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The Blogcritics Frank Black Interview Is Here!

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Frank Black has not one, but two impressive new CDs out: Devil’s Workshop and Black Letter Days, which continue his movement toward heavily-strummed classic roots rock, without losing his eccentric vision or indelible ambiance.

We enlisted the aid of Blogcritics.com contributors and readers in our pursuit of the perfect Frank Black interview. The result is before you, my friends.

Eric Olsen: You have used changes in time signature throughout your songwriting career, often in the form of foreshortening at the end of a phrase. The effect for me is to propel the song forward – what is your intended effect or affect?

Frank Black: I have no intention. The weirder the time signature is generally speaking, the least self-conscious I’ve been about it. I find that 4/4 just gets in
my way sometimes.

Amber Nussbaum: If you could ban one musical instrument from existence, what would it be and why?

FB: Hmmm. Kind of an evil question, but I’ll try. Double-necked guitars for sure.

AN: If you could decry any band that’s playing music today, who would it be and why?

FB: Oh, gee. You want me to be mean? I just can’t. Maybe in a private conversation, but not here. I’ve made casual but negative comments before about other artists, and have always regretted it. Let it sufffice to say that there are oh so many bands that are decried behind closed doors.

AN: Hey, what can I say. I figure you guys have got “Who are your biggest influences?” covered.

FB: Did I mention Leon Russell?

Shawn: I know you’ve been asked about Pixies reunions in every interview since 1992 and you general response is “I don’t think so” but how about a David Lovering (sans magic), Joey Santiago, Frank Black tour? You can call yourselves “Pixie”

FB: Oh the reviewers will love that. I prefer to let the Pixies live where they are in the past.

Shawn: Or how about a Mike Watt, Frank Black, J. Mascis ubergroup?

FB: More like an uberunderdog group. Do I qualify for uber?I was just asked about joining an ubergroup. It’s a secret for now.

David: Why release two albums concurrently this year rather than merging two very good albums’ content into one great, unforgettable album?

FB: What are you saying? Which songs don’t you like?

Scott Rosenberg: “The St. Francis Dam Disaster” (from Dog in the Sand) is elemental and moving. It feels like a folk song that was written 100 years ago, and I know it’s based on a real-life event — the bursting of a dam north of L.A. in the early years of the 20th century. Can you tell us how you came to write the song?

FB: It was a grey and windy day…. Scott and Dave had been trying to get me to put lyrics on that one for years. Lyrics are, you know, about stuff.

SR: You’ve been recording for several years now with a stripped down, live-to-4-track (or is it 2 track?) technique. How does that work? Why do you like it?

FB: We record live to stereo or mono (2 or 1 track). I like many things about live recording, but I suppose the challenge of capturing performance is more pleasurable that constructing a facsimile of live performance.

Shannon: I just attended a wedding over the weekend where the jukebox was filled with Frank Black and Pixies CDs. I perform what I like to call “Pixies primal scream therapy” in my car when I’m stressed. Why do you think your music strikes such a chord with those of us who were complete music junkies from a very early age? Do you see your music as cathartic, too?

FB: Well, I’m glad you got your money’s worth. Lots of music has cathartic qualities, of course.

Dawn Olsen: Some of the Pixies songs have violent imagery that are both comforting and frightening. For example “Gouge Away.” Do you think of angry things when you write your songs? Is it cathartic to do so?

FB: “Gouge Away” is a telling of Samson and Delilah. It’s a story that has anger. Do I purge via a song? I don’t know. I suppose it’s possible.

DO: Also – what if any chance is there of a reunion tour with new Pixies material? P.S. I love Teenager of the Year

FB: Sure there’s a chance. Know any promoters that want to do a show on the moon? P.S. Thanks.

Matt Welch: I was lucky enough to run into Frank Black once, and I asked him this one over beers, but it might be interesting to see how he responds in a public forum: So, uh, how do & did you feel about the whole Nirvana-biting-the-Pixies’-rhymes deal? What do you think they did different with the “Pixies concept” of song construction?

FB: I guess I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

Ken Layne: All those UFO references … are the UFOs still a factor?

FB: What UFO references? There may be a couple, but far fewer than rock journalists have led you to believe.

KL: Llano. Did you get that from Mike Davis’ “City of Quartz” or find it driving around? Either way, that’s a great goddamned song.

FB: Yeah, I read about it in the Davis book. But the fact is I’d been driving through Llano for years and not realized the significance until I read the book.

KL: You made one of the best-produced, best-sounding records in rock history (Doolittle). Was moving to live recording a way to keep people from demanding another Doolittle?

FB: No not at all. Doolittle is Doolittle. There will never be another Doolittle.

KL: How does it work out, releasing stuff on the Internet? Does it make the crowds bigger when you play live with the Catholics, or help sales of CDs at clubs?

FB: I’m not sure. It may be in the future that the internet really affects the business. I think right now the reality is that it does help a little but not a lot.

KL: The conventional wisdom says everybody who bought a Pixies record started a band. If so, why are there so many crappy bands making records today? (Usual exceptions excepted: Strokes, Hives, White Stripes, all that stuff heralded today.)

FB: Well, I think that it’s just not that simple.

KL: I love the rootsy stuff you’ve done in the last couple of years. But some snarky critics say rootsy music is a bad way to go. How dumb are they? And how would you put your recording arc next to, say, Bob Dylan’s?

FB: They are very dumb. Boy that felt good. But the truth is that critics are by definition critical. That’s their job. If people don’t like rootsy music, or if they feel that only certain people should make rootsy music, well, then I can’t deny someone an opinion. Bob Dylan is quite a songwriter, and a great singer and musician. I won’t bother with comparing myself to him, but I will say that I heard his records at a very young age and I still listen to all his records.

KL: I’m typing these goofy questions because my pal Eric is doing a great thing with this Blogcritics site. How useless is it to have a songwriter/musician talk about his/her work?

FB: I’m not sure I quite understand your position. Would you rather be skateboarding or something?

KL: I had a column about crazy UFO stuff in the San Francisco Chronicle last week, and a reader caught me describing Montana cattle killings as a “wave of mutilation.” Yet I didn’t realize I was quoting a song at the time. Can I sue you for subliminal attacks?

FB: You have a very odd way of connecting things. I don’t understand why you feel there needs to be litigation.

Guy Nolan: I remember reading an interview recently where you said jokingly that you might ressurect The Pixies if it was just you and Joey Santiago. Everyone knows you have ‘mixed’ feelings towards Kim Deal, but what if it was just you, Joe and David Lovering with a new bass guitarist? It wouldn’t be perfect but I’m sure the patrons would be willing to compromise, and David’s opened for you before. So any chance?

FB: You have no idea what my feelings are towards Kim Deal, or anybody else for that matter. You should never rely on interviews with musicians as being factual. Most of them are mangled and even have made up stuff in them, that is to say, made up stuff by the writer or editor. I wonder how mangled this one is going to turn out… [none, Frank, none]

GN: You gave up the Black Francis trademark scream when you gave up the Pixies. No disrespect, but a few years have passed. Can you still scream it like you hate that bitch?

FB: Does it matter?

GN: You used the bridge section from the original version of “Subbacultcha” to make a whole new song on Trompe Le Monde. That kinda strikes me as cheating, were you running out of ideas towards the end?

FB: Why is that cheating? I can do whatever I want with my own songs for corn’s sake. The “original” version as you say is the one that got published on Trompe Le Monde. What you hear on the purple tape (released this past July) is a previously unpublished version of the song. If you feel cheated beause you purchased two songs of mine that happen to feature an overlapped chorus (not a bridge) then feel free to patronize another artist. As far as running out if ideas is concerned, that’s for you, my darling critic, to decide on your own.

(special thanks to Michael at spinArt for making it happen)

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://jimtreacher.blogspot.com Jim Treacher

    Dammit, I didn’t think of it until just now, but I should have asked about what science fiction books he’d read lately.

  • http://www.FrankBlack.net FB Fan!

    Readers might be interested in this site..

    http://www.FrankBlack.net

  • http://forum.frankblack.net Thomas

    Join the forum were we love to bash people for silly questions.

  • Keith

    You guys could have been a lot more judicious in your choice of questions. With a few exceptions, you guys blew an opportunity to have a meaningful exchange with a true musical visionary. Accusing an artist of “cheating” for re-using his own chorus from a previously un-released version of a song? You obviously don’t know very much about songwriting, and telling an artist they’re running out of ideas isn’t going to make them want to talk to you again. I’m sure Frank and the rest of us were really impressed that you noticed the similarity of those two songs. Also, asking any songwriter to compare themselves to Dylan is a big no-no, and blatantly stupid to say the least. What kind of response are you looking for in those questions? You’re lucky you got any at all.

  • Keith

    You guys could have been a lot more judicious in your choice of questions. With a few exceptions, you guys blew an opportunity to have a meaningful exchange with a true musical visionary. Accusing an artist of “cheating” for re-using his own chorus from a previously un-released version of a song? You obviously don’t know very much about songwriting, and telling an artist they’re running out of ideas isn’t going to make them want to talk to you again. I’m sure Frank and the rest of us were really impressed that you noticed the similarity of those two songs. Also, asking any songwriter to compare themselves to Dylan is a big no-no, and blatantly stupid to say the least. What kind of response are you looking for in those questions? You’re lucky you got any at all.

  • Keith

    You guys could have been a lot more judicious in your choice of questions. With a few exceptions, you guys blew an opportunity to have a meaningful exchange with a true musical visionary. Accusing an artist of “cheating” for re-using his own chorus from a previously un-released version of a song? You obviously don’t know very much about songwriting, and telling an artist they’re running out of ideas isn’t going to make them want to talk to you again. I’m sure Frank and the rest of us were really impressed that you noticed the similarity of those two songs. Also, asking any songwriter to compare themselves to Dylan is a big no-no, and blatantly stupid to say the least. What kind of response are you looking for in those questions? You’re lucky you got any at all.

  • Guy Nolan

    May I start by saying I feel like total prick regarding my contribution to this interview. I posted my questions at around 3am when I was tired and cranky. The questions came from a guy who at the time was pissed at Frank for ending the all-too-short lifespan of my favourtie band, ‘The Pixies’ before I ever discovered the wonderous joys of Frank Black’s solo albums and subequent work with ‘The Catholics’. All I can say to defend myself is the punishment of knowing this interview is eternally framed in cyber space for all too see. My questions were unthoughtful, and basically plain stupid. I very quickly realised that and forwarded a full apology to Frank, please feel free to send me hate mail as I do deserve it. Sorry to everyone who stumbled across this interview.

  • Eric Olsen

    Guy, don’t be so hard on yourself, bud!

  • Kwasi

    Lesson learned…right? Heres a TRUE story for ya. I saw Frank Black play in a small town..in a small bar back in 98′. At the end of the show, I went up to him on stage to thank him for a good show. So Frank is busy putting up his equipment and I tap him on the shoulder..he says “Not now man.” I continued to try and speak him and in the process of talking, I accidentally bumped into one of his guitar stands (w/ hig guitar on it)!! Oh no!! Frank was pisssed..He grabs me w/ both hands, by my shoulders and says “Look man not now!!” And I ain’t a small guy…
    So I’m like ok..forget it!! I leave the bar and I see some band members loading up the van. I told them about the story, and they say that he is sometimes a little edgy after a gig.
    That was 5 years ago. Last December, Frank Black does a solo acoustic set at Tower Records here in Chicago. I got and listen to the set, which was dope! After his performance I waited in line to get an autograph and a bit of chit-chat. My turn arrived and there we were, face to face. Would he remember that incident in Mississippi or me for that fact? (I’m not hard to miss..the one of few black men at a F.B. show).
    So I told him about the story from 5 years ago, and he remembered me!! LOL.
    For 5 years I wanted to say “I’m sorry” to Frank and that I didn’t mean to step on his guitar stand..for 5 years! He apologized for being rude also. So we shook hands and he gave me a hug. Frank Black…for years I thought he was a soda jerk, but if a musician remembers a fan from years ago and apologize, for he has to be a good guy and Frank is a good guy.
    So G.N. don’t feel too bad…Frank is a cool dude.

  • Eric Olsen

    great story and a happy ending. Thanks Kwasi!

  • SG

    Is Charlie gay?

  • pete

    i love the Frank Black album
    “Teenager of the Year”.
    in my opinon is that it is
    the best solo work that he’s
    done. ***** (GENIUS)

  • http://flarecity.com Rick

    “How useless is it to have a songwriter/musician talk about his/her work?”

    Jeez what were you trying to tell him?

  • http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0449/switzer.php Pixies

    Exclusive interview with the Pixies’ Frank Black!

  • Dan

    I thought Eric’s question about unconventional time signature changes was a good one. Not sure I buy FB’s response. Seems like you would be more self-conscious, the wierder it got.

    Somehow I can’t connect a Leon Russell influence to him.

    Interesting that he, like Frank Sinatra, prefers the simplistic live performance capture to the multi-optional studio enhanced recording method. It seems like the best entertainers exude an energy before an enraptured audience that can’t be duplicated in a sterile technical enviroment.

    I dont think anybody really faux pas’d too badly with their questions to him. Seeing a little edge to the interview made it more interesting.

  • http://none.com Bob A. Booey

    Frank Black rules. I love how he reacts honestly to some of these horrible questions.

    It’s also interesting to see how he thought the Pixies re-union was impossible just 2 years ago. Anyone who saw or is seeing the Pixies on their final reunion tour thingy going on now can take heart in how well the band is getting along. They do lots of cutesy stuff on stage too during long solos — Frank stares at Kim until she starts laughing and kisses her on the cheek, they all say goodnight to each other during one of the last songs until they start cracking up, etc.

    It’s also great to see that they’re selling more tickets and drawing more fans now than they ever did in their prime: I think time and absence has made their stature grow as the last remaining icons of alternative rock’s rise. Every other contender died (Nirvana), imploded (Smashing Pumpkins) or became quickly irrelevant under the weight of their weightlessness (Pearl Jam) or idiosyncracy (Nine Inch Nails). Clearly, they wouldn’t have enjoyed that untarnished reputation had they stayed together and dragged on for a decade: Frank and Kim had their various projects, but none of it was the Pixies and they’ve been mostly under the cultural radar since “Last Splash” and “Teenager of the Year” were brief blips. So to Generation X and its young, hip kid brothers and sisters who’ve only heard of the Pixies as lost conquerors whose ghost populates the soundtracks to movies like Fight Club, you can see why their return is a big event. It’s in some ways the last gasp of nostalgia for the movement that was alternative rock in the 1990s, one that’s proven to be just like any other pop revolution, utterly disposable and forgotten once consumed for the masses despite enduring art that a few stalwarts hold onto as meaning something more for their identity.

    Irony is dead and so are the Pixies. I enjoyed the hell out of their one-time resurrection.

  • http://www.crimsonlink.com crimsonlink.com .

    Hey If you study my logs, I’ve been getting random requests from Googlebot, It’s always in the root or in relevant subdirectories (usually /blog and forum or similar). All of these sites are with Word Press, and I can promise there is no mention of or links or anywhere. This means Googlebot is guessing that these files will be there. Now I’ve come to expect random flailing for syndication files from Feedster and Kinja, but Google? Et tu, Googlebot? Google pr updation is neer by in this month, so get your way……..

  • Jeff Charreaux

    HONEYCOMB SKYLINE
    Frank Black is just so great. He could have finished his bachelor’s degree at U Mass, got a decent job and the world would’ve been all the poorer for it. My dad graduated from there and you’ve never heard his songs, have you? He got sidetracked helping NASA put spacemen on a soundstage, I mean the moon.

    His record “Honeycomb” is top notch. Getting to play with Steve Cropper and all of those other guys. He mentally has his musical feet in two eras. Being able to compose and record a full album–with vocals–live, is setting the bar higher than Miles Davis and Rob Thomas, but the musicians have to commit to their parts, and it’s cheaper to record.

    He got to do his own “Blond on Blonde” record. That’s great for him. “Strange Goodbye” must have been hard to perform with his ex. Her shakey vocal reminds me of Mo Tucker on “After Hours.” (I.e. perfect.) I think it makes the whole album work as a sort of response to the Jack White project with Loretta Lynne. (Everybody always asks how FB feels about Nirvana using the Pixies’ terraced dynamics, but I wonder if he’s annoyed at how far The White Stripes have gotten using his Pixies vocal approach mixed with Jimmy Page/Delta blues variations.)

    As for his post-Pixies records, of course, I played “Teenager of the Year” a million times, but his first CD with the Catholics is probably equally as great in other ways. It seems like his second record with a band line-up is always brilliant. Then someone leaves and changes the dynamic. With that lead guitarist from HSR on his SG playing like Keith Richards, live and on the live CD’s it’s a lot different in an inconsistent and too-improvised way. That Vincent guy could have played in any championship hard rock group, but would play like Mick Ronson and Robert Fripp with a tremolo bar instead.

    I saw Black Francis play a solo show in Hollywood with just his row of electric guitars. I’m pretty sure the Pixies weren’t officially broken up at the time. Every song came off as strongly as if the Pixies were playing them–with just his one guitar and his singing. It pretty much proved that The Pixies were 99% due to his talent. I had a flexi disc from “The Bob” fanzine of The Pixies live and it was pretty mediocre. Even my friends who have seen the reunion shows say they can be great, it depends on the drummer. His tempo can waver. And if he drinks…? If the songwriter wants Joy Division and you like to play like fIREHOSE, it must be hard on the ego. (I’m working on this magic trick that makes bad taste disappear, but I’ve had trouble with the gun part. They had to call an ambulance at the Magic Castillo, but they had switched to that internet phone service and someone had to turn me into a surgeon to complete the performance.) Anyway, Mike Watt was one of the Stooges, so we have to rethink our impossibly strict rock fantasy ideals…

    The Pixies at the Newport Folk Festival and maybe on MTV Unplugged and seated (Do they still do that show?), maybe that will be the most befitting nail in the coffin.

    By 2027, Frank Black will be blowing us all away with his return to form, “Time Out of Mind”-like album (according to Robert Hillburn). Meanwhile, I’m working on an electronic update of “B-I-N-G-O” for the kids’ tent at Lollapoluza. Maybe Dan Zanes will jam out the harmonica solo.

    P.S. Johnny Polonsky’s got a CD out with something like 27 amazing tracks. All the reviews are raves. But why did he not use his Frank Black-produced recordings as his first album? Did they not sound enough like Jonathan Richman for Rick Ruben’s liking?

  • BATHORYRULES

    Very VERY OUTSTANDING INTEVIEW good interview INDEED. Maybe one of the best! I just wondered why the hell Frank was so dead serious about everything, I guess he was in bad mood or something or you just asked something very personal that he got upset with, cos thats not normal asshole Frank and I’m pritty sure about it! And oh PLEASE.. you should interview next time bands like for example Flipper or Butthole Surfers! Those are really nice bands. And oh.. ask something about Kurt Cobain from Grohl himself, haha.

  • Steven

    I think Frank Black is so cute & sexy. I would love to see him in a pair of swimming trunk walking around in his bearfeet .

  • http://certgraph.blogspot.com/ Counterrestrial

    Some of the questions come off as really stupid though, especially the one about Subbacultcha and it’s “bridge”. (Distance Equals Rate times time) Way to irritate the big man. Other than that, great interview… very revealing. Everything about Frank and his approach to music so refreshingly unpretentious, and it shows in this interview!

  • joost canters

    I’m afraid this was one (or two) of the worst interviews I ever read, except for Frank’s answers on the really stupid questions. “Can you still scream?” -“Does it matter?”