He’s been there and back…and we’re not just talking about his decision to reunite the Pixies. Frank Black has been on the cutting-edge of DIY innovation for the last decade as one of the first artists to take advantage of Internet distribution.
At the 2004 DIY Convention in Los Angeles, he discussed his past, his future and the why/how of his career before a packed crowd. What he said may surprise those who think great careers only happen in certain ways…..
BH: If any of you have ever been to Boston, you know it’s cold and people eat beans and all that type of stuff. Well what they don’t tell you about the rock and roll scene is it’s one of the most incredible in the United States. These two guys go back many, many years whether they have been Indie, major, DIY, they have always brought an extreme amount of credibility to the thing. Like the Supreme Court once said about obscenity, you know it when you see it, you’ll know it when you see these two guys. Please welcome Frank Black and Johnny Angel.
JA: Welcome to the DIY Convention, circa 2004. I’m Johnny Angel, this is Frank Black. We have known each other for about fifteen or sixteen years now. We were both musicians together in the city of Boston, Massachusetts back in the eighties, although we never shared a bill back in the eighties.
FB: I guess we haven’t but I think that maybe you probably gave me my first rock interview, maybe even before I had a record out, for a little local music rag or something like that probably.
JA: It was entirely possible. I became aware of Charles and his group the Pixies back in the eighties through the rhythm guitar player in my band, the Blackjacks. He came up to me in rehearsal, they guy’s name is Raif, he had this big hair like Nikki Sixx, and he says these two kids, in this rehearsal space that I was playing in, came up to me real nervously and asked me if their band could play with us somewhere, and I said well what where they like, and he said well they were real strange and real nervous and they called themselves The Pixies. I said what did you tell them, and he said Oh I don’t bother with that, that’s your problem, so it never came to be.
FB: So you owe me a gig.
JA: I owe you a gig. We’ll go out on Sunset Boulevard afterwards and play for change, that’ll be what we do. So let us begin at the beginning. There is going to be a record this year coming out of your pre-Pixies demo, is this true?
FB: Yeah, I guess I had made a cassette recording of some songs before my first proper recording session, and that tape surfaced a few years ago, and my old band kind of got more famous after we broke up, and anyway it became kind of a time capsule that some record labels were interested in.
JA: And who’s putting it out?
FB: In Europe there is a company called Cooking Vinyl, and in this country it’s called SpinArt is the company there in New York.
JA: And SpinArt has been putting out your records for years?
FB: Yeah, it’s terrible sounding, it’s really bad but I guess it’s kind of cute and I guess it’s for the fans only kind of a thing. It’s kind of a bootleg quality item.
JA: Now in all of the interviews that you and I have done, and those that I have read of you, nobody seems to delve much into your life before 1985 and ’86, which is when the Pixies began, what records did you love as a kid? Did you play in garage bands like everybody else has? I mean it’s not like a space ship dropped you from a pod and you burst open in Boston. I know that there is a past there. Two part question- Why does nobody ever ask you about this, and two, answer the question.
FB: I don’t know why no one asks that question but I’ll see if I can answer it. I guess I grew up listening to a lot of, like most people, the records that their mother or their father enjoyed and a lot of folk music you know. My mom was born in the forties so I think she probably listened to a lot of folk music, like Peter, Paul, and Mary and Donovan, and that kind of stuff a lot of sixties stuff. So I supposed I started listening to a lot of early folk music when I was a kid I used to hang out with some other kids and their parents, something called the Boston Folk Song Society, who was kind of a Woody Guthrie appreciation society and they used to put on shows and so I used to get exposed to a lot of folk music I guess through that, and I listened to a lot of blues music as I got to be a teenager. I guess the biggest source of recordings that I used to listen to when I was younger was used records stores, because you could for fifty cents or two bucks you could kind of walk away with a couple of records or I could go to the public library even. You know when you don’t have money as a kid you get all kinds of things at the library, but anyway…
JA: Did you play in any bands? Did you go in the garage with your friends and try to bang out, I don’t know at that point, I want to be sedated, or some other relatively easy song to play?
FB: I did play in garages with other musicians and we never really made it out of the garage. Typical going to a garage and make a racket until the cops came or whatever and that kind of thing, but the Pixies were my first band really and I guess I was about twenty or so when I started that band.
JA: And do you remember with any clarity or vividness the Pixies first public performance?
FB: Yeah it was a place called Jack’s Lounge in Cambridge, Massachusetts that burned down a couple of years later in unusual circumstances. It was one of those gigs where I don’t know if you remember, I don’t know if it’s like that here in LA, but you know you put fliers up for your band with little tickets cut out at the bottom and you know the owner of the club would have you back if you brought in seven or eight or ten people, and they all bought a beer, that kind of thing. They move you from Tuesday night at nine o’clock to maybe Thursday night at ten o’clock, and you know that’s how we started.
JA: And how did you do on night one?
FB: We did very well, all of our friends came, and I guess a good time was had by all. They asked us back on a Friday night or something like that, we actually did really well right away, we always did well.
JA: At what point did you realize, when the Pixies existed, that you know we’re not going to be like a local Boston band, because Boston is a very insular city very little gets in very little gets out, at what point did you know we’re out of here? My life does not begin and end with headlining The Rat on a Saturday night.
FB: Well I guess I was kind of naïve but I just assumed that I would get out of town. I didn’t think that it was going to be a bad thing really, and it wasn’t, and we were lucky. I have other friends that are probably a lot more cynical, that have had to go through the grind of playing in clubs for years and years before they make it to some level of success and that is what you have to do sometimes. Of course I went back after I had success when I was younger, I was humbled in my career shall we say, and so I got to kind of go back to my roots, so to speak, and work hard again but I enjoy it all.
JA: How did you land, your first record deal was with 4 AD, how did this come about?
FB: Through a manager who I still work with to this day, who had gotten another band’s record released through the same label.
JA: That was Throwing Muses?
FB: Yeah, a group called the Throwing Muses. Fortunately I believed that the girlfriend of the owner of the record label heard the tape and liked it, and convinced her boyfriend that he ought to take a second listen. That’s the story I heard anyway.
JA: How many songs were on the first demo? The first legit demo that you did?
FB: Well I think, what did they call those back then when you make your own record? Not a demo per say, no one’s heard of you, but there was a kind of an industry word for it back then. Anyway you make your own record with the idea that it’s going to be released, it’s not a demo per say, but anyway we made about a twenty song demo I guess which got edited down to about nine or ten songs for our first release. Anyway not to cut you off Johnny but I just sat in the last discussion at eleven, it’s all fine and dandy I guess what I do and I’m really happy to be here and everything, but I don’t really know who all of you are and what questions you might have for whatever it is that you do in this DIY world that we all live in. I’m just curious, I feel kind of guilty not maybe getting a question from someone that might be a songwriter or a performer or a photographer, I don’t know.
JA: What I was going to do is I told him I was going to say okay, you said in the press no Pixies reunion unless someone needed a kidney transplant. I was going to go who need the kidney? So there you go, who needs the kidney?
FB: Well sure, I guess what our friend is referring to is my old band, we had a good little run for about five years in the late eighties and then we broke up, and you know there was kind of a we’ll never get back together probably, and about twelve years passed and we were lucky that our catalogue always sold very well and with every generation it always stayed in print. We’ve kind of become more popular posthumously and anyway every year we get offers to go back out on tour or put out a record whatever, we always say no but recently some of us have lightened up I suppose and said well what the heck let’s go do it and we’re very excited that people still want to hear us and are willing to pay us money to do it. You know we’re kind of psyched about it, I have practice actually later today, and I’m kind of tired because we were kind of practicing a lot yesterday too. Anyway we’re just doing it, not just for the money, it is primarily I guess a financial thing you know we realize that a lot of people were willing to pay money to see us still, so it is a financial thing but like I said we lightened up I think and so we want to have fun again, and obviously playing music is fun as I’m sure some of you know.
JA: The question is this. Years ago you and I talked about this five or six years ago and you told me you said people think that this is a goldmine, this Pixie thing, you said that you told me that the offers were not as great as one would imagine. Have they exponentially gotten better and better and better as the band’s history has moved farther into the rearview mirror?
FB: Well I guess like a lot of things in the music business there’s kind of a pendulum thing that happens, for example music becomes more and more mainstream, more and more corporate, you know the radio gets real tight. Then suddenly everything is really stale and dull and some little obscurity over here, suddenly the kids are tapped into something that’s new and exciting and obscure over here and that becomes popular, and it’s not at all representative of mainstream music, and then all of the majors, if you want to call it that, the major record labels for example, kind of scramble over here to kind of figure out what’s going on over here in the subculture world, and things kind of get Indie again, and things open up, and then it kind of swings the other way. I know we were talking about something else but I guess talking about offers and my old band, it goes through phases that our catalogue sells really great one year, and then it kind of swings the other way for a couple of years and then mysteriously it swings back again, and you know the offers go up. So it swings back and forth. Lots of things in the music business, I find, kind of swing back and forth. I assume it’s probably the same in the film world.
JA: Now because your back catalogue is valuable to you and you have watched it appreciate somewhat exponentially, have you noticed any difference in the level of sales activity that might or might not be attributable to file sharing or digital downloading, and what do you think the future of the record industry is as it relates to file sharing and downloading?
FB: Well I don’t know what the future is but for a so-called cult artist, or whatever, like myself any publicity that you can get, get it. I think I have the honored distinction or something of being the first kind of published artist to have their music available on the Internet for sale in a download format, and it wasn’t because I had all this vision about the Internet or anything, it was because the company that was putting this together, you know I was the biggest fish that they could find, that was willing to do the deal.
JA: What recording was this exactly?
FB: It would have been a record I was putting out probably five years ago. I’m sure they asked a lot of other artists that were a lot more famous than I am, but either people were afraid to get involved or they couldn’t do it because they were contractually not allowed to get involved in something like a digital download situation, the record contract forbade it. Anyway it was just a fluke that I ended up being the first kind of recorded artist to be selling his music on the Internet, and I only did it because we figured, hey what could it hurt? We’ll get a little write up, we’ll get a blurb in Billboard magazine or something and you know that’s how I got involved, just because someone called and we said yes, and there weren’t really many strings attached. So it worked out well. There is someone with a question.
FB: Well to be honest, I think the reason I am on Spinart records is because my manager gets along very well with the owner of the label, which is a good thing because obviously there are a lot of personalities in the music business, and sometimes people don’t get along and they lock horns, and you know they hang the phone up on each other and all that kind of stuff. I’ve been in that situation too with a record label, and they happen to get along really well so it’s nice when the people that work with you get along with other people and he gets along with them because he is very frank, in his business dealings with us he doesn’t try to hype things up, if he’s got bad news for us he tells us what the bad news is and that’s really what a manager wants to know they want to know the truth so they can deal with it and take the necessary steps. He also likes this record label because their very honest, their royalty statements arrive on time, they don’t do any funny business, and so that’s a valuable thing in a record label whether they are a big label or small label, if they are straight up with their business it just makes your life a lot easier.
JA: Do you find that from an emotional point of view you’re a lot happier on Spinart than you would be on American or Electra again? Just because at least I can get the president of the company on the phone when I want to?
FB: I guess it doesn’t really matter to me what record label I’m on. I don’t really care if they are a small label or a big label. I’m interested in all of these subjects, I ‘m interested in the subject of publishing and the subject of marketing, and all of these things to do with the music business but I do try to stay focused on my art or whatever because that’s the most fun, and that’s sort of what I know how to do, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a manager that I trust and get along with, and I let him deal with all of that stuff. We talk about it, and he informs me, and I feel somewhat informed about the business side of my career but I try not to get too caught up in it because you get depressed basically, and you’re not very good at being creative then. So I just try to enjoy what I’m doing, I guess that’s the advice I give a lot of people who are starting out, what do I do to have a career? How do I get in the business? How do I get a record contract? How do I get a manager or an agent? I think that some people they get so focused on having a career, they forget why we’re doing all of this, because we enjoy it and we love it, and that’s really what you need to stay focused on and the commerce will come, hopefully, and when the commerce comes hopefully you’ll be in the position to hire some people that can deal with that commerce. But until that commerce comes, I don’t know you have to get out there and play, and interact with people, and enjoy it, and that’s really how people make good music. I mean I know that there are hit-makers, and people especially in mainstream pop music that I suppose work in their little factory and they write songs, and it’s about the radio, and about current production values, and all of that, but I think even those people probably when they do what they do the best is when they are in contact with the muse, when they are enjoying it and having fun. That is one thing that I think a lot of people lose perspective, especially when you’re trying to make it, you get frustrated and you want to make it so bad. I mean my background is in shipping and receiving, and I was very glad to get out of that, although I like crushing the boxes and everything I always enjoyed that.
JA: I was the guy who made the boxes when I was in shipping and receiving, okay?
FB: But anyway, I’m blabbing on.
JA: Last few tours that you’ve done with Frank Black and the Catholics, your band, you’ve done them relatively roadie free, is this true and it is completely a do it yourself operation when you guys go out on the road. Now, this is an accurate statement?
FB: Yeah, I mean I could relate it to making records if you want, just because probably a lot of you are more involved in that end of what we are talking about but I guess one thing I learned early on is to never spend more than you know you’re going to make back. I mean it’s the classic story of some young band that gets signed to some label and they spend four hundred thousand dollars making a record, then the record flops and their out, and they never recoup on that record and it’s over. So if you can be focused on your business to that point where we’re probably going to only make this much, so let’s not spend anymore than that, and then if you can break even then everything is great, and it’s the same thing with going out on the road, if you can afford to have people carrying things around for you that’s a wonderful thing but if you cannot let’s face it we all want to get up there on the stage and perform and do our thing, so you downsize you say you know what I don’t really need a guy babysitting my guitar on the side of the stage, I’ll baby-sit my own guitar and you know you say we don’t really need a bus the bus is too expensive, lets’ get a van with a trailer and you kind of DIY and figure out how do we do the gig, how do we get this to happen, how do you bring your overhead down and I guess that’s what it’s all about. I would personally love to have people carrying things around for me all the time but sometimes you can’t do it, and I have to say well are you going to be a musician or are you going to a musician, you know what I mean? What are you going to do about it? You know are you going to sit around and wait to have a big hit or are you just going to do it? So I guess I’ve always kind of done it because I enjoy it.
JA: So the Catholics play clubs and make money because they keep their expenses, within reason, if not at a bare minimum, at a low. You come home from the road with money playing clubs, which is a rarity these days. You do this.
FB: Yeah, sometimes we make money. We try to make money, frequently we do.
JA: And the Pixies reunion is this spring, when it goes out on the road, you are going to play the Coachella festival out in the desert here, and you told me back in the green room that you’re going to do what I see as the Sex Pistols in reverse. Because remember the Sex Pistols when they did the first tour of America they toured through the South and played away from large media centers when they could. The Pixies, you said, are going to play tiny non-media centers in the Northwest. Is this partially the guerrilla effect that you want people to pay more attention because you’re away, or you just want to be underneath the radar and get our shit together?
FB: Yeah, it’s a warm up tour.
JA: Okay. So then you are going to go to Europe after this?
FB: Yeah I suppose that’s where the money is in terms of playing festivals. The wonderful thing about performing in Europe is that the festivals have been going on for so many years, that there is one in every town and every country, and they happen every year at the same time, and it’s culturally just embedded. You know people they got off of school, you know whatever they do in the wintertime, in the summer they take off with their friends and the spend a hundred dollars on a weekend ticket to some festival. So they’re there every year in the same cow field, no matter who is there performing, so if you could manage to get into that part of the performing circuit it can be lucrative. Even for relatively obscure acts because it’s not just the big stages, but there are all kinds of stages to perform at and there is a lot of corporate sponsorship at these festivals, a lot of beer and tobacco basically, and that has made it very lucrative in recent years for a lot of acts.
JA: So do you intend in the near future or maybe next year to do a proper United States tour, maybe a Pixies record with the other three people, like a real new record with new songs and everything?
FB: I suppose, we’re talking about it but right now we’re just trying to remember the old songs.
JA: How are the rehearsals going? How many tunes do you have down so far?
FB: Well we know thirty songs now and I really bombed, I was the songwriter in the band and I was asking my former band mates, and now my new band mates again, how to play my songs. It was kind of embarrassing, but about the second day a lot of muscle memory started to kick in so everything seems to be pretty smooth now.
FB: I suppose some of it came from growing up in LA and having some friends that were Mexican American, and hanging out with them a little bit I suppose. When I was in college I spent some time in San Juan, Puerto Rico going to school there and that’s where I really learned to speak Spanish, not that I’m a great Spanish speaker but I guess that’s where a lot of it comes from. After I left Puerto Rico that’s right when I started my band and it was all kind of fresh in my head, and it all just kind of came out when I first started to write rock songs.
JA: Have you ever thought about writing books? Acting? Doing any ancillary things that musicians sometimes do in down periods?
FB: I guess when I was younger I naively thought, I would say one day I will direct or something like that, but that’s pretty naïve of course. I remember my uncle was making some money with real estate about ten years ago, he was telling me about it, oh I bought this house in Tucson and blah, blah, blah, and I thought gee maybe I should do that maybe I should get involved in buying a house or something and collecting rent on it, sounds interesting. I don’t know why I was interested, it sounds really boring right now, but at the time you know it seemed like a good thing to do and my manager gave me some advice, he said Charles you know you write songs that’s how you make your living that’s what you’re good at, write songs forget about the real estate world. Ever since then I have tried to remember that, and so that’s why I do I write songs, that’s what I do the best probably, other than shipping and receiving, so that’s what I try to keep focused on. I try not to get too caught up on the business side of it, hopefully like I said you have people you could trust that can deal with the business side of it, but if you get too involved in the business side of it, too involved in the career side of it, you really can get depressed, you’re just going to get let down over and over again and you know stop being creative. Anyway I saw someone’s hand going up there.
FB: Well everybody writes songs different ways obviously. A lot of songwriters work in the reverse order that I do, they compose lyrics first and then write music, they’re very focused on the subject matter of the song. I write the opposite way, I tend to write the opposite way, where I can write music first, primarily chord progressions that kind of thing, and then after that I write melodies, and then I work on vocal sounds not even real words, just syllables and constants and what the sort of percussion of language, the rhythm of language, the rhythm of poetry, and before you even write any words you just kind of blah, blah, blah, you just kind of try. For me it’s kind of like a crossword puzzle, then oh gee the guys are coming in to record the album in about two months I got to get my act together and finish these songs that all go blah, blah, blah and I kind of fill in the blanks then and then a song appears. I would like to learn how to write songs the other way, I think I did when I was a young teenager, when I first started to write songs I wrote lyrics first and then music, but I have sort of forgotten how to do that and I can’t do it anymore. But I know other people write like that and they don’t relate to me at all when I tell them I write the music first, they say how can you do that? But everyone does it differently, I don’t keep journals or anything like that, I tend to just do it all in my head until I have to commit something to a piece of paper or a computer screen. I guess I forget a few things but hopefully you remember all of the stuff that’s good, you know anyway some people they document everything, they keep a tape recorder by the side of their bed and everything, but I’m just too unorganized to do that I just have fun and try to remember the best stuff and that’s how I work.
JA: And I can confirm that this is true because before the tour that you did with Tromp Lamone, back in the nineties with the Pixies, you said to me let’s go play for a few days you and me and David Lovering, the drummer, because Kim Neil was out of town, and Joe was out of town and let’s just play so Dave and I can exercise and you can play the bass, and he brought in this riff and we played it over and over and over, it was a really good lick, and I forgot it existed, then your first solo record came out with the song Los Angeles on it and it was that riff. I heard it on KROQ, driving along I go I know this, how do I know this? I never heard it before but I know I know it and it was just you were trying it out you were tuning it up, let’s do it this way let’s do it that way, and that was how it germinated. You know I’ve been in bands, I’ve written songs, I’ve never written a song that way ever, it’s always it just comes out you stamp it out that’s it, but what he says is true I was there.
FB: I saw his hand first before I heard your uttering. Sorry.
FB: well I guess a lot is made about music scenes, you know, and towns that are hot for music. I guess I’m a little bit cynical about that, I mean I think the band that I was in, the Pixies, they started in Boston, where a couple of us had gone to school and there were a lot of universities there and a lot of bars, so there were a lot of places to play, and there were a lot of young people around, and I suppose that was a fertile area for bands to be creative, there was lots of opportunities to go and play. I think that was your impression too probably right?
JA: Sure although I am told now by people that are in Boston today that it’s suffering the same fate that everybody else is, a lot of the bars are closing, and the DJ culture is killing the live music scene, even in a city with three hundred thousand college students, yeah. That’s what they tell me.
FB: I tend to be more of a believer in the individual, and not to rely too much on scenes or cliques. Not to say that people can’t have camaraderie or friendships with other people in their field, but I think that don’t worry about it, I wouldn’t, just live where you can afford to pay your rent and make music and then get out of town as soon as you possibly can and get out there and perform. It’s got nothing to do with, at the end of the day you’re always in some room with fluorescent lights, you know playing music, in some wherehouse or in some recording studio or whatever, and you know it’s got nothing to do with what the weather is like outside, you know you’re just in some industrial space trying to do something good. At least that’s my opinion and I can be convinced otherwise, I know that people are very big believers in scenes and other things, but I don’t know.
JA: Are you a little surprised at the resurgence of interest in the Pixies? That it is always sustained, I mean have you ever thought like gee when is this going to end, but it always exists it always comes back. What do you attribute this to?
FB: I don’t know we made about five records and there was some good stuff on all of them I think, I don’t know if every song I ever wrote was good, I think there was a few dogs in there.
JA: Which, which? Do tell, do tell.
FB: The songs that we’re not rehearsing this week but-
JA: You should run for Congress that was very slippery.
FB: But I’m sorry, I spaced out on that question.
JA: Let me add to it okay? Again I think something from your publicist coming up, that there is a spate of Pixies related reissued items that you can finally get, DVD’S and rarities, do you wonder like why do people care about this stuff so much? I mean I love the Pixies, and I got all your stuff already, but there is even a point where you go where does all this interest come from? Because you’ve thought about it I would assume.
FB: I really don’t. I mean people like the records basically and the records have stayed in print, and people buy them every year, which I’m very happy about. But I think that we really just enjoyed making music and making records and while some of our records have some kind of quirky aspect to them, they kind of have a charming aspect to them, I suppose that’s what I think a lot of people connect with is that there is kind of, without sounding like I’m tooting my own horn too much, they kind of have a charming, likeable quality to them I suppose, and people even though they are kind of oddball sounding records sometimes, I think people like them.
JA: Are the two Frank Black records on Electra still in print as well?
FB: Yeah. I’m really lucky all my records are in print.
FB: With the Pixies? Well we’re just touring now we’re not really going to record probably in the near future. I don’t imagine we’ll record live the two-track because that wasn’t what we did back then. I felt into live, he’s referring to some of the records I made in the last say seven or eight years, have all been recorded live to two track tape, the way they made records back in the 1940’s and 50’s, and we just kind of fell into that accidentally, and discovered that we really enjoyed it. I guess there was kind of a macho aspect to it too, it was sort of like, maybe a lot of our heroes back in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s, jazz musicians people like that, you realize those guys did it live how come I can’t do it live? And then when we did it live it was like oh we’re pretty good, I guess we’re alright, I guess I’m a musician too. So I’ve been kind of stuck on the live things because of my heroes of yesteryear.
FB: All of the above, all of the above. Depends on the song, how well we’ve rehearsed, or how well we nail it, or how bad we mess it up. Sometimes we play a song a hundred times, and sometimes we play it three or four times and that’s it you know.
JA: It’s weird too because some of the looser two-track recordings that I heard on the Oddballs collection, which was the sort of the B sides of a lot of these two track things, it was smoking, it sounded like music from the late sixties where somebody just walked into a room and turned on the mics, and let people just kick out the jams essentially. Is that record commercially available now? The Oddballs collection.
FB: That is the only one that isn’t really in print but I think it’s going to be back in print this summer.
JA: Go get it. Absolutely go get it.
FB: Actually it’s not live stuff, the Oddballs stuff.
JA: I always thought that it was just boom.
FB: It sounds kind of raucous and live but actually that was just before we actually started to record live.
JA: What format did you use?
FB: A lot of that is sixteen track. A lot of so called guitar bands are very fond of analog tape because of the way the drums and the guitars hit magnetic tape and the way that it sounds and it’s kind of for that particular genre of popular music. It just sounds good going down on tape as opposed to- I mean you could do anything with anything there’s no rules, I don’t want to say digital bad analog good, it isn’t really like that but for playing that kind of music I would say a lot of guys in bands like mine tend to prefer analog tape in general.
JA: What is your opinion of the pro tooling of popular music?
FB: I think it’s great because it’s given so many different people from different walks of life the opportunity to make really high quality recordings in their bedroom or wherever. I don’t dabble it in myself because I’m more into recording live and working with analog tape but I certainly don’t have a problem with it, and I think it’s great that so many people have access to it. The only people it’s really bad for are the people that own recording studios, they kind of have really taken a hit you know because they’ve lost a lot of business to people doing home recording, but hey that’s show biz, what are you going to do.
JA: Does anyone have any questions?
FB: We’re not doing it in LA of course because we’re playing this Coachella festival and the Coachella promoters wouldn’t be very happy if we were playing in Pomona or something the night before, so I think the closest gig we’re playing in LA for our warm up tour is Eugene, Oregon.
JA: It’s a very nice city. Are there any questions?
FB: No, no one has really approached me to write songs really but I suppose the reason that there is a poppy element to all of my records, even though they’re not considered mainstream pop music per say, it’s all legit. I don’t know about you, but I listen to all different kinds of music and even though I might play so called alternative rock music or whatever, I listen to everything under the sun and there is a lot of great music. You know a lot of people in my world they think mainstream music is bad and underground alternative music that’s where it’s at, but let’s face it I mean there is just as many crappy avant-garde records as there are crappy mainstream records that’s just a fact. There is two categories of music in the world, there is good music and there is music that you don’t like as much right? That’s it basically and everyone has got their own opinion about what that is, everyone has got their A list and their B list, but there’s good music and there is bad music basically and there’s no rules and it’s all fun.
FB: Of one of my songs?
JA: I never heard of that either.
FB: I mean you know it’s amazing how honored you feel when you get the check in the mail from someone that covers your song, and I’ve had a couple recently different artists covering whole songs of mine, and you know what I mean if you’re working in a warehouse and one day you’re not working in a warehouse, and you get that check for something that you do and that you love it’s a fantastic feeling. So I don’t care how they do my music, please enjoy, and I’m not reducing it to a crass level talking about money but really that’s what it’s all about is freedom to be able to get paid doing what you enjoy doing and not have to work a day job or whatever to be an artist. So when someone covers your music it gives you financial freedom, when someone puts your song in a movie it gives you financial freedom, you don’t have to worry so much about how you’re going to pay your mortgage, or you know you can just say hey I’m going to keep playing music. I don’t have to worry about whether or not I could afford a guitar, I can just go buy a guitar today because I made enough money this year so I’m always very open to having my music in anything, and it’s not because I’m a prostitute with my music or something like that you know it’s because lets’ face it, radio has gotten very tight in the recent years and people relate having their music heard to being played on the radio, but let’s face it there is probably ten songs that get paid on the radio and that’s it. The good news is that there is all these other areas for your music t be heard, I mean I don’t sit around and watch TV to listen to music but for whatever the reason these ad execs feel like it’s a good thing to have this music there, so that’s an opportunity for you to get paid for your music. It’s not like the ideal situation for your music to be heard but who cares? You want to be making music you don’t want to be like shipping and receiving.
JA: The following statement, your opinion of, when I was writing Smells Like Teen Spirit I was ripping off the Pixies, you undoubtedly heard that before. I got it in the press release from your publicist, so what do you think of that?
FB: He’s referring to a compliment that another band paid my band, this band called Nirvana, they had a big hit with one of their songs, and they said it was a Pixies rip off and anyway that was very nice of them to say that. I feel flattered but they were just paying me a compliment and I would be delighted as anyone would to say I’m no good, I’m just stealing from somebody else. He’s just being humble.
JA: Did you have any kind of relationship with the late singer of Nirvana at all?
FB: I never met him although I read in a book once that he squirted me with a fire extinguisher backstage somewhere but I don’t remember it so, I was straight as an arrow, I don’t know it’s amazing the stuff that people make up about you. No I never met him.
JA: How do you feel about the David Bowie cover of Cactus?
FB: Well I went and saw him perform it the other night, that’s all I could do to kind of contain myself. You know I just had to kind of sit there. Yeah it was fantastic.
JA: If you could pick anybody that somebody decided to do a tribute to the work of Frank Black of Black Francis, somebody to do a whole record of your stuff who would it be? Your favorite artist that it would be the ultimate tribute to you that they would pick twelve to fifteen of your tunes and make a record like that who would that be?
FB: Well I guess it would be someone that has a talent for doing cover songs. I don’t know if any of you are songwriters or recording artists but I certainly have butchered a lot of songs written by other people and I have found it to be very difficult to sing other people’s songs, especially songs that are already published, that people already have a reference point you know. There are certain artists you know that do a great job of doing other people’s music, David Bowie you mentioned has done a lot of cover songs in his career, and frankly they are all really good version of other people’s music. Of course there are great singers who pretty much exclusively do other people’s music, who are very good at doing covers. I would probably say, you know who is really good at doing that is Tom Jones actually, and he does a lot of great cover version of all different genres, all different types of pop music. I’ve seen him perform you know seven or eight times, he puts on a great show whether he’s doing a song by Prince, or a song by Wolfgang Press, or whether he’s doing a song by some singer/songwriter team from the London late 1960’s. So I’ll have Tom Jones do my record.
JA: In your mind what song would Tom be singing right now of yours? Can you hear it, what can you see?
FB: Let me see, what would be appropriate. I got kind of a sexy song, I can’t even do the song because it seems silly it seems stupid, a song called Hey, but I guess some people think it’s kind of a sexy song so I guess Tom would be able to do that one justice.
JA: I would have thought Headache but that’s just me. Yes sir?
(Tape turns over)
FB: …do it my own way. That’s one of the reasons why I like that song, I guess another reason I like it is because it’s got a little bit of a Stones-y vibe when the verses kick in I guess is what it is. I guess my favorite song from the Frank Black stuff, I don’t know let me think about it, you know I like a song from my last record called Horrible Day, and I guess too because I started off playing kind of quirky music, quirky lyrics, a lot of abstract lyric writing, and it’s very hard to do music that’s more middle-of-the-road or traditional I think, I mean it’s easy to do it and do a bad job but you know when you hear a Roy Orbison song on the radio, Pretty Woman, so many other people could pursue that same lyric and just kind of destroy it so I’ve become more open to kind of pursuing more middle-of-the-road songs and traditional lyrics, and Horrible Day is an example of my trying to be like that a little bit and hopefully getting away with it.
JA: Now do you do any self-censoring as a songwriter? Years ago I remember we went to get food at that Uptown Taco R.I.P, great place that you turned me onto out in Cahuenga Pass, and they played oldies in this place and Summer in the City by the Lovin’ Spoonful came on, and you heard John Sebastian go in the summer in the city, and you were like oh shit that’s in my new song that summer in the city. Do you ever recognize this after you’ve written a song and go, oh I can’t do that now and go like Oh my God it comes from something else?
FB: Yeah, I mean every once in awhile, I don’t worry about it too much usually it’s really obvious if it’s something you shouldn’t pursue you know, and I think if it just reminds you of something then I think it’s okay. I don’t worry about that too much, you are going to know if you’re stealing something from someone directly.
JA: Has your stuff been sampled and looped much?
FB: It has, I don’t know if it has been much, but sure it’s been sampled.
JA: Where would we find a popular recording with a Pixies or Frank Black loop or sample in it?
FB: I don’t know really but I know that it has.
JA: Our minds were poisoned by being in the panel before this one. Sampling and Looping was a big issue of discussion if you got here a little late. Yes?
FB: Well not to sound like a broken record here but I really enjoy it and I like to have fun, and I have a lot of fun playing the guitar, singing, and getting into a room with a bunch of people and making a big racket you know what I mean? Sometimes I go play shows by myself, just me and a guitar, but after I do a couple of shows like that I really miss being around a drummer, I really like being around drums and I think it goes back to when I was a little kid there was a guy across the street who used to play his drums down in the basement, I didn’t even know what a drum set was, and I used to go look at this drum set in the window and wonder what it was all about, a big racket coming out of there everyday, and all I knew was that I wanted to be around that, and ever since then I think that’s what it comes down to is something as simple as being around something like drums and I love being around drums. My first instrument was drums, I’m not a very good drummer but anyway I got out of the drums but I’m still around it and drums are fun.
JA: Who was your favorite guitar player? Because you are a guitar player primarily, who is your favorite guitar player?
FB: My favorite guitar player? I suppose I really like the guitar stylings of Neil Young a lot.
JA: Fair enough. Sir?
FB: Well I think the music that really inspires you doesn’t mean you are going to end up sounding like that. I mean you know you hear some great piece of music and it puts you in a good mood and then you go make music, and you don’t necessarily end up sounding like that, so there is a difference between being influenced and being inspired by something, and I guess I’m influenced by some records on one hand and on the other I’m inspired by others, and I don’t really try to analyze it too much. I don’t want to know kind of, I’m afraid that I’m going to mess it up or something.
FB: I don’t do a lot of tunings no. So I usually use traditional guitar tunings, you know pretty basic stuff.
FB: We’ll see, you know we haven’t really made any preparations; we’re just assuming everything is going to be fine. So I hope I’m not being naïve but we’ve just haven’t really talked about it, we’re just like hi how are you doing it’s been a long time yeah? What song should we start with? It’s been fine. We actually got along pretty good when we were together, I think we were tired and needed to take ten years off from each other.
JA: He says that, however I was relating the story of seeing the Black Flag reunion at the Palladium to Joey Santiago awhile ago, and I said oh man it was awful, it was so terrible, and he started turning green like Uh-Oh. He said did people hate them? I said I think by the end of it pretty much everybody hated them and he was like Oh No…
FB: He’s talking about my guitar player.
JA: Joey Santiago. I said, dude, it wasn’t the same four people. They presented it the wrong way, I said you guys are going to be fine and he said Oh Thank God. Because it’s when you come back it’s somewhat unnerving in some ways don’t you think like are they still going to love me, or what’s going to happen? Do you have any like, gee this is a little unnerving, that hasn’t crossed your mind?
FB: Only in the dream state. You know when you have the dream that you didn’t study or you didn’t do your homework the night before, and you’re there in class the next day and you’re totally blowing it. I’ve had that dream the last twelve years about my old band, I show up and there is not to many people at the gig, and I don’t remember the songs, and people start to walk out in the back of the room, and it all kind of falls apart. I’ve had that dream a lot, so it’s just a dream though right? It’s just a dream, a bad dream, I’m not going to worry about it, I’m not even thinking about it.
FB: Oh thanks.
JA: It’s too bad Joey isn’t here he’d be like Whew. What exactly caused the band to split up back in 1992?
FB: I suppose just my own personal unhappiness, my own depression or whatever, and I needed to. You know you work your job down at McDonald’s or wherever you work and you know you meet some people, and some of them are nice and some of them aren’t nice, and you don’t necessarily want to spend the rest of your life with them, and so after four or five years to start to kind of go, I’m going to go make French fries with somebody else and see what that’s all about, and so you just do that. I don’t mean to sound like I’m speaking ill of my former band mates, I think it’s just you get bored. You know people talk about being in a band like being married, I don’t know if it’s quite like that but it’s more like being in the navy together, those buses are like submarines and you’re just kind of like under the ice all the time heading to the next town. It’s claustrophobic you know, and so I don’t even think it necessarily has to do with the personalities not mixing, it’s just the constant exposure to each other that you just burn out, and you have to run away. I guess some bands they are able to do it years and years without taking a break from each other and touché, but anyway everything has been going fine this week, so there hasn’t been any fistfights or anything.
FB: Well you know there’s the old goose bump test you know, and there’s the welling of tears in yours eyes of course. There’s lots of things that whatever makes you excited you know, that’s how I define it I guess, if I start t get kind of excited you know you get moved, that’s the expression it moves me. Whatever moves you I guess then it’s good.
JA: It’s funny too because the old band leader Mitch Miller, of Sing Along with Mitch days, used to say that a good song was one that it was like an itch that gets scratched and it’s like an itch that gets scratched over and over and over again, that you never get tired of scratching that itch from hearing something for whatever reason. It’s an itch scratching.
FB: The great thing about music is you know, I ask the same question, what is the ultimate pop song? What’s the perfect thing? And you hear some example of that perhaps and you go wow, that’s what it is, that’s the ultimate right there, that’s the goal what that guy did right there, that is it, I am so moved by that, that is the perfect pop music, and then you hear something that is a 180 degree opposite, totally not what that is about, and you’re just as moved by that, and you’re like oh that blows that theory out of the water. There are no rules, and that’s the great thing about music, and I suppose any art form, is that there aren’t any rules really.
JA: What are the last three records you bought?
FB: I bought a Kinky Freedman record, and let’s see what else did I buy? I don’t know, I just remember the Kinky Freedman right now, who is a Texas songwriter guy and mystery novelist.
JA: And purveyor of novelty songs. Yes m’am?
FB: Yeah just like little kids do when they want to hear the same thing over and over again, or watch the same little cartoon over and over again. That’s how it is for me, over and over again.
Just songs, you know people say what’s the best album you ever heard, or what’s your favorite album, or what’s your favorite album you ever made, and sure there are great albums that are great from beginning to end but really the experience that we are talking about here, the entity is the song, whatever that is, that lasts two to five minutes or whatever it is, and that’s the experience, it starts here and all this stuff happens and it ends here, and we all experience it like that, we here it coming out of the PA or whatever and we say what’s this song? Or I love this song, or I never heard this before, and that’s what the focus is all about, and I think even the song supercedes the artist. I mean how many times have you heard something you really liked and you don’t know who it is, you just like it, you just hope that the disc jockey is going to tell you who it was after the song finishes so that you could maybe go buy the record right? Yeah, so I think the song is the all powerful entity, in my opinion, bigger than albums, bigger than the artists themselves.
JA: Do you ever as a songwriter, are there any songs in the pantheon of your psyche, that you say to yourself when you hear it or when you think about it, I wish I had written that song, I wish my name was on that thing, that’s a song? Off the top of your head can you name any?
FB: Well sure, I recently became obsessed with a song called Dark End of The Street.
JA: By James Carr?
FB: By Dan Pen and Spoonerolum, they were guys that did a lot of the stack sessions back in Alabama in the sixties, and there’s a song, I know the version by Grand Parsons, but I think it was a big hit by a country artist.
JA: A soul guy by the name of James Carr in Memphis I think.
FB: Alright. Well, anyway that’s a pretty great song that I’ve been kind of fond of lately. I wish I had written that.
FB: The only thing that has changed is the way that Starbucks has affected our lives and it’s sort of like what do you get when you go to Starbucks? We’re all like looking at our foamy cup things and we all show up and we all have the Starbucks cup, what did you get? It’s amazing how anticlimactic it was after all the build up to it, and then when you finally show up you go, oh hey how’s it going? What songs should we start with? Nothing changed at all, it all feels exactly the same.
It feels exactly the same, nothing feels different at all.
FB: Yeah, I like making videos, I don’t really make them anymore. My manager says, Charles if you want to make a video we could take that money from the video budget and throw it out the window, and it will do just as much good for your career. So we’ve stopped making videos because the opportunities for video promotions for an artist, at least in my world, are almost nill, so you know we don’t really bother because it costs so much money to make, but I really like making them. I feel like I’m a movie actor or something, you know there’s catering there, and people asking and making sure that I’m alright and everything, it’s great. I made a video about ten years ago for a song called Los Angeles and I always wanted to ride around in one of these hovercrafts you know, and a friend of mine was directing it, and he said well what do you want to do with the video, and I said get me a hovercraft. So he said alright I’ll get you a hovercraft, and we went out to the desert near the Salton Sea, and you know I rode around on a hovercraft with a guitar strapped on my back, and you know it was great.
JA: Now you know the Pixies videos are all going to be on a DVD that is available for sale right? Because it was a rare day indeed when MTV would air those things, even on 120 minutes, they were a rarity, and now people will be able to get them? Was it hard to secure the licenses for these videos? Who owns a musicians video after it’s made?
FB: Well it all depends on what sort of deal you made, with whoever you made it with, every kind of deal under the sun has been made. So in the case of the Pixies, those videos are owned by our former record company, 4 AD Records.
JA: And what is your relationship with them as we speak?
FB: Very good. Their checks arrive usually a little bit late, they need to be reminded, like a lot of record companies you need to kind of call them and call them in a friendly sort of way, and then they eventually pay, but other than that they’re fine and we get along with them just fine.
JA: We have time for one more question, sir?
FB: Well I mean I’m not against learning about the business or marketing yourself, or finding tools that you can use, especially in this sort of fractured Internet world, where there is all these people carving out these small niches out for themselves you know? My only point about being focused on the music is just I guess a more emotional thing where you get so caught up in the business side of it, you get so caught up in how do I have a career in music that that’s when people don’t make good music, I think, and it’s better to just say it doesn’t matter if I have success or not, it doesn’t matter if I have a career in music or not, I am going to do this because I enjoy it period. No one deserves success, you get what you get, that’s showbiz and I think if you’re good, and you remain focused on your music then the blessings will come after, and just don’t be in a rush, and just relax and enjoy, and hopefully other people will enjoy what you do.
JA: Very quickly because we got the cut sign.
FB: I would say as a patron, you know patronize the artists you think are telling you what you want to be told, and do them the favor, and buy their record, and go to their gig, and by a t -shirt, and do whatever you can to patronize them. I know I patronize other artists and I know that they appreciate it, even thought they don’t know who I am, you know they get their checks in the mail, whether they get a check for five hundred bucks or whether they get a check for five hundred thousand dollars, I know they all appreciate it because everyone starts somewhere. I just say patronize the ones that you think are cool you know.
JA: Don’t download. Downloading is death. One final question,.
FB: Yes, the original line-up. We start our warm up tour in Canada in the middle of April. No just for a couple of weeks of shows and then we are going to Europe. No, we might in the fall, later in the year. Sure I like Albuquerque, they have good food in Albuquerque.
FB: I don’t know. I’m a snake, I don’t know if you are familiar with Chinese Zodiac, but I’m down in the ground. I can’t really look to far ahead, I’m just kind of feeling my way, so I don’t really know.
JA: Anyway thanks for your time. We appreciate it.
FB: Thanks a lot. Thanks Johnny.