by Kevin Finn
When people think of Frank Black, their first thoughts inevitably drift toward his work fronting the legendary Pixies, a band whose impact on indie rock runs every bit as deep as that of The Velvet Underground, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, or whichever icon you care to choose. The band’s shifting dynamics and knack for combining off-kilter imagery with ear-candy hooks clearly paved the way not only for chart-topping ’90s stars like Nirvana, but also for a wave of exciting new groups such as Speedy Ortiz.
But what strikes me while listening to Black’s work with his post-Pixies band The Catholics is just how much more there is to his music than the soft-loud juxtapositions. The songs on the forthcoming box set, The Complete Recordings, appear to be influenced by pretty much the entire range of 20th century American pop music. There are plenty of indie and rock touches, but there are also tinges of country, blues, folk, and rockabilly. Hopefully, the re-release of this music will allow fans to discover an overlooked part of Black’s career.
Black was kind enough to answer some question over email about the box set, his artwork, and the evergreen appeal of The Pixies.
Noise: Hi Frank, thanks for taking the time to chat with me. I really appreciate it. It’s been a dozen years or so since the final Catholics record. What inspired you to go back and revisit that period of your work? Was there anything you learned or discovered going through the material? Are there songs that you liked more or perhaps less than you did at the time they were originally released?
Frank Black: The American record company that distributed The Catholics records went out of business some years ago, so those records went out of print in the United States. I then had the records remastered and organized into a box set to herald their re-release; I was also able to find some bonus material. I had a lot of fun making those records. They were recorded live to 2-track or in some instances in mono. I love some of the material and some of it I even find a little questionable, but it was the process that was special. All of the material is near and dear to me.
Noise: Do you have any plans to bring The Catholics out on the road?
Frank: I don’t know if we will play reunion shows or not, though I have discussed doing so with some of the band members.
Noise: Should we expect to see any new Catholics material going forward, or is the box set just a way to take a look back at an era in your career?
Frank: As special as the process was, I think if we record new material I would like to view the repertoire as a kind of demo, and a new recording would perhaps be recorded in multi-track fashion. But I don’t know if this is going to happen yet or not
Noise: Instead of using the original albums’ running order, you decided to put everything out in alphabetical order. Was this done to provide different contexts for the songs? Is it at all a reaction to the idea that most people don’t listen to albums in their entirety anymore? It certainly sets up some interesting juxtapositions, such as hearing different versions of the same songs consecutively.
Frank: By placing them in alphabetical order it automatically puts all the material in a new context. But you were right that people don’t listen to albums anymore, so this box set does acknowledge this fact.
Noise: You created the painting that was used for the box set’s artwork. Who are some of your favorite artists, and how do you feel your painting and music have influenced each other?
Frank: I am a big fan of the Stuckist painters, who really inspired me to get more serious about painting, or should I say less serious about painting. But I love many of the 20th century masters like Picasso and Miro. The more that I paint, the more that I realize it is just another way for me to express my creative impulses.
Noise: The box set is being released on Pledge Music. These patronage-style companies seem to be gaining in popularity. What factors led to your decision to do this, and what do you see as the benefits? Do you see this as something you would use again going forward?
Frank: I had thought of putting out the box myself, but in the end I don’t want to be a record company, and putting together a package of this size is very expensive. Pledge Music is convenient because rather than create a potential overrun of the publication, it attempts to focus the manufacturer on the actual interest in the market; I think this is the way that the artist has probably always wanted it to be.
Noise: You are including songs from Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day, which had never been released before. What were your reasons back in the day for not releasing it, and why do you feel that it’s the right time now?
Frank: Because we only recorded live to 2-track, sometimes we weren’t sure about the recording or the performance, so we held certain things back. But as this box set for me is really about the process, not only the material, I think it’s important to be somewhat more inclusive, so that people can get a sense of what we were trying to do.
Noise: From listening to the box set, it really hit a home what a wide range of influences there are over your music. Is your personal music library fairly eclectic? What are you some of the artists that are currently in heavy rotation on your stereo?
Frank: I would say my music listening wavers between eclectic and not at all eclectic. I currently listen to a lot of Erik Satie, Bill Evans, and Baxter Dury.
Noise: The Pixies are headlining Boston Calling here in the spring, which I think is very exciting. Are you at all surprised that after being back together this long that there is still such a high demand for the band? The novelty of a lot of reunions seems to wear off for audiences, but there’s been no sign of that with The Pixies.
Frank: I’m not sure why the band has so much longevity, but I would like to think that it’s because audiences think the material is good.
Noise: Anything else you’d like our readers to know about the box set, The Pixies or any of your other endeavors?
Frank: More and more, I like to take that old showbiz stance of letting the music speaks for itself.
Noise: Thanks, Frank!
The Frank Black & The Catholics box set The Complete Recordings will be released on May 4, and can be ordered online at pledgemusic.com under Frank Black Box Set. The Pixies are headlining the Boston Calling festival on May 24.