is. It really really is.
Do you have any all time favorite songs to play? And why?
Well, right now, it’s “Greens And Blues” and “The Flight Of The Bumblebee”. I’m learning that right now. Part of why I like them is because our boss likes them, the audience. <Hahaha> We answer to their calling by accident and they love those songs.
What do you consider to be some of The Pixies biggest accomplishments?
Our biggest accomplishment was when we started. Yeah in the beginning when we practiced a lot and I mean A LOT, religiously everyday and we carved out a sound by accident that happened to be good. <Hahaha>
You’ve been very busy touring this summer. You were in Australia and played at the Sydney Opera House, and then you went to Europe and most recently, you were in Japan playing at Japan’s Summer Sonic Festival in Tokyo and Osaka. Can you pick out an experience from these tours that stood out? How was the reception?
It’s all a blur you know. It just is and every city, we embrace. It’s all enjoyable for us. We always figure out how to find a silver lining in everything. Some crowds are really more attentive then others.
Later this month, you will head out on a US tour. Where are you guys looking forward to playing at?
We always like going to San Francisco and oh Los Angeles at the Hollywood Bowl. We are really excited about that one. There is this band that played there awhile ago, The Beatles. <Hahaha> I heard a song from them called “Hey Bulldog” the other day and yeah, wow, they are going to be big! <Hahaha> I think they are going to make it! You should check ‘em out! <Hahaha>
What piece of advice would you offer a band just getting started now?
Practice everyday together and play live shows. See how the crowd reacts, just like what we did and then come back to the drawing board and hone it for the boss. Not you, the boss, get off your high horse! The fans really are, if you think about it.
Are there any dream musicians that you guys would love to work with?
They are still working, still in the garage. They are still working really really hard and when they come out of the garage, I’d like to meet ‘em. <Hahaha>