Sam Fogarino of the band Interpol once told Q Magazine in 2011 that he thought Pixies were the most influential band of the last 25 years. He said when he first listened to them, he said: “I felt vile, then I felt violated, then I thought it was the most brilliant fucking thing since sliced bread and that hasn’t changed because it’s ageless music and that’s a very rare thing to stumble upon.”
It is a quote very much akin to many that have been applied to another band who landed in the unfortunate clichéd realm of ‘being ahead of their time’, in the form of the Velvet Underground. Case in point is the following classic quote from Brian Eno: “I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band! So I console myself in thinking that some things generate their rewards in second-hand ways.”
As it happens, when David Bowie was asked about the Pixies, he borrowed that famed quote from his old friends and collaborator and dubbed them one of the most influential acts of a generation. In fact, he lauded them even more than that, adding: “The first time I heard the Pixies would’ve been about 1988, I found it just about the most compelling music outside of Sonic Youth in the entire eighties.”
While many people in Europe will wonder how that same 30,000 records quote can apply to the Pixies, as it happens, their debut record Surfer Rosa was actually first released in the UK via the ever reputable 4AD label and was only available in the US as an import. Bowie even offered up an explanation for this, positing: “In America, they just didn’t ignite people the way they ignited them in Europe. There was such a lot of sludge in America at the time and I think the Pixies had a real hard time pushing their way to the surface.”
However, for the forever forward-thinking Bowie who once said, “tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming,” and he saw a trio excellence in their stylings from the off. As he explains: “Three elements, I think, made them important is the sound of the band which is the pure dynamics of keeping the verse extremely quiet and then erupting into a blaze of noise for the choruses.”
Before adding: “The other thing is the interesting juxtapositions that Charles [Black Francis] brought together, quite sordid material at times I suppose. The permutations that he created within the different subjects that he dealt with were so unusual that it caught my ear immediately. It was the sense of imagination, and I use imagination not lightly, not in terms of it being a fantasy which most people define imagination as but being able to understand the affinities of something and have those affinities illuminate the subjects.”
And when it comes to their ultimately hugely melodic structures, and wry sensibilities built around the twisted melon of a giant screaming man makes his guitar look like a ukulele, Bowie saved his finest analogy till last. “There’s a great sense of humour underlying everything that Charles does,” he remarked, “I always thought there was a psychotic Beatles in there.”
As it happens, Bowie would go on to cover the Pixies track ‘Cactus’ with his rather strange Tin Machine venture and latterly perform live renditions of it along with ‘Debaser’ many times over. Clearly, the two acts share a kinship in their uncanny knack of being able to perturb and beguile in equal measure at exactly the same time, offering a glimpse into a bohemian world for those who heed the otherworldly come hither finger offered out.