Some people dread reunions.
It would be easy to assume that about Charles Thompson -- the charismatic Pixies front man who shrieked and howled under the name Black Francis before launching a successful solo career as Frank Black, his current moniker -- who is infamous for being a grouch.
Interviewing a grumpy rock star is torture. Among music journalists, word spreads fast about who the most easily irritated subjects are. Sometimes a flaming burnout of a discussion even becomes the story itself. (Remember Terry Gross's infamous interview with Gene Simmons on NPR?)
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But on this occasion, Thompson is quickly proving that his reputation is unearned, or at least a little outdated. Today, he's surprisingly laid-back during his first day of press interviews for the recently reunited Pixies's North American tour, even though it's 9:00 a.m. and he's doing his third interview this morning. Down-to-earth. Humble. And even -- dare we say? -- kind of funny. Life is good. For now, he obviously just enjoys being a Pixie.
Indeed, the world isn't what it used to be. Since guitarist Thompson, bassist Kim Deal, guitarist Joey Santiago, and drummer David Lovering got their start together in Boston in 1986, their fans have multiplied by a generation. Demand for Pixies concert tickets is so steep that new dates were recently added to the three-and-a-half month tour. And the band finally gave in and flew to Japan for the first time. It was a brief, two-nights-and-turn-around trip that they never would have considered before, Thompson explains.
"So here I am, older, maybe less arrogant, doing the same thing, you know," he says before launching into a mock-dopey voice. "öOkay, sure, fine, whatever you say -- whatever I have to do to make the money.'"
Timing plays a huge part in the somewhat unlikely reunion of these alt-rock pioneers. (After all, this is the band that Thompson suddenly broke up by fax eleven years ago when his tensions with Deal, who was struggling with drinking and drugs, were at their peak.) Thompson even admits that if the Pixies had reunited five years later, they likely wouldn't have been as successful.
What led to all this activity was a make-up almost as random as the band's notorious break-up. Last summer, a British radio show host interviewed Thompson and asked the obvious -- and long deflected -- question about a possible Pixies reunion. "I made a joke with a DJ, and it kind of fanned out from that," he says. "They just decided to turn it into a rumor. They knew that I was being sarcastic, but they decided to overlook that."
Once word got out among indie rock fans around the world, Thompson started to take the notion seriously. "I was on the road, so I don't think that [the other former Pixies] knew how to get ahold of me," he says. "So I ended up calling them to say, öHey, sorry about this funny thing that ended up in the papers and stuff. I was just kidding around. But anyway, on that note, do you want to take advantage of this moment and do you want to do it?'"
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Last April 13, a few hundred lucky fans got to see the quartet play its first show together in twelve years at the Fine Line Music Café in Minneapolis, and in May, the band co-headlined the opening night of the Coachella Valley Music Festival with Radiohead. Among the 50,000 spectators at the sold-out, two-day event, the biggest buzz by far was about the Pixies, who looked happy to be together and sounded as dead-on as any longtime devotee could've hoped for.
"Everyone plays like ten percent better," says Thompson. "Well, we still make plenty of mistakes. But yeah, there's just something about it -- just being a musician for that much longer has made everyone a little more solid. So that's kind of nice."
The Pixies are concentrating on touring for now, and the only CDs in the works are the limited edition DiscLive recordings being made for each show on the tour. They haven't ruled out recording another full-length, and recently released a downloadable single through iTunes, "Bam Thwok," a song originally made for the Shrek 2 soundtrack and the first new Pixies work since their last album, Trompe Le Monde, came out in 1991.
"The record business is kind of in a slump right now, so maybe we shouldn't make a record," says Thompson. "It kind of puts the power in the artist's hands a little more in that you don't need to -- especially if you already have an established career -- run around and try to get your record together and find a record label in order to exist. You can just go, öHey, there's this movie that's calling up and asking for a song: Let's do a song.' There's not the pressure to come up with a whole record and finance it and all that."