In this month’s column Martin Cooper looks at the style of alt-indie heroes, The Pixies – those misfits who influenced a generation of musicians.
Influential alt-indie heroes The Pixies get the Martin Cooper treatment this month with a look at Black Francis and Joey Santiago.
The Pixies formed in 1986 in Boston, with Black Francis on rhythm and vocals, Joey Santiago on lead, drummer David Lovering and bassist Kim Deal. Francis and Santiago met at University where they wrote and rehearsed in between studies.
Their styles ranged from hard rock to surf and psychedelic. Although they weren’t a huge commercial success during their initial career, they were highly influential on bands such as Nirvana, Radiohead and Bush.
Francis discovered punk after a childhood listening to classic 60s pop and early prog such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer. He says The Beatles’ White Album was a big influence, and that he took his knack for writing short, snappy songs from Buddy Holly. Guitarist Santiago cites Hendrix, Wes Montgomery and George Harrison as influences. The band deliberately advertised for a female bass player and Deal was the only one to respond.
The Pixies were noticed by producer Gary Smith while playing support to Throwing Muses. Their demo took three days, contained 17 songs and cost a paltry $1,000 to record. The Pixies signed with indie label 4AD in 1987 and their first mini-album Come On Pilgrim included eight of the previous songs. The legendary Steve Albini produced the follow-up, Surfer Rosa, which was particularly well received in Europe where it won Melody Maker’s Album Of The Year. After touring the album they recorded a follow-up with a bigger budget and producer Gil Norton at the helm. They also opened for U2 on their groundbreaking Zoo TV tour. The band took a lengthy hiatus in the early 1990s, returning in 2004 to play sold-out tours.
We’re in the key of C (C-D-E-F-G-A-B), but with several notes and chords outside the key. In fact, there is a real ‘major meets minor’ feel,
Bb Eb due to the and major chords, for
Eb- Ab-Bb). instance, from C minor (C-D- F-G-
There is no solo as such, but the parts are melodic and play to the needs of the tune. The tried and trusted ‘quiet-loud’ formula may be a cliché now, but The Pixies were a huge influence on Nirvana where this approach came to the fore. The chords on the notation over the octaves at the end are there as a guide to the over-arching harmony.
NEXT MONTH Martin tackles the technique and feel of The Winery Dogs’ Richie Kotzen
I co uld ne ver get over the fact that The Pixie s formed , worked and separated wit hout America taking them to it s heart
Joey Santiago and Black Francis on electric and acoustic guitars