There’s a line in “Catfish Kate,” a brilliant song on the brilliant new album by Pixies, “Beneath the Eyrie,” about a place “where every creature drinks their fill and other creatures take their kill.” In “This Is My Fate,” Black Francis mockingly sings, “Take a little more drink.”
Intended or not, the singer’s poeticism could also shed some light on his bandmate and college roommate Joey Santiago’s battle with addiction.
“I was having like the perfect story of personal problems,” Pixies guitarist Santiago says from a tour stop in Belgium this fall. “Everything came up at once, and I’ve always loved to drink, I drank every day since I was 20 or something. I started doing drugs, and that became a love again. My dog almost drowned in front of me. It was getting ridiculous. I don’t know if it affected my work, but it probably did. There were days I wasn’t ready and wouldn’t show up when we were making demos. That was accepted because Charles had a lot of patience with me.”
Santiago is now sober, and he says the making of “Beneath the Eyrie” was “effortless.” But that balance of dark and light has always has been a hallmark of the group’s singular and influential brand of brainy indie rock, even when things are going well, which they have been since the band reunited in 2004 after a decade-long breakup and continued after founding bassist Kim Deal left in the early aughts. Pixies are otherwise intact, with original members Black Francis (real name Charles Thompson IV), Santiago and drummer Dave Lovering joined by bassist Paz Lenchantin.
The straight-shooting Santiago says the Boston band called it quits in the ’90s because “we were a bunch of brats.” Despite the success of albums like “Surfer Rosa” and “Doolittle,” he says, “We we’re young, and we didn’t appreciate what we had and worked on, and it was just a big mess. When a band is as lucky as we were and unhappy, that’s the nut of the problem. Everyone else’s perspective was, ‘What the fuck are you doing? Why are you so low?’ We were a bunch of brats.”
The 2004 redux was built around an appearance at a major festival.
“There was always demand,” Santiago says. “Charles blurted out something that we were going to get back together, and it blew up to this thing and Coachella. Then it got serious and we thought about it: ‘Coheadline at Coachella, holy fuck, maybe we should entertain this idea for at least a year.'”
The band had to cancel tour dates in 2016 when Santiago entered rehab, which Pixies announced to their fans publicly. When he returned to the band, taking the stage substance-free was “very difficult,” he says.
“The first week that we played, I looked to my amp for my drink — that’s normal, a lot of bands do that — and it just wasn’t there,” he says. “I got a little more nervous. The crutch wasn’t there. After a while, I didn’t even look back there anymore. So I guess that’s kind of poetic: Don’t look back at shit. Eventually it became easier. People are saying I’m playing better.”
Pixies, whose Northeast swing includes a performance Saturday at Town Hall for the NPR “Live from Here” program and a sold-out concert Monday at Webster Hall, are working without a setlist. Santiago said the band decides what song to open with, “and that’s it.”
“It’s energizing,” he says. “At first it was, you know, trial and error, and then as far as getting the groove down, all the right songs and the right timing with David and Charles.”
During the recording of “Beneath the Eyrie” at Dreamland Studios in Woodstock — the former St. John’s church, built in 1896 — journalist Terry Fletcher miked up the band for “It’s a Pixies Podcast.”
“We probably would have never let a journalist in back then,” Santiago says of the band’s first go-around. “Maybe Vegas would have started betting on when we were going to break up.”
Photo by Travis Shinn