What the Pixies lacked in technical skill, they more than made up for in passion. Their jagged guitar sounds mashed up against catchy pop melodies and evocative lyrics to create a sound that made them one of the most influential alt-rock bands of their generation.
It was the mid 1980s when Charles Thompson and Joey Santiago came together in Boston. Responding to an ad for a bassist who liked both "HÃ¼sker DÃ¼ and Peter, Paul & Mary," Kim Deal signed on, as well, fresh off a stint with her twin sister Kelly in the Breeders. At Deal's suggestion, drummer David Lovering was recruited. In keeping with Iggy Pop's inspiration, Thompson assumed a pseudonym, Black Francis and the Pixies were born.
A slew of local gigs helped earn them a spot opening for Throwing Muses which led to the Pixies teaming up with producer and artist manager Gary Smith of Boston's famed Fort Apache studios. The group spent three days in the studio in March of 1987 and laid down 18 songs. The demo, aka The Purple Tape, found its way into the hands of Ivo Watts who ran 4AD Records. Watts signed the Pixies and released an eight-song EP titled Come On Pilgrim in 1987.
For 1988's Surfer Rosa album, the Pixies teamed up with producer Steve Albini. He steered them toward an edgier, grittier guitar sound. The results were met with a warm embrace on both sides of the pond. American college radio loved it, as did British critics. The buzz was strong enough to warrant a jump to a major label, Elektra Records.
Heading back into the studio, the Pixies chose Gil Norton to helm Doolittle, their 1989 release. Norton smoothed out some of the roughness, causing Doolittle to garner even more positive reviews. Two tracks, "Monkey Gone to Heaven" and "Here Comes Your Man," cracked the Top 10 on the modern rock chart, helping the album to reach number 98 on the Billboard Hot 200. It fared even better in the UK with a debut at number eight.
That would prove to be a trend for the Pixies. The UK and Europe would always love them more than America. Their tours were the stuff of legends -- Black Francis would perform without moving, the set list would be in alphabetical order, Deal would balance things out with humor.
By the end of 1989, the bonds were beginning to weaken and the group announced a hiatus in early 1990. Some cite tensions between Deal and Black Francis as the main source. Their influence, however, bled over into the grunge and Brit-pop movements of the '90s. In particular, the stop-start dynamics and spiraling, squealing guitars that the Pixies employed could be seen in bands such as Nirvana.
After the band's dissolution, Black Francis embarked on a solo tour while Deal re-formed the Breeders with Tanya Donnely (from Throwing Muses) and Josephine Wiggs (of Perfect Disaster). The Pixies came back together in 1990 to make the atmospheric, surf rock-infused Bossanova.
Mixed reviews were the order of the day, though college radio ate it up, relishing the cuts "Velouria" and "Dig for Fire." UK fans also dug Bossanova, catapulting in to number three on the album charts and leading to a headlining slot at the Reading Festival.
The band continued to be plagued by internal turmoil and Deal announced during the Brixton Academy concert that is was "our last show." The impending U.S. tour was canned, but the Pixies went back into the studio to make a fourth album.
Leaning back into a heavier, louder sound, 1991's Trompe le Monde was welcomed as a return to the glory days of Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. More touring followed, including stadiums in Europe though only theaters in the U.S.
U2 brought the Pixies along for the first leg of the Zoo TV tour in 1992. It would prove to be their last run through the United States. As soon as the Zoo TV trek ended, Deal went back to the Breeders and Black Francis dove into his Frank Black solo project. During an interview on BBC's Radio 5, he announced that the Pixies were over, though he hadn't yet told his bandmates about his decision.
The members all pursued their own works. The Breeders found some success with the hit single “Cannonball,” while Black's following slowly melted away. Meanwhile, Santiago and Lovering joined forces as the Martinis, though Lovering eventually moved on to tour with Cracker.
It wasn't until 2003 that Black said in an interview that the group occasionally jammed together and that a reunion was possible. That moment came the following year as the Pixies embarked on U.S. tours in both the spring and fall. They also played 2004's Coachella as well as hitting Europe and the UK during the summer.
The band recorder their 15 warm-up dates in the States, releasing them in 1,000-unit limited editions that were sold at the shows and online. Just after the Coachella appearance, a Pixies DVD retrospective and Wave of Mutilation: The Best of Pixies were released by 4AD.
More performances were sprinkled across subsequent years including spots at Lollapalooza and Newport Folk Festival. In late 2009, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Doolitlle, the Pixies launched a tour that took them across the States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. It continued through 2010 and into 2011.