Pixies: “We all get along wonderfully”
Although it’s a benchmark, the 60-year-old drummer says he hasn’t felt this much excitement for any of their records since the classic album Doolittle, released in 1989.
“I’m not going to put Indie Cindy or any of our other records, but it was just the thrill of this one,” he says. “It was great musicality, we knew all the songs, we put them together and pushed them, and sonically it sounds great. It was very exciting for me.
The analogy between the two albums is something other band members have made as well, with guitarist Joey Santiago describing Doggerel as “Doolittle Snr”. The two-minute punk rock songs may not be there, but the new record has some of the energy and eclecticism of the Pixies at their peak.
“Charles (Thompson, otherwise known as Black Francis) wrote all the songs in two months before he went into the studio, and then we brainstormed ideas,” says Lovering. “There are songs there that I think are really catchy and the lyrics are great. It’s a little boppy here and there and other kinds of tough stuff, that’s what I love about it.
Thirty-three years after Doolittle, Lovering thinks the band has a “different ethos” from his childhood. “Having the two years off (during the pandemic) also gives you a much greater appreciation for being in the studio,” he says. “Everything I touched or whatever I did, I just had to understand that maybe it didn’t happen that way, so it was just a wonderful experience.
“I’m 60 now, and I’ve had carpal tunnel work on my hands. And being older and a bit wiser means you’re able to put up with people a bit more easily. We all get along wonderfully, we just enjoy the whole situation we find ourselves in now.
While Black Francis spent the lockdown in Massachusetts tending his chickens and hanging out with his kids, Lovering says it was “great to be home” with his wife and kids. To liven up the Pixies website, he decided about a year ago to revive his old magic act that kept him alive during the Pixies’ ten-year hiatus between 1993 and 2003. “I started doing Magic Mondays or Magic Monthly as it has become, because I was at the bottom of my bag of tricks, so to speak,” he says. “It made me write new presentations, things related to Pixies or things that fans might like – it was wonderful to get creative.”
In his two months of activity before the Pixies entered the studio, Black Francis wrote over 40 songs. Lovering says narrowing them down to the 12 that appear on Doggerel was “pretty easy to do” due to the involvement of producer Tom Dalgety, with whom they built a close relationship over the course of their two previous albums, Head Carrier and Beneath the Eyrie. “The more records he’s made with us, the more he’s become part of the family,” he says. “Besides having the craft and knowing what to do, the thing about being a producer is you have to be an ambassador for everyone you work with, and Tom knows more and more what we are. You have to delegate all the decisions to him, I think it gets easier and easier with Tom to the extent that Charles or we make suggestions or criticisms, you just let him have it.
“Before we met in the studio he had 40 songs and then Tom whittled them down to whatever he would send to all of us and we started mixing them. Of all the people we went to the studio with, we probably didn’t do four or five that Tom had included in this batch. We just picked what we thought would be great, which would constitute Doggerel and put together footage, but you have to relegate everything (the rest) to the producer. I can play drums, he can produce.
When it comes to arrangements, Lovering says his “mindset has always been simplicity” — unlike the early days. “If you listen to the early Pixies records, I’m Neil Peart (from Rush), I do everything I love, but over time I think less is more. Even my battery has shrunk. I had quite a few cymbals and five drums now I came across a very simple kit that you can do with anything.
“It’s the first record in a long time where I feel really comfortable with something on the drums and the reason why is that I’m a slow learner. It takes me forever to figure out how a song is going; it’s usually maybe two months into a tour when I say “oh yeah. But what was great was that Tom Dalgety had the demos with the drums, his take on the drums. I thought he was a real drummer but he was a drum machine. What was wonderful is that it gave me some direction… so I was able to walk into the studio with more confidence and interpret this direction.
“The thing is, I think there are parts of this album that aren’t easy for me. There are parts I would never have played without Tom. They suit the songs well and I had to learn how to do it.
For the first time since the band’s formation in 1986, Santiago also has some writing credits on a Pixies album. Lovering explains that his bandmate was “just scratching on the couch and I think his girlfriend was like, ‘You know, you should do something with that.’ He was visiting his brothers in Massachusetts and my manager lives in Connecticut so he went to see him and my manager had a guitar and Joey said, ‘Hey, you wanna hear something?’ and I played him and my manager said, ‘That’s great, we should do something about it’. So it ended up happening to Charles and all of us and boom, there it is: Pagan Man.
Seven years after joining the band, bassist Paz Lenchantin has also become more confident about sharing ideas in the studio. “When she first joined the band, she was a hitman, but she’s been a full-fledged Pixie for seven years, and Paz is a musician’s musician, she makes me play better because I don’t don’t want to be embarrassed, so I’ve had to step up my game until I’m in a rhythm section with her,” says Lovering. “Besides that musicality, she’s got some big ideas and with the last three albums we’ve we did with Paz and Tom, she had some suggestions that we welcomed. Her contribution is exemplary, it’s wonderful.
For a band whose lyrics regularly have sci-fi themes, Lovering was thrilled to learn that one of the Pixies’ songs had finally traveled millions of miles through space. “That was my crowning achievement,” he says proudly of the fact that Where is My Mind? was played by NASA’s Rover on Mars. “I was blown away because I’m a big science fan, I love it all,” he says. “I had telescopes growing up with my dad. Charles sang about them. So it blew my mind, I can’t think of any concert we’ve done or TV show (which compares quite enough) with the planet Mars.
After touring the UK this summer, the Pixies’ world tour continues in North and South America, Japan and Australia through the autumn and winter, but Lovering promises they’ll be back on those coasts next spring. Remarkably, their setlist will change every night.
“It’s kind of our schtick or our staging,” says Lovering. “It took a few years. I wouldn’t say we’re getting better and better, but we’re really good now and we have a routine. Charles has a microphone, there are hand signals for All Over The World or Planet of Sound or Wave of Mutilation, and there are certain songs that go together. That’s where it’s at right now, we can just watch (each other) and figure out what to play or I’ll start doing something on the hi-hat and everybody knows what it’s gonna be.
“Because we’ve been doing this for so long, we’ve refined it. That’s one of the coolest things, I think, about the band right now that we’re doing, that we’re able to do this overnight without a setlist. We have a master list every night that we can choose from, but in that two hour time frame it’s about 30 songs, it’s whatever Charles or anybody chooses that hopefully will satisfy that audience. But the only people who suffer from it are our sound man and our lighting director because we all have it down but they have no idea where it’s going.