Part 2 – Interview With Joey Santiago
Joey Santiago is the lead guitarist in the Pixies. His inventive, unorthodox guitar parts in the Pixies catalogue have made him a highly influential guitarist on a great many musicians. As well as being a multi-instrumentalist, he’s also contributed scores to a number of films and television shows. We talked to Joey about the band’s history and legacy from his Bay Area home in California.
Interview By Dustin Griffin
It’s amazing to think that initially The Pixies were only around for six years. All those records you released and all the shows you did and that legacy you created, was in such a short span of time. Do you personally view The Pixies as two distinct periods of activity or does it all mesh together?
Joey: It pretty much meshes together as one. I mean ‘Bossanova’ and ‘Trompe Le Monde’ were put together in the studio. We never met up in a rehearsal space prior to recording, so it was kind of piecemealed together. So maybe those are the two different eras of The Pixies. But, God, we had an album out every year.
Were the songs on the original Purple Tape and ‘Come On Pilgrim’ easier or harder to flesh out than the ones on your later albums?
Joey: Well, that’s what we were rehearsing in the studio, and we crafted it. We took a rock and made a sculpture out of it. The Purple Tape, I don’t even have the cassette anymore. I was working at a place and they gave me the company pickup truck and somebody stole it, with the tapes inside. And I was pissed. You know the company just wanted their truck back, but I wanted the tapes.
Doolittle gets a lot of the love among fans, but ‘Surfer Rosa’ is actually the record that music critics and some of your peers cite as their favorite. At what point did you feel like your were hitting your stride as a band?
Joey: ‘Surfer Rosa’, because that’s when we stated going into the studio with time to explore. I mean ‘Come On Pilgrim’, with that we did something like eighteen songs in three days or something? And with ‘Surfer Rosa’ we’d go until 2am some nights. But that’s when we really hit it. It was a huge introduction to us for more of the masses.
And by that point had you already achieved complete creative control from the record label?
Joey: Oh yeah. No one was ever in there. It was always just us and the producer. No one ever came by and suggested anything, or anything like that. Other than the producer. Gil was like the fifth Pixie in those days.
There have been so many bands and artists and filmmakers who have cited the Pixies as a major influence. The one everyone likes to use is the Kurt Cobain quote. Is there pressure on yourself as a guitarist and the band as a whole to live up to the praise?
Joey: We’re not really that precious about it. But yeah there’s pressure on every album for different reasons. But it’s never really about the audience though. We just want to do our best. So whatever pressure we feel, is about us. I mean there are some rabid fans out there, but we are the biggest fans of the Pixies, ourselves. So in that we way we try to meet our own expectations.
‘Doolittle’ is such a big record. In ideas, sounds, themes. And stuff people just didn’t write about that much. Biblical stuff, obscure art house movies and whores and all kind of things. Do the things that Charles writes about have an influence on your guitar parts? Or is your writing done before the lyrics?
Joey: Sometimes before, sometimes after. The lyrics are always changing in Charles’ mind. Sometimes he’ll just have the melody. Or the chord structure, the sound. I guess in a way we kind of approach it like a surf band. And that’s what surf bands did, concentrate on the music first. And that’s what Charles and I were into when we were taking summer classes at the university, we’d listen to a lot of surf music. And we thought it was funny, where the title describes the music. So there’s a mystery there, was it the music that came first, or the title?
Which is a good jumping off point. You could do worse than to listen to a bunch of Dick Dale or Ventures records and use that as inspiration to go make a record.
Joey: Yeah. And it’s more universal. There’s no language barrier with that music.
Charles has admitted that the recording processes for ‘Bossanova’ and ‘Trompe Le Monde’ were very indulgent on his part. That he kind of pushed the rest of the band away in a sense and became more self focused than he should have been. Did you feel that? Were those records difficult on your part?
Joey: Yeah, I never knew he thought about it that way, but I guess there was that kind of bratty way about it. But he’s an artist. We all are. Everyone’s trying to solve their own piece of the puzzle in there.
It goes without saying that both Charles and Kim have been the focal point of attention in the band’s history. While you and David, although as integral to the band’s sound as anyone else, are given the roles of the quiet observers. Some people would see this as a blessing. Not having to deal with as much attention, some would feel left out or hurt by it, where do your feelings lie as far as that’s concerned?
Joey: I was never hurt by it. I didn’t really do interviews much back then. I did a few maybe, but got sick of it. I didn’t see the point. And I just didn’t like myself in print. So I didn’t care at all. You know, the music’s good so f*ck it. I’m lucky to be part of it. I don’t crave attention.
Speaking of attention, this was ten years ago now, but was it difficult to do the documentary (‘loudQUIETloud’)? To let somebody into your inner circle for so long?
Joey: Yeah it was definitely weird. But they pretty much captured the real us. I read somewhere that Thom York (of Radiohead) said ‘finally, an honest documentary of what a band is.’ It’s a lot of waiting around. There’s not much chatter. I mean is there acrimony in every band? Are there long periods of silence?
So you guys reunited in 2004. And almost ten years later, EP 1 is released. At what point did you guys say, ‘it’s time. Let’s do it.’
Joey: I always wanted to do it. And to release the pressure of releasing something, I said ‘well, why don’t we just do an EP?’ And there won’t be as much pressure, because, at least subconsciously, you can’t compare an EP to what we’ve done before, to an album.
Was that comparison at the front of your minds when you started recording? I mean anything you do will inevitably be compared to ‘Surfer Rosa’ or ‘Doolittle’, even though it isn’t 1989 anymore.
Joey: We didn’t really think of it like that. I mean we could either do a sequel to one of those records, or grow. And we grew. We might revert back to a past sound at times, but it won’t be on purpose.
Does Indie Cindy as a whole feel like a true Pixies record to you? Does it feel like something you could have released in the 80’s or 90’s?
Joey: We could’ve done anything after ‘Doolittle.’ Or after ‘Trompe Le Monde’. So it’s a natural progression. We kept growing up and growing up. I mean you can either embrace the past or move on.
I asked David this question when I spoke to him about the band, but do you ever worry that with being more active and releasing records and touring and all that, that it might dilute the legacy or mystery of the band at all?
Joey: I think we’re more mysterious than ever right now. You know, instead of it being, ‘where did they go’, it’s ‘what are they going to do next?’ But we don’t think about our own legacy. I think the fans that endear us feel more pressure in that regard than we do.