Getting stuck in a traffic jam, when you’re due to interview the drummer of perhaps the greatest band EVER in 20 minutes, is far from ideal, especially when you have time constraints on that conversation already. So it was a relief that Pixies‘ legendary sticksman Dave Lovering was very forgiving of my shoddy timekeeping skills, and we talked about the forthcoming 30th anniversary release of their debut album proper Surfer Rosa, THAT drum sound, and the inner workings of of a brilliant, but dysfunctional set of individuals.
God Is In The TV: Back in the eighties, I mentioned to a school friend of mine that I liked Pixies. He just sneered at me and dismissively said “Pfft, who’s going to remember THEM? Where will THEY be in 30 years time?” I’d really like to track that guy down now and tell him that actually, 30 years on, you’re regarded as one of the most influential bands of all time, and that you regularly top ‘Greatest Ever Album’ polls in practically every music magazine going. Must feel pretty good, right?
Dave Lovering: It feels unbelievable! I still can’t quite believe Surfer Rosa is 30 years old. It doesn’t seem like more than about ten minutes since we did the 20th anniversary of Doolittle. It’s incredible to think that nearly ten years has passed since we even did that. They’ll be wheeling us out on stage to perform the 50th anniversary tour! Was there ever a point where I thought “Whoa! We’ve got something special here“? No, not really! It’s just been amazing to have been a part of it – to have had such an opportunity, you know?
It seems apparent, from reading various articles, that Surfer Rosa period was the happiest time of your career, at least in terms of recording…
Dave: Well, I gotta say, the thing is we were all so young, and it was a real big deal for us, you know? Up until that point we’d only really recorded an EP, Come On Pilgrim, on an eight track, and now this…this was all huge to us – I’d never seen a board that big! And of course then you’ve got all these real professional guys there like Steve Albini and it all just feels so exciting. It’s impossible not to look back on it fondly, and there’s a lot of nostalgia there for us too. There was also a real sense of “What’s next?“, because we knew those songs so well, as we’d already been playing them around Boston, building up a following for a year or two before we recorded them.
Quite a few folk, at least here in the UK, would have heard ‘Gigantic‘ as their first ever Pixies tune, so probably many of us were expecting another Throwing Muses…
Dave: (laughs) I guess there was a lot of correlation with the other 4AD bands – we were actually on tour with Throwing Muses at that time. There was a similar dynamic between all those bands. It was a good time.
Did you have many “What the fuck!” moments when you realised what the lyrics were? I mean some of those words were seriously messed up!
Dave: You know it’s funny, I still, to this day don’t really know what many of the words are…
Well, case in point, from the opening track ‘Bone Machine‘: “He bought me a soda and he tried to molest me in the parking lot“…
Dave: Oh yeah, I know certain key words well enough, and I was aware of that one, but I’m so focused listening to the melody and the music that I probably don’t pay enough attention to the lyrics!
How did you get that incredible, urgent drum sound that starts that song?
Dave: I don’t know that it actually came out intentionally. It was more likely us just monkeying around in the studio and making all these suggestions, seeing what stuck. It’s strange, because even though it’s something I decided to play in a regular kind of way, and I’ve played it, like, forever, I’ve been sometimes messing that up lately. And it’s the easiest song to play! I think maybe I’ve been analysing it too much. I probably just need to play it without thinking about it.
Did you miss the band, during the hiatus? I mean, I know you kept on with other stuff like The Martinis, and playing with Tanya Donnelly, but still…
Dave: The Martinis was just a fun thing I did with my wife, and it was good to do those other things, but there’s nothing I enjoyed more than playing with The Pixies. Being away from them, in a funny way, made me appreciate the drums more, and I feel like it gave me a lot of time to become a better musician. I think I’m a better drummer now than I’ve ever been and I hope that comes across.
Gasp! You said ‘The’ Pixies. I’ve spent my whole life deliberately avoiding putting ‘The’ at the front…
Dave: (laughs) Well, you know, I had a late night last night, we had some friends over, so…ok I admit it, I try to say it properly but I just can’t do it!
It was Kim who brought you in as Pixies drummer wasn’t it? So how did you cope, personally, when all the tensions were building between her and Charles? It must have been tough.
Dave: Was it all blown out of proportion by the media? There probably was a bit of that. But you know, it’s just the band, man. We grew into this dysfunctional group of people but we were pretty much neutral and everyone got along. And when you’re in a dysfunctional band, you need that kind of intensity. It’s what fuelled us, you know?
I must admit, the first Pixies record I bought on hearsay, and on my initial listen it was so different to anything I’d heard that I thought “What the hell?” – my ears couldn’t cope with it. Then a few days later a friend of mine saw it and said “Wow! You have a Pixies record“, so I played it again, and this time I was blown away (forgive the pun). It took me a while.
Dave: To be honest, me too. Even when I went to audition for them, I thought it sounded ‘interesting’, but I wasn’t really sure it was for me. I couldn’t really wrap my head around it at first, but then, like you, those songs grew on me more and more until I loved ’em! And I really do love them now. I’m a huge Pixies fan!
How important do you think the artwork was in building the legend?
Dave: I’m not sure. But all those sleeves – all the artwork has always been done by Vaughan Oliver for us, so he’s been really important to the band anyway. And we’ve never told him anything – he just goes off and then really goes to work on it. I’m sure there’s a lot of hidden stuff in there but I’m not really sure what the meaning is to any of it.
Does it feel weird when your work is featured in huge movies like Fight Club, or to advertise Guinness and Visa on commercial TV?
Dave: The only thing that I find weird about it is that a lot of people know about Pixies just because of that. I don’t think any of us ever realised just how many people would react to it – especially that last scene in Fight Club, but it’s just been amazing.
Anything else you’d like to achieve, personally? Either as a musician or otherwise?
Dave: Just to continue playing. I’m more than happy with that. I’m very fortunate in that respect, and it’s nice that I still have work!
And what better way to end the interview, finishing the call just in time to avoid over-running and thus incurring the wrath of the band’s PR (just kidding – they were nothing but helpful and supportive). I’m just gutted I forgot to ask him whether Debbie Gibson ever got in touch after ‘Make Believe‘, that’s all. Ah well, there’s always next time!
PHOTO CREDIT: Both photos by Millicent Harvey.