The Pixies are an American alternative rock band that formed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1986. The group disbanded in 1993 under acrimonious circumstances but reunited in 2004. Black Francis, Joey Santiago, Kim Deal, and David Lovering have been the band's continual members. While the Pixies found only modest success in their home country, they were significantly more successful in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe, although never achieving mainstream success with their studio albums.
The band's style of alternative rock music is heavily influenced by punk and indie rock, and while highly melodic, is capable of being tremendously abrasive at the same time. Francis is the Pixies' primary songwriter and singer and has a distinctly desperate, yowling delivery. He has typically written cryptic songs about offbeat subjects, such as UFOs and surrealism. References to mental instability, violent Biblical imagery, physical injury, and incest feature in many of the band's songs.
The Pixies are widely considered one of the most influential bands who did not achieve mainstream success in their prime. They are seen as an immediate forebear of the alternative rock boom of the 1990s, though they disbanded before reaping any of the benefits this might have brought them. Avowed fan Kurt Cobain's acknowledgement of the debt Nirvana owed to the Pixies, along with similar tributes by other alternative bands, ensured that the Pixies' legacy and influence grew substantially in the years following their demise.
The history of the Pixies began when undergraduates Joey Santiago and Black Francis (born Charles Thompson IV) shared a room at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Santiago soon introduced Francis to the music of David Bowie and 1970s punk rock, and the pair began to jam together. Francis then embarked on a student exchange trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, but upon arriving struggled to grasp the Spanish language. After spending six months in an apartment with a "weirdo, psycho, gay roommate", he returned to Amherst and dropped out of the university. The two spent 1984 working in a warehouse, with Francis composing songs on his acoustic guitar and writing lyrics on the subway train.
The pair formed a band in January 1986. Bassist Kim Deal joined Santiago and Francis two weeks later after responding to a classified advertisement Francis had placed, seeking a female bassist who liked both folk music icons Peter, Paul and Mary and the hardcore punk band H?sker D?. Deal was the only person to respond, but arrived at the audition without a bass guitar as she had never played the instrument before. She claimed her twin sister Kelley Deal had a bass back in Dayton and that she had no money to get it. Francis lent her $50 for the airfare and Deal returned with the bass guitar. The trio started rehearsing in Deal's apartment, "because the old lady upstairs couldn't hear."
After recruiting Kim Deal, the band tried to get Kelley to join the band on drums, unsuccessfully. Kim's husband suggested they hire drummer David Lovering, whom Kim had met at her wedding reception. They arrived at a name after Santiago selected the word randomly from a dictionary and took a liking to the definition, "mischievous little elves". The group was originally named "Pixies In Panoply" ("Things on Fire" was considered), but soon shortened it to "Pixies". Once the band had settled on a name and stable line-up, they moved rehearsals to Lovering's parents' garage in the summer of 1986. Their first show?named as "possibly the worst gig in the history of rock" by the band?took place at the The Rathskeller, Boston, where they performed early versions of "Here Comes Your Man", "Dig for Fire", and "Build High".
Record contract and Come On Pilgrim
While the Pixies were playing a concert with Throwing Muses, they were noticed by producer Gary Smith (Fort Apache Studios). He told the band he "could not sleep until you guys are world famous." The band produced a 17 track demo at Fort Apache soon afterwards, known to fans as "The Purple Tape" because of the tape cover's purple background. The recording was funded by Francis' father at the cost of $1000 and took three days to record. The tape was released exclusively as a demo to interested parties, including Ivo Watts-Russell at 4AD and local promoter Ken Goes, who became the band's manager. Watts-Russell nearly passed on the band, finding them too normal, "too rock 'n' roll", but signed them at the persuasion of his girlfriend.
Upon signing with 4AD (the band later claimed they were "the coolest record company to pay on time"), eight tracks from the Purple Tape were selected for the Come On Pilgrim EP, the band's first release. The title was a lyric in the song "Levitate Me", which came from a catchphrase used by '70s Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman during his live concerts: "Come on Pilgrim, you know He loves you"?Francis once saw Norman at a Christian summer camp. Black Francis would later record one of Norman's songs during his solo career as Frank Black, plus share one concert stage with Norman.
In the EP, Francis drew upon his experiences in Puerto Rico, mostly in the songs "Vamos" and "Isla de Encanta"; the album included lyrics describing the poverty in Puerto Rico. The religious lyrics in Come On Pilgrim and later albums came from his born-again Christian days in the Pentecostal Church.
Come On Pilgrim showcased much of the Pixies' variety and set up the beginnings of many trends in their music. It includes two songs partly sung in Spanish ("Vamos" and "Isla de Encanta") and two songs that explicitly mention incest?"Nimrod's Son" and "The Holiday Song" (·)). "I've Been Tired" refers metaphorically to sex and rock and roll culture and features a sense of humour, and there are four songs with religious references ("Caribou", "Nimrod's Son","I've Been Tired" and "The Holiday Song"). Beyond lyrical trends, Come On Pilgrim displayed Santiago's erratic leads (as best displayed in "Vamos"), Kim Deal's sweet harmonies (the then-married Deal used the pseudonym "Mrs. John Murphy" on the first few Pixies records, as an ironic feminist joke), and Black Francis's vocal range, from screaming to simple, traditional sung melodies.
Surfer Rosa and Doolittle
Come On Pilgrim was followed by the band's first full-length album, Surfer Rosa. The album was recorded by Steve Albini (who was hired by Watts-Russell on the advice of a 4AD colleague), completed in two weeks, and released in early 1988. Albini later became notable for recording Nirvana's In Utero at the request of Kurt Cobain, who had cited Surfer Rosa as one of his main musical influences, and particularly admired the album's natural and powerful drum sounds?a result of Albini's influence on the record. Surfer Rosa gained the Pixies acclaim throughout the musical world; both Melody Maker and Sounds gave Surfer Rosa their "Album of the Year" award. The success of Surfer Rosa would lead to the band signing an American distribution deal with major record label Elektra before the release of their next album.
As with Come On Pilgrim, the band delivered a wide range of song styles. However, sonically and thematically, Surfer Rosa was similar to Come On Pilgrim?from the drum-driven "Bone Machine", that showed a trademark propensity for surreal lyrics, to pop guitar songs such as "Broken Face", "Break My Body", and "Brick is Red". The band included heavier material, such as "Something Against You", with Black Francis' distorted screaming a prominent feature in the song, and Q Magazine later named Surfer Rosa as one of the 50 Heaviest Albums of All Time. A re-recorded version of "Vamos"?a song that appeared on Come On Pilgrim?appears on the album. The track, "You Fuckin' Die! (I Said)" (referred to as "Bonus Track" or "Untitled" on most versions of the CD) that appears toward the end of the album is actually an accidental studio recording of Francis and Deal talking amicably and joking, and despite the title of the song, there is none of the tension present between the two that would later drive the band apart.
Surfer Rosa featured popular songs such as "Gigantic"?their first single and one of the few songs on which bassist Kim Deal sang lead vocals?"River Euphrates", and "Where Is My Mind?" (·)), which was played at the end of the film Fight Club, and, as a result is one of their best-known songs to date.
After their critically acclaimed album, the band arrived in England to support Throwing Muses on the European "Sex and Death" tour?beginning at the Mean Fiddler in London. The tour also took them to the Netherlands, where the Pixies had already received enough media attention to be headlining the tour. Francis later recalled: "The first place I made it with the Pixies was in Holland." The setlist included new songs such as "In Heaven", "Hey", and "Wild Honey Pie", and the tour became notable for the band's in-jokes, such as playing their entire set list in alphabetical order. The aforementioned songs were recorded in a Peel session in July at the BBC and they soon made a second trip to the studios; choosing "Dead", "Tame", "There Goes My Gun", and "Manta Ray" to be recorded. In total, the band recorded six Peel sessions and released an album, Pixies at the BBC, with selected recorded tracks from those sessions.
Around this time, the Pixies struck up a relationship with the British producer, Gil Norton. Norton was to produce their second full album, Doolittle (provisionally titled Whore), which was recorded in the last six weeks of 1988 and seen as a departure from the raw sound of Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa. Doolittle had a much cleaner sound, largely due to Norton and the production budget of US$40,000, which was quadruple that of Surfer Rosa. Much of the album's subject matter remained similar to the previous two albums; several song titles seemed to evoke images of bloodshed and mutilation, such as "I Bleed", "Wave of Mutilation", and "Gouge Away".
Doolittle began with "Debaser" ( ), an ode to the 1929 surrealist Luis Bu?uel and Salvador Dal? film Un chien andalou. "Debaser" is perhaps their most highly regarded song; in March 2005, Q magazine placed the song at number 21 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. Doolittle featured the prominent single "Here Comes Your Man"; an unusually jaunty and poppy song for the band. Francis later expressed surprise that most of the opening guitar riff and vocals were exactly the same as The Association's "Never My Love", written 20 years earlier. It nearly landed the band a mimed appearance on the TV chat show Wogan, which was mocked in the video to the song. "Monkey Gone to Heaven", the only Pixies song with a string section, was a Top 10 modern rock radio hit in the US, reached the Top 100 in the UK and still receives regular radio play. Deal's only songwriting contribution to the album was the song "Silver" (co-written with Francis), on which Deal played slide guitar and Lovering played the bass guitar. Lovering sang lead vocals on "La La Love You", an atypical love song from the band.
Like Surfer Rosa, Doolittle was acclaimed by fans and music critics alike, and it is perhaps their best-selling record; it was certified gold by the RIAA on November 10, 1995. In 2003, the album was ranked number 226 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. It also placed on Q Magazine's 100 Greatest Albums Ever.
It was after Doolittle that tensions between Deal and Francis came to a head (for example, Francis threw a guitar at Deal during a concert in Stuttgart), and Deal was almost fired from the band. Santiago, in an interview to Mojo, explained:
Kim was headstrong and wanted to include her own songs, to explore her own world. The way I think Charles saw it, the band made pizzas, not cookies. Before we made Bossanova, we were even going to fire her after a gig in Frankfurt where we found her hanging out in her hotel room with no intention of playing. But our lawyer convinced us to try and work it out, to give her a warning or something. You know, I blocked that incident out of my head, that was too heavy for me. Kim couldn't believe I'd be party to it but I told her, she didn't seem happy, so why hang around? In the end, Kim realized it was Charles's bag, that he was the singer, but they kinda stopped talking after that.
During the post-Doolittle "Fuck or Fight" tour of the United States, intended to promote the release of the album, the band's hectic schedule took its toll on the band members; the Pixies had released three albums in two years, as well as constant touring. Near the end of the 1989 tour, during their homecoming Boston concert, Deal was in a drunken state, and Santiago smashed up his instruments and stormed off-stage. After the tour's final date in New York, the band was too exhausted to attend the end-of-tour party the following night and soon announced a hiatus.
During this time, Santiago traveled to the Grand Canyon to "find himself", and Lovering jetted off to Jamaica. Francis bought a yellow Cadillac and crossed America with his girlfriend (due to an aversion to flying), and while doing so performed solo gigs in order to raise money for furniture in his new Los Angeles apartment. Deal formed a new band, The Breeders, named after a band she had formed with her sister as a teenager, with Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses and bassist Josephine Wiggs of Perfect Disaster. Their debut album, Pod, was released later that year.
Bossanova, Trompe le Monde, and breakup
After Doolittle, Francis began to limit Deal's contributions to the band and assert more control over the Pixies' output; the first three records had been partly written by Deal, but when Bossanova was released in 1990, all the original songs were by him. Deal was not pleased and unilaterally announced an apparent break-up of the band on-stage during the following tour. The Pixies were at the height of their popularity, however, and while headlining at the Reading Festival in 1990, they played a highly enthusiastic version of "Debaser" which has become legendary among fans.
The subject matter changed from earlier albums, to a more sci-fi, surreal focus on UFOs and alien abduction. The musical style of the album was inspired by surf-rock, as Bossanova started with a cover of "Cecilia Ann" by The Surftones. In general, the style of music in Bossanova was a departure from previous albums. For example, songs such as "Havalina" and "Ana" showed a dreamy side to the band, and Francis' vocals were notably more tuneful (although on "Rock Music", he displayed his trademark screaming). "Dig For Fire" was, according to Francis, a Talking Heads tribute. The lead guitar of Santiago was less prominent, with none of the wilder solos that were present in Come On Pilgrim or Surfer Rosa. The track "Allison" was a tribute to one of Francis' musical heroes Mose Allison (an American jazz and blues artist). The track references space and the universe?ideas commonly explored in Mose's work.
The band continued to tour, and, break-up announcements notwithstanding, one more album was to follow. Trompe le Monde, released in 1991, still featured little creative input from Deal and was not as immediately well regarded as their first few albums. Before its release, it was rumoured the album drew inspiration from heavy metal, and the band's pre-album release of "Planet of Sound", a heavier song than their usual output, did not quell the rumors.
In the end, Trompe Le Monde expanded on the UFO and sci-fi themes (including a song on space travel, "Planet of Sound" and "Motorway to Roswell" about an alien vacation gone bad). Songs such as "Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons" and "Lovely Day" were written in a similar style to songs on Bossanova (such as "Havalina"). The album saw the band move in a more popular direction with songs as "Palace of the Brine" and "Trompe Le Monde". The songs "U-Mass" ( ) and "Alec Eiffel" included the keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman?a move unthinkable in the band's Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa days. The album also featured a cover of "Head On" by The Jesus and Mary Chain. Trompe Le Monde was to be the Pixies' last studio album before their breakup.
Following the release of Trompe Le Monde, the band contributed a cover of "I Can't Forget" to the Leonard Cohen tribute album I'm Your Fan and went on a sellout winter tour of the USA, culminating on a TV appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. They then embarked on an uncomfortable tour supporting fans U2 (on their Zoo TV tour) in 1992. However, tensions rose between band members, and, at the end of the year, the Pixies went on sabbatical and focused on separate projects.
In early 1993, Francis announced in an interview to BBC Radio 5 that the band was finished and offered no explanation at the time, unbeknownst to the other members of the band. He later telephoned Santiago and subsequently notified Deal and Lovering via fax, in January 1993. Francis later regretted breaking up the band in that fashion, as he did not allow the rest of the band an opportunity to discuss the move.
After the breakup
Black Francis renamed himself Frank Black, and released three solo albums. He then went on to form a band with the former Miracle Legion rhythm section Scott Boutier and David McCaffrey, plus session man Lyle Workman, called Frank Black and the Catholics. For the second Catholics album Workman was replaced by Dave Gilbert and a third guitarist, Dave Phillips, was added to the mix for the third Catholics album. Although there is a still a strong rock element in the Catholics albums the addition of steel guitar lends the music a country flavour. In 2005 the Catholics were disbanded and Black released his fourth solo album, Honeycomb, featuring a mellow, rhythm and blues-styled approach and backing from seasoned Nashville musicians. He released a further double album from the same sessions, Fastman Raiderman, on July 19, 2006. Having reverted to his Pixies nom de guerre, Black Francis then released an LP (Bluefinger) and CD (Svn Fngrs). In May 2008, Black Francis and his band (including Eric Drew Feldman) performed an original score for the silent horror movie The Golem at the San Francisco Film Festival (at the Castro Theatre); an exclusive poster was sold at the event.
Deal returned to The Breeders and scored a hit with "Cannonball" from that group's platinum-selling Last Splash in 1993. However, for several years they struggled to produce another album, mainly due to her sister and fellow band member, Kelley Deal, and her struggles with heroin. While on hiatus from the Breeders, Deal formed and recorded with The Amps, who released their only album Pacer in 1995. A new Breeders album, Title TK, finally appeared in 2002, with only Kim and Kelley remaining from the previous Breeders lineup.
Lovering went on to become a magician and make occasional appearances as "The Scientific Phenomenalist", performing experiments on stage and occasionally opening for Frank Black and The Breeders. Lovering continued to drum, playing on one of Tanya Donelly's solo albums. Santiago played lead guitar on one of Frank Black's solo albums, and on other albums such as Statecraft, by indie-rock musician Charles Douglas. Santiago also wrote theme music for Fox television, and formed a band called The Martinis with his wife, Linda Mallari. They released their debut album, Smitten, in 2004.
After the band broke up, 4AD and Elektra Records released compilation albums such as Death to the Pixies and Complete B-Sides, along with Pixies (The Purple Tape) and Pixies at the BBC.
The Pixies in concert in Kansas City, October 1, 2004. From left to right, Frank Black, David Lovering (back) and Kim Deal.
The Pixies performing in Seattle (2004).
In the 11 years following the break-up, rumors frequently circulated regarding a reunion. Though Frank Black steadfastly dismissed them, he did begin to incorporate an increasing number of Pixies songs in his sets with the Catholics, and occasionally included Santiago and Lovering in his solo work. In late 2003 a press release from Black's publicist officially confirmed a reunion would occur in the spring of 2004. The Pixies played their first reunion concert on April 13, 2004 at The Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a warmup tour through the U.S. and Canada was followed by an appearance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The band then spent much of 2004 touring throughout Brazil, Europe, Japan, and the U.S.
The 2004 reunion of the Pixies was the subject of the 2006 documentary, LoudQUIETloud.
In June 2004, the band released a new single, "Bam Thwok" (·)) exclusively on the iTunes Music Store. The song reached number one in the British download chart. 4AD released Wave of Mutilation: The Best of the Pixies, along with a companion DVD. The band also contributed a rendition of "Ain't That Pretty At All" to the Warren Zevon tribute album Enjoy Every Sandwich.
2005 saw the band make appearances at the Lollapalooza and Sasquatch! music festivals. The band also played at European events such as the Reading and Leeds Festivals, and in Fife, Scotland as part of the T in the Park music festival, as well as V festival in Stafford and Chelmsford. In August, the band performed an entirely acoustic set (after a warm-up acoustic set in Albany, New York) at the Newport Folk Festival.
The band continued to make appearances through 2006 and 2007, culminating in their first-ever appearances in Australia. By early 2008, however, following abortive attempts to record a new album, Black began stating in interviews that the reunion was over.
In late August 2008, Black Francis told NME.com that he may be willing to return to the recording with his former bandmates, saying "It's just a waiting game right now. Whatever we do in the future is gonna have to be fresh. I have to see if the band as a whole wants to go into the recording studio for a new record. That makes sense on some level. For us, there's gotta be an angle. It can't be just playing our old songs over and over."
On March 13, 2009, they were announced as playing the 2009 Isle of Wight Festival, appearing before Sunday night headliner Neil Young. On March 26, 2009, they were announced as playing the 2009 Where The Action Is festival in Stockholm, Sweden.
On April 21, 2009, the band confirmed that a new release would be available for pre-order on June 15. The release, Minotaur, will be a box set of the band's previous albums plus bonus artwork, available both in Deluxe and Limited editions. The artworks will be created by Vaughan Oliver and Simon Larbalestier, the men responsible for the original album designs and artworks. Minotaur will be available through the Artists in Residence website.
In order to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of Doolittle, the Pixies announced a small European tour in October 2009 taking in London, Glasgow, Amsterdam, Dublin and Frankfurt where they will be playing the album and all relevant B-sides from the singles. Tickets sold out almost instantaneously. At the end of August 2009, it was announced that the Doolittle tour would be extended to Australasia in early 2010, including a first ever visit to New Zealand.
In June 2009 Black Francis was quoted as saying in the NME that the Pixies would return to the studio to record their sixth full length album some time during 2010. In addition, he stated that he would like it to be a film and music tie-in project involving a big Hollywood director such as Quentin Tarantino, but would be open to the idea of recording a more conventional album should this project fall through.
Although the Pixies' musical style has changed over time, the band is considered to be an alternative rock band alongside similar bands such as the Throwing Muses. The Pixies explored a range of song styles in their songs?although many songs were characterized by Francis' distinctive yowling and lead vocals, with Deal's feathery backing vocals (on songs such as "I Bleed" and "Debaser") and Santiago's erratic lead guitar. The band's sound has progressed from an indie rock sound on Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa, to a more sci-fi rock sound on Bossanova and Trompe le Monde. However, they have experimented with other genres of music, such as surf rock ("Cecilla Ann" on Bossanova), rock ("U-Mass") and pseudo-metal ("Planet of Sound" and "The Sad Punk", on Trompe le Monde).
The Pixies draw influence from a range of artists and genres; each member came from a different musical background. When he first started writing songs for the Pixies, Francis says he was listening to nothing but H?sker D?, Captain Beefheart, and Iggy Pop (including New Values and the bootleg I'm Sick of You); he cited Pop as his main influence in an interview with Mojo Magazine. During the making of Doolittle he was listening heavily to The Beatles' White Album. He cited Buddy Holly as a model for his compressed songwriting.
Francis noted, "The most influential band on me was The Cars. And I didn't even know it! I don't own the Cars' albums, but remember how their first hit singles had that muffled guitar riff? Dun-dun-dun-dun ... all of a sudden it was okay to muffle your hands on the strings and just pluck some stupid guitar riff. I learned how to do that and it was like, 'Oh my God, I sound like the Cars!' You can't imagine how many Ric Ocasek impersonations I wrote when I was 16!".
Santiago, as mentioned above, listened to 1970s and 1980s punk (including Black Flag) and David Bowie. Guitarists who influenced him include Jimi Hendrix, Les Paul, Wes Montgomery, and George Harrison.
Deal's musical background was country; she had formed a country band with her sister in her teenage years. Folk music has influenced the Pixies; Francis often listened to Christian rocker Larry Norman, and the band famously requested a bassist who was a fan of H?sker D? and the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.
Other media such as film has had an impact on the Pixies; Francis cites surrealist films Eraserhead and Un chien andalou (as mentioned in "Debaser") as influences. He commented on these influences (which he paid tribute to most in Doolittle), saying he "didn't have the patience to sit around reading Surrealist novels", but found it easier to watch twenty-minute films. He claimed the band members were "surrealists" in an interview to Melody Maker: "Maybe the avant-garde appeals to people from our economic background, because we're typically rejecting the older meaningful Christian values, but we're still confused as hell."
Songwriting and vocals
Most of the Pixies songs were composed and sung by Francis, whose songwriting style was characterized by a focus on Biblical violence ("Dead", "Gouge Away"), and incest ("The Holiday Song", "Nimrod's Son"). He later commented on this in an interview to Melody Maker: "It's all those characters in the Old Testament. I'm obsessed with them. Why it comes out so much I don't know."
He also wrote about other offbeat subjects?such as Japanese salaryman suicides ("Wave of Mutilation") and earthquakes ("Here Comes Your Man"), and in the band's early works (the Come On Pilgrim era), he included references to Christian themes ("Levitate Me"). Later, as the band's career progressed, he began to focus on sci-fi concepts and themes such as aliens ("Motorway to Roswell") and unidentified flying objects ("The Happening").
Deal sang lead vocals on "Gigantic" and the band's latest composition, "Bam Thwok," both of which she wrote, as well as on "Silver," co-written with Francis; she also sang lead vocals on the Francis-written "Into the White" and the Neil Young cover "I've Been Waiting For You." Lovering sang lead vocals on "La La Love You" and "Make Believe"; both songs were written by Francis.
The band has recorded several covers:"Wild Honey Pie" (The Beatles), "Ain't That Pretty At All" (Warren Zevon), "Winterlong" and "I've Been Waiting for You" (Neil Young), "I Can't Forget" (Leonard Cohen), a Spanish version of "Evil Hearted You" (The Yardbirds), "Head On" (The Jesus and Mary Chain), "Cecilia Ann" (The Surftones), "Born in Chicago" (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band), "In Heaven (The Lady in the Radiator Song)" (from the film Eraserhead credited to Peter Ivers and David Lynch), and "Theme from NARC" (Brian Schmidt, theme music from the video game NARC).
In terms of instrumentation, the Pixies are a four-piece rock band. Francis, the group's frontman, is the rhythm guitarist and uses either a Fender Telecaster, Fender Mustang, or Fender Jaguar, with either the Marshall JCM 800 or the Vox AC30 as amplification. Santiago, the lead guitarist, is a "strict Les Paul man" (he owns 3 Les Pauls), but also has a Gibson ES-335 and uses a Pearce GR-8 amplifier. Deal, the bassist in the band, plays either a Fender Precision or Music Man Stingray bass. Lovering, the drummer, plays a five-piece white Pro Prestige custom drumkit.
As their career has progressed, starting with "Gigantic" (from Surfer Rosa), the band have incorporated other, often unusual instruments and experimented more with their sound. For example, "Monkey Gone to Heaven" used a string section. "Velouria" (from Bossanova) had a theremin, Most songs on Trompe le Monde featured keyboards and synthesizers, played by Eric Drew Feldman, and "Bam Thwok", their latest release, had organ halfway through the song.
Although the Pixies produced relatively few albums, they had a great influence on the alternative rock boom of the 1990s that started with Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Gary Smith, who produced the Pixies' first recording, Come On Pilgrim, commented on the band's influence on alternative rock and their legacy in 1997:
I've heard it said about The Velvet Underground that while not a lot of people bought their albums, everyone who did started a band. I think this is largely true about the Pixies as well. Charles' secret weapon turned out to be not so secret and, sooner or later, all sorts of bands were exploiting the same strategy of wide dynamics. It became a kind of new pop formula and, within a short while, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was charging up the charts and even the members of Nirvana said later that it sounded for all the world like a Pixies song.
Sonically, the Pixies are credited with popularizing the extreme dynamics and stop-start timing that would come to define alternative rock; Pixies songs typically feature hushed, restrained verses, and explosive, wailing choruses. Cover songs and commentary from artists and groups such as David Bowie, Radiohead, U2, Weezer, Nirvana and critics such as Graham Linehan attest to the appreciation of the band by musicians and critics alike. Bob Mould (from H?sker D?, who the Pixies cited as an influence) said he "was a huge Pixies fan" and Radiohead's Thom Yorke, after being informed of the Pixies plans to play before them at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, exclaimed:
No! That's just not right! The Pixies opening for us is like the Beatles opening for us. I won't allow it. There's no way we can follow the Pixies!
Yorke said in the same Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival that, while at school, "the Pixies had changed my life". Other members of Radiohead have cited the band as an influence, and Yorke commented, "If we were all into the Pixies and nothing else, then it would be pretty obvious what the band would sound like."
While touring with U2 in 1992, the Pixies were sent a note from the band saying "Keep digging for fire. We love you." David Bowie, whose music had inspired Francis and Santiago while they were at university, mourned the band's breakup: "I felt very depressed the day I heard about the Pixies split. What a waste...I could see them becoming huge." This statement echoed many artists at that time who felt the band should have had more commercial success.
Bruno Nuytten's 1992 movie Albert souffre relies exclusively on the Pixies music for its soundtrack to help convey its relentlessly rebellious mood.
The most notable citation as an influence was by Kurt Cobain, on influencing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", which he admitted was a conscious attempt to co-opt the Pixies' style. In a January 1994 interview with Rolling Stone, he revealed:
I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it . When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band ? or at least in a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.
Weezer (who later covered "Velouria" in the Pixies tribute album, Where Is My Mind?) have cited the Pixies as an influence on their music and lead singer Rivers Cuomo, in an Addicted To Noise interview, said the band "really blew my mind when I first moved to L.A. and started to discover cool music." Damon Albarn (of the band Blur) said: "When we started we wanted to sound like the Pixies." The number of Pixies tribute albums recorded gives backing to their position as a major influence in modern alternative rock music.
One of the levels of the N64 game Perfect Dark has a dialogue honoring the band.
Area 51 Intercom:
Dr. Francis, please phone autopsy. Dr. Lovering, please go to Cryo Lab A. Lieutenant Deal, report to Bio Analysis. Captain Santiago, go to Medical Bay 6. Nurse Robinson, report to Containment.
Television appearances and videos
A screenshot of the "Velouria" video, with the four band members running down the quarry
The Pixies appeared on several television shows during their original incarnation, including The Tonight Show and 120 Minutes in the US; Snub TV and The Word in the UK.
Since the band were signed to the small alternative record label, 4AD, at the time of Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa, no videos were released from their first two records. Starting with Doolittle, their first release with Elektra Records, the band released music videos with their singles, but the videos were often simple affairs. For example, in songs such as "Monkey Gone to Heaven," "Head On" and "Debaser," the videos often consisted of the band playing their instruments.
By Bossanova, the band had developed a severe aversion to recording music videos, as Francis refused to lip-sync to them. For example, in the "Here Comes Your Man" video, both Black and Deal open their mouths wide instead of mouthing their lyrics. According to the record label this became one of the reasons that the Pixies never achieved major coverage on MTV.
As "Velouria" (their first single from Bossanova) was climbing up the UK Top 40, the band was offered a spot on Top of the Pops. However, a BBC rule stated only singles with videos could be performed on the show. To counter this a cheap video was made, with the band being filmed running down a quarry. In the video, twenty-three seconds of footage (the time needed for the band members to reach the camera) is slowed in order to last for the duration of the song. However, the effort in filming the video was in vain; the Pixies did not play "Velouria" on Top of The Pops while the single was in the charts.
Awards and achievements
Although the Pixies never gained mainstream recognition in its original incarnation, the band won several awards from music publications and local music awards. For example, they won the Act of the Year award in the 2004 Boston Music Awards. The Pixies also won acclaim from music publications for their records:
Sounds ? Album of the Year: Surfer Rosa (1988)
Melody Maker ? Album of the Year: Surfer Rosa (1988)
Sounds ? Runner up Album of the Year: Doolittle (1989)
Melody Maker ? Single of the Year: "Monkey Gone to Heaven" (1989)
Melody Maker ? Runner Up Album of the Year: Doolittle (1989)
Sounds ? Album of the Year: Bossanova (1990)
In addition, the albums Surfer Rosa and Doolittle both appeared on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, at #315 and #226, respectively.
In 2009 "Where Is My Mind?" came in at #29 in Triple J Hottest 100 of all time, voted by the Australian public.