Spontaneity, musical backgrounds and missing socks with Pixies

The Boston alt-rock band spoke at an event hosted by The Phil and DU Music

It would take a brave person to admit to disliking the Pixies. With acclaimed albums such as Surfer Rosa and Doolittle under their belt, the Boston band were dwelling amongst the ranks of alt-rock royalty by the late 1980s. Over 30 years later, their songs, which boast dark, dynamically varied sounds and cryptic, captivating lyrics, remain revered within the rock music canon.

On Thursday afternoon, a crowd of students descended on the GMB visibly brimming with excitement at the prospect of seeing their musical heroes in the flesh. The event was co-hosted by The Phil and DU Music, who awarded the band the Bram Stoker Medal of Cultural Achievement and facilitated a question and answer session.

Initially, Pixies were not enthusiastic interviewees, and long silences hung awkwardly in the air between questions. Their responses tended to be short and non-committal, like teenage students in class awkwardly answering questions they’d rather not have been asked. However, as the talk progressed, they began to open up and provide more in-depth answers, their Bostonian drawls echoing through the debating chamber as the crowd hung on their every word.

The question and answer session commenced with an inquiry about their writing process. Considering that their sound is decidedly punky and spontaneous in nature, it was surprising to hear frontman Black Francis claim that he is actually very deadline oriented in his work: “I wish I was one of those people sitting around, making notes and doodles in the coffee shop but I’m not. I have to have the deadline, the purpose, the goal…”

Despite this, when it comes to creating music itself,  the Pixies do not like to over-plan. “We don’t have a lot of artistic vision,” said Black Francis. “Joey and I were born in the year of the snake, so I think we have a tendency to just be in the moment and not look too far down the road or too far behind us. There’s a lot of spontaneity and not a lot of analysis.” The same can be said for their live performances, as they do not tend to come up with a cohesive setlist before concerts, instead gauging the mood in a venue while they play and choosing songs according to this.

Their music is undoubtedly extemporaneous, but what is it really all about? With lyrical references from incest to psychotic roommates, this has always been a burning question among Pixies fans. Unsurprisingly, Black Francis left the audience little the wiser: “Well, certainly we don’t set out to demarcate where we are in time and space; we would rather be above that, so I can’t say that we ever seek to comment about what is going on in our life. Certainly [our music] might reflect more emotional, psychological aspects of life, but it doesn’t seem like that’s our thing – to make a statement saying we’ve got something to say about everything that’s going on.”

The band’s current bassist, Paz Lenchantin, who took on the role after Kim Shattuck was allegedly fired from the band for crowd-surfing, also spoke about her role within Pixies. A relaxed and articulate character, she certainly did not seem to be at risk of jumping on the shoulders of any unsuspecting Trinity students as the band might have feared. She is the only classical trained Pixies member, and claimed that this musical background was actually the reason that she wanted to join: “Being a bass player was a thing that I didn’t have someone tell me how to do. I didn’t have a teacher…” She also claimed to have essentially tossed “her trained side” out of the window, instead relying on her musical “intuition”. Demonstrating a good rapport with the other members, Lenchantin appears to have fit in well to the band since joining, although Kim Deal’s departure will always be mourned by die-hard Pixies fans.

Considering their fraught history, it is easy to assume that Pixies have plenty of madcap tales to tell. When asked to narrate their best story about being on tour, Lenchantin turned to Black Francis and informed the audience that “His sock got stuck in my luggage somehow”. Keith Moon, eat your heart out!

After approximately an hour, Pixies departed and satisfied students bustled out of the GMB. If they were anything like me, they went straight home and listened to Indie Cindy on repeat, their primary teenage musical obsession gladly reignited.

Alison Traynor

Alison Traynor is the current Life Editor of Trinity News.