Here comes your band: It's been 25 years since they found their minds (way out in the water, swimming), and The Pixies are ready to begin a new chapter of the band's story. Although longtime bassist Kim Deal left the group last year, the influential alt-rockers have soldiered on, putting out two EPs of new music (simply titled EP1 and EP2) and embarking on a 31-city U.S. tour that kicks off tonight at Boston's Orpheum Theatre.
"This is our 'time to prove that we have something' tour," says lead singer/guitarist Black Francis, 48. "We have new music after 20 years of not making new music, a new band member (bassist Paz Lenchantin) and a very loyal fan base, some who are OK with change and some who are very resistant. Those are all challenges, (but) we're selling plenty of tickets, so we're very happy about that." A quick glance at the group's website finds that more than half of the American shows are already sold out, with a dozen-plus European and South American dates on the horizon.
Pumping the brakes: The iconic group has never been one to take the easy path. Following years of tension, the band broke up in 1993, only to get back together in 2004 for a reunion tour that grossed $14 million, according to the Chicago Tribune. Continuing to tour and make sporadic festival appearances in later years, The Pixies finally began recording new music across the pond in Wales in late 2012. After recording six songs, Deal told them that she had had enough.
"That was a big, big letdown for everyone," says drummer David Lovering, 52. "We wished her well because it was what she wanted to do, (but) it was an emotional low. We didn't know what to do." The three remaining members (including guitarist Joey Santiago, 48) ultimately decided to forge ahead, and released a new song, Bagboy, just two weeks after Deal's departure was officially announced on the group's Facebook page last June.
The new face of bass: The Muffs' lead singer Kim Shattuck played bass for The Pixies on the band's 2013 European tour, and has since been succeeded by Lenchantin, 40, as the touring bassist. "She's beyond pro," Lovering says, adding that not only does she keep the band's "masculine/feminine yin and yang going," but it's "just a joy playing with her."
Painting and pigging out: The Pixies confess that life on the tour bus isn't all that interesting: The band doesn't really watch movies or TV together, and Lovering says he's not much of a reader. Instead, he and Santiago prefer to rest up and work up an appetite for when they hit the big cities. "I just love local food," Lovering says. "It's always great going to New Orleans, New York City, Chicago, it doesn't matter. Everyone has their (signature dish) and good food."
Francis says he'll join them for the occasional "fancy lunch," but tends to pass on going out for dinner ("It's too much before the show"). He prefers to spend his spare time practicing Bikram yoga and drawing. "What I really like to do is paint, but since I can't really paint in my hotel room without incurring very high damages, I have been practicing my drawings," Francis says.
Sticking to the basics: Backstage, the band tends to keep it pretty quiet pre-show, Francis says. They keep a simple tour rider (consisting primarily of hummus, cheese and water) and do minimal warm-ups as a group. "When I look at the set list, I just look at the first three songs. If they're really fast, fast songs, I'll warm up," Lovering says. "I have this pair of really thick, marching-band drumsticks, but they have rubber sticks on them. You can practice anywhere and don't need a pad to practice on. It's one of those, 'Why didn't I think of that?' things."
Encounters with the Thin White Duke: They've notably inspired artists such as Nirvana and Radiohead, but who knew Ziggy Stardust was a Pixies fan? "There was a time when it seemed like we were bumping into David Bowie a lot," Francis says. "We were going to his show, he was coming to our show, or we were eating curry with him somewhere, or hanging out in dressing rooms — just connecting with him because he was a fan and obviously, of course, we were fans, too. It was such a great pleasure for all of us to get to meet him, get to know him a little bit, talk about music and basically connect as one music fan to another."
More relevant than ever: Rather than slip away into music history, The Pixies continue to be pertinent in the nearly 30 years since they came together, as evidenced by an increasingly younger fan base. When the band played Coachella in 2004, "I looked out at the sea of people, and the thing that really struck me was, this is now our new audience," Lovering says. "This is an audience of kids that weren't even born when our records were out initially. And they knew every word to every song. It was shocking to me. I'll never forget it, and it's been that way for a lot of shows we've done since then.
"And then there's the people that are either my age or older that wish we were playing in a theater with seats. We're a very fortunate band to have such a diverse audience."