While Pixies were one the most influential pioneering bands of the late ’80s and early ’90s alt-rock movement, having blazed a trail for artists from Nirvana to Pearl Jam, today, a whole new generation of music lovers is discovering the Boston-born band thanks to their new album, Beneath the Eyrie,out Sept. 13 via Infectious Music / BMG.
“The challenge has always been the same: an album has to be good,” founding guitarist Joey Santiago says, “but we’re a fortunate enough band that our good doesn’t really suck. We’re trying to top ourselves. We’re just one of those lucky bands that could click and do pretty decent things. [Vocalist and guitarist] Charles [‘Black Francis’ Thompson] is a hell of a songwriter, and we could put together the songs in a Pixies format.”
After four genre-defining studio albums—including the now-platinum-certified Doolittle from 1989—Pixies split up in 1993, then launched their reunion tour in April 2004. In 2012, they secretly booked studio time in Wales, but six days into the recording, founding bassist Kim Deal decided to leave the band. Black Francis, Santiago, and drummer David Lovering chose to carry on, recruiting bassist Simon “Dingo” Arthur, formerly of The Fall, and finishing and releasing the band’s first studio album in more than two decades, 2014’s Indie Cindy.
In 2016, Pixies released their second post-reunion studio album, Head Carrier, with former A Perfect Circle member Paz Lenchantin, who became Pixies’ permanent bassist the same year.
“During these years, something has changed, and I can always theorize that it was when we had recorded a full-length record with Paz, her first one with us,” Santiago confesses. “We felt very comfortable, had a lot of joy, so this time around, we were at a different level. We jelled. We know how people work, the process—especially Paz actually knows what to do, and she knows how to deal with the group dynamic. That’s it. We just got to know each other on Head Carrier, and we knew each other coming to this new one. That’s about it.”
December 2018 saw the band hidden away with Grammy-nominated producer Tom Dalgety at Dreamland Recording Studios near Woodstock, New York, where they recorded their second album as a unit, Beneath the Eyrie. “We won’t do a record every six months, because that’s just not going to be good for the records, for people to absorb it,” Santiago explains. “So, as it is, the way the band works is we record, and then, we’ll tour. We’ll tour all these territories, and it takes a while to go everywhere. Then, once we’re done with that, we’ll record an album. So, we’re pacing ourselves.”
Beneath the Eyrie was written throughout 2018. “Charles presented a shape or progression, and we worked on it and arranged it,” Santiago clarifies. “The first chord, first chorus, bridge, or whatever you have to do, that’s what Paz and Charles started doing right away, because they had a handle on it, and they could follow along. What I tried to do was come up with a verse part, a chorus part, and a bridge part. That’s my main concern. I’m not even with, whatever, stacking the parts—I’m not at that level yet. I’m still doing what I got to do, which are guitar parts.”
“The only thought process that we had coming into this album was to have Charles play acoustic so there would be more room for me to do some crazy stuff. It happened. There were moments when he was on acoustic. It didn’t happen all the time, but the whole idea is that we wanted more space on this record, and we achieved that,” he continues. “We can’t sound the same all the time; you have to serve the song. After a while, a song has its own life, and it needs its own particular diet. So, we can’t just throw plugs in there just for the hell of it or whatever idea we had; we serve thissong. We have these grandiose ideas, ‘We’re going to use this pedal and more plugs,’ but did it happen? No, not in every song.”
The album’s debut single, “On Graveyard Hill,” is an in-your-face, classic Pixies tale of imminent, ominous doom. Beneath the Eyriesounds like a dusty book of eerie folklore tales, full of the black arts, death, and its aftermath. “Surroundings have a big impact on anybody,” Santiago shares. “The way a house is built, the same thing. We built music around them, and those atmospheres had influenced Charles.”
“The album has a gothic theme,” he notes, “witches, things are floating around, things swimming around, all that stuff. The overall feel has a mystery to it.”
Pixies recorded the album surrounded by nature, and while they were taking a break outside the studio—formerly St. John’s Church, built in 1896—Lovering spotted the thing that would inspire its title. “The studio we were in was literally underneath an eyrie, an eagle’s nest,” Santiago remembers. “It was up on the hill; we were in this church. There were these old railroad tracks that are dead now. That doesn’t work; no trains go through anymore. Lovering spotted this eagle’s nest, and the name ‘eyrie’sounded cool. Tom Dalgety, the producer, suggested the title, and we took it.”
Pixies tell more stories like this one in their 12-episode “It’s a Pixies Podcast,” which began airing on June 27 and documents what took place in the studio during the recording of Beneath the Eyrie. “The manager proposed it, and there was also some kind of financial arrangement where the podcast funded it,” Santiago explains. “OK, that’s fine and dandy, but did we like it? Did we want people in there? But it was just a person, [author] Tony Fletcher, and he was a fly on the wall. He knew the deal. He knew how to behave in the studio. So, we were totally comfortable.”
“Talking to him was very therapeutic with what was actually going on with your mind, because you never really think about what you’re doing until you talk about it,” he adds. “It’s a podcast, and it demystifies what this particular band does when we record—which was, this time around, a lot of humor, a lot of lightness. They say humor is a defense against reality, and that’s what that is.”