Monkeys Gone to Heaven
Meet the Pixies
Joey Santiago: Debaser
Born in Manila, Joey Santiago left his native Philippines in the early 1970s when his influential family relocated to New York and then settled in Massachusetts. The guitarist, 45, now calls L.A. home.
Austin Chronicle: Have the Pixies ever played the Philippines?
Joey Santiago: Not yet, no.
AC: That seems to be an oversight.
JS: Well, I could certainly fill up an arena with my family if we ever played there.
AC: You're a rock star in the Philippines?
JS: Oh, I don't know. I made the list that my cousins gave me: "Famous Filipinos!"
AC: When was the last time you were there?
JS: I went on a medical mission with my wife's parents in 1995. David Lovering also went with me. We all ate balut. [Sings] Balut! You know what that is?
JS: That's a half-embryo goose.
AC: And how did that go over with the folks?
JS: Well, they thought I was a true Pinoy because I ate it. They knew I wasn't screwing around, you know? They were proud of me.
AC: Any good rock bands in the Philippines?
JS: The guy from Journey that substituted for Steve Perry – he's a Filipino guy. They're mockingbirds down there. They really are.
AC: L.A. has Dengue Fever, who turned everyone on to the psychedelic pop/rock music of Cambodia. Does the Philippines have an equivalent?
JS: Oh man, I have a list, and I've heard some of them. They're pretty good.
AC: You were young when you arrived in the U.S. Must have been culture shock for a little boy.
JS: It was a culture shock, yeah. I introduced myself to the class, and they thought I lived in a hut. Not many Filipinos where I grew up. I was the strange-looking one, and some little punks let me know it on a daily basis.
AC: Did that feed into your liking punk rock – outsider status?
JS: I have no idea if it subconsciously went in there. I just never felt different. When people pointed it out, I was perplexed. I'd wake up on the same block, I went to the same school, I had the same experience, yet I was deemed a little different back then.
AC: The rawness of Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa – did y'all have a lot of angst?
JS: Oh you know, we liked the raw recordings, and at that time, even the alternative scene had this slickness to it. So we made it rough and ready. We borrowed from the Velvet Underground and the Stooges – the rawness, nothing too sanded-down.
AC: Were you the angry young man?
JS: Back then? I was the quiet one. You know, when the shit hits the fan and the neighbor says, "You know, he was always quiet." I was the quiet one.
AC: Do you remember hearing Doolittle when it was finally done?
JS: I remember listening to the mix-down. Yeah, I remember that. It was in Connecticut.
AC: What was going through your head as you were listening to it?
JS: [Thoughtful sigh] Well, not to pat ourselves on the back, but when I heard it I thought, "There's nothing out there like this." I got the feeling we were going be a stepping stone for someone else, like the Velvet Underground. At the same time, I knew it was going to be kept low, saleswise. I didn't go to the Lamborghini dealer and put a deposit down. I got a bicycle.
AC: Your guitar style .... The word "surf" gets thrown around a lot.
JS: Yeah! I listened to the Ventures and the Shadows. You listen to instrumentals, and your imagination just goes crazy.
AC: You really rip into the guitar. Where does that come from in your personality?
JS: It just sounds better that way [laughs]. It doesn't sound better playing it like Kenny G. That's not gonna hold water. You gotta attack it.
AC: Is it a cathartic experience getting up onstage?
JS: Yup. I get very nervous, on the verge of throwing up. So that's a good feeling.
AC: I've read that you're the glue of the band.
JS: I don't know about that. Glue? Hmmm. I thought I was more like an epoxy. You need to mix two elements to make it sticky.
AC: What's the secret to the Pixies chemistry?
JS: Um ... space. Space. The final frontier.