See Pixies Play ‘Planet of Sound,’ New Song ‘Um Chagga Lagga’
“Are we serious enough?” Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago asks, midway into the band’s chuckle-filled interview with Rolling Stone.
“‘Are we serious enough?!’ We’re Pixies!” frontman Black Francis interjects. “We are by definition Pixies in our temperament: a little mischievous, a little playful, a little not-too-serious, small.” Santiago laughs.
Today, though, Pixies are cucumber cool. Francis has adjusted the office chair he’s sitting in to its lowest position and keeps his sunglasses on most of the time, as his bandmates – Santiago, bassist Paz Lenchantin and drummer David Lovering – lean back in theirs, chuckling at in-jokes with one another around a conference-room table.
The band has stopped by Rolling Stone to play two songs – a brand-new, yet-to-be-recorded number titled “Um Chagga Lagga” and their 1991 Trompe Le Monde single “Planet of Sound” – as they work their way through a U.S. tour. Beginning last fall, the group began woodshedding about 11 new tunes with titles like “Super Lecker,” “O’ Little Cloud” and “Down to Tulom,” some of which they’re test-driving on their current trek. They’re so early in the process that they’ve just started looking for a suitable producer to work with.
“We’re trying to find our sound right now,” says Francis, who had put together a bunch of demos and gave them to the band to figure out which would work as Pixies songs. Santiago says they’ve ruled out doing everything acoustic, but are still experimenting. The songs are so new that when Francis suggests playing “Down to Tulom,” Santiago shudders. “I’m just not ready for that one,” he says. “It’s still in his tummy, that one,” he adds, gesturing at Francis.
As for “Um Chagga Lagga” – a driving little ditty full of Francis’ yelling and moaning – the singer describes it as being “kind of like a road movie.” “It’s a French truck-driving song, about the seedier side of life on the road,” he says. “It’s like going down the Bouches-du-Rhône, the Languedoc, and it’s truck stoppy. It’s about the things that happen at truck stops and gas stations and cornfields.”
The other new tune that the group has broken out on the tour is “Super Lecker,” which Francis takes delight in explaining translates from German to “Super Delicious.” “People seem to be dancing to it,” Lovering says. “Any movement is good.”
When Francis attempts to explain what the song is about, he turns his attention to his phone to look up the name of its inspiration, whom he surreptitiously describes simply as a young Russian woman. “It’s about Elena Ivanovna Diakonova when she was younger,” he says eventually and matter-of-factly. “She was . . .”
“A super lecker,” Lenchantin rejoins with a laugh.
“She was super delicious,” Francis says. “She was married to this surrealist poet guy, Paul Éluard, and she hung out with all those bohos back in the Twenties and Thirties.” He goes on to later describe her as a “muse,” but neglects to mention his inspiration’s more familiar name and association: Gala Dalí, wife of surrealist Salvador.
Instead, when Rolling Stone asks him what makes her song-worthy, he says, “Well, everyone is worthy of a song. Even Paz.” She laughs.
The bassist joined the group in December 2013, filling the role that once belonged to founding member Kim Deal, who announced her departure from the group that June. Lenchantin, who has played in A Perfect Circle and Zwan, took over the position from Muffs frontwoman Kim Shattuck who was asked to leave the group in late November. Judging from the way Lenchantin jokes with her bandmates, they seem to have found a good fit.
“I’m trying to convince Paz to do her Moroccan-style violin playing that she learned a few years ago,” Francis says.
“Jajoukan,” she says, correcting him, referring to the Moroccan village Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones visited in the late Sixties, when he recorded them for his posthumously released Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka record. “I played with the Master Musicians of Joujouka about four years ago,” she says, with a wide smile. “They’d never played with a woman before. They taught me a lot of chords and ways to tune my violin. It was pretty exciting.” She’s brought her violin to Rolling Stone but does not play it in the recording session.
When asked why the current lineup seems to have clicked so well, Santiago says, “We share the same sense of humor and like the same movies. What more can you ask for?”
Although Francis jokes that everyone in the band loved Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, he and his bandmates more soberly rally behind Nacho Libre as the band-favorite movie. “It’s very polarizing,” Santiago says. “Either you like it or you just can’t stand it.”
“I thought everybody liked that one,” Francis says.
“I don’t hang with those people who don’t like it anymore,” the guitarist says. Everyone laughs.
“Kim Deal’s not in the band anymore,” Black Francis says. “We liked Nacho Libre, and she was not into it.”
“Well, look, Kim Deal’s not in the band anymore, and I think we kind of touched on really the heart of the matter,” Francis says. “We like the Nacho Libre, and she was not into it.” Stifled laughter simmers about the room. “She knew. She knew, as soon as we saw it and we were all like, ‘Yeah! Two thumbs up!’”
Another unifying force in the band that Santiago also calls “very polarizing” is the group’s love of Led Zeppelin. Shortly after Francis’ Deal comment, Santiago jokes that the group’s founding lineup had suffered a communication breakdown over their classic-rock music taste.
The current group will soon be opening up for former Led Zeppelin wailer Robert Plant on a handful of dates this month. “We met him on a plane, when he was doing Glastonbury,” Lovering explains. “We talked forever, and he eventually said, ‘Who are you?’ ‘Pixies.’ ‘Boston’s finest.’ I was like, ‘What?!’ Then a month and a half later, we got the phone call. It was amazing.”
“One of the first things I thought about was the ticket stub,” Santiago says. “Because when we opened up for U2, our name wasn’t even there.” Francis offers up an insincere “Aww.” “All that traveling, five letters,” Santiago says. “That’s all it would have taken, not a waste of ink.” He chuckles at his own joke, and Lenchantin smirks as he counts out the number of letters in his group’s name on his hand. “Six letters,” he says with a laugh, correcting himself.
So with the group’s “comeback” album, 2014′s Indie Cindy, out of the way, a new bassist in the group for over a year and close to a dozen new songs ready to be recorded, does life in the Pixies feel like business as usual? “It feels like a new time,” Francis says. “It doesn’t feel like an old time to me. It feels like a new thing.”