Fans of the Pixies have had it rough. The seminal indie-rock band whose dissonant, experimental sound was a major influence in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s on groups including Weezer, Radiohead and even Nirvana, has weathered several acrimonious breakups and shaky reunions over the past 30 years.
Ongoing tensions between lead singer and bandleader Black Francis (real name Charles Thompson IV) and bassist Kim Deal created a state of chaos for the group almost from the beginning. So the Pixies faithful can be forgiven if after every show they wondered if they might never see the band perform live again – much less record a new album together.
But in 2013, after a decade of sporadic live performances and a few reunion tours, there were the founding members of the Pixies, laying down fresh tracks in the studio for what would become “Indie Cindy,” their first album in more than two decades, since 1991’s “Trompe Le Monde.” All’s well that ends well, right?
Not quite. During recording, Deal one day announced that she had had enough, and abruptly quit the band.
“We were in the studio doing ‘Indie Cindy,’ and after, oh, I think about two weeks, we had done five songs,” said Pixies drummer David Lovering. “And Kim was like, ‘Yeah, I’m just done.’ And at that point, we couldn’t say anything – we were just in a state of shock, and all we could do was wish her well.”
For the Pixies, which performs Sunday afternoon at SunFest in West Palm Beach, Deal’s departure wasn’t simply a matter of finding a new capable bass player. The band’s unique dynamic – a mind-bending mix of Black Francis’ brilliantly provocative lyrics and mercurial vocals, Joey Santiago’s volatile yet highly melodic guitar riffs, Deal’s edgy female touch (she was a major vocal force on the hits “Gigantic,” “Monkey [Gone to Heaven]” and “Here Comes Your Man”), and the steady power of Lovering’s drumming – was a successful formula that set it apart.
With Deal out of the mix, the Pixies were at a true crossroads.
“We saw Kim off, and we kind of just sat there,” Lovering recalled. “We didn’t know what to do. Do we break up The Pixies? So it was a tough thing, just three guys talking it out, talking it out, and we decided to just forge ahead and finish the album. So we took it from there and got a new bass player and continued on.”
When the Pixies take the stage at SunFest, it will be with Paz Lenchantin on bass, whose main claims to fame are performing with Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan in his project A Perfect Circle and in Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan’s side group Zwan.
“I think that we’ve been very fortunate, because she’s a wonderful bass player and is wonderful onstage,” Lovering said of Lenchantin. “And the best thing about it is, the audience likes her.”
Strangely, Lovering says that the parting with Deal was – and is – neither amicable nor bitter.
“Since that day, none of us has spoken to her,” he said. “It’s not a mean thing, or anything like that – that’s just the way we are. It’s nothing that odd, and there’s no hate or anything, and we wish her the best.”
At SunFest, Lovering says fans can expect the expected from the Pixies – to an extent.
“For this whole tour, I’ve been writing the set lists, and The Pixies have a lot of songs,” he said. “We have about 70 songs that we can play, or can get through playing [laughs], and of those I put in all the nostalgic ones people wanna hear – “Where Is My Mind?,” “Monkey [Gone to Heaven],” “Here Comes Your Man” – stuff like that. And then we’ll just throw around a little of the back catalog. It’s a potpourri every night.”
But, of course, the band has a new product to push, “Indie Cindy,” which finds the Pixies sounding like it never missed a beat.
“I gotta say first off that I hate recording. I cannot stand it,” said Lovering about how it felt getting back into the studio after more than two decades. “And the reason I say that is because when The Pixies started off, it was fantastic, because we were a band that had ironed out all the songs by playing live. But as each album came, it became quicker and quicker to really learn these songs and get them under your belt, so that became kind of frustrating in the studio – not really being comfortable with them.
“With ‘Indie Cindy,’ though,” he continued, “I had plenty of time to work out these songs, because we had thrown these songs around for about two years. So there was a lot of just playing it within my head, rehearsing it, and then pre-production, which just made me confident. So it was an absolute joy going in, and we really had a great time and are really happy with the product.”
The Pixies will play about three songs from “Indie Cindy,” but also a couple brand new songs, indicating that there’s another album in the works.
“That’s what we’re aiming at,” said Lovering. “We went to Los Angeles just two weeks ago just to work on some new material, just to try it out. And the reason we did that is, we’ve never really had that opportunity, to just get together in a rehearsal room like we did, you know, 30-whatever years ago. And the idea behind that is, if we get some songs that we like, why not actually play them on the road like we did back in 1985? That’s a way to hone these songs and really develop them. So that’s what we’re gonna do. We’ve got about 12 songs that we came up with, and we’ll probably pick and choose just a few to play between different shows. And we’ll see how it goes. And the whole idea is to make them sound good so we can record a new album.”