Q&A: Pixies Guitarist Joey Santiago on the Band’s Past and Present Tenacity

Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago talks with Milwaukee Magazine prior to the band’s appearance April 1, at Eagles Ballroom.

Boston-based Pixies’ impact on the alternative rock genre is anything but fool’s gold. Between their first run (1986-1993) and recent run (2004-present), the band has struck rich many times over in shaping and influencing the genre. They’ll keep their momentum going this fall with a new album.

Before Pixies return to Milwaukee on Monday, April 1, at The Rave/Eagles Club, we caught up with guitarist Joey Santiago to talk about the band’s past and present tenacity.

Last year the band celebrated the 30th anniversary of debut album Surfer Rosa. This year is the 30th for Doolittle. What was it like playing Surfer Rosa?

We’re doing it for the kids. They like that. We did [Surfer Rosa] in order every night. It’s pretty good, even though Surfer Rosa doesn’t work that well live for us, because there’s a lot of switching guitars around. And it was kind of clunky for us because we’re used to going, not taking any breaks between songs, and this time we had to, just because we had to honor the record verbatim.

The band was in a very creative space in those early years, releasing an album pretty much every year.

Yeah, I think that’s the way we thought the business ran. A lot of other bands were doing that, one record per year. That’s the old school way of releasing records. We do like the recording aspect, and, yeah, we didn’t know any better. We probably could have slowed down a bit.

What are some of your favorite Milwaukee memories?

I liked the T-shirts from [Atomic Records]. I always went over to that vinyl store. There’s also a magician place there. A private magic club. Yes, it is, in Milwaukee. We went there with [drummer] David [Lovering], because David’s a magician and belongs to the Magic Castle here in Los Angeles. So, we would go there and watch some magic.

The band recently announced a new album coming out this fall. What can fans expect?

It’s a gamut of the Pixies. We go from hard stuff to really pop to sweet to angry. It’s like a Pixies radio station.

What was it like working with producer Tom Dalgety on the album?

Oh, we loved it. We wouldn’t be working with him for a second time if we didn’t. And we liked the vibe. It was quick. He knows how to dial in great sounds, and he knows the vibe of the band. He knows the history and how to move us forward. Not to sound like we’re recording the same album twice. We’d never do that anyways, but he’s really cognizant of that.

What surprised you most during the sessions?

What surprised me most was that, speaking for myself, that was the most relaxed I’ve been. I’ve been a nervous wreck at times, but that was the most relaxed. And yeah, everyone played great. New songs were written that made the album as we were recording, and they made the cut. At least three of them were written as we were recording.

Is that something that’s happened more frequently?

Yes. I think we’ve done more on the fly with the last two records than with previous ones. We just get on this creative flow. It helps to have us in the studio with residency. And we’re all in the same house, so we do a little pow-wow in the living room after we’ve cut our tracks. We’re always working. Or having fun, you know, whatever you call it.

Bass player Paz Lenchantin has been a member of the band for about five years now. How has she influenced the band’s sound and chemistry?

Oh, she’s very positive. We call her Paz-itive and she’s a great player; she does things in one take, which is quite unnerving to me.

The band will be part of a new podcast series in June called Past is Prologue. What was it like giving them a behind-the-scenes look at life in the band?

It wasn’t as bad as I thought. I thought that some guy would just be following us all around every day. And [Tony] did come every day, but he was great. We couldn’t have found a better guy to do the podcast with. And we had cameras and little microphones hidden, and now the cameras are so small that we can’t even tell it’s there. We say some stuff and go, “Oh shit, is that thing on?” [laughs]

What are you most looking forward to the rest of the year?

I’m looking forward to releasing the record in September. And kicking it off in London, our second home. And taking it from there. Yeah, I’m looking forward to that and when we start doing the podcast in June, you know, all these little things. I think it’s going to be really funny. 

I think people are going to find out we’re not all that serious. It’s only rock and roll and we kinda like it. We don’t take ourselves seriously at all, whatsoever. And you’ll see it on this podcast. I listen to it and go, “Yeah, we’re pretty fuckin’ goofy, you know?”



Joshua Miller covers music and culture for Milwaukee Magazine. He also writes for various other outlets in Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago. You can follow him at @JoshuaMMillerWI.