A few weeks ago, Cooking Vinyl released Frank Black And The Catholics: The Complete Recordings, a massive omnibus of Pixies frontman Black Francis‘ post-Pixies band. Over five years, the band would release six albums of gritty, no-bullshit rock and roll, thanks in part to an aesthetic decision that the group agreed to: all of their material would be recorded to two-track–a daunting task, but one that would soon reap dividends resulting in some really great music.
I sat down and talked with Frank Black about his collection for the recent edition of Big Takeover Magazine. Due to space considerations, the conversation had to be edited. That interview goes into much greater detail about the mindset behind the recording process, its difficulties and its benefits, and though I might be shamelessly self-promoting, it’s an excellent read in a great edition of a wonderful magazine, and can be ordered by going here.
Thanks to Kip Kouri and Nicole Morales from Tell All Your Friends PR for helping me set this up, and to Big Takeover honcho Jack Rabid for allowing me to share this with you.
What is really striking about the sound of The Catholics is that it feels so spontaneous, almost like a live performance.
Our ethos for recording developed out of the way we did our tours. When I went out and toured as Frank Black, some of those tours were a bit on the humbler side of things. Just because you happen to be the frontman of a popular group, there’s no assurance that you are going to get that same treatment on your own. You may have a name, but you’re starting over as well, and you have to reexamine the logistics behind what you do—what size venue you should be playing at, what your budget is going to be like, how much you pay the guys in the band—and sometimes when you go solo, the only way to learn is the hard way. It’s true for all front men—hell, Paul McCartney’s first tours were extremely modest, not always well-received, and poorly planned, and he was in the fucking Beatles! (Laughs)
Well, in Paul’s case, he could have easily done the big-budget thing, yet he wanted the Wings experience to be an organic experience. He wanted to start from scratch, and that’s exactly what he did. He didn’t do what was expected of him, and I think he enjoyed it.
It was different, that’s for sure, and I totally relate. I wanted that, too. You can “isolate your head and stay in your safety zone,” as a wise man once said, and it’s an easy trap to get stuck in. Personally, I never considered it as an either/or proposition. As a musician, it’s so easy to get tied down to one aspect of what it is you do or what it is you have done, and you can lose your identity and lose your way. Think about it like this: how many times have you liked a band, and they split up, and their frontman or their former members go on to make solo records or form new bands, and those records sound exactly like what they were doing when they split up?
It’s probably more the rule than the exception.
(Laughs) Exactly! You find yourself wondering, “Well, if you’re just repeating yourself and trying to be version 2.0 of what you’d been doing, why the hell did you break up in the first place? If you want to stay in that same exact place you were at before, work things out or get over your differences! “(Laughs) Take a guy like Bob Mould. Made a name for himself with Husker Du. They break up, and what does he do? He puts out two solo albums that are heavy, dense, and nothing like his previous band. People may say they revere them now, but I think some people are revising their history (laughs). He follows his muse, and does what he likes, and it’s worked out great for him. Well..maybe not so much when he did that techno record! (Laughs) But I doubt he regrets it. If I had done something like that, I know I wouldn’t regret it. I’d chalk it up to being an experiment that might not have worked out, but I’m the better man for have tried. I mean, I’ve made some records that are less loved than others, but I love ’em all. It’s really a cliche to talk about not caring about “audience” and doing what you feel you want to do. But it’s easier said than done, as having an audience can be hard.
You learn rather quickly exactly where you stand when you release that first new record. Unfortunately, you’ll always lose some people who expect you to continue on in exactly the same way as before, but you’ll hopefully pick up new fans who appreciate what you are doing now. You really have to learn to give your audience credit, and you have to disconnect from what they expect and just do your thing. And that’s hard, and I won’t lie, there were some tough moments when the Catholics set out on our first tours. You’d always have someone in the audience who’d yell out a request for a Pixies song. The best thing to do is just ignore that, because if you reply and say no or make a point of addressing why there aren’t any in the set, you run the risk of alienating people unnecessarily. Yes, you want your audience to accept what you’re doing now, and you’re always going to have the specter of the past in the audience as well. It’s a very thin rope you have to balance yourself on as you manage your career. But it does get easier. If what you do is good, people will come around. The Catholics made six records in five years, and we had fun. Would The Catholics ever do something again? Probably not, no, because it was a very specific moment in time. It was a good run, and, more importantly, it was a good experiment for me as an artist.
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