David Lovering of the Pixies: "I think I'm really a fan of the music."
The Pixies (due this Thursday, February 13, at the Fillmore Auditorium) formed in 1986, and by the time the landmark album Surfer Rosa was released, in 1988, they had become one of the most important and influential bands of the alt-rock era. Though credit for the loud-quiet-loud dynamic the foursome made famous more properly belongs to another Boston outfit, Mission of Burma, the Pixies took that idea and turned it into some of the most twisted, tender and electrifying songs of the time.
With four proper albums, Surfer Rosa, Doolittle, Bossanova and Trompe le Monde, as well as an EP, Come On Pilgrim, Pixies made an impact on its peers (Nirvana, U2 and Radiohead to name a few), as well as on anyone open to something very different from the overproduced hard rock that ruled the airwaves in the late '80s.
The demented subject matter, combined with Joey Santiago's odd sounds that chased the phrasing, Charles Thompson's "scream of consciousness," as one writer put it, plus Kim Deal's buoyant bass work and radiantly innocent-sounding vocals and David Lovering's channeled yet expressive chops made for a unique and compelling music.
The Pixies eventually split in early 1993 and regrouped more than a decade later for a proper international headlining tour. The outfit has remained somewhat quiet after that until last year when the band released two EPs. Both are clear departures from previous albums while remaining distinctively Pixies.
Though clear departures from previous albums the new releases are distinctively Pixies with the strange subject matter and outside of standard melodies. And anyone that has paid attention to the band's career knows that the Pixies has been a group not to repeat itself.
We recently chatted with David Lovering about his transformation from a Rush-inspired, busy drummer, to one with a true appreciation for simplicity, how it wasn't until preparing for the upcoming tour that he knew the lyrics to the chorus of "Is She Weird" and his brief role as the studio drummer for Nitzer Ebb.
Westword: What appealed to you about playing drums early in life?
David Lovering: I can't tell you what it was, but I liked to bang on stuff or something. I think it is probably the hardest instrument to tote around. I wish I'd picked a harmonica, it would have been a lot easier when I look back on it.
Why was Rush your favorite band growing up?
I loved Rush. When I was younger, that's when bands were very influential on me. With Rush, the musicianship was just on a high level. They're incredible, each and every one of them. Plus it was different. When I first heard them, it's like, "Wow, this is way different than most of the music I've heard." So it was that difference as well as the musicianship which attracted me to them.
Which is funny because playing in the Pixies, I was very busy at first because I was doing what I knew and what I was emulating and what influenced me. It took me a little while that I couldn't do that in the Pixies. So I stopped doing that. It's funny you ask that because people ask if I'm influenced by Rush now and no, I think that's all from my formative years. But I think the saying is true that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. So that's where it is, and so I'm back to Rush and Steely Dan.
As a fan of that stuff, at that time certainly, it's been said by others that when you first met the Pixies, you weren't too impressed with them. What kept you playing with them despite those first impressions?
It's funny, because I've read that. I've read that in the Wikipedia thing and some other things saying that I wasn't impressed. And I don't think that was the case. I remember going in and hearing the songs, and they were alien to me at first. It's not that I didn't like them, they were just different for me.
But I hadn't been in a band in, I think, a couple of years. I'd been in little bands, backyard party bands, and stuff like that. But this was the first one that came up in a while, and this was all exciting and interesting to me; the whole experience of meeting up with them, listening to what they had to offer and just actually joining the band. It was all good.
You played a lot busier in the beginning of the band. How did you learn to strip away those instincts or inclinations as a drummer?
I was cognizant of it. I could tell that what I was doing was way too busy. Plus if you listen to Come On Pilgrim, it's a little busy and a little too much of for what I should be doing. That was after I had started tapering down, and I tapered down a lot more. It's funny, as I get older, I'm doing less is more, too.
My kit, I figured out how to shorten it to make it more ergonomic. Also, back in the day with the Pixies, I was on the Neil Peart bent, where I had a ton of cymbals and a ton of drums and just looked stupid. A couple of years after that, I realized less is more, so I have the least amount of equipment now. You just make do with it. I think it's better that way to improvise than to have everything there to hit. It's a lot easier to pack up.
In writing music, Joey has said that he latches on to a word or a vocal pattern to guide the guitar stuff he comes up with to accompany the rest of the music. Do you have a hook or anything like that that works for you?
No, I can't say that I do. It's funny with me because I don't even really know a Pixies lyric. I may know a few Pixies lyrics. I've been in the band since its inception. I've recorded and I've played thousands of shows, and I still don't know the lyrics. And I'm not kidding. It's something that even when I was a kid, or music I listen to now, I don't really pay attention to the lyrical content. It's more the melody that they're singing is what I like about it.
There may be key things once in a while, and I know phrases that lead me into stuff. The other day we were rehearsing "Is She Weird," and Charles [Thompson IV] asked me, "Can you sing the chorus?" And I actually asked him, "What's the chorus?" Paz looked at me like, "What?!" She'd never heard that. He had to repeat it to me, and she was just laughing her ass off. I've been in the band over twenty years and I don't even know the chorus.
Gary Smith was pretty instrumental in the early days of the band. Would you say his work impacted you on a personal level?
Ah, interesting. Hmm...We met Gary at a gig, and I forget the connection, but he had a studio called Fort Apache. He offered his services, and he had something to do with the Throwing Muses. That was my first real recording experience -- along with the Pixies. We had done something before that but this was the first one where it seemed like we were doing something viable. I haven't seen Gary in forever. But we were there [at the studio] over a weekend.
We went in on a Friday night, and we were there Saturday and Sunday. Fort Apache was an old warehouse building, and it was in February or January, winter in Boston, and they turned off the heat. So from Friday through Sunday, it got colder and colder. In the meantime, we were freezing while we were playing. And then we wanted to do photographs for the little cassette that came out.
What was planned was that I was going to run naked, and Gary was going to shoot pictures of me from behind that would be superimposed on something called The Purple Tape. So I did that for a while. I was kind of like, "Oh, geez, I've never really had a guy photograph me naked before from the back." So that was an experience.
Then I remember it was just Gary and I left, and we had to drive the equipment home, so we got in Gary's van. We were driving in Roxbury, which is the projects area of Boston, not a very safe area. It's freezing out, it's Sunday afternoon and his van breaks down. It was a while before we had a ride to pick us up.
But the overall experience is something that I'll never forget because it was a fun thing being in a recording studio and doing all these new Pixies songs, and then the experience of freezing my ass off, getting pictures naked and then breaking down in a van all goes with it. So was it personal? It was a nice experience.
In Fool the World Gary said that you wrote a good deal of the songs from the first era of the band in those first couple of years. Do you feel that's true?
I think so. When we got together, I know that within a year we had a lot of songs. [Probably everything on] The Purple Tape and half of Surfer Rosa. And Surfer Rosa was some of the songs from the original Come On Pilgrim recordings. So we had an album's and a half of material in a little over a year. So it was quite quick from rehearsing to doing gigs around Boston.
Do you find it easier to write music now than in that earlier period of the band?
No, I think it was a lot easier back then. We were much younger and it was a new experience. About four years ago when we started to do new music we decided, "Hey why don't we just go back and do the thing we always do?" And we went to Boston and got a rehearsal space.
And, no, it did not work. It was an interesting experience, but that didn't work. So we went with what usually works, and Charles comes up with an acoustic guitar version of something, and he also worked with demos with Gil Norton, so we had a little fuller perspective on some stuff that we had.
We picked and chose and honed it because we knew that there was some trepidation considering what we had already and what it means to have new material after this long. We did have a democratic vote as far as what we liked and what we would record. What we did do we liked.