Friday, August 13, 2010

Interview Transcript: Black Francis

“Black Francis here!”
That's how Pixies front man and influential rock musician Black Francis answered the phone for our interview. The charismatic lead singer of alternative rock pioneers The Pixies, the band that Nirvana once tried to emulate, is relaxed and in good spirits while touring with his old group in Australia.
And why shouldn't he be? With a new album, “NONSTOPEROTIK” and two looming U.S. tours — solo and with the group, Francis has a lot to look forward to these days.
Black Francis performs Aug. 15 at The Henry Miller Library in Big Sur.
He spoke with “The Beat” prior to his performance. Transcript below.

Q: You've come out to Big Sur once before. Can you talk about the performance the last time you were here and anything that sticks out from it?
A: It was really long drive to get there. I was served some fabulous meal of fish that had been caught that day, before the show, by the manager there, Magnus. And I was a little bit overwhelmed by the grand beauty of the place, you know. It's like playing a room with a 1000 mile ceiling. I think I knew it was going to be something special,
which is why I had bought a nortena band suit at a little shop on the way up there. Maybe I'll wear the coat (when I perform). I think it fits me a little better now, I didn't quite fit into it the last time. I've been doing some yoga, so I fit into it a little better now.

Q: What is the set going to consist of? Will it be new stuff from “NONSTOPEROTIC”?
A: Well, that's a good question. I just spoke with the producer of“NONSTOPEROTIC” Eric Feldmen today, and he is going to be playing with me at the gig. We're going to work out some things on the record, and maybe some things from the “Golem” record we made a couple years ago that is sort of coming out now. To be determined what we are going to play.

Q: Is “Golem” the album that is going to be turned into a musical?
A: No, that's a record called “Blue Finger,” which this Houston theater company is doing a production of later in this year.

Q: How involved are you in that?
A: A little bit involved. It's not my production, but the writer has been contacting me and talking to me, and letting me know what's going on and asking me questions. They were even hoping to get me to perform in it, playing myself, because there's this character (on the record) who is me, and I couldn't swing it. I'm kind of disappointed about that. Maybe when they go to Broadway I'll be available.

Q: What was your response to being approached for that project?
A: I mean, that's what it's all about. You make music, you hear music, and if it resonates enough, it starts showing up in other places, whether it be a movie, or a TV commercial, or on the radio, or in a production, or other people doing your music. It means that your music, something is resonating. It's validation as an artist. I appreciate it.

Q: You have the most recent album, and your solo gigs, and then you're going to take a step back by doing “Doolittle.” Going back and forth like that, is it a difficult transition from playing your new stuff to playing your old stuff?
A: There's nothing difficult about it all. It's all music. I'm a musician. I'm a singer. I'm singing, I'm playing. One gig is different from another gig because it's a different repertoire or band or whatever, and that's fine. It doesn't put a number on me. I don't need to transform myself in order to transition. I do what I do whatever outfit I'm in. It's still just music.

Q: When you're going back and playing the songs from “Doolittle,” do any of the memories from the initial recordings of the songs, or the relationships from the band come back? Do you go back tin a time warp to when the band was at its' peak?
A: Nothing poignant. Nothing anecdotal. You remember silly details. You remember what the bedroom was like in the studio you were living at, or your remember that Roy Orbison died while I was making the record, or Joey snored a lot and he decided to sleep in the guitar booth. It's just little stuff like that.
The owner of the studio had a old, early '60s Mustang with a reverb unit in the trunk, an original reverb you used to tune with the AM radio, to make your AM radio more reverb-y. That's what I remember. What does it have to do with “Doolittle?” Well nothing. It's all associative.

Q: Tell me about this string of solo dates. You've got your producer accompanying you for the show to play some of the new stuff, but is there anything you're hoping to play or share with your audience?Are there any songs that you really want to play?
A: I don't think like that. I stopped thinking about touring or playing shows in terms of a particular record that has recently come out, so I'm out campaigning the record, because it never really sort of works anyway.
In other words, just because I made a new record, I don't' need to get it off my chest. The act of making the record gets it off your chest. Then afterward, it goes in the pile with all the rest of them.
In terms of what the playlist on the tour will be, if you're playing songs on the record that just came out in the last year, when you work in cult-ish circles like myself, a lot of the people at your shows don't really know the material that just came out anyway, and it usually takes a few years for that material to really seep into the mass consciousness of people that go to your shows.
Now I play songs at shows that were very unpopular at first, and people are like “Whoo! I love that one.” They didn't do that when the record came out years ago, because they didn't know it.
I'm the same way. When somebody puts out a record, I don't necessarily run down the street or run to my computer like ‘I must download it now, immediately.’ I don't buy music like that. And I don't think there are a lot of people at my shows who buy music like that either, including my own records. Some of them do, but most of the poele at the shows, they're there because they bought some record of yours 10 years ago, and they happen to be someone who says “Oh yeah, I bought a record of his a few years ago. I guess I'll go see him.”
So anyway, as far as campaigning, if I'm going to play my new single form my new album on blaze blah records, does everyone run out of the show and buy the record or download the record? No. It doesn't work like that. At least not in the world that I occupy. And the record company, that's the way that they think, they want to promote, promote.
The reality is that it never works out that way for me. So to come full circle in my answer, I have given up long ago on so called campaigning. Now I just play. I make records, I play concerts, and I don't need to play anything in particular. I just need to put on a good show and I'll draw from my repertoire, whether it's recent records or old records. I'll just play it by ear, you know.

Q: Citizens of the Grand Duchy,your project with your wife, how far along are you guys on the record?
A: Mostly done. My wife is doing some mixing right now on it. But I think it should be totally done in September.

Q: What's it like working on an album with your wife?
A: It was a little rough the first time around. And we kind of got good at it. And now we're just loads less stressful than the first time. We kind of had to learn a lot of things the first time.

Q: Is she out there with you right now?
A: No. She's raising our children.

Q: Anything you want to add here?
A: Just that Eric feldman will be there that night. Looking forward to it and looking forward to the daily catch.


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