Along with groups like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., Black Francis — former frontman of the Pixies — is a member of the old guard of alternative rock musicians still recording and touring with the urgency that made them heroes. The abrasive, broken-glass guitar pop he and his original band created in the early days of alt-rock inspired such seminal acts as Nirvana, but that legacy has made him far from lazy. Since the Pixies’ 1993 breakup and 2004 reemergence, Black Francis (a.k.a. Frank Black) has recorded and toured non-stop, and he will bring his solo acoustic show to the Hard to Find Showspace in Goleta on Saturday. We recently caught up with Black over the phone to discuss his new solo projects, the freedom of remaining an uncompromisingly independent musician, and his ever-evolving musical ideas.
After decades of fierce individualism, Black had a lot to say — so much, in fact, that when he began speaking, the eccentricities of the conversation started to resemble a Pixies song. (Seriously.) During a discussion about how indie artists like him are affected by digital downloading, he went on to discuss how people’s nostalgia for the recording industry reflects their need to feel a sense of importance in connection with history. “People want to be a part of something. They want to be part of some movement or some revolution or some milestone. ‘Hey, I was around when this major thing happened: We learned how to fly!’ or ‘Hey, I was around, man, when the Internet showed up.’”
And that somehow ends in a rant about the existence of extraterrestrials. “People say, ‘Oh, is there life on other planets?’ How preposterous,” he said. “We’re so egotistical to think that we’re the only life in the universe. The universe is so big. We think we’re so important.” Later, he demurred, “Well, I don’t know. I just sound like I’m stoned, or something. I’m trying to formulate a point, and I don’t quite have it worked out in my brain. Why don’t we just move on?” So, we do.
What was the biggest thing that happened in your career in the last year or so? Well, I got to record in A-level recording studios both in Los Angeles and in London, and it’s been a long time since I’ve recorded in London. As a musician, you grow up listening to the Beatles, so to be able to work in London is pretty great. And it’s a really great studio called RAK Studio, so I felt very cool to be recording in an old, haunted studio. … It’s just the cache of being an international jetsetter.
What is the concept behind SVN FNGRS, your 2008 album? The idea is that all the songs are related to the concept of ‘demigod.’ SVN FNGRS is a reference to an Irish demigod who had seven fingers and seven toes [mythological hero Cú Chulainn].
So, when you’re recording, does it help to have a concept like that in mind just to keep it focused? It has in recent years, yeah. About 2007, with the Bluefinger record, was the first time I really set out to have a pure concept record, and I’ve done a couple since then.
Since you’re mostly producing yourself, do you have more freedom to do those kinds of experimental projects? I don’t know. I don’t really have anything to compare it to. It’s all freedom, as far as I’m concerned. I’m a musician. I don’t punch a clock; I make records. Sometimes I make them on my own and sometimes I make them with producers. But I don’t feel any less free when I’m working with a producer. You’re just working with somebody, you know?
NME reported that SVN FNGRS took six days to write and record. How do you work so quickly? It comes from being in the music business for a long time. I used to work with a guitar player who was very, very good. I rehearsed with the drummer and the bass player for about six weeks, and every day we used to go jam, just working out these tunes. He showed up to rehearsal maybe, like, once or twice and he cut the record with us. The point is, he was a really hotshot guitar player. He was older than us, too, and he had practiced a lot when he was young. But he was a certain kind of musician. So, it’s kind of like he didn’t need to practice with us because he’d already practiced at an earlier point in his life. … I’m not making my third album. I’m making my twentieth album, or whatever. So, after a while you start to be able to do certain things faster. It’s not like I’m so lightning fast, it’s just that, you know, you just spend less time thinking about certain things. It just sort of happens.
Are you working on a record for 2010? I’m always working on a record.
Have you come up with a theme? Yeah, it’s called Non Stop Erotik. The title kind of sums it up. It’s got a lot of very sexually oriented stuff in it.
So it’s very rock ‘n’ roll, or how rock ‘n’ roll was originally, in a way. I don’t know. I mean, people have their own impressions. It’s not necessarily “Hot Legs.”
Is there a particular reason you decided to go in that direction? No. That’s just what the muse told me to do.
Black Francis plays at solo acoustic show at the Hard to Find Showspace (7190 Hollister Ave., Goleta) this Saturday, January 30 at 8 p.m. with openers Cat OK. Visit clubmercy.com for tickets and info.