No longer ‘assholes,’ the Pixies learn to appreciate

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“We were assholes,” Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago explained to The Daily Californian in a phone interview about the band’s past, “little fucking punk-y, unappreciative jerks.” This time around — currently touring for their first album of new music in over twenty years — fans could describe the legendary alt-rock band as more mature, but the Pixies prefer “appreciative.” The group accepts the incongruities between past and present and they don’t let it bother them.

This is not to imply that any songs off the new album, Indie Cindy, sound like a campfire  “Kumbaya.” Singer Black Francis hasn’t retired his scathing scream or guttural growls, but he has brought some more reflection to the album. Many songs seem to harken back to past places and times, whether in the realm of history — “Jaime Bravo” is a reference to the famous Mexican bullfighter — or Francis’s own memories, as “Ring the Bells” and “Greens and Blues” both mix nostalgia with bitter longing.

The Pixies — Francis, Santiago, bassist Kim Deal and drummer David Lovering — released four studio albums between 1988 and 1993, before disbanding due to stress and internal fighting. “It was a blessing in the long run,” Santiago said of the band’s trajectory. “When we got back together, people were ravenous for more.” They started touring again in April 2004 and released the Deal-penned “Bam Thwok” later that year as an exclusive iTunes download. The ode to onomatopoeias was originally written for “Shrek 2’s” title sequence but ultimately rejected by DreamWorks.

Members of the band were reluctant to produce an LP of new material, so they continued touring for seven years — longer than the band had been together when they were releasing music. But, in 2012, the Pixies secretly flew to Wales to record new songs with longtime producer Gil Norton (Doolittle, Bossanova, Trompe Le Monde). They produced and released the album on their own label, Pixiesmusic

Within six days of studio time, Deal — who previously voiced concerns about a new album — left Wales and decided not to contribute vocals to Indie Cindy due to personal issues, although she played bass on the first four tracks of the album before making her decision. The remaining Pixies brought in Ding (Simon “Dingo” Archer) to play bass for the rest of the album.

The Pixies kept Deal’s departure quiet until they announced it on their website in June 2013. Days later, the band made the album’s first single, “Bagboy,” available as a free download on the site along with the track’s music video. Since these updates, the band has continued to release announcements and music solely through their website, giving mailing-list subscribers first access to new material.

“CDs are dying, practically dead,” explained Santiago of the choice to release music through their website. The band portioned out its new material as a series of three EPs from September 2013 to March 2014 before revealing the full album on April 29.

“People are getting (music) for free anyway, why not give it away?” Santiago continued, “Just one song, give it away. U2 just gave (Songs of Innocence) away. That’s incredible! That’s what I’m talking about, you can be very innovative.” By using the website as a forum, the band embraces the changing musical landscape and the element of surprise as a marketing tool.

Though the Pixies still think of Deal as a band-member, they wanted to continue what they started with Indie Cindy by going back on the road. They incorporated Kim Shattuck of ‘90s alt-rock band The Muffs and now Paz Lenchantin — who has most notably played in A Perfect Circle — as touring bassists to launch a massive world tour in January 2014.

However, media’s narrative of tyrannical Francis maligning Deal leaves a bitter taste in the band’s collective mouth, as they strive to please their fans with their newest release. “When they start mentioning Kim (Deal),” Santiago began, “I don’t get it. It’s just not fair, the songs are good.”

And Indie Cindy is good. Running the alt-rock gamut from metal-heavy (“What Goes Boom”) to starry synth (“Andro Queen”), the Pixies reassert themselves as the genre’s godfathers. Francis employs his trademark surrealistic imagery in the lyrics, sometimes painting pictures with his words, other times with his voice. “Bagboy” is a single for the modern age, with electronic influences, a hard guitar riff and vocals that oscillate between chanting, crowing and proselytizing.

Even if the Pixies are more appreciative their second time around, Indie Cindy sounds just as raw and uncompromising as any previous album. And that’s something all fans should celebrate.

The Pixies are performing on Tues. at the Masonic in San Francisco.

Contact Cara Cerino at [email protected].