Whatever seditious rock magick conjured Surfer Rosa, it wasn’t the result of Pixies communing with the dark arts. “I wish we could say that we had a massive plan, that we met a warlock telling us to do something,” says guitarist Joey Santiago. “But it's not like that, it's one accident after another. We just bumped into it. It was people playing with limitations - if I could speak for myself I was bound by my limitations. that's what I had to offer at that time.”
And yet Surfer Rosa was so boundless. Pixies’ 1988 debut album proper (the previous year’s mini-album Come On Pilgrim was a compilation of demos), merged hardcore punk, bubblegum pop, flamenco and themes of violence, deformity, incest and exotic collegiate adventure into a brutal and beatific half hour of music that would form the molten bedrock of grunge and indie rock for the coming decades. Pixies are marking its 30th anniversary with a five-night stand at London’s Roundhouse from October 30 to November 3 (as well as shows in Brooklyn and Mexico City) playing the record in its entirety, and a deluxe reissue pressed on gold or clear vinyl (or a clear CD version) bound in a hardback book featuring a reinterpretation of the artwork by Vaughan Oliver artwork and accompanied by Come On Pilgrim and a bonus radio session ‘Live From The Fallout Shelter’.
But what does the record mean to Pixies now? What can they remember about the dodgy videos producer Steve Albini showed them during recording? And how’s the post-rehab Joey coping with such a monumental flashback? Best ask…
Gigwise: Why choose London for the Surfer Rosa shows?
Joey Santiago: “Well, that's where we're from. That's where 4AD is and we love London, we call it our second home. It's 30 years, it seems like something to celebrate - it seems like bands like to celebrate this stuff. People's expectations will be met.”
Will the gigs bring back memories of the recording?
“It might, you know. I remember being shy. I wanted to tune the guitar in an open E chord for that one song, ‘Oh My Golly’. I thought it was going to be stupid, the way it was going to turn out. It sounded like a bunch of bees, but it sounded pretty cool. [We were] splicing tape, ‘Vamos’ with the most experimental one. I think I threw tennis balls at the guitar and all this nonsense that was going on with that. It just went ‘clank’, that was about it - I thought it was going to be a whole session with tennis balls but it's a one trick pony. The solo [Joey famously cuts loose during the ‘Vamos’ solo, often unplugging his guitar and ‘playing’ the feedback from the amp lead] was already like that live, when I was just going crazy at it. I spent a lot of time doing something else other than your typical guitar solo.
“I remember being nervous meeting a stranger, Steve Albini, but we were just ready for it - we were ready to record it. Albini was a nice guy, very professional, very funny. I don't think he slept much for some reason. He might have been into comic books or something but he had this kind of anti-humour so he was turning us on to that a little bit.”
Is that where the notorious discussions about sexual practices such as ‘gerbilling’ and Albini’s videos of eggs being fired from various orifices came in?
“Oh my god, oh yeah, that's right! He was talking about that, ‘no more eggs!’ I never saw the video but I remember him talking about that. I thought it was a John Waters film he was talking about.”
How did you feel about the themes of the album? Were you concerned about all the incest?
“Nah. I know it's boring but it was the last concern of mine making the record. I was more into the music side of it. It was none of my business, it was Charles's thing. I thought it was interesting, end of story, but I'm glad it wasn't about like ‘dear diary, shit, fuck, she broke up with me’, none of that.”
With so much of the record sounding like you were recording in the middle of a torture porn movie, was it important to have the lighter pop elements as balance?
“Yeah. We really don't think about that I don't know if Charles does, or any of us do, but a song will just pop up and we'll just make it, if it happens to sound like pop it sounds like pop. It's something I don't understand, when we’re considered this punk band, you know, when we've got all these other songs that aren't, really. We've got ‘Here Comes Your Man’, ‘Monkey…’, ‘Where Is My Mind?’, but we're still considered this punk thing.”
How do you feel about ‘Where Is My Mind?’ becoming a cult song?
“It's partly to do with the movie [Fight Club], partly to do with the theme of the song - I think it relates to a lot of disenfranchised people and they could relate to it, they're not alone, no one is. ‘Where Is My Mind?’ is a hell of a weird song. It's one of those songs where people listen to it and they go ‘oh, I'm not the only one lost, I'm not the only weirdo’, so it's totally relatable, it hits a special chord, that's a special feeling that the song finally talked about.”
You’ve recently started playing ‘Gigantic’ live again for the first time since Kim Deal left, how does it feel to have such a pivotal Pixies song back in the set?
“It feels good. We made such a big deal about playing it because ‘oh, Kim's singing it’, but at the end of the day it's a song and people want to hear it. Was it a daring song to put out? I think in the first incarnation of that song it was going to be a big, big mall, talking about a shopping mall. We were talking about a shopping mall instead of it’s about someone’s dick.”
How important do you consider the album?
“According to people, they like it. What makes me feel funny about it was that people had this reverence to it. The only word I can come up with is I'm fortunate, very fortunate that I was part of that album. It feels surreal, 30 years on, doing this, celebrating this record. A bunch of mixed emotions. People are more excited about it than I am. It feels like ‘you little brat, how come you can't feel that?’ - my head is saying that.”
You’ve recently completed rehab, how are you doing now?
“I'm doing great, keeping healthy. I'm doing pretty damn good now. I guess, existentially, I'm trying to get used to this peace. I know it sounds corny but I'm not used to it, I get scared of it. It's not a natural feeling for me, like ‘nothing is going on, my God, something is really wrong then, this one's a sneaky motherfuker that's going to really get me’.”
What was the issue?
“It was just a bunch of stuff colliding. I don't know what happened. It's always been in there, it just escalated the stupidity. I'm dealing with it now. The band were very, very supportive of it. I was functioning, it was just handling my free time. But everything's cool now.”
Is there another Pixies album in the works?
“Yes, we've already been working on it for two sessions, recording demos, and we have studio time booked in a month or two. It’ll be ruckus, more noise, more things that we’ve recorded and hopefully it doesn't suck - that's really what we do. We go into the studio going ‘this shit better not suck’. That's really our criteria. Now that we've got ‘Head Carrier’ and ‘Indie Cindy’ out, between those two releases we set it up so we can do whatever we want now. I would like to be really experimental, take the pop out of it. I'm excited to see where this one goes.”