In just two and a half years the Pixies have already achieved more than most bands dream about in a lifetime, yet at first glance, nothing is as it appears to be. The Pixies are not pixies, they are three men and a woman who live in Boston, Massachusetts and produce a sound powerful enough to wind Atlas. Their singer, Black Francis, isn't really called Black Francis. His real name is Charles Michael Kitridge Thompson (IV). It was the name his father put into his head. Friends call him Charles. His father calls him son.
Charles was in his first year at Amherst University when one day a woman walked into his Spanish class asking, "Does anyone want to go to Puerto Rico for a year?" He packed his bag the next day. Sadly, neither sun, sand, nor Spanish Salsa could quench his appetite for rock 'n 'roll, and after six months he dropped out of college.
"You know when you're trying to watch a group, but somehow your eyes keep slipping back to the little chick who's two rows in the front, sitting on the back of her seat and can't keep still for shaking?" he asks. "You can't see the band, but you still go home alone and you're lying asleep because you don't wanna sleep with your loins on fire. Then you remember you've always wanted to be in a rock 'n 'roll band ever since you were five, but you moved to California and, in the rush, your parents gave away your Beatles albums. All of them. I had them all when I was eight and that's one of those painful childhood experiences. Finally in Puerto Rico I wasn't even attending classes. One day I just said, 'Fuck this, I'm gonna be a rock star'.
Kicking the sand off his shoes, he returned to Boston to form a band. He spent two weeks convincing his former college roommate Joey Santiago to ditch college, and when the lead guitarist finally relented, the pair advertised for a bass player. Joey Santiago is Joey Santiago, but he 's not an allAmerican boy. It was he who thought up the name Pixies. "Joey was in the Philippines until he was seven or something, and with English not his first language, he has a fascination for new words . 'Oh I like that word,' he says, looks it up and sees what it means. Actually, believe it or not, he wanted to call it Pixies In Panoply, but we shortened it a little." Mrs Kim Murphy is not Mrs Kim Murphy anymore. She 's recently divorced and so has reverted back to her maiden name, Kim Deal. She answered a Musicians Wanted ad in a Boston paper asking for a bass player for a "Husker Du and Peter, Paul & Mary" band because she thought the ad was "cute". She arrived without a bass, but was the only person to answer the ad. Not surprisingly, she got the job. Her friend, drummer David Lovering, was sick of playing in "goof-off" bands and was drafted in to complete the quartet . The Pixies were fully formed in July 1986.
The band recorded a demo tape, intending to use it to secure a contract, whereupon they'd re-record them as part of an album. But 4AD were so impressed with the tape, they signed the band and in October '87, released the demo, which became the eight-track album "Come On Pilgrim ". It was raw. No, it was ROAR - an original sin that reformed and revitalised the notion of guitar rock.
Rock can only be defined by it's limitations, and "Come On Pilgrim" stretched those boundaries into the twilight zone, entwining surreal seduction with friendly sedition. Shortly after its release, the album reached Number One in the Independent charts and has hovered in and around the Top 20 ever since.
Much attention was focused on the album's subject matter: it's overt references to incest ("Nimrod 's Son") and religion.
While the sepia-tinted album cover and hispanic titles like "Vamos " and "Isla De Encanta" were influenced by Charles’ sojourn in Puerto Rico, and the desire to connect with some ancient, primal emotion can be traced to his Archeological digs in Arizona, his preoccupation with God perhaps reflects his born-again, Pentecostal background.
"I was 12 and religion came over my entire family. I grew up exposed to a lot of preaching and righteous rage, and although I've rejected the content of all that, the style has left an impression on me. It certainly left me fucked up, that's for sure."
This might explain why he looks like a man possessed while on stage, hollering Flintstone and treacle, spitting pain and venom, yet inciting celebration.
"I want to command some faith in an audience," he says. "I want them to be intrigued, absolutely curious about what I am . That 's what makes music attractive to me - it 's the hole you get sucked into when you really get into a song."
Any attempt to locate the Pixies’ fleet-footed muse has floundered in an ocean of riddles and ridicule. Because the band barely glance back at history, critics have found musical reference points misleading and often spurious: The Fall's abrupt short-circuit of the synapse gaps, MC5's steamroller abandon, Television’s razor cuts , Husker Du’s monstrous, dense noise, have all been cited, but no one has yet been able to cast a net of the Pixies brand of savage mayhem.
Those looking for logical, coherent meaning within the songs will find only cat's cradles of ideas that contains its own inner logic and sounds mean. According to Charles, there is only one truth. It occurs on the second Stooges album, "Loose" when Iggy screams "Brother! Brother!" "That 's gospel," he declares. "In the end, nothing beats volume and lights and drunken people. The songs just have to sound cool." Like all good magicians, the band knew when to vanish. They pulled out a pin, swallowed the grenade, and laughed all the way to the Pizza Hut.
A year flew by and nothing was heard of them. Their next trick was the feature-length album, "Surfer Rosa", the mad March hare of '88 which immediately went to Number One in the Independent charts. By this time The Pixies had learnt to ride their scalding momentum like a minotaur on a skateboard. The mutilation and destruction of the body that scrambles through songs like "Bone Machine " and "Break My Body" form a kind of anatomical esperanto, speaking in tongues to suggests a carnivorous lust. Yet as ever, Pixies manage to combine such torture with ecstasy, using their blacked-out humour to stir their fluid chaos. As one review at the time concluded: "This album kicks ass."
"I think our songs are funny," Charles says, but he also knows they can intoxicate and pulverise. "I write my songs mostly in front of a mirror. I've always done it like that. When I get tired of the mirror, I stand in the bath tub and draw the curtain."
On their first tour outside the States, the Pixies supported labelmates Throwing Muses, although the gigs were largely seen as two headlining acts. Critical acclaim reached rabid proportions, but the Pixies kept their toes on the ground. "We're just ordinary guys and an ordinary gal," Charles says, meaning without reality, there is no fantasy, there's only fallacy.
In August '88 the band released their first single, the ultimate eargasm, "Gigantic". It immediately went to Number One in the Independent charts and paved the way for the band's first headlining tour of the UK and Europe, which was a sellout. At the end of 1988, "Surfer Rosa" was voted Album Of The Year in Melody Maker and Sounds, and garnered accolades from The Guardian and Independent, while the band swept up the laurels in most music paper’s Readers' polls.
A new year brings fresh promise. March 20 sees the release of the Pixies new single, “Monkey Gone To Heaven”. Last August, Charles spoke of his frustration over the dumping of garbage 100 miles out to see off New Jersey. "There's tons and tons of sludge, and the fishermen bring up fish with sores on them and fins rotting away." Somehow this frustration has translated into a song where "man is five", "the devil is six" and "God is seven".
On April 20, the Pixies’ new album will be unveiled, followed by a 50-date tour of Britain and Europe. The LP "Doolittle" retains all the frenetic energy of their previous vinyl safaris, but now the songs have become even more disparate, highlighting the rickety fence that separates barbarism and civility. From the arsenic-tinted commercial harmony of "Here Comes Your Man", through the heavily caffeinated and discordant "Dead", to the disjointed groin attack of "Debaser", the sound is still terrifyingly simple and menacingly beautiful. Sex grinds through most songs, particularly "Hey" and "Gouge Away" as the animal is liberated then contained within the man. It's Manna from heaven.
All photos taken from 4AD commissioned shoots by Andrew Catlin and Tom Sheehan.