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October 24, 2014

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Q+A: Pixies’ Joey Santiago talks new material, Kim Deal’s departure and Las Vegas vices

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Pixies.

A decade after indie rock deity Pixies first reunited, the band is out to prove that this ain’t no victory lap.

The group is on the road again, returning to play the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel on Sunday night and armed with a new slate of songs from their recent EPs and new bassist Paz Lenchantin, who replaced founding member Kim Deal after her departure last year.

I chatted with guitarist Joey Santiago about the group’s changes, new material and Las Vegas vices.

It’s been 10 years since Pixies got back together. How has the band evolved in that time — what’s been the biggest change besides Kim’s departure?

We’re more appreciative and grateful that we have these fans who are a new generation who are watching our shows. We’re one of those lucky bands, you know? We don’t have people who aged with us. It’s really the appreciation — after the show, we just go “Jeez!” One show in Columbus, we were like, “God, that’s the youngest crowd we’ve ever seen!” We just love the crowd we have.

How does the band’s songwriting dynamic now compare to in the past? Especially with your guitar sound, which is this very raw, tense, kind of manic thing that seems very rooted in emotion, do you draw on something differently today to tap into that versus, say, 20 years ago?

Well, for some songs, no. For “Bagboy,” no. The choruses were just that sound people associate with what I do, and I pretty much know how to do that. A different approach I do take (this time around) is that I was starting to be more atmospheric a la (1990s album) “Bossanova,” maybe. I always have that element in, but maybe I concentrated more of that on these EPs. Sometimes I do go (crazy), though. Like on “What Goes Boom” and “Blue Eyed Hex,” there’s just that manic (stuff) that’s happening.

And that just comes from however you’re feeling or what you’re picking up on in the session?

Yeah, I’d have the bone structure of it and then just try to get the feeling right with it. That’s really it. It sounds simple, but it’s not easy. We’re just super hard on ourselves.

What have been the challenges of reintroducing yourselves with new material, especially into a rock music climate that you’ve been so influential in shaping?

The challenge is people have been begging for new stuff, so it’s about coming out with new stuff that hopefully they would like, or one day they’ll go, “Oh yeah, I was wrong, this is good.” There are plenty of records out there, including ours, that take a while to latch on. So the challenge of coming out with new stuff wasn’t that challenging in a way (because) people really wanted it.

What sparked the decision to finally release new material?

It was just time to be a band. We’ve been on it too long, the reunion. It’s like, OK, uncle! Uncle already! Let’s be a band. Bands tour, and more importantly, they make records so they can tour. We’re making records (now) so we could tour. We’re going back to our roots. I’m surprised that we didn’t do it earlier, but I think the timing is just right now.

I know you guys had tried recording new material in the past, and it didn’t come together. What made it work now?

I guess third time’s a charm. The songs were undeniably great, and we all wanted to and agreed to document it. And we never did that. We never all went to one place and hashed it out and only had two weeks. We tried once with all of us in a room jamming, and that failed miserably. Now it’s just back to roots, where I went over to Charles (Thompson's) place and recorded for about six weeks, and out of those sessions we came out with some good stuff, the EP.

You said in another interview that the challenge with Kim’s departure has been to win people over, or win people back, since she’s left. Is that frustrating for you? And how do you go about doing that?

We just took it one step at a time. We found a great bass player, and that’s good. I think we’ve overcome the challenge in and of itself of winning over the audience. No one’s left our concert disappointed, really. They all go gaga when we leave the stage. They demand an encore. It’s so loud, it’s unbelievable. They always deserve an encore.

But is it frustrating that you felt like you had to convince people otherwise going into it, even after all this time?

It’s 3 to 1 still; the odds are in our favor. Charles wrote the songs, I did the guitar parts, which is almost the Pixies sound, for crying out loud. And there’s that element of it. But people miss Kim. She’s charming. Her voice, her stage presence — people just love looking at her and (hearing) the timbre of her voice. But live-wise, to me, after a while it was clear that people listen with their ears, not their eyes, and we sound as good as ever, so, you know, just shut your eyes. I mean there is a visual aspect, too. I think we’re more energetic than ever … (but) there’s no room to think about other things, missing Kim and all that stuff. There’s no room in the day for me to do that.

You’ve performed the Joint once before — do you guys like playing Las Vegas? Do the Pixies have any Vegas vices?

The Joint is really a magnificent venue. It’s a really nice place, so I’m looking forward to it. I know David would want to go because he likes to gamble. I don’t like to gamble, but I like to do other things over there. Occasionally, I like to have a drink or two, but I don’t have any vices. We’re looking forward to Vegas. To warm weather. Jesus Christ. It was 3 degrees this morning. I’m about to go crazy.

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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