Joey Santiago: 'I'm Still Making Music to Make Music'

You've asked the questions to the Pixies axeman - he answered!

Joey Santiago: 'I'm Still Making Music to Make Music'

Back in 1986, the world was a much different place. It was a time before Prozac, the Internet, or digital cell phones. None of those things had even been invented yet. But somewhere in Boston, in a little rehearsal space, a band was formed, a band ahead of their time, a band that would go on to influence many in the oncoming wave of grunge and indie bands that would flood the 1990s. I am talking about the Pixies.

Their music was defined by uncompromising originality and a jaded wit. After a breakup in 1993, a reunion in 2003, and the recent loss of original bass player Kim Deal, the band entered the studio once again in late 2013 to record two EPs, those songs now comprise many of the songs on the band's first full length album in over 22 years, "Indie Cindy." The world might be a much different place, but the Pixies are back in the studio and picking up right where they left off. They've got lots to talk about.

That's why we asked you, the loyal UG readers to come up with some questions for Pixies guitarist, Joey Santiago. You responded swiftly with many very insightful questions. I could think of no better reason to run up my long distance phone bill, so I gave Joey a call at his hotel room in Lima, Peru to ask him your questions...

TaV0: Exactly how and when did you decide to record a full album again? Was it the plan since the beginning? Or EP1 just evolved that way?

JS: We thought about recording new music around 2011; it was right after the Doolittle Tour, for the 20th anniversary of the "Doolittle" album, that's when we started thinking about recording new music. Well we just wanted to record EPs and we came up with the plan of making EPs before we started recording anything. We didn't plan for it to be a full length.

butlerc777: How do you feel the new album will compare to your previous work (stylistically, lyrically, etc.)?

It will be a growth from "Trompe Le Monde" and I think people will see it as a step forward from where we left off. That was the idea we had going into it was that one day it would be received like that.

UG: Is the songwriting process the same for you guys as it was before you broke up in '93?

Yeah, It's almost the same. In 1993 we started piecing the stuff together in the future. We did half of that in the studio and the rest was Charles coming into the studio with the basic layout for a song and then we'd re-hash it in the studio. That's pretty much what we did with "Indie Cindy" as well.

TomasVerdejo: Is your reason of making music today, the same reason why you started doing it?

Yes. I'm still making music to make music. That's why we did the first record - to see how well it would be received. Now, after 10 years it feels like that again we have no real notion of how it will be received. Even by releasing the two EPs, back when we started, that's what people would do before releasing an album. So the reasons we're making music is still very much the same and the feeling is similar too. I think the reason I make music and continue to play guitar is to beat our peers and make them say, "What the hell? Why did they do that? I should have thought of that." I guess that's one of the primary reasons for us to go into the studio, to make people say, "What the f--k?" you know? I just want to blow everyone away, the audience too. To me that's always meant coming up with something different and not copying anyone. It's like trying to be the guy who invented the paperclip.

Did you find that moment at any point during the creation of "Indie Cindy" where you recorded something and thought, "This will blow people away"?

It was a painful process but I like the stuff that was in "Ring the Bell." It was very melodic but it took a while. Gil, the producer, heard something and wanted to blow it up and I just couldn't get a handle on it. It was just the verse parts that I was having problems with but in the end, the whole song, creatively, and guitar-wise, sounds awesome.

TaV0: Which albums or artists influenced your guitar technique the most? UG: I know you're into surf rock.

Yeah, I am. I like the Shadows, the Ventures and Link Wray, that's where you get those clean melodic lines. The sonic textures are more from Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, they've got a lot of sonic blips and stuff that I really like.

Are there any bands that came out since the breakup that influence you?

Well, you know oddly enough when I'm writing, and I think Charles does the same thing, you can't really have any influence. You've got to go from your gut on what to do. You're trying not to end up with the derivative of anything so you can't really have any influences at that point. I guess when you get down to it, my playing will always be influenced by Jimmy Page and surf music, and Jimi Hendrix because It's already there and the formula works. You'll always subconsciously resort to that but when you're recording new music you can't really listen to anything else.

I must say, "Indie Cindy" sounds like the Pixies, how difficult is it to block out all of that out?

Yeah, we've got our own style. It's like the way we walk. It's very natural for us. We try not to be anything but us and I think that's what an artist should be doing. It's better to be yourself than trying to be someone else. If it gets accepted, it gets accepted, if it doesn't than it doesn't. That's just the way you have to look at it.

Did you see your time in the studio as a reunion or did you feel like you were starting out all over again?

That's a good question. It was almost like a reunion in the studio. We had been on the road playing together for a while now. To be in a bus driving around is one thing but to be in one space together creating music with the band again after 20 years felt a bit like a mini-reunion to me.

How did not having Kim change up band dynamics in studio?

I guess it made us bond tighter but you still have to go in there and record your parts. Once you get down to putting in the elbow greasing the songs, it's pretty much the same. You don't have time to reminisce and after a while, sadly, you just have to let it go.

rocknrollstar: You have also composed music for film and other media - how do you find this method of composing vs a band composition?

I prefer to be in the Pixies. It's a lot easier. Doing film is a lot of hard work and you end up working with a lot more people because there are producers and directors there trying to describe the context for the music. That's almost the same as the Pixies but we have a more solid language whereas with directors and producers, you've got to get used to their language and try to find out exactly what they want. There are a lot of ways that you can convey emotions, in film you have to find out what way they want that emotion conveyed and you have to write it from the beginning and do it fast.

WhiteStripesIII: What album are you personally most proud of? I feel that Trompe le Monde has the most interesting guitar work of the first 4 albums.

I would say "Bossanova" because it's got the most melodic guitar parts I've ever come up with and I also discovered a lot of new sonic textures. That's one of the things that I strive to do. That album wasn't critically as well received as most of the other ones but I think people are missing the point. I was just trying to divert from what we had done in the past at that point.

Do you do a lot of gear searching when you're in the studio?

Well, I kind of did it on "Indie Cindy." I have so many delay pedals. I keep buying them and not using them. I like having them around. I use them more in my film work than in the Pixies. My pedal board with the Pixies has a lot of effects on it but I always pride myself on just going from the guitar to the cable to the amp. I always use the same amp because it works. I use the Marshall 800 (50 watt) and it works.

You've had that since the early days, haven't you?

Yeah, I've had the Marshall since "Doolittle." I must have slipped up a bit on "Surfer Rosa" where I used a Peavey amp (a Bandit 112) and I loved it. I think originally I got the Peavey as a combo because it was easy to carry back when we had to pack up our own s--t. Now we have a crew so I still use the Marshall JCM 800 and a vintage Fender Vibrolux.

What was the first guitar you ever owned?

Actually my first real guitar was an Ovation Viper, remember those things? They had a really odd shape, they had their own look. It was great because I was really young and it had a thin neck and the fret spacing wasn't as wide, almost a short scale but not quite, it had 24 frets. It was a great guitar for a young kid. Unfortunately I lost it and Charles replaced it for me on my birthday.

What was the first song you learned, or tried to learn?

I believe it was "Day Tripper." It took me about two days.

Do you still try to learn other people's songs, even as a practice sort of thing?

Well, there's always a guitar nearby and if I hear a melody that I like, I'll try to figure it out. But as far as learning entire songs, the only time I ever do that is if we're going to cover it. Other than that I don't do it because I don't want to subconsciously repeat using other people's music in my own.

Abacus11: How different is it playing for audiences these days that look at the Pixies as innovators (or even legendary) as opposed to when you were starting out and no one really even knew what to make of your music? UG: How do you feel when people cover your songs?

I don't really pay attention to that. I don't even really believe we're legends, you know. I guess they say that because we've been around for a while. I see people trying to figure out our music and what it means as flattery. I did the same thing in the beginning. I spent hours figuring out those riffs that Jimmy Page was playing. The fact that people are doing that now with our songs is good in a way because it inspired people to pursue music. I would love to know that one of our albums inspired someone to start a band and make their own music.

Do you have any advice to give to that kid who's going to listen to "Indie Cindy" and start a band?

Just to take something out of it and be inspired by it but don't be a derivative of it. Hopefully people come up with their own interpretations of the album. It's like anything else, you can describe a painting to someone, it should be described by different people in different ways. That's what makes it cool. You can have your own opinion of it and get out of it what you want. There's no wrong or right answer on how to interpret art. But when you make art, it should be your own.

Multijeff: What was the inspiration for loud quiet loud formula on the classic Pixies songs?

Yeah, you know people sometimes forget that a rest is part of the musical language. You've got to take advantage of it, you know, sometimes you need a rest and sometimes you need a blast. That goes for everyone, even classical musicians like Beethoven. In that respect, we didn't really invent it; we just put it in a magnifying glass and ran with it.

sunburstshredde: Why have you remained so loyal to Gibson Guitars?

I like the sound of it. It's a forgiving guitar in relation to something like a Tele and I need a lot of forgiveness. Also, Charles already has the Fender sound and it doesn't make sense to us to have two of the same sound source. So, he has the Tele and I have the Les Paul.

Ah, Les Paul and Telecaster, that is a proven contrast.

For sure, Strummer and Jones used it and it worked. I'm a big Clash fan.

I could always sense there was a bit of a punk aesthetic in the Pixies.

Yeah, I guess it was just by osmosis. I wouldn't consider us a punk band because we're all over the place. We're just a music band that likes to be everywhere. We never wanted to be pinpointed as a certain kind of band. We're not the "Here Comes Your Man" band at all. Oddly enough it's a big crowd pleaser.

What are you practicing to push your guitar playing?

When I'm fooling around with the guitar, I like to do double stops where you pluck two notes simultaneously. I like doing that. I did it in "Havalina" with my middle finger and my ring finger. I love that, I like to fool around with that. I would love to be a country guitar player a la Albert Lee because it just sounds so fun and different than what I do.

What's next for the Pixies? When is the next album coming out after "Indie Cindy?"

Probably next year, for sure. We're used to working at that pace so it shouldn't change at all. Of course we'll be touring in between now and then.

Interview by Justin Beckner
Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2014

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    Took me ages to find this - must be my poor internet skills. Very interesting interview and thanks to UG + Joey for answering my question - very interesting and not something I would have thought about/considered myself in that role.