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The Pixies sound off on first album in 22 years, and life after Kim Deal

By Denise Quan, CNN
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Tue September 17, 2013
The Pixies in their dressing room at Los Angeles' Mayan Theater, September 12, 2013.
The Pixies in their dressing room at Los Angeles' Mayan Theater, September 12, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Pixies return with "EP-1," their first new music in decades
  • The band is playing a series of club dates to promote the album
  • Black Francis opens up about Kim Deal's departure

Los Angeles (CNN) -- The Pixies have just played their signature anthem, "Where is My Mind." As the crowd begs for an encore, Black Francis stands alone at center stage, an uncharacteristic grin spread across his usually enigmatic features.

Guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering are already heading for the wings, while their new touring bassist, Kim Shattuck, slips into the crowd, eager to shake hands with rabid fans.

The Pixies are in the midst of headlining a series of sold-out club dates and festival appearances in support of "EP-1," their first collection of new music in 22 years. It's also their first tour without original bassist Kim Deal, whose departure from the quartet was announced in June. Despite some tensions in the past, her decision blindsided her bandmates.

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"She just said, 'I'm leaving on the next flight tomorrow,' " recalls Charles Thompson IV, aka Black Francis. "And so there was nothing really to say. We just said, 'OK.' It was just as simple and as basic as that."

And so America's beloved indie rock band embarked on a new chapter of its storied career.

Bursting out of the Boston underground in the late '80s with an irresistible yin-yang of brash guitars and dreamy popscapes, the Pixies imploded before they could hit the big time -- but not before laying the sonic groundwork for such alternative acts as Nirvana and Radiohead.

With great fanfare, the Pixies reunited in 2004 for a world tour -- a triumphant victory lap that somehow stretched into a whopping seven-year run. Aging hipsters and musically precocious twentysomethings welcomed the return of "Debaser," "Here Comes Your Man" and other favorites, but it also left them yearning for fresh material.

They got it with "Bagboy," a surprise single that bombarded unsuspecting inboxes as a free download in late June. In early September, four additional songs hit the Web, this time in a package generically titled "EP-1." And there's more on the way.

CNN gets the backstory in a rooftop conversation with Thompson, Santiago and Lovering before a recent show in Los Angeles. They share how they turned Santiago's hotel room into a secret recording studio, open up about the departure of Kim Deal and give a progress report on her replacement, Kim Shattuck (from the Los Angeles pop-punk trio The Muffs).

CNN: Ever since your 2004 reunion, fans were hoping for some new music. Rumor has it that was kicked into gear when the Pixies were in Canada headlining at a casino, and didn't want to be thought of as an oldies act.

David Lovering: In Canada, those are the venues. It's not that we became a casino band, but it was almost equating us to that. Blue Oyster Cult, oh no! So that was just a good impetus to think, "OK, we've got to do something."

CNN: When the new music came out on your website, did you read the comments?

Charles Thompson (aka "Black Francis"): I think I read the comments. Our Twitter feed is probably where I get most of my online satisfaction, as far as people blogging or commenting about things.

Joey Santiago: I look at the comments. I like the negative ones. It's like when I'm buying Amazon stuff. I look at the negative reviews. But they're just judging a book by its cover, really -- that a member is gone, and what's that got to do with "Bagboy?"

CNN: Was Kim Deal's leaving unexpected?

Lovering: It was a shock, because she was along on the journey with us.

Santiago: She was enthusiastic, and then that bomb hit one day.

CNN: Did she tell you in person?

Thompson: Yeah. We used to go to get a coffee in the village, the little town that we were recording near. Everyone would go there looking for their coffee, so inevitably, one, or two, or three or four band members would be there. We were there, and she just said, "I'm leaving on the next flight tomorrow."

And so, you know, there was nothing really to say. We just said, "OK." It was just as simple and as basic as that.

CNN: Did she give a reason, or indicate that she might be back at some point?

Thompson: I think when someone makes a big decision like that, it takes a lot of guts to kind of tell the people that you have to tell face-to-face, which is what she did.

I know that when the band broke up the first time around, I sort of broke up the band, but I didn't have the guts to do that. I had to send a message and hope for the best, because it feels like a confrontation, or you feel embarrassed, or you don't want to let people down, you know what I mean?

You know they're going to be disappointed, so I think it probably took a lot of guts for her to personally go, "I'm out," and not just do it in an email.

CNN: Has she heard the new music?

Lovering: I don't know.

CNN: Having a female presence in the band has been an important part of the Pixies.

Thompson: It's a nice thing to have a yin and a yang in certain situations. It's always been a part of the way we present our music, and I think people like it. It puts a lot of things into perspective having both sexes represented on stage. It's just a totally different dynamic -- not only in terms of what the band is doing, but the way people receive it.

CNN: "Indie Cindy" is a song on the new EP. Is it an ode to the indie fans out there, or anxiety over whether they'll accept the new material?

Thompson: There's that little punk rock girl that's out there. She's very representative of a music fan, especially if you're a boy. If you're a guy, that punk rock girl is kind of like, "Aww, the little cute punk rock girl with all her make-up, and all her stuff on, going to the show." There's something about it that is very adorable. You fall in love with those people.

CNN: Charles, you and Joey went back to the old neighborhood and set up a recording studio in Joey's hotel in Massachusetts.

Thompson: In western Massachusetts, in the Northampton-Amherst area where Joey and I first met in college.

CNN: Was there some residual magic in the old neighborhood?

Thompson: Probably. It's probably not magic, but there are a lot of real things that affect life, whether it's a full moon, or whether it's what the air is like, or what the soil is like somewhere, what the people are like in a particular area. There are a lot of things that you kind of don't notice that probably actually have an effect.

It was by coincidence that we were there. We didn't plan it -- not consciously, anyway. The vocals for "Indie Cindy" are from Joey's hotel room there.

CNN: How's it working out with Kim Shattuck doing the live shows?

Thompson: Every musician brings their thing to the table. I personally like working with her. She has a really good work ethic. She likes to rock out, she likes to hit hard, she likes to play. I enjoy working with her because she has a good attitude.

CNN: If there's an "EP-1," does that mean there's also an "EP-2" and an "EP-3?"

Thompson: It's all one big album, you know.

CNN: Will you be spending another seven years on the road?

Santiago: You know, I don't want to sound corny, but it's up to Cindy.

Thompson: True. I mean, she's the greatest gatekeeper of all.

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