Say what you like about Pixies, but one thing is indisputable; few bands have seized a second chance with quite as much glee and determination as Charles Thompson IV, Joey Santiago, and Dave Lovering. After reforming in 2004, they’ve been together for almost twice as long as their critically acclaimed heyday, and while there hasn’t been that much new music, they’ve hit the road hard. The latest incarnation of their very own “Never Ending Tour” rolls back into the UK this week for a few warm-up shows before a prime slot at Thursday’s British Summer Time Hyde Park concert, supporting Kings Of Leon.
It’s yet another accolade for a band who’ve come a long way from the cult outsiders that wrote noisy, eccentric songs about aliens, lust, and Biblical violence thirty years ago. “We’ve never done Hyde Park before,” drummer Dave Lovering tells me by phone from his Californian home. “I looked at the line-up of the bands that are playing there, and it’s quite impressive, so I think it’ll be an awesome gig and I’m sure I’ll be amazed by it.”
“Amazed” is a concept that crops up quite frequently when talking to the band; that they’re still here, doing what they love, and enjoying the kind of success they thought impossible while schlepping around the bars and clubs of Boston. “It’s been a great couple years, everything going well and just enjoying ourselves,” Lovering says of their status as a slick, arena-slaying machine. He tells me that none of them foresaw quite how big they’d become – or how long they could sustain it – and that remembering how things used to be keeps them humble. They’ve also worked hard to stick close to their roots; not for them adding backing musicians or fooling around with glitter cannons and special effects. Sure, the stages are bigger and their gear is a little nicer, but watch them today and it’s still a rollicking, straight-up rock show, much like when they used to play strip clubs in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Two things have changed though. Not only is this the first time they’ve been out in support of a proper, fully fledged album – no, Indie Cindy doesn’t count, for a whole host of reasons – but it’s also seen bassist Paz Lenchantin’s cement her status as a permanent, bona fide band member. “She’s a Pixie now, a real Pixie,” says Lovering. “We’ve known Paz for four years, and she’s a joy to be around.”
Replacing Kim Deal, whose studied cool and fractious relationship with Thompson powered much of the Pixies mythology, was no easy task, and there are many who thought the band would call it quits when she walked out for good in 2013. Lovering admits that it was a “devastating loss”, but while they still miss her, the band have embraced the change and focused on what Lenchantin brings. “Invigorating” is how he describes her impact, both on a personal level and as a musician. “It seems like we’ve played with Paz forever, and I’m playing better because she’s such a good musician and I don’t want to be embarrassed around her. So I’m picking my game up.”
They’re also mindful of not repeating past mistakes, and while the friction between the four of them sparked something special, it ultimately ground everyone down and led, indirectly, to Deal’s departure. Lovering says they’re “still behaving extra well and watching their Ps and Qs” around Lenchantin, but adds that it’s not just a case of being older and wiser. “I don’t believe that! Yeah, you get older, but the ‘wiser’ comes from the fact that you learn to put up with the bullshit a little easier. You let it roll off you, that’s what it is.”
It’s not easy keeping a juggernaut like Pixies on the road, and to ease the pressure and monotony of touring their schedule is carefully planned. “Five or six weeks tops, then a month long break” is what they need, but Lovering is at pains to point out that “we don’t hate each other! It’s not like everyone has an agenda to get away from each other, but we respect our privacy of course. We’ve done this for so long we know to have our own alone time. Besides, it’s more the family orientation that’s dictating the time away [from the band].”
They’ve already done four legs since Head Carrier came out, and after a summer on the festival circuit, they’re fully booked until mid-December. Lovering says the band are relishing having an album to promote again, and one that has been, thus far, well received. “From my perspective - I’m in the back, and I have an elevated view of the audience – when we’re playing songs from Head Carrier it’s been a lot more accepted than Indie Cindy, I can tell you that!”.
The latter, their first attempt at new music since the reunion, was a jumbled mess made up of three EPs that had already been released and seemed to confirm the theory that attempting to recapture past glories on record was a foolhardy exercise. Scorned by fans and critics alike, Pitchfork described the material as “limp” and “debasing their legacy”. The band are on record as saying they “didn’t care” about such negativity, but several years removed, Lovering is sanguine about why Indie Cindy was such a damp squib, and why they felt compelled to make it in the first place.
“When 2011 hit, that was kind of an epiphany, if not a surreal moment. We realised that we’d been touring on our old world, our old music, for longer than we were initially a band, and that was kind of freaky. That was the impetus to put out Indie Cindy. It was a big trepidation for us because we knew people really could judge us, having not done an album in so long. So it was a really scary thing trying to do it. Head Carrier was so easy and the reason I say that is because all that trepidation in being scared, that was done.”
Head Carrier also sees the band return to some of their early tropes and, dare I say it, weirdness. No music they write will ever challenge the twin totems of Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, but Head Carrier sits comfortably in their canon. At the very least, they sound like themselves again, something Lovering has noticed live.
“Some songs herald back to the early Pixies sound, so they’re coming off better, and they’re playing better. I didn’t see it that much with Indie Cindy. We have a mix of an audience from people my age all the way to twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old and the new songs that we’re playing are working with the classic songs very, very well. As we do these tours more and more, we’re learning the songs better and better; it’s working great.”
With that, he has to go; there are errands to run and loose ends to tie up before duty calls and a long summer behind the kit. Pixies, against all the odds, are still here, still striving, and perhaps most remarkable of all, comfortable with where they are in their career. “We feel like we’re a viable band, that this is what we do; we record, and we tour.” He says the future will be no different, and that next year “it’ll be a wash and repeat. Once we finish this, in spring 2018 probably, Charles will start writing some stuff then we’ll really start heavily thinking about it. The idea will just be to go back and write new songs, and continue again.”