Pixies – Joey Santiago on “Doggerel”
Oct 21, 2022
Photography by Tom Oxley
Alt-rock guitar shredder Joey Santiago and Pixies are about to embark on a grueling southern hemisphere, Japanese, and European tour to promote their new album Doggerel. Donning a cap of course, framed by some very striking artwork from his LA home, Under the Radar spoke with Santiago to discuss the new album and some burning Pixies’ myths.
Producer Tom Dalgety once again takes the reins on Doggerel, his third project with the band. Singer Black Francis came loaded with new songs to the initial sessions before completing the album with the full band during mid-winter at Guilford Sound, Vermont in early 2022.
Pixies also features drummer David Lovering and bassist Paz Lenchantin. Doggerel is the band’s eighth studio album and their fourth since reforming in 2004, following 2014’s Indie Cindy, 2016’s Head Carrier, and 2019’s Beneath the Eyrie.
Lee Campbell (Under the Radar): Congrats on the new album Doggerel, and also for the co-writing on the LP. Correct me if I’m wrong Joey, is the first co-write you have ever done with the Pixies?
Joey Santiago: Yeah, it is, but let me preface that by saying, I do my own guitar parts. [Grinning] I guess you’re gonna ask me why, right?
Has that opened some sort of pandora’s box of a desire on future albums to do more co-writing?
Well, you know, when the band went to Wales after the BBC 6 Festival in April , we went to Rockfield Studios and recorded three of my ideas on there. Yeah, it’s fun to get that vibe that I want.
Over the previous seven albums, were there times that you did co-write, but some of the material didn’t make the final cut?
I never bothered because Charles [Black Francis] wants to be the principal songwriter. That was very true and previously I held to that. Nothing was broken, and nothing is still broken, so I never did it. I also had this fear that was once everyone starts getting on the board of co-writes, that sounds like the end of the band, doesn’t it?
Who came up with the Van Halen reference in “Dregs of the Wine”—one of your
That was Charles. His ex-wife, wife at the time, wanted that story to come out if they were to break up, it’s because of that issue—which version of “You Really Got Me” was better, The Kinks or Van Halen? That’s why they ended up calling it quits.
That song recalls that period with you and Charles together in Las Vegas, just after Pixies had broken up?
Yeah, one of the times we went there was after the big earthquake and there were just too many tremors going on. It was high anxiety and we said let’s get the hell outta here [LA], and we drove to Las Vegas. We must have taken acid at separate times. It’s the weirdest place to trip.
The other song that you co-wrote is the “Pagan Man” song. It has a Neil Young Harvest Moon feel to it.
That would be the melody and the way he [Charles] sang it. I love the way he sang it.
Also, “The Lord Has Come Back Today” which references “Out of the blue into the black” (from “Hey Hey, My My”). Was there a bit of Neil Young in the room when you guys were pulling the album together?
Nah, it’s probably done sub-consciously. We’re big Neil Young fans obviously, we recorded two of his songs. We just like him—Crazy Horse and all that stuff.
The LP is a mix of classic Pixies and a more mature, mellower feel. Is that a fair comment?
That is a good assessment, a good takeaway from it. It’s a good maturity for a band like us but keeping the identity, right? It’s a strong record. We didn’t hang onto stuff we didn’t need to hang onto at this age. We hang onto the stuff we wanna hang onto. We don’t wanna sound contrived. It still sounds like us.
My understanding is that Charles brought about 40 songs with him to the original sessions. Was it difficult to filter through so many?
They were coming in to me and most of the ones were the ones that I agreed with. And lo and behold, that’s what Tom [Dalgety] chose to record. I guess acid minds think alike. [Laughs]
What’s it like working with Tom Dalgety again and how does it differ from the other two albums he has been involved with?
He knows us a lot better, and he knows how to push us. He can be more frank with us. He doesn’t need to be in that vibe where, I’m gonna get fired if I say the wrong thing. [Both laughing] The first album [Head Carrier] he was like, “Who are these guys, what am I dealing with?” Second album was like, “I kinda know.” Third album: “Yes, I know these guys very well.” Everything is just relaxed with him. At times I think, man, where’s the tension, we need tension to create something good. Should I wake Charles up and just punch him in the face, Dave [Lovering], slap him around, and Paz, kick them a little bit so that we can make a great record? We don’t need that. We have our inner demons to deal with anyways. We go in there and you’re trying to prove something to get some demons out so that you can do something good. There’s always been that type of internal tension anyways. I didn’t need any grief from anyone.
Was there an overall mood or theme you were trying to create or achieve with this record?
To me, it’s more like anti-theme. Let’s go with variety; slow, straight rock, ballads, acute songs. That’s what every Pixies record has. It ain’t gonna be straight-up punk all the time. It just ain’t gonna happen.
Is there one or two songs that jump out from the LP that you are particularly looking forward to playing live?
I like “Get Simulated.” I love the parts I played on it. I have to say, I also wanna hear “Dregs of the Wine” played live.
What’s it like to release an album without your good friend Vaughan Oliver, some people call him The Fifth Pixie doing the sleeve artwork?
We knew his protege [Chris Bigg] was gonna be there. I miss Vaughan more than his artwork, that’s for sure. [Laughs] So, who was doing out artwork was really the last thing on my mind.
You seem to be having fun making music and playing together again. Have you talked about a follow-up album yet and would some of the additional material from this album possibly get carried over?
Some might get carried over and we have recorded so far about seven or eight demos for the next album. There will be a ninth album, we’re planning that already. After a good amount of a break, we will start recording again some time next year. We’re already kicking around what part of the world to work and record in next time. [Laughs]
Does the music feel very different from the first Pixies chapter in the early 1990s?
It feels like a progression that we would have done anyways. All the way back to Trompe le Monde, they are all different records, so we just continued that line. We can do any record we want, but the ones that we choose to do are the ones that just come out. That’s the vibe. It’s always been the vibe.
Okay, some quick-fire questions for the Pixies faithful out there. Your favourite Pixies song to play guitar on and why?
“Dead.” It’s fun, it’s cathartic, it’s very schizo. It’s just a crazy song to play.
The album Bossanova. One word or sentence to describe the memory of that album or of that particular period?
The album sounds warm. It has a warmth that I like.
Do you ever tire of playing “Where is my Mind?”
No, No. Not that song. It’s just a staple. I don’t even think about it. I’ve never got tired of it. It’s amazing that I haven’t actually. Now that you mentioned it, I might get sick of it. [Both laughing]
After Pixies stepped away in 1993, was there a stage where you felt within yourself that you were resigned to the fact that you may never perform with the guys again?
Yeah, absolutely! I had to come to peace with that as it’s the healthiest way to think. I didn’t want to be the co-dependant person. I was never gonna be that. If I was to be that, it would be like an ex-girlfriend that just won’t leave you alone. “We’re fuckin’ done, don’t you understand?” I was never that person.
Did Pixies turn down playing with Guns N’ Roses in the late ’80s/early ’90s?
Nah, I don’t think so.
You are a man who loves his hats Joey. Always looking stylish. What’s your hat of choice?
Eight-panel hats. I guess they call them “newsboy” hats, but I prefer to call them
eight-panels. Bad news everywhere these days. I don’t wanna be the guy that’s known as a newsman.
The song “Super Lecker” [a demo from the Head Carrier sessions] is a song that you have played live. Will it ever see a studio release?
Some day. We were really proud of that song. We loved it and do love it. Tom [Dalgety] said that it sounded too pedestrian. We said, “Uh-oh, forget it.”
Tell me something about yourself or Pixies that you’ve never revealed in an interview before.
[Laughs] I don’t know, that’s a tough one. Anyways, I’m building a rocket-ship. It will be called, “It Never Happened.”
Your favourite Pixies album and why?
I would have to say this one [Doggerel]. I really listen to it. I listen to it in my car and I kinda blast it, to the point where the volume really hurts. So I turn it down a bit. It’s gotta variety and it’s new to me, that’s why. It just sounds good.
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