Exploring the Pixies, music’s seminal alt-rock pioneers

Exploring the Pixies, music’s seminal alt-rock pioneers

Words by Morgan Mangan

A brief exploration into 34 years of revolutionary success.

Pixies were formed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1986 by vocalist and rhythm guitarist Black Francis and lead guitarist Joey Santiago. As the story goes, Francis posted an advertisement for a bass player, specifying an appreciation for the sounds of folk groups such as Peter, Paul and Mary and rock bands like Hüsker Dü. The great Kim Deal responded to the advertisement and was enlisted as the band’s bassist and vocalist along with friend and drummer David Lovering.

The band’s first set of recordings was a 17-track cassette of demos called the Purple Tape which was given to 4AD Records, who selected eight songs out of the demos and released the band’s first EP Come On Pilgrim in 1987.

Come On Pilgrim is 20 minutes of breakthrough alternative, grunge rock music. The sometimes harsh and brutal yet beautiful vocals of Francis and harmonies with Deal make for an impressive first release, as does the undeniable tightness and instrumentation of the outfit.

The album features songs ‘Vamos (pilgrim)’ and ‘Isla De Encanta’ which are both partly sung in Spanish. This was after Francis lived in Puerto Rico for a short time learning Spanish and was inspired by the language. ‘Vamos (pilgrim)’ was later re-recorded for their debut album Surfer Rosa and a live version is featured on the B-side of the ‘Gigantic’ single, remaining a fan favourite. The remaining tracks off the Purple Tape demos cassette have since been re-recorded and released throughout the band’s career.

A year after the release of Come on Pilgrim, Pixies released their debut LP Surfer Rosa, produced and recorded by Steve Albini of Big Black and Shellac over a ten day period. Though at the time the album did not reach major commercial success, over thirty years later Surfer Rosa stands as a groundbreaking and quintessential album for alternative rock music.

With a running time of thirty four minutes, the 13-track album introduces noise and grunge to later bands like Nirvana. Favourites include ‘Cactus’ and ‘Oh My Golly!’, but all stand to be absolutely radical. Even to those who don’t consider themselves fans of the band, it’s a sure bet that ‘Where Is My Mind?’ can still be enjoyed.

Throughout the album, Deal’s influence really shines through in her intense and immediate pounding of the bass, vocal harmonies and songwriting in ‘Gigantic’. If you were lucky enough to see Kim Deal come to Australia with her band The Breeders in December 2018, you would have seen her perform ‘Gigantic’ with that same intensity and enthusiasm as the recording back in 1988.

Despite breaking up in 1993, reforming in 2004 and Deal leaving the band in 2013, Pixies have continued to be prominent inspiration in the rock world. The band will come to Australia in March 2020 to perform Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa in full, as well as old tracks and music off their new album Beneath the Eyrie to be released September 13, 2019.

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