A chat with Pixies’ guitarist as ‘Doolittle’ turns 25
The Pixies didn’t get to experience the fabled rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle back in the 1980s when they were releasing highly influential albums like Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. The acknowledgement of their work didn’t start really start to stick with the general public until well into the new millennium. By that time, everyone had already found successes elsewhere in life with jobs scoring movies and playing in other successful bands. In 2004, however, the Pixies reunited for a tour. They’ve been together ever since, even releasing a great new album this year, entitled Indie Cindy.
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the release of their third album, Doolittle. To celebrate, the band is re-releasing the record, along with a collection of alternate takes, radio appearances, and a couple of little surprises. This will be available on Dec. 2. Recently, Graffiti had the opportunity to speak with Pixies’ innovative guitarist Joey Santiago about this new collection, the original album, and some other thing that came up along the way.
Graffiti: What prompted you guys to re-release this album in such a grand way, other than the fact that it is obviously 25 years old now?
Santiago:?You know what? I didn’t know it was grand. I haven’t even seen it yet (laughs).
Santiago:?Oh yeah, I’m serious (laughs).
Graffiti: So you haven’t heard the material that is included on it yet? I mean, obviously you’ve heard the songs because you’re on them
Santiago:?I don’t have a surround studio. I know someone that does so I’ll go and listen to it there.
Graffiti: OK, let’s go back to when the Pixies recorded Doolittle. What kind of headspace was everybody in at that time?
Santiago:?We were just really ready to record the album because we’d been playing those songs live. At that time we were like, ‘What? Someone wants to record our album? Yeah, let’s do it!’ So in our heads it was just like, ‘OK, we’ve got these songs so let’s do them.’
Graffiti: When the band was in the studio recording these songs, were there a lot of takes of the songs because of, say, any disagreements or situations where people might’ve been on different pages, as far as the nature of the music went?
Santiago:?We were definitely on the same page. (Producer) Gil (Norton) kind of un-country-fied ‘Here Comes Your Man,’ and we were like, ‘What the hell, why are you doing that?’ But then we heard it and were kind of like, ‘Oh, OK. I see now. It really works.’
Graffiti: I’m glad that you mentioned that song because I’ve read many times that song isn’t a particular favorite amongst the band.
Santiago:?No, it’s not. At the time we were invited to all of these TV shows. We turned down Arsenio Hall, which was a big deal back then. But we just didn’t want to be associated with that song because, let’s face it, we’re just not that kind of band.
Graffiti: I can see your point there, but that song is a catchy little pop song and it sticks out. It’s not like the proverbial sore thumb, but it’s different than cuts like ‘Wave of Mutilation,’ ‘Debaser’ or ‘Dead’. And that seems like a ‘Pixies’ kind of thing in that it is different and rather unexpected. But what else happened while you were recording this record? Did anything bizarre happen that completely changed the way the album came out? Anything at all?
Santiago:?It would probably be when we were recording ‘Hey,’ that was one take. (Frontman) Charles (‘Black Francis’ Thompson) was in a broom closet and the three of us were together. I don’t know. We just nailed it, you know? The feel of it … the feel of that song is awesome. There’s no template to it. It just had a great feel when we were recording it.
Graffiti: It obviously turned out exceptionally well.
Santiago:?Yeah. I mean, I think that we did that in that one take.
Graffiti: How often does that happen with you guys?
Santiago:?(Laughs) That was the only time.
Graffiti: When the band entered the studio to record Doolittle, was there already a plan in place for how the songs would be recorded and arranged, or did you just go in and let it go? I’ve read that the label wanted a hit single from this one. Is that even the case? Was that a goal with Doolittle?
Santiago:?Um, you know, I wasn’t aware of that, if it was said. I mean, maybe they did, but I don’t really remember that being the case. If they did, I’m sure we ignored it (laughs).
Graffiti: What was the band trying to accomplish with Doolittle?
Santiago:?Oh, well, nothing in particular. When we went in the studio we wanted it to be dry. No reverb, no delay, we were just conscious of the sound. Yeah, that’s really the only thing that we were really aware of.
Graffiti: You mention the lack of effects in the music, but there are those moments, like with ‘Dead’ – the main guitar sound that reads like a disjointed cry. You do all of those effects with your hand and nothing else. Were those moments improvised once in the studio?
Santiago:?No, that was already set in stone. I just emulated Bernard Herrmann in the ‘Psycho’ theme. That’s where that came from.
Graffiti: Was Doolittle supposed to be this defining moment that it turned out to be, for the Pixies?
Santiago:?It was really just another record. We just went in there, had material and recorded it. You can’t really predict that stuff. I think that everybody goes in saying, ‘Hey man, this is going to be awesome!’
Graffiti: Stories about albums like this seem to be made up by the romantics in the world. They want to believe that you went in the studio knowing what you had and knowing that it could very well be this defining moment that lasts through the ages. But you just wanted to make a record.
Santiago:?(Laughs) Oh yeah. That’s it. That’s really all we did.
Graffiti: Unfortunately, so many musicians look back at these records that are great in their own right, and lament about what they could’ve done here or there, or what would’ve sounded great in one spot or another. Do you ever suffer from those kind of hindsight ‘could’ve, would’ve, should’ve’ moments with Doolittle, or any other Pixies record, for that matter?
Santiago:?Oh, no. All of that stuff is well rehearsed. Some of it came up spontaneously, but you know, it just is the way it is. When you finally commit it to tape, you’ve gotta love it.
Graffiti: There are some song titles on the Doolittle 25 collection that aren’t on the original pressings of the album. Were there any songs that were recorded and just didn’t make it? Maybe a song started off with one title and ended up with another?
Santiago:?You know, come to think of it, there was this one song that Gil wasn’t particularly fond of. I don’t think that we ended up even recording it, though. I totally forgot what that was …yeah, I can’t even remember (laughs).
Graffiti: What was the morale like within the ranks of the band by the time you recorded Doolittle? It’s obviously well-documented that tensions would ultimately build within the band, but had it started at this point?
Santiago:?Oh, no. Not at all.
Graffiti: So it was still a cohesive unit at this point?
Santiago:?Yeah. There was nothing at all like that at that point. We were all getting along really well. We mixed it at this house, it was a residency house. Gil cooked us meals, and we all really liked it. We really liked hanging out with each other, and all that stuff.
Graffiti: Why do you think that this record has the timeless feel and all of the influence that it still has?
Santiago:?We were really just trying to take the chance to not sound like anyone else. To this day, when someone comes up to me and says something about whatever guys really sound like this, I’m like, ‘well, I’m not gonna listen to that shit, then!’ (laughs).
Graffiti: So, after you guys have done all of the interviews for this really cool version of Doolittle, what does the band have planned to do?
Santiago:?Take a break! (laughs). We’re going to have to put some songs together, maybe in January.