Joey Santiago is feeling contemplative. As the guitarist and original member of the Pixies, he is wrapping up a full day of press ahead of the band’s 2018 tour. The questions dredge through the triumphant years, the miserable breaks and the ugly truths about it all. But Santiago isn’t focused on the fall and rise of one of the best bands in the alternative music. He’s thinking about aluminum foil.
The Pixies will perform to a sold-out crowd June 24 at the Florida Theatre. There will be no filler talk between songs, no interplay with the audience, no set list, just 75 minutes of music called out by the man known as Black Francis aka Frank Black aka Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV.
“No chatter. We don’t necessarily do it on purpose. We just don’t have anything to say,” says Santiago. “We do not have a set list. Charles will call them off on a microphone by the drum riser. When you see him go up there and he presses a button, it activates a microphone. We have our in-ear monitors on and he’ll call out the songs. Then we’ll know what the next song is going to be.”
This may seem like the controlling measure in a band light on democratic principles, but Santiago prefers the more organic method of song selection rather than a prefabricated set list that may not fit the mood once they get to the stage.
“That’s why we do that. Because more than likely we’re feeling it whereas if it was written down, the next song is like ‘Really? Now?’ As time went on, we did have it written down then we just started ignoring it. Sometimes it’s just in the way. Like ‘oops, I started the wrong song because I read ahead on the thing’. Set lists, shmet lists.”
Guitarist Joey Santiago audibly cringes at the idea of listening to his own music, but he recently had his phone in “shuffle” mode when a track popped up that he was happy to revisit. “Usually when I hear a Pixies song I’m like ‘no, I don’t want to hear that’ but then I heard “All Over the World” and I’m like this is a crazy, whacky song. We should do that,” he says. “Maybe for this tour I’ll introduce that one into the mix. It’s a fun song.”
“All Over the World” is featured on the Pixies’ 1990 album Bossanova released on the heels of the 1988 debut Surfer Rosa and 1989’s sophomore Doolittle. The band was nearing the end of salad days, inner tensions chewing at the less than stable framework of the band. “A plain with no herd, Not even a bird. When one side is hot, The other side of the moon is not.”
Thompson and Deal, long at odds with one another, no longer communicated. Deal formed a side band The Breeders with Tanya Donnelly of Throwing Muses and Thompson, Santiago and Lovering would move to LA while Deal remained behind. Trompe le Monde was released in 1991 and a lackluster tour in support of U2 was the death knell. The Pixies called it quits in 1993.
Like any relationship in its youthful stages, there’s energy, camaraderie, confidence, fearlessness and hope. The flip side is dark, wrought with tension, change, pain, distance, rejection, defiance, and all the pathos come with it. The Pixies When the flood waters recede, survivors often find themselves in polarizing camps of introspection, the reminder of what could have been had the implosion never happened.
“I started dabbling in composing for bits of film and TV. I formed a band with my ex-wife. And for a week, I lined my bedroom windows with tin foil just because I found that it really blocked the sun and made it dark all the time. It was a dark, dark world at one point. Just think of all the food that could’ve stayed warm. It all went to waste.”
Santiago went on to compose for independent films and scored the soundtrack of the documentary Radiant City in 2006. He also focused on writing music for television commercials and co-scored the Fox Network TV series Undeclared with Michael Andrews. Santiago formed The Martinis with his life Linda Mallari and collaborated with Charles Douglas on his 2004 album Statecraft as well as penning the songs “Birthday Video” and “Fake Purse” for the Showtime series Weeds.
“Every year after the break up, maybe five years into it, there was always a rumor that we were going to reunite. They’re going to do it! They’re going to do it! And it was like no, it’s not true. At some point I knew we were at least going to do one show,” says Santiago. “In 2004 [when the band reunited], I didn’t think it was going to last this long. I thought it was just going to be a trip around the world and that would be it. But that was not the case. I think it just goes to show you that the world is flat because we try to go around the world and we just can’t get around it. Once we get around it, then we’ll stop.”
The documentary “loudQUIETloud: a film about the Pixies” explores the 2004 reunion as well as the years post-break up. Santiago is reticent to discuss the gory details and thus, isn’t pushed to rehash the metaphorical car crash that twice claimed bassist Kim Deal. “I’m going to be quiet most of the time. No one is going to exist. I’m just going to keep to myself,” he remarks. “I’ll be loud when I dive into the pool. That’s when I’ll scream. That will be my version of loud-quiet-loud.”
After Deal left for good in 2013, the Pixies hired touring bassist Kim Shattuck, who was subsequently replaced by Paz Lenchantin, known for her work with A Perfect Circle, Queens of the Stone Age and Zwan. “She’s awesome. Everyone is just chilled out. It’s the dreaded thing, you know, the dudes have all hit middle age. We all have comfortable sedans,” says Santiago.
“We are still around 30-plus years later. That’s a big one. We made some pretty timeless records. Was it ahead of the time? Maybe. It was just very natural to us. We got lucky. That’s it. We got lucky. I can’t even figure it out.”
Santiago finds himself among an elite class of artists who count their own influences in the upper echelon of artists who have extolled the virtues of their work. The fact that David Bowie along with such visionaries as Kurt Cobain and Bono all publicly praised The Pixies is a head spinner. “I don’t even know what to think of that,” he says.
Fans themselves are rapt with “good” nostalgia through Santiago is wary of the descriptor. “It’s nostalgic in the way that it’s in the past but the sound is timeless, if I could say so myself. There’s that element too, where it’s like ‘is it nostalgic or is it right?’ It’s still relevant,” he says. “Nostalgic to me would be like the Gregorian chants or watching caveman hit rocks. That’s old school nostalgia.”
Others get a familiar, bitter taste. In 1991, the Pixies would play a show at the Milk Bar on Adams Street in Downtown Jacksonville, though to call it a show is generous. Santiago recalls the show and a band wager as to how long it would take before the security barrier finally gave way.
“The barrier broke. These were like two-by-fours made out of wood and they weren’t holding and we kind of got tired of it that no one was listening to us that this particular barrier will break and so rather than “milk it” – see what I did there – we made a bet on how many songs it would take to break that barrier. We did it in one and a half, I think. I think we were playing “Head On”.”
Santiago contemplates what could have been if the barriers designed to hold everyone in place had stayed intact. “Lives could have changed in a dramatically different way if we’d played one and a half hours at that show. Is that to say the projection of their lives would have gotten better or worse? We don’t know. And are we to blame? No. You can blame your local lumber yard.”