Founded by musicians Black Francis, Joey Santiago, David Lovering, and Kim Deal, the Pixies are widely regarded as the precursor to the grunge revolution that would change music in the early 1990s. With their appearance on the scene in the late 1980s, many of their songs would influence the great alternative acts that came after them, but their sound was so unique that they would only see limited commercial success in those first few years.After the band broke up and went their separate ways, their reputation and music gained cult status, and their genius was routinely recognized by new fans and old fans alike. Their albums show influences from a variety of subgenres of music like surf pop, hard rock, and psychedelia, but it’s impossible to label the band with just a single sound.If you’re not yet a cult fanatic of the Pixies, here are some fascinating tidbits to get you started as you discover this landmark band.
10. The Pixies Recorded a Song for Shrek 2 When They Reunited
Known for separating and reuniting over the course of many decades, the Pixies took a thirteen year break between releasing songs before bassist Kim Deal penned a song called “Bam Thwok” as a song for one of the “Shrek” movies. A note on the official release of the song revealed that it would be available as a song through Apple’s iTunes music store. Interestingly, the song wasn’t included on the final soundtrack for the movie even though it had been penned specifically for the film. As such, iTunes would be the only place where fans could legally download the song.
Since its release, the song has become available on video streaming sites like YouTube, but it never made it to an official CD release for the movie. Like many pop songs, “Bam Thwok” wasn’t a long tune and clocked in at just two minutes and 35 seconds. Interestingly, most of the songs written by the Pixies were quite short, and they only had a handful of songs that ran past four minutes. It was inspired by a children’s book that Deal had read years before writing the song.
When asked what the song meant, Deal was quoted as saying it meant “showing goodwill to everyone.” During the years they released albums, one of the calling cards of the band was the interesting meanings attached to each song, as well as the lyrics. An organ solo in the song was based on a track recorded by guitarist Joy Santiago’s father-in-law. At the time of Bam Thwok’s release, the band was in the middle of a tour in Europe and had used the recording time to get used to playing together again after a long hiatus.
9. Kim Deal Has an Equally Musical Twin
Kim Deal joined the Pixies in 1986 as the band’s bassist, but she wasn’t the only musical member of her family. After the Pixies broke up in the early 1990s, Kim would join forces with her sister, Kelley, and tour as The Breeders. Before getting involved in music and recording, the girls grew up in Dayton, Ohio where their father was a physicist. Early musical influences for the girls included bands like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. They initially formed The Breeders as teenagers, and Kim became a prolific songwriter at that time.
Interestingly, when Kim answered an advertisement for a bassist in a band, she was the only one to respond, but her involvement with the Pixies would lead to songs that would influence a generation of alternative music writers and rock bands. Kelley also had a chance to join the Pixies, but she decided to move to California instead and become a computer programmer. Over the years, the sisters would write songs for their respective musical endeavors, as well as collaborate during reunions with The Breeders.
The sisters are considered multitalented and even produced an album together where they played all the instruments. In an effort to remain sober after having troubles with a heroin addiction, Kelley actually started knitting and started selling crafts on a website and appearing on a television show called “Knitty Gritty.” Likewise, Kim Deal has gone in many different directions during and after her time with the Pixies. In addition to touring with the Pixies and The Breeders, Kim has also collaborated with, formed, and toured with bands like The Amps and Throwing Muses, and she’s even lent her voice to songs by groups like Sonic Youth.
8. Black Francis’s real name is Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV
Unable to stick to just one name, Pixies singer Black Francis has recorded under more than one name in his decades-long career. A write-up on the singer’s various names reveals that Black Francis was born Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV, but he would tour and create some of his most memorable works with the Pixies as Black Francis. Bandmate Kim Deal also decided to tour under a different name. According to a book named “Doolittle,” written by a journalist named Ben Sisario, the name Black Francis came from a name his father had been saving in case another son was born into the family.
During his time with the Pixies, he would tour under the name Black Francis, but he would undergo a few name changes during his career, particularly whenever he set out on a new musical adventure. He’s most well-known under the name of Black Francis, but he also gained a reputation as Frank Black when he started touring as a solo artist after the Pixies broke up in 1993. He released two records under that name, but then he changed it back to Black Francis in the middle of the last decade and usually tours under that name today.
It’s quite common for famous singers to change their names before they become famous to make their names more unique or easier to say. For example, pop princess Miley Cyrus was actually born Destiny Hope Cyrus, Bruno Mars was born Peter Gene Bayot Hernandez, and Jamie Foxx was born Eric Marlon Bishop. Would the Pixies have been the same band if they’d had a lead singer named Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV?
7. The Pixies Influenced Nirvana Frontman Kurt Cobain
Radu Bercan / Shutterstock.comThere’s a good chance the world would never have heard the landmark song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” if not for the Pixies. The late Kurt Cobain gave an interview to Rolling Stone in 1994, and he said he was “basically trying to rip off the Pixies.” Cobain told the magazine that Nirvana tried to imitate the sound of the Pixies in that they would spend part of a song singing quietly and would then become very loud. Cobain said that he should have been in the Pixies or would have at least wanted to be in a Pixies cover band.
Tragically, Cobain would take his life just four months after the Rolling Stone interview was published despite telling the magazine he had become “blissful.” Cobain wasn’t the only mega-famous rocker to count the Pixies as a major influence. Even though the Pixies never saw dramatic commercial success during their most popular years in the late 1980s, they would influence bands like Bush, Radiohead, The Strokes, and Weezer. In an article by Spin Magazineabout Radiohead’s Thom York, the singer was quoted as saying the Pixies “changed my life,” when he was interviewed during a 2004 Coachella performance.
It probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration to suggest that the Pixies were one of the most influential bands to appear just before the grunge and alternative scene grew out of places like Seattle. It’s also fascinating to see how many bands the Pixies would influence when the Pixies were also influenced by many of the world’s greatest acts including Elvis Costello, Hank Williams, Jimi Hendrix, and The Everly Brothers, just to name a few. The evolution of music is seen in the Pixies’ music, as well as the artists who came after them.
6. Kim Deal Went By Mrs. John Murphy at the Band’s Inception
Christian Bertrand / Shutterstock.comJust like fellow singer-songwriter Black Francis, Kim Deal would also choose to play under a false name when the Pixies first began making music in the mid-1980s. An article published by the Los Angeles Times in 1988 labeled “Mrs. John Murphy” as the bassist and revealed she, “doesn’t reveal her first name to the media.” Like the interesting story behind the choice of the name Black Francis, the story of how Kim Deal chose her name is also out-of-the-ordinary.
Apparently, Kim thought the practice of a woman using her husband’s full name along with the label of “Mrs.” was strange, and decided to use her husband’s name as a subtle statement on the practice. Changing a last name upon marriage is something that still regularly occurs today, and the interesting thing about the practice is that, according toThe Huffington Post, it peaked in the 1990s and has seen a reduction in popularity in the decades since. Today, only around eight percent of women keep their maiden names after getting married.
Efforts by feminists and suffragists to change the popularity of women changing their last names have ebbed and flowed over the years, but Kim Deal would only label herself as Mrs. John Murphy for the first two records produced by the Pixies. Unfortunately, she got divorced from her husband in 1988 and decided to go back to her original name after separating from her husband. After the breakup of the Pixies a few years later, Kim would also go under the stage name of Tammy Ampersand as part of a band known as the Amps. By the time the Pixies reunited in the next decade, she would be back to using Kim Deal.
5. The Pixies Play with Words and Use Acrostics in Their Lyrics
Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.comDuring their first brush with fame, the Pixies became fairly prolific songwriters, and they often played somewhere around 40 songs during a single set. With so many songs in their repertoire, it’s fascinating how much meaning was inserted into the many of the band’s songs. For example, the song “Gigantic” was written with inspiration from the movie “Crimes of the Heart,” which was a movie that starred Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek. Another song with an interesting meaning was “Debaser,” which was a reference to a film from the 1920s made by Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel where the filmmakers made it appear as though a woman’s eyeball was sliced by a razor.
The Pixies also created their songs out of their real-life experience, such as “Where Is My Mind,” which was about a snorkeling trip where singer-songwriter Black Francis watched a small fish swim and try to keep up with him underwater. In what could be considered an “Easter egg” for ardent fans of the band, the lyrics to “Ana” used a technique common in poetry called an acrostic, which meant that the first letter in each line of the lyrics spelled a word. In the case of “Ana,” the word the lyrics spelled was “surfer.”
An article in The Harvard Crimson referred to the band as a “thinking person’s alternative” for their use of acrostic lyrics and instruments not usually associated with alternative, such as a theremin, which was apparently something last favored by the Beach Boys before the Pixies started using it in their music. It’s not necessary to understand the meaning behind the songs written by the Pixies to enjoy their sound, but it’s easy to appreciate their creativity once you learn about those hidden meanings.
4. Band Tensions Led Kim Deal to Depart the Band Multiple Times
During their volatile history, the Pixies definitely had their off moments and tensions between Black Francis and Kim Deal were the main reason why the band initially broke up in the 1990s. In fact, tensions were so high at one point that Black Francis was all but ready to kick Kim out of the band until a group of lawyers convinced him that it wasn’t the right move. According to a history of the band on All Music, the first signs of fracture within the band occurred in 1991 when they decided to cancel their North American tour.
A statement from the band said that they were exhausted from touring and needed a break, but arguments within the band were stressing everyone out and making the tour very difficult. However, shortly after they announced the cancellation of the tour, the band went back into the studio to record another album. Evidence that there was significant trouble within the band was obvious because Kim Deal had hardly any vocals on the record and didn’t write any of the songs. Despite problems within the band, they toured again in 1992 with U2 but said they were going on hiatus after the tour was over. Kim Deal and Black Francis would each go on to other projects after the Pixies broke up officially.
In the early 2000s, the band would get back together again and record the song for Shrek 2 and embark on further touring activity over the next decade. They wouldn’t produce any new music until 2013, but everything would fall apart yet again that year as Kim Deal again left the band, this time in the middle of recording those new songs.
3. The Band’s Name Came from a Random Word in the Dictionary
With a name like “Pixies,” it would be easy to assume the band was made up of sprightly little teenagers with sparkly hair, bubblegum smiles, and wings, but a quick look at the band members would reveal they would have very little in common with the traditional idea of a Pixie. An interview with the band published by Spin in 2004 revealed that the name was thought up by lead guitarist Joey Santiago, who came to the United States from the Philippines when he was seven.
Joey was fluent in English, but he had some lingering issues with words here and there that would cause him to go looking in a dictionary for a word’s meaning or how to pronounce it. He thought Pixies was a good word because of the way it looked and that it had an “x” in the middle, and he also liked the meaning of the word in that it meant, “mischievous little elves.” The full, original name he came up with for the band was Pixies in Panoply. After deciding that the last few words made the name of the band too long, they decided to stick with Pixies.
Amusingly, the name of the band was spelled wrong at their very first gig, which was held on a Wednesday night at a bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Instead of spelling the name of the band correctly, the band was labeled as the “Puxies.” Fortunately, only a few of the band’s friends came to see their set, so the wrong name wouldn’t stick for long. They would soon see popularity and success after playing dive bars and little joints all around Boston.
2. The Pixies had a Messy Breakup
The reason the Pixies broke up in 1993 was because frontman Black Francis and bassist Kim Deal weren’t getting along. According to an article in Rolling Stone, audiences loved Kim and Black Francis got jealous. The discord within the band was obvious in the album they recorded just before they went on their final tour in 1992, and it wasn’t long after slogging their way through venues on the Zoo TV tour with U2 that they’d call it quits. After they stopped playing together, they apparently stopped talking, too. From all account, Black Francis didn’t speak to Kim Deal for a full decade after the split.
In another strange twist to the band’s breakup story, the other band members of the Pixies weren’t even told that the band had officially split until the next year when Black Francis sent over faxes to tell them the band was finished. It probably didn’t help that the band spent the last few months of their time on the U2 tour playing to bored fans and “half-empty arenas.” However, like many bands over the years, the Pixies eventually got back together in 2004 and actually started touring shortly after their reunion. However, they wouldn’t produce an album for several years after they decided to play together again.
When Kim left the band a second time in 2013, Black Francis gave an interview to CNN and said he regretted what happened in 1993 when the band broke up. He said that Kim broke up with the band face-to-face while he did it across a phone line and that her way was a more respectful method. In 2013, Kim left the band a second time in an abrupt manner, but it didn’t lead to the breakup of the entire band as they continued to tour after her departure.
1. The Pixies had an Album Break of 23 Years
When a band gets back together after many years, they might go on a tour and revisit their old standards, but the Pixies actually came out with a fifth studio album a full 23 years after releasing their fourth album in 1991. The Pixies released their first album in 1988, which was called Surfer Rosa. The album sold more than a half-million copies around the world and was certified Gold in the United States. Their next album, Doolittle, would see release the next year in 1989, and it would sell more than a million copies, which granted it Platinum status.
The band’s third album was released a short year later in 1990 and was called Bossanova. With more than 200,000 copies sold around the world, it would go Gold in the UK. The Pixies’ fourth album came out in 1991 and was called Trompe le Monde, but it would only sell enough copies to go Silver in the UK. That 1991 record was the last time the band would release a studio album until 2014 and the release of Indie Cindy. The band members would go on to solo careers and would also participate as musicians in other bands, but it would take until 2004 until the world would get to hear new music by the Pixies.
Interestingly, it would take almost a decade of touring before the band would make it back into the studio to record Indie Cindy. One of the reasons they decided to record again is because they didn’t want to be known as a band that was an oldies act. Unfortunately, the band wouldn’t get to tour with their original band mates again since Kim Deal left the band again in the middle of recording the album.
It’s rare that a band can have such a widespread influence on music and not achieve incredible fame with their work. It’s even more incredible that the band could see just a few years of touring and albums and become such a huge influence on so many artists.
However, that’s exactly what the Pixies did, even though they released just four albums at the start of their career and waited a full 23 years to release a fifth. Would Nirvana have become a grunge staple if not for the Pixies and their landmark albums?
One of the fascinating things about the Pixies is that their music doesn’t sound like it was produced in the 1980s, and their albums sound like they could have been released just a few years ago. It will be interesting to see if popular music ever catches up with the Pixies and surpasses their truly unique sound.