By the time the Pixies officially fell apart in 1993, the post-punk alt-rockers had produced five albums and zero hits. But their barely controlled cacophony and mangled, baroque lyrics had attracted a slavishly devoted following—including past and future greats David Bowie and Kurt Cobain. As a result, Pixies DNA is scraped all over the music of the late 20th century.
Pixies founding drummer David Lovering—a modest and congenial 52-year-old who holds a degree in electrical engineering—didn’t foresee his band’s longevity. Figuring his touring days over, the former engineer turned his love of science and magic into a stage act he calls “scientific phenomenalism.” Now on tour with the first new Pixies music in 20 years, Lovering has returned to the triumphs and tribulations of rock ’n’ roll.
When you graduated college, what future did you have in mind?
I was working for a company in Massachusetts building industrial lasers. I didn’t really think about any other jobs because I was already happy with that one, until I switched over to the Pixies.
Do you see “scientific phenomenalism” as a Bill Nye thing?
My vision of it was to do physics experiments onstage. As the show went on, I would incorporate magic, but not let the audience know that it’s magic. I’m just trying to present it as wilder and wilder science experiments.
You also do sleight of hand.
I don’t do that onstage because I have to keep up with the scientific message. I don’t want to bring in a deck of cards or anything that looks like a magic prop. … on tour. I’ll do close-up magic backstage, in dressing rooms or out at bars, and that involves a deck of cards, some rubber bands, coins, money.
You genuinely seem to enjoy a lot of things and engage life positively.
I feel very fortunate about just being in the band, for instance. I never, ever, ever dreamed the Pixies would reunite. I am doing what I love but I also get to think of something that I lost and to be able to get this opportunity a second time: it’s wonderful. I love meeting people and touring and traveling and just playing music.
Your two EPs are both clearly grown from the Pixies DNA, but EP1 seems like the progeny are influencing the parents. Almost like the Pixies influenced Nirvana influenced the Pixies.
I can’t really say much about that. As it’s been since day one, Charles comes up with all the songs. All I can say is that Gil Norton, our producer, told us to imagine that you guys have left the planet earth and you’ve been gone for 20 years. You don’t know what music is and just come up with whatever you want to come up with.
You often cite Steely Dan and Rush as influences, yet the Pixies’ aesthetic is the antithesis of those acts.
All the influences I had were growing up. I remember [the early Pixies’] demo tapes we did back in 1985, and I was very different, very much like Rush. It took me six to 10 months of playing with the Pixies [to] realize that this kind of stuff doesn’t go with their style. It was definitely very busy with a lot of fills, just not apropos with the Pixies. The only thing I can say is the influence it’s had on me; it’s everything that I learned in my formative years. Nothing in music now does anything for me. I think I’m just too old.
There is some Rock and Roll Hall of Fame buzz going around.
It’s nice to be acknowledged in anything, but they’re industry awards. I don’t think it’s what the people in general want, so it doesn’t really sway me that much. If we get in, it’s a nice acknowledgment, and I’m sure it helps record sales [laughs].
In loudQUIETloud you mention that your residual checks were shrinking because of “mp3s and computers.” What is your view of services such as Spotify?
I’m not really up on that. I don’t have a Spotify, and I don’t use Spotify. I guess it’s a music service, like Pandora? I can’t say how much we get from it. But as the Pixies, I can say that we’ve been taking on ourselves to sell downloads through our website, and doing it that way is wonderful. I’m sure we’re on iTunes, as well. But gigging is where we’re at and what we enjoy doing.
You said that you reunited because you simply wanted to play. And in 2010 you said, “The Pixies had to be the four of us, and that’s it.” How does Kim Deal’s departure modify that earlier statement?
The Pixies were definitely with Kim; each of us in our hearts were the Pixies. When Kim left in the middle of recording, it threw us in a lurch, and we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know if we were going to break up the Pixies or what, but we were halfway through the recording, so we forged ahead. [Guitarist] Joe [Santiago] and I picked up double duty on the vocals to cover the missing Kim vocals. Yeah, I guess I have to modify the last statement: We’re Pixies, version 2.0.
In 1987, did you imagine the Pixies would have staying power?
When I first went to the audition, I remember sitting in Kim’s house with Joe and Charles [a.k.a. Black Francis] and they were just playing acoustics songs. At first, coming from a Rush and a Steely Dan background, I didn’t get it. But then I went through the whole process and began to live and breathe them. I wouldn’t have known that they would live on, but now it’s 2014 and people are telling me that the songs really stand up. I think it’s pretty incredible.
What if someone had told you that one of the Pixies songs would be featured in a video game?
Oh, I never would have believed it.
Have you ever played the Rock Band video game drum set to “Wave of Mutilation?”
I actually have, once. I failed miserably.
What would you like to get out of this tour?
Just to get everyone on the same page with regard to the new music would be nice. The old songs are wonderful to play and people want to see that, but I really hope the music opens up another page for the Pixies to continue.
Pixies with Best Coast, The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel, 8 p.m. Feb. 23, $37 and up, 693-5222, HardRockHotel.com.