After 23 years without releasing any new music, the Pixies are on a tear these days.
Demand for the iconic alternative rock group to play live has been strong since it reunited in 2004 reunion. But throughout that time, frontman Black Francis says he was "on the sidelines going, 'Come on you guys! Come on, Mr. Manager! When are we gonna go cut a record again? When are we gonna hang out in the recording studio?" It finally happened during the latter part of 2012, the fruits being a pair of self-released EPs -- "EP1" in September, "EP2" in January -- which have given fans eight new songs recorded in Wales with Gil Norton, who produced landmark Pixies albums such as 1989's "Doolittle," "1990's "Bossanova" and 1991's "Trompe le Monde."
"It took a little while to organize," Black Francis, 48 -- aka Frank Black, real name Charles Thompson -- acknowledges. "One of the problems is there's been a lot of demand on the concert circuit for the band to perform. 'You want to perform your 'Doolittle' record?' Great! 'Old hits!' Great! 'Jam out?' Great! We don't care.
"There's just been a lot of demand, and when there's a lot of demand to go perform for, like, a lot of money, it's easy to kind of defer stuff. We don't HAVE to record new music now. If we had gotten the call earlier and someone would've said, 'If you want this to continue, you have to make some new music,' we would've said 'OK' and done it.
"But that wasn't the case. We only recently got those messages the last couple of years."
Even then, Black Francis says, there were complications getting the rest of the band -- including guitarist Joey Santiago, drummer David Lovering and bassist Kim Deal, who officially left the group last June -- on the same page for recording. "There were failed sessions," he recalls. "There were sessions we did without Kim Deal. There was a failed rehearsal of new music that happened a couple years ago with all four of us. There were times of out-and-out refusal by one member to participate in any kind of new endeavor.
"There were a lot of interpersonal dramas and everything. It was just hard to get it together."
And of course, he adds, there was also the pressure of adding material to one of rock's most critically acclaimed catalogs, which weighed heavily on Black Francis as the group's chief songwriter.
"Just calm down, write some good songs and put some effort into it and dig deep -- that's definitely the message I was getting from the band and Gil Norton," Black Francis says. "It was, 'Look, everything you do is interesting Charles. No one is questioning your ability. But we haven't made a record in 20 years, so you've got to dig deep here and coming up with something really good.'
"So that's what I tried to do."
Norton, according to Black Francis, was instrumental in helping pick through the "25 or 30 ideas" he came up with and determine what worked -- and sending him back to the drawing board when more was needed. It also took a minute for he, Santiago and Lovering to figure out how to work without Deal, whose departure was "a disappointment, not a surprise. She's always been the most reticent about things."
"There's a chemistry now that remains between the three of us," Black Francis says. "Some of it's the same because it's a carry-over from the past, but some of it's new because certain things come out more, musical and otherwise.
"But it's not like, 'Oh, the one person is gone and our problems are over.' There's all this other (stuff) the three of us still contribute to problem-making. It's not three easygoing guys, under control. Now there's three...weirdos left in the room instead of four. We're eccentric musicians, what can I say?"
The Pixies, of course, have always been able to turn eccentricity into exactly what its fans want. The two EPs have been well-received, and Black Francis indicates more from the sessions will surface in time. Meanwhile, the new material is spicing up this year's shows, with Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle, Zwan) now on bass after a brief run with Kim Shattuck (the Muds, the Pandoras) for European dates in 2013.
"I've never been an expectations kind of guy," Black Francis says. "At the end of the day, I think Joey and I and David, we don't have a lot of hangups about playing shows and playing new music. We just want to be musicians and make music and play shows. We don't want to analyze it too much. We're a little less afraid now of blowing it, or failing. We're like, 'Whatever, man...,' and everything else is minor."
The Pixies and Cults perform Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $39.50-$59.50. Call 313-961-5450 or visit www.livenation.com.
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