'If You Love What You're Doing, Don't F--- It Up': The Pixies' David Lovering on Making Reunions Work
With reformed versions of Guns N' Roses and LCD Soundsystem headlining Coachella and embarking on subsequent reunion tours, the bands could learn a think or two about staying together for the long run from The Pixies. After frontman Black Francis broke up the seven-year-old band by fax, the Boston alt-rockers (Francis, born Charles Thompson IV; bassist Kim Deal, guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering) reunited in 2004 to play Coachella, helping to make the festival a platform for high-profile reunions.
Twelve years later, The Pixies remain together, touring, and, unlike most reunited bands that essentially become nostalgia acts, recording and releasing new material: In 2014, the group put out Indie Cindy, its first full-length record since 1991's Trompe le Monde. Those songs did not feature the participation of Pixies co-founder Deal, who abruptly left the band in 2013, leaving its remaining members questioning whether to continue. Lovering, who spoke to Billboard about The Pixies reunion and creative rebirth, says Deal's departure was "equally devastating" as the band's initial break-up but the decision was made to continue. Kim Shattuck, of The Muffs was initially brought on to replace Deal, but she has since been replaced by Paz Lenchantin.
Lovering talked to Billboard about The Pixies recording new material for a future release and how the band has matured in ways that keep it cohesive and creative.
What went into the decision to reunite?
This was something that was the farthest from anyone's mind. I never would have dreamed we'd ever get back together, considering everything.
Why did you think it would never happen?
When we broke up, that was it -- it was over and done. I had resigned myself to the fact that we would never reunite. Even when I was playing after the break-up -- I played with Cracker and did some other gigs -- nothing could top The Pixies. So I finally just gave up drums pretty much altogether.
How did the 2004 reunion go down?
Charles was doing his [Frank Black] solo stuff. He made a joke, from what I understand, on BBC Radio or something, that we were getting back together. That caused a little hoo-ha. The idea just spawned from that. It took about a month or so to get everyone onboard -- then, boom, we were reuniting. When we got together for the first time in a room, it was 12 years or so since we did anything and [it was like] time had not changed. We could play the songs -- it was almost like muscle memory. It was a good thing.
Do you remember the first song you played when you got back together again?
It might have been "Monkey Gone to Heaven." That's a pretty easy one to knock out. No one can be embarrassed when you play that one.
What happened after Charles made the comment on the radio about the band getting back together?
Charles contacted Joe [Santiago] and put the question to Joe. Then Joe contacted Kim and contacted me as well. It spread through phone conversations. That was it. Everyone said yeah and we went forward from there.
Had you guys stayed in touch after the band had split?
I'd been in touch with everyone because I became a magician. Charles once saw my magic act, so I opened up for Frank Black and that’s how we reconnected. With Kim, it was the same thing. I had seen Kim around town and this and that. Then she saw my magic act. That was the connection with me getting back with those two, and I knew Joe.
What's it like going from playing in The Pixies to performing as a magician? That sounds wild.
Yeah. You've heard the terminology the starving musician? It's the dying magician. It's not the greatest career choice. It was fun though. I had a stage show and I opened up for a lot of rock bands, and I took it all around to Europe and the United States. It was pretty easy to make the change: “Musician” and “magician” are just a couple letters off.
Do you still perform magic?
I've taken down the stage show because The Pixies have been so busy lately. We've been recording for the last year, trying to put stuff together. We don't have a [record release] time or a date, but we’re working on it.
At the time you decided to reunite, did you have an offer from a festival?
For years we’d had offers to reunite and do festivals. That'd always been on the table. When we eventually did, we had agents who then fielded everything. The first gig we did was in Minneapolis -- it was a warm-up gig, at a tiny [club] called The Fine Line. People were there and going nuts. It was a nice kick in the pants: “Wow, people still like us and [will] come to see us.” The next gig was Coachella in 2004 and that was a surreal experience. That’s etched in my mind because we were playing for kids who weren’t even born when we put out our records and the entire audience knew every word to every song. That was new to me. I didn’t know what was going on. It was, “Are you kidding me? This is crazy.”
What caused that exponential growth in popularity?
What we [later] realized was all the bands we influenced had talked about The Pixies. People looked back, searching through music, and found us. We were a band supposedly that U2, Bowie, Radiohead, Weezer, talked about. Nirvana as well -- Nirvana were the big ones to blame for what happened to us. There was a mystique that grew about the band. Then, when we got together, the opportunity was there for everyone to see us.
Did the paycheck factor into the reunion? Were there fights when you guys reunited, in terms of distribution of the money?
No, it was all the same. The majority of the money you make nowadays is from touring and merchandise, unless you're Rihanna. It wasn’t a money factor [that convinced us to reunite], but it was surprising to notice the jump that we made coming back and going to a new level.
Right. So when you guys play live, do you divide the paycheck up equally?
Yes. Live and merchandising, we’re all doing equal work. Except, I should be paid double because I’m doing most of the work. [Laughs]
What prompted The Pixies, reformed, to make a new record?
Seven years after we reunited became a really important time because we realized, at that point, we’re going on our coattails of our past efforts -- longer than we were initially a band in the first place. That was very eye-opening, and it made everyone on edge: We're selling out shows, we're doing fantastic, but we're doing nothing new. Being a little older and everything, I think we were playing better than ever, and it gave us confidence that sure, we can do another album.
When Kim decided to leave in 2013, did you guys have another discussion about whether to go on?
That was heavy. Besides the first breakup, which was devastating, this was equally devastating. We were in the studio recording Indie Cindy. We were all in England, we had done probably about eight songs. Kim just says, "I'm leaving, I'm done." We were in shock. We were floored by it. All we could do was wish her well. This was her decision. All we could do was ask her and plead with her, “Please, come on, Kim.” Like that. That was a decision she made and she left. For about a day, we were plotting and figuring out what to do: “We're done”; “No, we're not.” We just decided we’d come this far, we had eight songs done -- why not just forge ahead? We just went straight ahead, finished Indie Cindy and took it from there.
Wow. Did she ever give you any explanation? Did she just say, "That's it, I'm out of here?" How did she break this to you guys?
We were in Wales, where Rockfield Studios was. It was a weekend or something -- we had the night off. Kim went, "Let's all go out to eat." We all went to an Indian restaurant. At the end, Kim takes out her credit card and pays for the meal. We didn't think of anything at that point. We were just like, “That's nice, we always share [the bill and put it on The] Pixies' credit card.” But she paid for it. The next day, at a coffee shop, she broke the news. When you look back, that was her last meal with us -- that's why she paid for dinner. It was a shock. Again, with Kim, I had known for her for years and years. I can't… Whatever her reasoning, it doesn't matter. Whether she didn't like the music, or felt she didn't want to go on -- there's nothing we can do about it and we just wish her well.
This year, Coachella has hosted the reunions of LCD Soundsystem and Guns N’ Roses. Having been through this, what advice would you give to these guys?
With The Pixies, all I can say is this: We're a lot different than we were when we were younger -- we're older and wiser. When I say “older and wiser,” that just means that you're willing to put up with the bullshit a little more than you were when you were a younger kid. Not many people change that much. But I’ve got to say [with The Pixies], this is the best we've ever been. It's incredible where we're at, as far as being friends and hanging out and being honest. It is wonderful without any walking on eggshells. But it's tough. We did it all. It's such an opportunity. If you love what you're doing, don't fuck it up.