The Pixies make the most out of a return from the grave
As successful second acts go, the 2004 reunion of the Pixies has been nothing short of magical for David Lovering, partly because he didn’t see it coming. The return to action started with a couple of phone calls, the first being frontman Black Francis reaching out to guitarist Joey Santiago about rebooting the influential alt-rock pioneers. Santiago then called Lovering, who, when asked about that call today, remembers not exactly being in the best of headspaces.
“I was in a pretty bad place,” the outgoing drummer cheerfully admits, reached at a Columbus, Ohio, tour stop.
Following the mid-’90s dissolution of the Pixies, Lovering gradually lost interest in music, to the point where he stopped playing entirely.
“I’d given up the drums and become a professional magician,” he says. “And I have to preface that by saying that being a musician, a starving musician, is hard enough. But being a magician is a billion times harder to make a living at. So doing magician shows was keeping me busy, but I wasn’t really making a lot of money.
“I was also, at the time, involved with a really bad, bad woman,” Lovering continues. “So I was really down on all counts. And then I got a phone call from Joe saying that they had spoken about the Pixies. I had never, ever dreamed that we would get back together.”
Lovering, who today is married and has two small children, had good reason for believing the band was a closed chapter. Bubbling up out of the college-rock underground in the late ’80s, the Pixies burned briefly but powerfully. With the prolific Francis at the helm—often to the chagrin of bassist Kim Deal—the quartet produced four stone-cold classics between 1988 and 1991: Surfer Rosa, Doolittle, Bossanova, and Trompe le Monde. Those records endure today, almost every act operating under the alt-rock umbrella owing plenty to the Pixies’ famous quiet-loud-quiet blueprint.
During the band’s initial rise, there was, quite famously, friction between Deal and Francis, the animosity sometimes coming out in on-stage altercations. Such incidents, along with a frenetic pace of writing and recording, would eventually lead Francis to announce, via fax, the disbanding of the Pixies in 1993. Lovering sort of saw it coming.
“There was tension from being on the road for years,” he allows. “We were just kids, and that was all that we knew. It was in my mind ‘What’s going to go down with this?’ so it wasn’t that big of a surprise when it happened. It was shocking, but it wasn’t a big surprise.”
In hindsight, however, Lovering is glad that things unfolded the way they did. The Pixies were in a strange place when things imploded. Even though radio airplay continued to be elusive, the band was filling 4,000-seat venues—its final show taking place in Vancouver at a sold-out PNE Forum.
In death, the quartet slowly took on larger-than-life status. At a time when he was the biggest rock star on the planet, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain admitted to copping many of his songwriting tricks from Surfer Rosa. Bono began declaring the band almost as important to the world as U2. And acts from Radiohead to PJ Harvey to David Bowie would trumpet the genius of the Pixies.
All of this would eventually make Lovering more happy than he could have imagined when he finally slid back behind the kit, small warm-up gigs in Minnesota and Canada followed by a triumphant return at Coachella. Since then, the band has toured semiregularly, including a two-year swing starting in 2009 devoted to the iconic Doolittle and its various B-sides.
What has Lovering excited today is that the Pixies still have something to say. The group is currently on the road celebrating the release of two recent records, simply titled EP1 and EP2.
If the songs on the discs haven’t made anyone instantly forget “U-Mass” or “Dig for Fire”, that’s perhaps to be expected, given the extent to which the band’s back catalogue is revered. That said, no one can accuse the Pixies of going through the motions on tracks like the riff-heavy boogie blowout “Blue Eyed Hexe” or the regal psychedelia of “Andro Queen”. If the EPs make one thing clear, it’s that the Pixies aren’t planning to go away again anytime soon.
Still, Lovering acknowledges that the reunion hasn’t been completely drama-free. Deal, who also fronts the Breeders, abruptly announced that she was leaving the Pixies last spring, no amount of cajoling from her bandmates convincing her to change her mind. Her replacement, Kim Shattuck, was—depending on who is telling the story—either booted from the band for being too animated on-stage or dismissed because she was never meant to be a permanent hire. Lovering politely takes the Fifth on the subject, instead choosing to express his affection for Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle), who’s been hired as a touring bassist.
Despite such hiccups, there are no complaints. Lovering still does magic on the side, but he’s happy to be back with the band that’s turned a reunion into the world’s best full-time job.
“I enjoyed this the first time when the Pixies were going—it was a wonderful escape,” he says. “The reunion has made me appreciate it so much more, being able to do something that I really love. When I look back on it in hindsight, I’m glad that we broke up then. When we got back together in 2004, I didn’t realize that we would be much bigger. We really have been a very fortunate band on that level.”