THE PIXIES with FIDLAR at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Wednesday (January 15), 7 pm, all ages. $44.50-$79.50. LN, RTH, TM.
A few things have changed since the Pixies helped define the alt-rock sound of the early 90s with their screeching, stripped-down dynamics.
"We were touring around in a cloud of marijuana smoke. It felt like a Cheech and Chong movie," frontman Black Francis (aka Charles Thompson IV) recalled in a phone interview last November. "Now, it's a very tight ship. It's very blue-collar in some ways."
Drummer David Lovering puts it this way, "‘Older and wiser' just means that you're so old that you'll do whatever it takes to make things easier on yourself."
Other things do not change. For example, the odd bit of turmoil. After releasing five albums in five years, infighting led Thompson to infamously quit the band via fax in 1993. In 2004, he and Lovering reunited with bassist Kim Deal and guitarist Joey Santiago and embarked on a successful tour that solidified the Pixies' influential status for a new generation.
Then, in a surprise move last year, Deal walked out. Upset but undeterred, they recruited Kim Shattuck of the Muffs and then fired her in November - reportedly for stage diving. "I get the feeling they're more introverted people than I am," she later told NME. Paz Lenchantin of A Perfect Circle and Zwan is now on bass.
"We haven't really replaced Kim [Deal]," insists Thompson. "We're just working without her at the moment, for better or for worse. It is what is it."
A female presence has long been essential to the Pixies sound, which often whips up manic energy from contrasting extremes. "When she left, we didn't know what to do," recounts Lovering. "Should we quit? Should we get a guy to play bass? What is the Pixies' sound but that feminine side and what it offers? So we're continuing with that."
Free from a label deal, the band is releasing the results of fresh recording sessions in Wales with producer Gil Norton as a series of EPs. Twenty-two years after the release of their last album, they surprised fans by uploading a four-track EP online last summer. The second one came this month.
The new material is highly polished. Thompson describes Norton - who has worked on three Pixies albums - as a "tidy" and "particular" producer who builds songs from the drums up, as opposed to convening jam sessions to capture the magic. "It's more about constructing a facsimile," he explains.
To get the band in a headspace to record again, Norton told them to imagine returning to Earth after a 20-year absence. The psychological trick worked, but Thompson insists nothing motivates him as effectively as a looming deadline.
"I don't need inspiration. I have it," he says. "I might not be in the mood to do something today versus another day, but it doesn't mean the main motivating factor - the inspiration - disappears. It's somewhere in there. You just have to start and the game begins."