Tag Archives: FRANK BLACK


As leader of Boston-based ‘80s indie rock icons, the Pixies, Frank Black inspired the entire ‘90s Seattle grunge scene as well as various British shoegazers and mod garage rockers from far and wide. Becoming a soloist for three fine albums and then leader of backup troupe the Catholics for six more prior to their ’04 demise, this gigantic Pixie continually mellows like fine wine. His early influences include ‘60s legends such as the Beatles, Donovan, Leon Russell, John Mayall, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and most profoundly for his latest work, Bob Dylan’s Nashville-recorded Blonde On Blonde.

Taking the same linear path Dylan did in ’66, Black headed to Nashville in ‘05 and got a southerly soul producer, in this case, Jon Tiven (B.B. King/ Wilson Pickett/ Delbert Mc Clinton), to assemble a sterling cast of veteran musicians to lend a hand on his latest batch of tunes. The result, Honeycomb, probably goes better with a bottle of Chardonnay than the beer and a shot doubtlessly quaffed listening to his clamorous Catholics barroom stomps. Famed Muscle Shoals musicians, bassist David Hood and keyboardist Spooner Oldham, respected session drummer Anton Fig, and renowned Stax Records/ Booker T guitarist Steve Cropper provide solid assistance.

Black croons through lightly buoyant originals such as stormy Crescent City memento “Selkie Bride,” soothingly percussive soft-pop lucidity “I Burn Today,” and spookily hushed visage “Lone Child,” keeping the overall mood sedate. He brings an easygoing melodic shuffle to Tex-Mex organist Doug Sahm’s earthy “Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day.” Studio engineer-owner Dan Penn co-wrote R & B standard “Dark End Of The Street,” which Black learned from Country-rock casualty Gram Parsons’ version and herein receives a compelling blanched blues-y falsetto sensitivity. Meanwhile, Black also borrowed Elvis’ goofy Girls Girls Girls film track “Song Of The Shrimp,” giving the novelty a speak-sung interpretation acquired from deceased Texas Country-folk phenom Townes Van Zandt’s out of tempo live rendition.

Last time I tried to interview you, your vintage equipment had been stolen by some assholes. Did you ever get it back?


FRANK: Never found it. It was stolen outside Philadelphia. I’m sure it went straight into a container ship. But life’s worked out. I’ve accumulated more vintage gear. My brother bought me a nice ’54 Telecaster last year. It’s a lovely guitar.

How’d producer Jon Tiven bring you together with all those veteran Nashville musicians for Honeycomb?


He’s got an extensive black book. He works with many musicians from all backgrounds. He’s 50 now, so he actually was a writer for Rolling Stone at age 15 or 16. So he’s been involved with music for a long time. He was even part of New York’s punk scene.

Did living out in woodsy western Massachusetts during your UMass college days inspire the folksy retreats?


I didn’t grow up there. I lived bi-coastal between Massachusetts and California. But certainly lots of people from my generation and hopefully people younger than me got exposed to a lot of folk, blues, Rhythm & Blues, and Gospel…especially Classic rock and roll. You hear it on the radio or through parents’ record collections. People get exposed to more classic music than they think.

When you moved from L.A. to Portland, Oregon during the ‘90s, did the literary scene there influence you?


I wasn’t involved in any Portland scene. I was learning how to live alone (after divorce). I lived in a big loft, but now I’m 100 miles south. When I split up with my wife I moved.

Peculiarly, your ex-wife sings on “Strange Goodbye.” Was that song based on true recollections?


Yeah. Absolutely. That’s our parting shot as the happy couple. We had a friendly divorce and love each other. We had a pact early in our relationship that if we broke up, we’d remain friends.

Some of Honeycomb’s more melodious moments reminded me of ‘70s soft rocker Andy Fairweather-Low. Do you know him?


I heard his name but don’t know his music.

Your crooning was unexpected. Did you practice octave scales?


No. It’s just the type of material that got written. I give a lot of credit to my singing teacher who has helped me in the past five years.

There’s a newfound sensibility and vulnerability adding dramatic intrigue to your latest song batch.


Sure. You go through something dramatic in your life – an old relationship ends and a new one is starting. You move from a city you’ve been in 12 years, break up a former band (the Catholics) and reunite another (the Pixies). So you feel beat up, give up, say ‘fuck it,’ and become inspired. It’s a good place to be now.

You’ve got to be proud of the Pixies accomplishments and the amount of fans coming out in droves for the reunion tours.


It’s wonderful. I was bragging about my new record to them but still begging them to please listen to it. It was probably a buzzkill for them. Here we are over a decade later on the verge of playing our first shows together and I’m caught up with my Nashville record. That’s what happens when you come out of the studio excited about something.

Will you support Honeycomb with any tour dates even though the Pixies are scheduled to be on the road all summer?


I guess by talking (to the press) I’ll get exposure. I’ve been talking to those guys about doing a tour but they’re all busy. If we do it, it’ll be later in the year. Steve Cropper does a lot of live work with Booker T & the MG’s and a band under his own name. Spooner Oldham was setting up a session with Neil Young tomorrow.

Spooner’s keyboard playing seemed to dictate Honeycomb’s mellow flow.


Those guys expressed a lot of restraint. He was shockingly almost absent for the first half of a section of a song. Suddenly, his hands would fall on to the keyboards in almost a bumbling way. He’s as soft and gentle as his playing, personality-wise. They all added to that poignancy. They’re not really about playing loud. They’re about the groove and playing off each other and the singer.

What did you learn from those seasoned musicians that will resonate for the rest of your life?


I suppose the greatest thing I observed, which is no great mystery, is they proved their prowess by listening to what I was singing and locked into what they were playing. They didn’t have to refer to the charts. They never even rehearsed the songs and many were done in one or two takes.

Some of your Catholics songs were made in one take.


Yeah. After solo debut, Cult Of Ray, the first Catholic record represented very few takes, but a lot of rehearsal. Sometimes we’d need 50 takes. At Dan Penn’s studio, we recorded some multi-tracks for this album. Technically, there were overdubs, but we were always playing together. Nashville is at the crossroads of America, whether it’s rock and roll, blues, or Gospel. It’s all been going on there for a hundred years. I didn’t have any clear vision. I wrote some songs and asked Tiven to hook me up with a band. I wrote chord charts with bassist David Hood, counted them off, and played them. I knew the situation I was getting into and it may have affected the type of songs I wrote semi-subconsciously. But it wasn’t a tailor made vision.

What have you been listening to recently?


I can’t say I listen to anything new, mostly Classical and Jazz for no particular reason. I got into older ‘30s Jazz combo things like Stuff Smith and jumpin’ jive. I like that because it’s closer to rock and roll and related to the popular song form – three minutes and lots of vocals. But I also love John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, and Chet Baker.

How will the Pixies tour differ from last years’ excursion?


We’ll do a few different songs, but nothing worth reporting on. We just play the songs the way they went down in the ‘80s. We already wrote the songs. Now we’re just playing them live. We don’t know if we’ll record new songs. We haven’t booked a studio. We’re too busy driving around in our tour bus collecting briefcases full of cash. (laughter)




FOREWORD: I first interviewed ex-Pixies main man, Frank Black, in ’98, to support his first album with backing band, the Catholics. He’d already done three decent solo albums, but wanted to get back to his primal rock roots and chose Miracle Legion’s bassist and drummer to offer fine support. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.


After disbanding innovative ‘80s Boston rock quartet, the Pixies, Frank Black (a.k.a. Black Francis) began a solo career while his former partner, Kim Deal, formed the Breeders with her twin sister. Following a formative self-titled solo debut, Black released pop-styled The Cult Of Ray and equally swell Teenager Of The Year.

Keeping his loud, raunchy guitar riffs sweet ‘n sticky, and his constipated moans harmonious, Black’s recently waxed Frank Black & the Catholics is a two-track demo so good it had to be released in its raw state. Helped greatly by Miracle Legion’s David Mac Caffrey (bass) and Scott Boutier (drums), plus respected session man Lyle Workman (guitar), the songs from this three-day session may be Black’s finest work since the Pixies.

Highlights from the Catholics’ entrée include the love sticks/ life sucks verdict “Back To Rome” (which cleverly uses the decline of the Roman Empire as a metaphor), the Lou Reed-ish “I Gotta Move,” and the seductively charming “King & Queen Of Siam.” But my fave is the absolutely cool Who knockoff “Suffering.”

Presently living in Los Angeles, Black called me one hot afternoon, August, ‘98. He was getting over a cold as he spoke of the Catholics, life in the Pixies, and his love for rock of ages.

You seem to get back to your roots on the new album. Why?


FRANK: What you’re hearing is an expensive demo. We decided after a few days of recording this was the way to go. The producer who was going to work with us thought it sounded great the way it was so we stayed with the live-to-two-track. We were in the studio three days. After the first two, I had grand thoughts this would be the album. But it wasn’t intended that way.

Do you see this album as a logical progression from your first three solo efforts?


FRANK: You could categorize the first two solo albums as a relaxed period which progresses from the Pixies. I was still working with Eric Feldman, who worked on the Pixies’ Trompe Le Monde. We goofed around and had fun with the arrangements. We were enjoying ourselves using players we regularly listen to. The Cult Of Ray and the new album are the result of going out on tour a lot and eventually ending up with the band we already had. We were more true to a pure rock ethic. Certainly The Cult Of Ray is very different from this one, but the instrumentation is very similar

Your only cover song is Larry Norman’s honky tonkin’ “Six-Sixty-Six.” Why cover that song?


FRANK: Larry Norman is an obscure artist who’s considered the father of Jesus rock. In his late ‘60s heyday, I used to listen to his records. I decide to cover one of his songs and “Six-Sixty-Six” was the one I went for.

What early ‘50s/’60s rockers do you enjoy listening to?


FRANK: Certainly a lot of ‘50s and ‘60s recordings have become very holy and important to me. I have more respect for those records than I do for most records made in the ‘80s. It’s closer to the rock explosion in 1955, which was its nucleus. There’s something mystical about that. I’m a big Del Shannon fan. I’m also into Freddy Fender, whose music is rooted in the ‘50s. And Johnny Horton, who did “North To Alaska” and “Battle Of New Orleans.” ‘60s artists like Leon Russell, Doug Sahm, and Sam The Sham & the Pharaohs I also love.

You seem to like those cool three-minute pop tunes.


FRANK: Originally, piano rolls and wax cylinders allowed the mechanics of a song to be leveled down to three minutes. That may have given birth to the conventional pop song. It’s a really strong pillar early rock relied on. As it developed over the years, that cornerstone of music fell. Rules are meant to be broken, but to let a song casually slip into the ten-minute mark, I think, is a bad thing.

Your former band, the Pixies, were influenced by prer-grunge icons. Some critics claim your solo albums are too conventional. What are your thoughts?

I just do what I do. When I was with the Pixies, there was no attempt at being progressive other than we weren’t trying to be like Journey. It wasn’t contrived. We were trying to express rock music as best as we could. Pretty quickly we met with sucess. Along with that came a lot of demands, like touring, making more records, and doing soundtrack songs. Of course, there’s a lot of hype from English magazines declaring us the greatest band in the world and all that shit. You dont’ believe the hype, but you go along with it. So you end up cranking out songs. By the end, I was unhappy with the situation. But I don’t know, it’s different now. You just learn more about songwriting. Development, for me, isn’t planned. It’s like gravity pulling me along.

Would you consider yourself more pop-rooted than Kim Deal?


Maybe yes. But that’s for someone else to decide. I wouldn’t know.

How’d you hook up with David and Scott from Miracle Legion for this album?


The Miracle Legion is basically defunct. I played shows with them over the years and John Stewart had a television show and I needed a pickup band since I fired my band and was floundering around. I was opening for They Might Be Giants when I asked John Stewart if I could use his rhythm section since I was invited to do his show. But they were doing Conan O’Brien that night so I called up David and told him to bring down his rhythm section. So that was my cue to work with those guys. They have a certain glue from having played together in other bands and having been roommates. They make a fat sound in a consistently skewed fashion. Maybe their drums rush by and the bass lags behind. Nothing is overplayed. But nothing is too precious or delicate. They play at full volume like I do. We get along well. I rarely made suggestions on how to deliver a song in rehearsal. I’d have a new song, show them the chords, and a very natural, unspoken relationship developed.

Your singing seems to have more emotional resonance these days.


I’ve always been a singer, not a screamer. I concentrate on singing in tune. I ended up singing on a tribute record with Gary US Bonds. He’s a real soulful, legitimate singer. And here I am, some young punk. David Bowie asked me to sing “Scary Monsters” and “Fashion” for his 50th birthday party. I’m not nearly as good as he, but you just try to be good.

Radio dismissed ’80s indie rock. Would you agree Nirvana opened the doors for indie rock on a commercial level during the ’90s?

For a minute, maybe. But now you can’t get played unless you have one of the fifteen songs on the playlist. I call the post-grunge copycats hamburger bands. I can’t listen to all that crap. And when they do play something on modern rock that’s good, it’s the same Clash song. I can’t deal with those stations. They suck. It’s all about marketing, crunching numbers, and dwindling down to lowest common denominator. I’m not bitter about it. If they want to get ratings playing shitty music to shitheads who think it’s wonderful, it’s their loss. One-hit wonders aren’t passionate about music. They’re obsessed with being famous and it shows. But they make quick money, so so good for them.

-John Fortunato