Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Pixies

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Pixies’ frontman Charles Thompson IV (aka Black Francis) and drummer David Lovering take the ultimate test

When Black Francis recorded a version of David Bowie’s ‘Fashion’ as a gift for The Thin White Duke’s 50th birthday, what did he alter the lyric to?

Black Francis: “Fascist?”


Black Francis: “I read somewhere that was the original lyric, and at the very last minute, it was changed to ‘Fashion’, which was deemed better. To be amusing, I did a cover as my gift and my thank-you for letting us participate in his 50th birthday show. John Flansburgh from They Might Be Giants arranged the session, and I brought along my father to watch me record for the first time.”

David Lovering: David Bowie once took us to an Indian restaurant in Manchester, and I sat next to him shooting the shit. At the end, he offered to pay and pulled out a credit card and said [his birth name]: ‘David Jones!’”

How did it feel when Bowie recorded a version of Pixies’ ‘Cactus’ for his 2002 ‘Heathen’ album?

Black Francis: “It’s cool when people like your music and do versions of it but I don’t like to make a big deal out of it. Bowie was just a music geek – like me. It’s too star-fucky if you say [adopts an air-headed voice] ‘Oh my God, he likes me! He looked at me!’. Everybody’s shit stinks. I’m not pushing an egalitarian agenda here, but let’s get real!”

At Glastonbury in 1989, Pixies played their setlist in alphabetical order. What were your opening and closing songs?

Black Francis: “’Where Is My Mind?’ is the only one I can think of for the end of the alphabet.”

David: “’All Over the World’ was [recorded] later and ‘I’m Amazed’ begins with an I so… I don’t know.”

WRONG-ISH. HALF A POINT. The first track was ‘Bone Machine’ and the setlist did indeed culminate with ‘Where Is My Mind?.

Black Francis: “The idea behind that was you’re only as good as your last song. Again, I like to downplay the importance of things. For years, ‘alphabetical’ would be the running sequence that I’d suggest for an album, and I never got away with it until I was making more obscure records with a band called Frank Black and the Catholics, ‘cause nobody gave a shit so I finally got to scratch that itch. When people say: ‘No! Don’t do that! Don’t take a piss on your own work’, my instinct is to take a piss on it! People think there’s a special magical running order that’s going to give everyone goosebumps, but until they can prove it, I just think let’s not get up our ass here.”

David: “That was the first time we played the setlist in alphabetical order, and I think the next show we did [at Kilburn National Ballroom, London], we played it backwards from Z to A. What made it more fun was that we knew but didn’t let the audience know what was going on.”

Complete the following lyrics: ‘When the world’s got you by the fucking throat / Who’d you want in your corner?’?

Black Francis: “‘Axl Rose!’”

CORRECT. From ‘Axl Rose’, a track on Art Brut’s 2011 album, ‘Brilliant! Tragic!’, which was one of two albums Black Francis produced for the art-pop band (the other being 2009’s ‘Art Brut vs. Satan’).

Black Francis: “It’s a great song! We shared a manager and they were looking for a producer and they were kind enough to come all the way to where I lived at the time in Oregon. We did a couple of records together, and I’m still friendly with them. I’ve no idea if Axl Rose ever heard it, but I like the emotional sentiment of a lot of Eddie [Argos, Art Brut frontman]’s songs. We tried to do the most upbeat, bombastic presentation of it we could. He relished his vocal on track and was pleased with the result of his libretto.”


Pixies’ 2004 track ‘Bam Thwok’ was originally recorded for the title sequence of Shrek 2, but which band and song appeared in the finished opening of the film?

Black Francis: “Well, I never saw the film, but I believe it was an Americana band, though I can’t remember what they were called.”

WRONG. It was ‘Accidentally in Love’ by Counting Crows. Did you feel you missed out?

Black Francis: “Not particularly! We didn’t really participate in soundtracks that much at that time and our lawyer called and said: ‘Look, if you could come up with something for Shrek 2, there’s no guarantee, but if you end up on the soundtrack, it’ll be a pretty penny.’ So we thought: ‘What the hell? Let’s just do it!’”

In 1990, Pixies made their first appearance on the cover of NME, with Black Francis standing next a statue of a bull. What was the accompanying Sex Pistols-inspired headline?

Black Francis: “I’m guessing, but Never Mind the Bullocks?”


Black Francis: “I don’t remember that cover, but it was an exciting time because when these weekly magazines came out, they were splashy and gossipy and cliquey, so it was amusing to be in NME and to think, ‘I’m a star now!’, or something. It was a lot of fun. I miss those times. It hasn’t been the same since. I’m not complaining, but I miss when everything was analogue and no-one had cell phones and it was just people using Xerox machines and bootleg cassettes. I guess I’m showing my age!”

David: “For me, it’s the opposite and I’m more grateful now. When we broke up [in 1993], it was traumatic because it was something I loved doing and it was suddenly gone. I didn’t know what I was going to do in that time off, so I picked magic. You’ve heard of the starving musician? Well, I was the dying magician, so it’s not the wisest career choice! But magic gave me confidence, because with the Pixies, I was behind three people and a drumkit, whereas when I did my first magic show in front of an audience of just six people, I could have wrung my shirt out with sweat! Then when Pixies finally got back together [in 2003], I had a greater appreciation of it – and that love has got renewed after two years away due to COVID.”

In which 2009 American romantic comedy-drama film does the lead character sing Pixies’ ‘Here Comes Your Man’ at karaoke?

Black Francis: “No idea!”

WRONG. It’s 500 Days Of Summer, featuring the vocals of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who stars as architect Tom Hansen in the movie.

David: “A-ha! I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never seen it.”

Black Francis: “The best cover I ever heard of one of our songs was Weezer did a version of ‘Velouria’ for a tribute album in 1999 that was quite interesting.”

Radiohead famously (initially) refused to go on after Pixies in 2004 because it would be “like the Beatles supporting us” at which festival?

Black Francis: “Pukkelpop?”

David: “Coachella?”

CORRECT. It was Coachella. Though Radiohead did eventually end up headlining, when first asked, Thom Yorke baulked: ‘No! That’s just not right! The Pixies opening for us is like the Beatles opening for us. I won’t allow it. There’s no way we can follow the Pixies!'”

Black Francis: “That was nice of Radiohead, but they certainly didn’t owe it to us in any way. They’ve done quite well for themselves, so they didn’t need our help! [Laughs] But I appreciate the compliment.”

David: “We didn’t feel like the Beatles at Coachella, but I remember thinking that our lore had grown since we’d been away and reformed, and it was memorable because the audience had changed after 10/11 years away. There were young kids there who weren’t even born when we were initially a band, and it was the first time of thinking there’s a generation of fans who’ve heard other bands reference us that are now coming to check us out.”

Who’s been the most unexpected person who’s turned out to be a Pixies fan?

David: “Apart from David Bowie, after playing a festival one year, we were sat on a plane talking about the World Cup and all of sudden, this guy in the seat opposite chimes in, debating the merits of the various teams. As the plane’s landing, we work out it’s Robert Plant. When we’re collecting our bags, we introduce ourselves as the Pixies and he responds: ‘I know! Boston’s finest!’. It was because of that meeting he asked us to open for him on his American tour [in 2015], and there was talk of him wanting me to join his band as the drummer.”


Name any of the other musical guests the Pixies appeared alongside when you played ‘Cecilia Ann’ and ‘Allison’ on Channel 4’s The Word in 1990.

Black Francis: “I’ve no memory of that at all! [Laughs]”

David:Transvision Vamp? I just desperately want to win a point!”

WRONG. You were on with The Charlatans and James Brown.

David: “I remember doing the show, but I don’t remember either of those guests being on it!”

Which singer-songwriter covered Pixies’ ‘Gigantic’ for a 2014 Apple iPhone advert?

Black Francis: “Don’t know!”

WRONG. It was Phoebe Bridgers. You recently told NME about your teenage kids’ omnivorous music tastes. Do they get a kick out of hearing any newer acts cover their dad’s material?

Black Francis: “I think they’re quite pleased for their father, but they have a pessimistic view about the world in general, so they’ve got other fish to fry. Maybe one day they will, but right now they’re honing their own craft and defining themselves as musicians in their own right. They avoid my music like the plague; they don’t care for nepotism.”

Pixies’ ‘Doolittle’ was ranked fourth on NME’s Best Albums of 1989. Can you name any of the three records that beat you?

Black Francis: “Pfff! God knows!”

David: “Around that time: The Wonder Stuff or The Sugarcubes?”

WRONG. You were only pipped to the post by De La Soul’s ‘Three Feet High and Rising’, The Stone Roses’ self-titled debut, and Lou Reed’s ‘New York’.

Black Francis: “All great records! The De La Soul record – which no-one can manage to get their hands on because of all the [uncleared] samples – is probably my favourite hip-hop record. I saw Lou Reed at the breakfast buffet once, but I avoided him like the plague. He looked like he hadn’t had his coffee yet!”

The verdict: 4.5/10

David: “Oof! Between the two of us, I feel we’ve struck out! [Laughs]”

Pixies have released their new single ‘Vault Of Heaven’ and announced a four-date run of US shows. Their new album, ‘Doggerel, is out September 30. You can read a recent in-depth NME interview with Black Francis about the record here