Beneath The Eyrie is the best album Black Francis and co have created since their comeback. He tells Richard Purden about it.
Exactly 100 miles from New York City, Black Francis was driving to the studio to record The Pixies’ seventh studio album in a converted church when he had to brake hard for a large deer running across the road.
As he sat behind the wheel he wondered about another version of events transpiring, what if he had died that night, the deer having crashed through the windscreen leaving Black Francis to float “towards the moon”.
The experience inspired the new album’s ‘Daniel Boone’, a bewitching acoustic ballad aided by the detached mountain surroundings. He suggests the track, recorded in December last year, is one of those songs that “feels like it’s already written”.
The folky, gothic environment of the former church, St John’s, established in 1896, and a nearby abandoned rail-track aided the spooky atmosphere of the album.
When Pixies drummer David Lovering spotted an eagle’s nest above the studio it gifted the band an album title, Beneath The Eyrie, and set the tone for their best work since reforming in 2003 after a ten-year split.
The album’s lead-single ‘OnGraveyard Hill’ released earlier this year is classic Pixies featuring Black Francis screaming and howling an American gothic tale of witches, the moon and taking his last breath.
The Frank Black crunch alongside Joey Santiago’s classic two-note guitar hook summons the likes of Gouge Away from their era-defining Doolittle album, released 30 years ago.
“‘On Graveyard Hill’ is a very psychological song and very personal,” he says.
Thompson suggests there is a Celtic element in his penchant for the supernatural. ‘St Nazaire’ was motivated by Scottish mythology andSelkie folklore.
Reflecting on his Scottish/Bostonian roots Black says: “I’m Scottish; I come from a long line of stone-cutters from Aberdeen.
"I think they were criminals when they were in Scotland but by the time they got to the United States, they had become granite barons. They lost everything to gambling and booze so I guess I’m trying to reclaim the granite baron status of my ancestors through music.”
Known as Black Francis since the band’s emergence in the mid-1980s and at times Frank Black as well as his real name Charles Thompson, what encouraged the various shift in names?
“Back in 1986, a name like Charles Thompson sounded like a big mumble. Don’t get me wrong, I like my name but for the purposes of the theatre, I needed something with a little bit more pizzazz than Charles Thompson.
"There’s no right way or wrong way of saying a name but there are a lot of linguistic possibilities and it’s a terrible showbiz name.
"I wanted something like ‘Iggy Pop’, there’s not a lot of linguistic possibilities or room for interpretation, it’s pretty motherf**king clear!”
A variety of Catholic and Protestant expressions knit their way through a range of Biblical themes in Black’s song-writing, inspired by growing up as part of the Christian charismatic, evangelical andPentecostal movement in America.
He suggests it was the flavour at the time:
“I don’t know if it was a positive or negative thing. Religion or the lack of it is part of your life and the fabric of culture; I’m not original in that sense in tapping into those concepts and the symbolism.”
The band’s 1989 single ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’ was inspired by Hebrew numerology and the destruction of the environment. Does the future of the planet remain a concern?
"Their perspective is that we have already gone passed the line and passed the point of no return. Now, poetically and artistically, it is time to muse on that, to muse on the finality of it all.”
Beneath The Eyrie further showcases the talents of bass player/vocalist Paz Lenchantin who cements her place as a permanent member of the band.
“You don’t want a hired gun,” says Black.
“It goes against the grain of our punk, indie, DIY aesthetic. If someone is doing the gigs and making the records then they’re in the f**king band man. Are we a band or what, you know? You have to give them the status at some point.”
The door had previously been left open for Kim Deal to return, a founding member and indie icon in her own right.
Many believe The Pixies are not the same band without her presence.
“She had a lot of good instincts and a good aesthetic for rock n’ roll music. She cared about the finished results and wanted the records to be good as well as adopting the alternative, indie spirit that we were all involved in.”
Black is similarly pragmatic about the Pixies famous fan-base that has included the likes of David Bowie, U2 and Nirvana.
As a band who championed the alternative spirit are some songs just too big for the set-list?
“We’re much more practical about these matters now. When we were young we might have abandoned certain songs because of the perceived baggage of being too pop.
"Now we are responsible for songs that are pop or popular. If people want to hear them; we’ll play them, unless we hate and I don’t think we’ve ever made anything we hate.”
Black admits some singles continue to evade even him, such as their 1990 single ‘Dig For Fire’.
“Sometimes that sounds great and other times it sounds like a piece of shit, so certain songs you become wary of.
"Another time you play it and you’re like ‘what were you thinking not playing it, this song is awesome’ and then it’s shit again. It has some magical power.”
The Pixies play Dublin’s Olympia on Sept 26. Beneath The Eyrie is out now.