The groundbreaking ’80s and ’90s alt-rock band, The Pixies, had a great strategy. They’d lure you in with bassist Kim Deal’s melodic bass lines and sweet, child-like vocals. As you started to feel safe, though the quartet would pummel you with ferocious guitars while frontman Black Francis (real name: Charles Thompson) screamed about whores, murderers and haunting images of eyeballs being sliced apart.
Throughout his work as Black Francis with the Pixies and as the solo artist Frank Black and Black Francis, Thompson has personified both aspects of his former band – sweet and savage – in interviews. But when the Weekly caught up with Thompson by telephone recently, the fabled musician, who will play a solo show at the Henry Miller Library this Friday, was downright chatty.
His former band is currently making waves with the announcement that they’ll reunite this fall to perform their landmark 1989 Dolittle at 14 shows across the country. Though it was 20 years ago, Thompson recalls hearing a demo cassette of the songs with Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago. “Even before we recorded the first note – we had done the demo sessions – we knew something special had already happened,” he says.
The latest Pixies reunion raises questions on whether the band plans to write new material. “Will it ever happen?” Thompson muses. “I have no idea. You would think I’d have an idea, because I’m a singer in the band. It’s more complicated than that.”
The prolific musician says he only gets inspired to write songs when deadlines loom, explaining that spending time in a nice hotel by himself the other day almost got him inspired enough to write something. Almost.
“I was like, ‘I’m so cool,’” he says. “This is what it’s like for Robert Plant. He’s just sitting up in his hotel suite, nibbling on a fruit plate, thinking about nothing. I’m really enjoying it. I’m like, ‘Where’s a pencil, where’s a pen? I should just take this opportunity to write that great f****** song right now.’ I tried to do it the other day. It f****** lasted 10 seconds.”
Since the Pixies disbanded in 1993, Thompson has thrown his fans many curveballs, from his eclectic Frank Black CD Teenager of the Year, to his straight-ahead rock records with The Catholics. One of the most memorable detours was 2005’s country-rock Honeycomb, teaming with session musicians Spooner Oldham (Aretha Franklin, Neil Young) and Steve Cropper (Booker T & the MG’s.) “They’re kind of like on the monk level in their music, and you’re still in seminary,’’ he says. “They’ve been on the mountain with nothing to eat and taken vows of abstinence and silence for years. They are kind of directly communicating with the cosmos.”
Thompson will dive into material from all aspects of his career during the local show. “It’s a fairly loose evening,” he says. “I sometimes have a glass of wine onstage. I may illuminate one of the songs for the fans with details about the background or something. Or I might give some background about my life that has nothing to do with the song. I might talk about what I had for breakfast.”
BLACK FRANCIS plays 7:30pm Friday, Aug. 14, at the Henry Miller Library, a quarter mile south of Nepenthe Restaurant on Highway 1, Big Sur. $26.50. 667-2574.