Riding high from the Pixies recent award for the 1988 album, Surfer Rosa going Gold with 500,000 copies--Frank Black's second Gold record, by the way, (Doolittle was the first, released in 1989 and certified in 1995). Now Black is Back with Honeycomb[Back Porch Records/Virgin], his first solo album since 1996's The Cult of Ray.
The Pixies formed in Boston in 1986 and disbanded in 1992, after recording five albums together. They have since been acclaimed as one of the biggest influences on the alternative rock scene of the time. The band reunited in April, 2004 and over their eight-month reunion tour, shattered sales records around the world and were named "Comeback of the Year" by SPIN magazine.
Honeycomb will be released in North America on July 19, and the Pixies' frontman is loaded with stories about what was for him, a very memorable recording experience. Black recorded Honeycomb last year in Nashville with legendary musicians such as Steve Cropper, Spooner Oldham, David Hood and Chester Thompson.
FRANK BLACK on HONEYCOMB
I've been trying to record it for years, tweaking the lyrics and doing whatever I could to make it feel right. Then at some point I read some of the words to my therapist, and she pointed out that they actually applied to events and people in my own life. It was only when I viewed the song from a more personal perspective that it made sense to me and I was able to finish it.
“I Burn Today”
This is my favorite song on the record, for a lot of reasons: the way the lyrics came out, the way everyone plays on it -- the way the guitars sound and the whole vibe. It actually wouldn't have even been called "I Burn Today" had it not been for Jon Tiven. I had written it without a chorus, thinking of it as kind of a repetitive folk song. But Jon kept insisting I add to it, so I went back to my hotel one night and added the refrain: "and today I will burn for all the times I did not learn." That made the song ten times better, so I have to give Jon credit for that. It makes me happy now, every time I listen to it.
This is a song about a woman I know. The chord progression is typical Frank Black, with a lot of major to minor, minor back to major. When I played it with the band, they made it sound so classy and added a lot more jazz to the feel. I really like what they did with it.
“Another Velvet Nightmare”
This is an example of how great Cropper, Spooner, and these guys are as an ensemble. None of this was planned out. Everything fell into place while I was playing the song with them for the first time. I wrote this with Reid Paley, mainly by email and telephone, and there were a lot of misunderstandings. He tends to waltz things up and I tend not do. So when we got together in New York to finish it, he'd play the song and I'd go, "What are you doing, man? It's not a waltz; it's in 4/4." And he'd go, "No, it's not. It's a triplet feel." We couldn't decide which way to go, so I figured we'd do both and hope for the best. Well, when I brought it to Nashville the musicians treated it so smoothly: They kicked from 4 to 3 so effortlessly and made it sound humorous, almost a little risqué. It was a potentially difficult song, but it sounds like they've done it a thousand times.
“Dark End of the Street”
This was the one song on the album that didn't need a chart; all the guys knew it so well that they could play it in their sleep. Reggie Young's guitar solo is so laid back, just like his personality. He looks like this really lean lion, with his mane hanging down. He was almost lying down in his chair as he played, and it sounds like that. I've never had a guy as smooth as Reggie Young on one of my records. It's like you almost hold your breath during his solos, like, 'Oh, my God! I can't believe what I'm hearing.'" The whole night before we cut this, though, I spent the night in the bathroom of my hotel, quietly practicing the vocal. I think I got that fragility in my voice from having listened a lot to Freddie Fender.
“Go Find Your Saint”
This was a quirky little song, kind of strange. Somehow the guys made it sound like simple, which is nice because you don't want your complicated songs to sound complicated. And they made it sound like a slice of something easy, even though it wasn't.
“Song of the Shrimp”
I first heard this song on Abnormal, a live record that Townes Van Zandt recorded in clubs around Europe. He did this song so beautifully that I wound up playing it a lot on my own and with a couple of bands. I wanted desperately to find my own voice on it, but that didn't happen until I did this acoustic gig in Boston a couple of years ago, and I switched two of the chords from major to minor and one to a seventh. That's when it became my song.
I sang this with my soon-to-be ex-wife. We're very friendly with each other, which is why the vibe of the song is so happy: We were a happy couple, and now we're a happily divorced couple. This is just our way of having a sense of humor about it all. A lot of our friends were freaked out when we split up, so we decided that doing a song together would communicate that we weren't at about hate. It's just our way of saying, "Come on, guys. Let's drink up and be happy and make peace with it all."
“Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day”
I've been obsessed with this song ever since I first heard it five or six years ago. I've driven other musicians crazy by the number of times I've had them play it in rehearsal or in a set. Of course, the original version by Doug Sahm is still the best. It's greasy and hard and wonderful. I tried to do it his way for so long and I just couldn't pull it off. But even though he was a really gritty Texas character, with a lot of soul, the song is actually very light and beautiful, so we decided to do it like that. And the guys in the band totally got it. It was like nothing to them. It was almost like they were playing a 12-bar blues --- and a 12-bar blues this ain't.
Cropper really liked this song. It's kind of about a bumblebee -- I guess it's somewhat surreal. To really get into it, he left the room while the rest of us cut it. Then he came back and did his solo. He's a big guy, and he's standing in this little control booth, shaking his butt as he's playing, like he's a bumblebee flying around. When he was done he exhaled really heavy, like he'd just eaten the best sandwich he'd ever had. It was totally amazing.
“My Life Is in Storage”
This is about making the big move from L.A. up to Portland and putting all my stuff in storage and changing my life. I've gone through all these raw moments, which I started to deal with on Show Me Your Tears. I'm living with it now, as opposed to being at the beginning of it, so I'm able to open up more about it on this kind of a song. As far as the arrangement, I sometimes like to take two different songs and smash them together in a Beatles kind of way. This gave Reggie Young an opportunity to kick back and play a nice, long solo at the end.
“Atom in My Heart”
I'd call this a simple country/rock ditty. It's probably influenced a bit by Leonard Cohen. I have a lot of respect for his writing. I don't know if this sounds anything like him, but there's definitely a tether there.
This one takes a lot of cues from Leonard Cohen too, even though it's a very personal song. Violet, my girlfriend, suggested putting this one right before the last track, to have a little calm before the storm.
“Sing for Joy”
This is my epic. It's taken from my life, starting at the beginning and continuing right up to the present. It's kind of dark. There's some romance in there. There's some murder. There's some broken-hearted stuff. There's all kinds of shit that's happened to people in my family and to me personally. But it's mainly about the simple pleasures of life, including music, which are there for everybody to enjoy. Sometimes, no matter how shitty things get, you have to just do a little dance. I know that sounds hokey, but it's actually a great truth. If people can tune into that, they'll get a lot more out of their time on this earth.
Frank Black and Pixies will wrap up the main portion of their U.S. Tour this Wednesday, June 15 with a date at the Agannis Arena in Boston. The band will then play four additional dates in July - 7/Summerfest, Marcus Amphitheatre; Milwaukee; 9/Molson Amphitheatre, Toronto; 23/Lollapalooza, Chicago, IL; 30/Street Scene, San Diego, CA. The band will then play a handful of U.S. concerts in July, including the headline slot at Lollapalooza on July 23 in Chicago, before heading off to Europe to play festivals throughout the month of August.
(Photos of the Gold Record presentation at Washington DC's Merriweather Post Pavilion are available at Wire Image's web site - www.wireimage.com.)