Monkeys Gone to Heaven
Meet the Pixies
Charles Thompson: Here Comes Your Man
"Everything's the same, and everything's different at the same time," reflects Charles Thompson, better known as Black Francis, on the two decades since the release of Doolittle. At the very least, touring has become more comfortable: plush hotels, yoga in the mornings, and, in this case, a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch. With grumbling stomach, Thompson excuses himself from the table.
Austin Chronicle: When I spoke with Kevin Shields last year about the My Bloody Valentine reunion, he described it as a way of correcting the past.
Charles Thompson: [long pause] It's nice that everyone in the band is a lot more seasoned. We can play the record more like the record actually sounds than we could have 20 years ago, but I don't know if that's necessarily better or more exciting. There's a lot to be said about young bands all fucked up on whatever they're fucked up on, going out there and making a big ol' mess.
AC: Before this tour, the Pixies always shied away from performing "Here Comes Your Man."
CT: Back in the day, we thought it was too sugary. It was some song I wrote when I was 15 or something. When Gil Norton heard an earlier version that we recorded for Come On Pilgrim, he was like: "We really got to do this. It's so poppy." At the time, we were too into our intense street-cred mode. We just didn't get off on it, so we didn't play it for years and years. We're beyond that now. We try to embrace everything about the Pixies that is good, and not all of it is good.
AC: Gil Norton received a lot of credit for his role in shaping and harnessing the sound of Doolittle, but it also seems that the demos and preproduction on through to the final product was tiring for the band.
CT: I never thought that it was exhausting, especially then. I was so excited about being a rock musician and making records for a living. That's the age where you're burning it at both ends. It's the most addictive video game ever. Now that I'm older, I'm a little more "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I've been here all day. I'm gonna go. No, I don't need to have a CD of what we did today so that I can listen to it in my hotel room tonight. Fuck that. I'll be here tomorrow."
I don't want to make too much out of dope smoking, but I think sometimes when you're a dope smoker, which I was back then or starting to become one, it can raise your tolerance to the tedious tasks. I mean I never did anything creative while smoking, but anything that was tedious about making a real record with a real producer, so to speak, it was okay with me at that time.
AC: Nothing creative on dope, ever?
CT: I used to parallel park really good, one move.
AC: The biblical references throughout Doolittle give the sense that you were possessed by the music – that the words and the emotions behind them just came pouring out of you.
CT: I don't know if I was in touch with the concept of catharsis at the time to recognize it. I was just kind of doing it and enjoying it and tapping into a more surreal, automatic writing style. I was totally surfing this wave I was on.
AC: Did your family's evangelical background play any role in the development of your singing?
CT: Maybe some of the subject matter, delivery, and timing. I also give credit to a guy in Thailand that taught me how to shout. He lived next door to me, was a musician in the 1960s. But I was exposed to a lot of stuff, so I don't want to give too much credit to any one particular aspect of my upbringing or my life.
AC: How did he teach you to shout?
CT: He told me to sing louder, like I hate the bitch. He was just some middle-aged Thai guy with a Beatles wig on that used to play in wedding bands. We were doing "Oh! Darling," which is a Paul McCartney shouter, and I was doing it really meekly. He was like: "No! Come on, Chuck; sing it like you hate that bitch." That was a heavy, aggressive tip to get from somebody, especially at age 14 or whatever. I wasn't necessarily connected with the male/female dynamic in that way, but that's where he was coming from. So I did it. I sang it like I hated that bitch.
AC: There's a timelessly juvenile quality to some Pixies music. How have your kids reacted to it?
CT: They just think it's kind of loud. The oldest has been a few times over the years. He's starting to get it, but the younger ones, they don't mind sitting around the house singing with me, but they don't want to listen to my magnum opus.
AC: What albums would you like to see performed from front to back?
CT: [Iggy Pop's] Lust for Life, with David Bowie on keyboards.
AC: What's next?
CT: Some fish and steamed greens.