Black Francis Talks the Pixies’ Return to Glastonbury, 25 Years Later-------
In June 1989, the Pixies took the stage at Glastonbury Festival. Tomorrow, they’ll do it again, and it seems only fitting. The first time the Massachusetts foursome turned up at Worthy Farm, it was on the heels of Doolittle, a record that cemented them as one of the most indisputably zeitgeist-shaking bands of their generation. Then in April, after two decades of will-they-or-won’t-they murmurings, the Pixies (less founding member Kim Deal) released Indie Cindy, their first full-length album of new material since 1991′s Trompe Le Monde.
On the eve of their Glastonbury reprise twenty-five years later, Style.com sat down with front man and prolific solo artist Black Francis to talk about the highs and lows of the festival circuit, his current playlist, and why the Pixies never break the tension.
What is doing the festival circuit like for you guys? Is it fun or is it draining?
I think other people enjoy the festival circuit more than I do. It isn’t that I’m not appreciative of the audience or of the gig or of the fee that I’m paid at the end of the night. I’m appreciative of all that. But I’m just not a big believer in the festival the way that other people seem to be, and have been ever since I played my first festival twenty-eight years ago or whatever. People, especially over in Europe, they’ve been going to the same field every summer for however many decades. It’s this whole kind of ritualistic tribal thing that they do and they love it. But in terms of the rock music, I would say that I guess as it has evolved over the years, it’s gotten very commercialized or whatever. There are a lot of sponsors involved. There’s a lot of advertising. There are a lot of stages. There are a lot of bands. It’s this whole kind of like…faux-ethos vibe that is like, Oh, yes, the festival is the ultimate expression of human gathering. That kind of a mentality has taken over in a way. I think everybody likes the idea that there are a lot of bands there and there are a lot of people there and there’s a lot of stuff going on. But I just think it’s too much.
We’re coming from the Northeast, and basically we’re all fairly shy. Standing up in front of a bunch of people, especially nowadays, because people are conditioned to want to hear the call-and-response. HEY – OH – HEY – OH. They’re conditioned to people to say, “What’s up, motherfucker?!” They want to hear that. One thing I enjoy the most about festivals is there’s this kind of awkward tension when we’re onstage because—I would say 40 to 50 percent of the audience are just kind of waiting, wondering when we’re going to kick the big beach ball off into the crowd. And they don’t know what to do until we break that tension, and we never break the tension. We just go along and play our songs. I think everyone’s kind of happy when we say good night and we take our bow. We wave. We’re not fake. We take in the applause and say, “We love you, too.” So I think everyone knows in the end, Oh! They were in a good mood! I just can’t understand the modern-rock mentality. It’s like, has anyone ever listened to a fucking goddamn Lou Reed record? What the fuck have they been listening to and watching? “They seem like they were catty, in a bad mood tonight. They didn’t say anything to the audience!” Like, what the fuck planet are you on? Have you listened to any cool rock band ever? Have you ever heard of Miles fucking Davis? What the fuck? Anyway. It’s just feeling a little too Spring Break for me. I’m very happy to be there, but I just don’t know that I’m exactly on the wavelength. Sometimes you just gotta go, “Hey, I accepted the tour, I accepted the gig. I don’t need to understand it. I just need to walk out onto the stage at whatever time and day I’m supposed to be there, be who I am, and entertain the nice people.” I never have a bad attitude about it.
So Indie Cindy. Was it always a given that if you were going to record something new that Gil [Norton, who produced the band's previous three albums] would produce it?
It probably was a given on some level between Joey [Santiago] and myself because he was kind of the guy that we knew, and he’d been trying so hard to work his way back into our situation. What he didn’t understand was that our situation as a band was dysfunctional enough that really what producer we were going to work with was the least of our concerns—we were just trying to get the four people in the same room together in agreement to jam or rehearse or have new songs or whatever. We tried to do that, and it was a total failure. It was at that point that we decided that in fact we could press forward, but the only way we could press forward was if we had Gil involved because Gil is a very positive guy. He’s not a yes man at all—he has his own agenda. And I say this with lots of love and affection, but he’s basically really sweet and really nice and he’s trying to manipulate you the whole time into doing what he wants you to do. Sometimes it’s a little bit of a battle working with him because he has such strong, passionate feelings about the way that he thinks things should be. But at the same time, he’s very diplomatic, professional, the glass is always half-full, it’s never half-empty. He doesn’t lose his cool. It’s nice because basically he’s a swell guy to hang out with. I think we always wanted to work with him, ultimately. When the difficulties the band was experiencing proved to be too much even on our own in the rehearsal room, we got him involved and we got it done. We lost Kim Deal in the process, but that was sort of to be expected. Which is fine. We totally accept her for who she is and we don’t really have a problem with her. She just couldn’t stick it out.
When I heard the new EPs, I think the first thing that came to mind was that they were noticeably shinier than stuff you’d done in the past—more poppy. Was that a concerted effort, whether by Gil or by you guys?
That’s basically the kind of producer that he is. We don’t have a problem with it. Our tendencies tend to be less shiny, but because we tend to be a little bit “scruffy” or whatever, which is why people like us, I think, and I think it’s valid to be scruffy, but it’s also valid to be scruffy and have someone force you to put on a tie and a jacket. Gil is the kind of producer who says, “No, you’re not going to go to dinner looking like that. You’re going to put on a jacket and you’re going to comb your hair and you’re going to shave and you’re going to brush your teeth and you’re going to look nice and you’re not going to embarrass me.” We sort of accept that. His way is valid also. That’s what some people I think don’t understand about the Pixies. They think that scruff is our real, most natural state or whatever, which I think is kind of true. But there’s nothing invalid about subjecting your natural state to someone else’s natural state—that’s what a producer does.
Whether it’s your painting or The Good Inn [Francis' lately published graphic novel] or the new record, how and where do ideas really percolate for you?
I might work on ideas in my downtime and I’m not really aware of it, but really, I am only aware of working on things when I have some kind of deadline. I have to have a reason, you know what I mean? I don’t know if it’s because I’m sort of blue collar in a way…I can’t just be like, “Oh, I’m feeling inspired! I think I’ll do something artistic!” At least with music. Painting and drawing, I would say I don’t really have any deadlines usually associated with doing visual arts. I find visual arts like painting and drawing to be very kind of blue collar in a way. It’s like, “Screw your fucking ideas. When are you going to get your pencil out and actually just do some shit?” You just kind of have to do it, and it’s the doing that really makes it, for me personally. It’s not about, Ooh, I have all these ideas and I have to step outside of myself. I have this vision. I have this voice inside me that must be heard. It’s like, no, I can sit around and eat bonbons and drink beer like anybody else and suddenly forget about any of this intellectual stimulus. You have to go, “All right, enough bonbons. I have to actually do something. What am I going to do?” It’s the work of it that really gets me going more than anything.
It wouldn’t be an interview if I didn’t ask you what you were listening to right now.
I usually have Erik Satie playing. [laughs] I mean, like, twenty-four hours a day when I’m on tour. I just have it playing in my room even if I’m not here, just so when I come back into the room it’s still playing. I occasionally change it up and put some Tom Waits or some Nick Drake, but mostly it’s Erik Satie. He’s sort of been my constant companion for the past six months or so.