In the minutes before my phone call with Joey Santiago, lead guitarist of the Pixies, I never dreamed the ice breaker would be about hardware stores. "She wants to know where to get extension chords," Santiago explains, referring to his girlfriend. He tells her to go to North Hollywood Hardware, because they play the best music. "They really do. I always ask them what the hell this is, even if it's speed metal. And you know," he laughs, "when you listen to speed metal, you have to get a hammer."
Of course Santiago brings it all back to music. But after yet another tangent about how he used to steal his neighbor's Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons ("Why do only special people get 20-percent off?") and shrimp and grits ("Nourishment is very important to us"), it's finally time to talk about how it feels to be back in the studio with the Pixies as they embark on a follow-up to last year's Indie Cindy. Revealed gradually via three EPs (EP1, EP2, and EP3), Indie Cindy was the band's first release in 23 years.
"We're on that boat again, and we're gonna do it again because it felt good," Santiago says. "It felt invigorating, so we can't stop. It's just what we do."
The Pixies originally formed in Boston with Black Francis (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Kim Deal (bass, backup vocals), David Lovering (drums), and Santiago. That was in 1986, and by '87 the band had been picked up by U.K. record label, 4AD. In just two years, they'd drop two era-defining albums, Surfa Rosa and Doolittle, and so the infectious noise-pop of the Pixies began to make its mark on the world.
Santiago's favorite album, Bossanova, and Trompe le Monde would follow later on, but by 1993, the internationally beloved rock band went splitso. Fans were at a loss, but not everyone thought the break-up was so catastrophic. "I can't speak for everyone else, but it's almost like I was relieved, actually," Santiago says. "I knew that rock bands have a finite amount of time, and breakups are a natural thing for bands to do, and then you reunite too, you know? It didn't take me by surprise, actually. I was kind of like glad."
And reunite they did. Despite the rumored tension between Deal and Francis, every original member of the Pixies came back for more in 2004. "The carrot on the stick per se was if we were to reunite, we'd have a spot at Coachella, and second from the top of the bill is like, 'Oh, they do like us," Santiago says, bemused. "They still like us." He says it felt good to feel wanted again after a decade of silence. "It was a lot different, a different feeling," he says. "It's like starting a band all over again, but with a slew of songs."
That 2004 tour sold out, and then the magic continued. In 2009, the 20th anniversary of Doolittle resulted in an extra-special world tour where the album was performed every night, track-by-track. But in 2013, Deal decided to leave the band, which is still a huge blow to any long-time Pixies diehard.
Deal, also the founder of The Breeders, has kept busy over the years with her band The Amps, a series of solo seven-inch releases, and touring and recording with The Breeders (they've been teasing a new release for over a year now). But for Pixies fans, the question is: Will Deal ever return? The ball would appear to be in her court. "That's a question for her to answer," Santiago says. "We don't know. Yeah, if I knew, I'd win the lottery right now."
But with the rest of the founding members firmly in place, the Pixies are writing songs yet again. "It's a new experience, totally new," he says. "It's certainly not the way it was before."
After all, everyone's older, and each member has led entirely other lives by this point. During the Pixies' off years, everyone held their own in other projects. Francis became Frank Black, dropping solo album after album. Lovering drummed for other acts, including Cracker, and even pursued a career in magic. Santiago composed music for film and TV, his most personally rewarding project being the Fox series Undeclared. He also has kids now — a 10- and 12-year-old.
But one thing that hasn't changed much for the band is the process of recording songs. "Once you're in the studio, it's all the same," Santiago says. "Live is all about the audience, the boss. But then when we're in the studio, it's time for us to entertain ourselves."
Still in the works, the new record has no set release date, although Santiago is optimistic about a Christmastime completion. As for the upcoming tour, they're all ready to rock. "It's been a while, so it's exciting," Santiago says.
"Actually, Charles [Black Francis' real name is Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV) texted me the other day and he was like, "'I can't wait to go on tour. We are such a lucky band,'" Santiago says. "And we are a lucky band."