By the time I first heard the Pixies, they didn't exist any more. It was the fall of 1993, and I was a reporter for the school paper and for some reason went into the editors' office to ask a question about an assignment from my friend Nicki. As usual, the tape deck was turned up all the way.
"What's this song?" I asked, immediately falling in love with the catchy hooks.
"‘Debaser,' by the Pixies," Nicki answered. "I'll make you a copy if you want."
The next week I had a taped copy (probably of another taped copy) of Doolittle, the Pixies' third album. It was all I listened to for a month. I didn't know half the lyrics—it was a long time before I knew "Debaser" was about the Luis Buñel short film "Un Chien Andalou"—but lines like "I want to grow up to be, be a debaser" seemed somehow to fit into my teen angst, whether or not they made sense.
I soon owned all the Pixies albums—I actually bought them, I should add—and over the next few years, they all seemed to define certain periods of my adolescence. Bossanova was summer in Boston in 1994. "Where Is My Mind" was freshman year of college. Trompe Le Monde was senior year, when my friend Matt spent hours discussing his theory that the entire album was actually a theme album from the perspective of the alien in the next to last song, "Motorway to Roswell."
"I've never heard of that," laughs Pixies drummer David Lovering as I try to explain the theory to him during a phone interview. "Uh, it's not about that. It's not a theme album really."
Lovering has a deep, pleasant voice; he sounds like a radio disc jockey, in fact. His deep chuckle comes across as a little impish—he is a magician, after all, in addition to being a Pixie.
The band formed when singer and guitarist Charles Thompson, aka Black Francis, started playing with Joey Santiago, another guitar player, while at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. (This was notably memorialized in the song "U-Mass" off Trompe Le Monde, with its bitterly sarcastic chorus, "It's educational!", repeated over and over in a loud scream.)
Francis and Santiago met bassist and singer Kim Deal and Lovering in Boston, and the band officially coalesced in 1986. But after five albums (if you include their first work, Come on Pilgrim, as an album and not an EP, because it has eight songs) and a hiatus, the Pixies had a famously acrimonious breakup in January of 1993. So when the band reunited in 2004, it was a big surprise.
Lovering says that as a whole, the band members get along much better than they did in their youth.
"We're definitely older and wiser now," he says. "Plus, we're not touring in a van or sleeping in grubby hotels. We want to make everything as comfortable as possible for each other. You know, when you get older, you learn how to bite your tongue—well, that's not it exactly, but all that stuff in the past, it's water under the bridge."
Even though the band has been touring performing Doolittle in its entirety off and on since 2009, Lovering says Surfer Rosa is his favorite album.
"I think a lot of us feel that way," he says. "Those songs we knew better [when we recorded them] from touring and playing them. It's more heartfelt and close to us, even though Doolittle sounds better."
The Knoxville live show on Thursday at the Tennessee Theatre won't be much different than the show on the last round of touring, Lovering says, although the encore changes every night.
Does playing the same songs in the same order every night ever get old? Isn't that boring?
"It hasn't been boring for me, but I can't speak for the rest of the band," Lovering says. "For me as a drummer, [Doolittle] is the easiest one to play."
But Lovering admits he was surprised they decided to do another leg of the Doolittle tour.
"But we just kept getting requests to do it again, so we decided to go to all the places we haven't played," Lovering explains.
He say he doubts this will be the last Pixies "reunion" tour, but he also thinks the time may be coming when the band calls things quits once again.
"You should be asking when we're going to break up," Lovering jokes. "I mean, at this point we've been together longer after reuniting that we were ever together originally."