Pixies’ Black Francis: “It wasn’t about trying to represent our generation – it was high art”

Black Francis, Joey Santiago and co tell the full story of Pixies' rise and fall and rise

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By now journalists were asking questions about lyrics, and what their new heroes were really like. Astonishingly, Thompson was able to leave them almost entirely in the dark. “They’re just ditties,” he blithely explained. In an interview about his own heroes, he indicated the model for this ruse: “They’ve always asked Samuel Beckett what his plays mean, and he always answers, ‘It means absolutely nothing’. Of course it means something; they all mean something. But I like him for that comment.”

“You dismiss the content of lyrics because you don’t want to go into them,” says Oliver. “It’s false modesty, humility – or you’re hiding something. Joey, too – the contrast between his electric contribution on stage, like Wilko Johnson and the way he is, just so ready to go along with everything. I thought he was mad, but concealing it. He used to get scared of me when he saw me, because I’d try and provoke the person that I thought was in there. And I never got there.”

On the Pixies’ headlining, relentless Sex and Death tour to promote Doolittle, the first cracks in the facade started to show. Thompson’s simmering discontent with Deal was starting to boil over, as their radically different interpretations of a rock’n’roll lifestyle, in the midst of such rocketing success, became unbridgeable.


Deal had been demure when they first began, as Gary Smith recalls. “Kim used to arrive for rehearsals with her secretary’s outfit, with her sneakers on and her shoes in her hand, that thing working women used to do back then. She seemed more normal. She seemed to be resigned to her working life, even though she had this other life as musician.”

By 1989, though, all her teenage dreams of Led Zeppelin were coming true. “Kim, God bless her, had started to lose it,” Colin Wallace remembers. “Her drug intake was getting worse and worse. Charles liked to smoke pot through his coke cans, but I don’t remember him doing cocaine or any of that, and there was loads of that around them. I used to get him dope. Kim, on the other hand, she just took whatever we had. She was a great laugh, and the London scene as it was, Pete Wylie and all those people, loved having her around. People were so pleased to see her. And I think that was a problem for Charles. I think that got right up Charles’s nose. Because she loved to party. I guess someone from 4AD should’ve said, ‘Now, Kim, you’ve gotta go home.’ But when you’re off your nut yourself, you don’t think of that, do you?”

“She’s no different to 95 per cent of touring bands,” says Jeff Craft. “It’s just that he is.”


“I don’t wanna make too big a deal out of Kim enjoying a drink,” says Thompson. “Because that’s not the only factor. But certainly it didn’t help – that I wanted to have this workaholic taste, and other people in the band wanted to be playerholic. It didn’t mesh well. I always regretted that I kicked a guitar at Kim onstage, in Germany somewhere. She’d showed up really late for the gig, and of course that made me tense. I felt terrible about it, because I’m not very physically aggressive. I don’t know what set me off – I guess I was just pissed off. Nowadays, with something like that, I wouldn’t be like, ‘WHERE THE HELL’S JOEY? JE-SUS CHRIST! We’re supposed to be on a half-hour ago and what the fuck?’ But obviously, when you’re drunk, or you’re smoking joints all day like I was, it affects your judgement. Aggression and paranoia takes hold, in the whole crew. Everyone was as high as a kite.”

The year 1989 also saw Deal form a side-project with another frustrated songwriter, the Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donelly, alongside British bassist Josephine Wiggs (from Perfect Disaster) and Slint drummer Shannon Doughty. Named The Breeders after Deal’s teenage band with her sister (the name was gay slang for straights), their debut LP Pod, produced by Steve Albini, was released in May 1990. Albini much preferred it to the Pixies (who he would call “blandly entertaining college rock” in a typically perverse 1991 fanzine assault on Surfer Rosa, which he later retracted). The then-unknown Kurt Cobain was a fan, too. But to Thompson, the album’s very existence was galling, a distraction from his band: one more strike against its bassist.

By now Thompson had moved to LA, and Norton and the band convened there for a fourth, radically different record. Thompson showed Norton his intentions by driving him around the Hollywood Hills in the yellow Cadillac he’d recently purchased, playing him surf tunes, the template for a softer, more spacious direction. Norton loved The Ventures and The Beach Boys, too, and Bossanova, though a decisive step away from the sound set down on the Purple Tape, was melodic and inventive. It also introduced Thompson’s lyrical obsession with UFOs, Roswell and outer space. Surf and space wasn’t what fans expected, but the old formula was almost played out, and the album, perhaps based on previous momentum, entered the UK charts at no. 3 in August. They headlined Reading the same month, a gig so big they spent a week rehearsing with Norton, determined to get it right. “Tomorrow’s a big day for them,” Norton told Rolling Stone on its eve. “If that goes well, they’ll be with us a long time.” It went perfectly, of course. But their time was almost up.

Deal and Thompson’s relationship, now reaching meltdown, was the major factor. “I remember she missed a plane once that year,” says Colin Wallace, “and Charles went absolutely ballistic. I think that was the beginning of the end. Because they flew without her, and I heard from Chas [Banks, the Pixies tour manager] that Charles wanted her out of the band there and then. So that’s when it suddenly dawned on me that there’s something more to this. You don’t sack somebody out of a band because they missed their fucking aeroplane. There’s another in an hour. So I knew there was something underlying it.”

Before the recording of what would become their final album, Trompe Le Monde, in 1991, the explosion that had been building so long blasted the band apart. Thompson, Santiago and Lovering went to LA to start work on it. Deal was not told they had gone, as Thompson prepared to sack her. When Deal found out by accident her band had abandoned her, she rang 4AD in London. Deborah Edgeley advised her to fly to LA, to find out for herself what was happening.

“It was confusing,” says Santiago, of turning up to find his band a member short. “It’s like, ‘Wow, I guess he’s not happy with that, huh?’ I guess I’ll just go along with it. I kind of lazily did it. It was out of my hands. I couldn’t understand anything. We were never really a band who hashed things out.”

“I just remember it was really stressful in the office at that time,” says Wallace. “Everyone was really confused and stressed out, and the record company was saying, ‘That’s it, it’s over’. It was so sad. But then the manager should have managed that a bit better. Be totally straight with Kim, that’s it, you’re not in the band – but don’t just leave the girl hanging. That’s nasty.”

The morning after Deal arrived in LA, the band’s manager Ken Goes called her in to a lawyer’s office, where the other members waited. “And I walk in,” Deal recalled to Spin, “and it’s like – ‘Ohhh, I’m fired.’ It was so hurtful, it was awkward, and it was odd. Then I think Joe and David pussed out and decided they hadn’t given me a warning and this would be my warning. I don’t know what about.”

So did something happen to cause such a crisis? Something that meant, a year later, the Pixies would split?

“Yeah,” Wallace states. “Which I can’t really comment on, because I hope I can still count on them as friends. But there is a specific reason why they split.” There have been rumours of some sort of attempted relationship between Thompson and Deal, that didn’t work out. “Yeah,” he smiles. “That’s what I heard as well. I’d love to tell you the whole story. But I think it’s up to Charles or Kim to tell you themselves. And they never will.”

“I think we’ve covered most of it,” he says when Uncut presses him for the details behind the split. “Without going into personal stuff. I mean, there are some mysterious workings within the band, which only the band will be privy to. And even at our most estranged, the Pixies have always been loyal to their outfit. We’re not going to tell you everything. We already feel naked enough.”


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