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Pixies singer says labels are optional

Labels? We don't need no steenking record labels, say the reunited Pixies.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Pixies, pioneers of alternative rock in the 1990s, are back after a 12-year hiatus and riding a whole new wave of success. But according to lead singer Charles Thompson, they’ll be doing one thing differently this time around — they won’t be rushing to find a label.

“Record companies, schmecord companies,” Thompson said. “Who needs ’em?”

Reflecting the changes in an industry trying to keep pace with fast-evolving technologies and the fickle tastes of the fans, the Pixies’ much-awaited reunion is taking place not in a studio but at small live houses and multiband extravaganzas from Winnipeg, Canada to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

And instead of working up new material, they are focusing on selling tickets, T-shirts and CDs mass-produced on site at the venues.

“The record business is really bad right now,” Thompson, aka Black Francis, said in an interview with The Associated Press after performing recently at the Fuji Rock Festival. “That’s not where the money is. The business is with the real customers, the fans. They’re the ones who say, ‘OK, we’ll come and see you perform. That’s who we’re trying to connect with.”

So far, the Pixies seem to be connecting pretty well.

Their first 13 reunion shows this spring sold out quickly and their 18-country tour of the United Kingdom and Europe was well received by the fans and critics. On Sept. 4, the four-member band — Thompson, bassist Kim Deal, guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering — will embark on a three-month tour of the United States and Canada.

As part of their new approach, live CD recordings have been produced at the performances, and most have been briskly snapped up by the fans.

“It’s a revenue stream,” Thompson said. “I’m not saying we could sell lots of records if we sold them out of our garage or the Internet, but you know what? We might. It’s a crazy time.”

Music on their own termsWhile the band hasn’t been completely averse to recording, they are doing it on their own terms.

Called “Bam Thwok,” their first new song in 13 years was arranged and rehearsed at Santiago’s home studio and recorded in March at Stagg Street Studios in Los Angeles. Instead of going with a more traditional label, they opted to make the song available on Apple’s iTunes Music Store. Price: 99 cents a pop.

“I never really was much of a believer in the album anyway,” Thompson said. “Singles are what people relate to.”

But Thompson said making more studio records — singles or albums — isn’t what the Pixies have in mind, at least for the time being.

“In terms of getting a relationship with a company going, we don’t have any need, because we don’t have anything for them to sell,” he said. “If and when we do have something, we’re probably going to proceed a little cautiously. They’re all trying to figure out what they’re next move is. Between the Internet and record stores going out of business, it just seems better to stay away until things settle down a bit.”

Though the woes of the record companies — their fight against Internet piracy, plunging sales, hard-to-predict trends — are well known, Thompson says that, from the performers’ perspective, the changes in the industry aren’t all bad.

“At the end of the day, the record company always needs content. They need artists. Right now, they need artists more than we need them,” he said. “We’re in a situation where we don’t have to make records anymore to be asked to go into a studio and make music. Because of all the cross-marketing that goes on these days, it’s like everyone’s getting called to make songs for a movie, or for a web site, or a commercial.”

Thompson helped found the Pixies in 1986, when he and Santiago dropped out of college in Boston. Melding an eclectic mix of musical styles, they released their first album, “Surfer Rosa,” two years later. Before breaking up in 1992, they were widely acclaimed for opening up the alternative music genre and paving the way for such bands as Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Artistically, Thompson says the Pixies are still regenerating.

Their first round of shows were called “warm-up dates,” and reserved for smaller, lower-profile venues because, Thompson said, he just wanted to make sure that they could still put on a credible tour.

“That’s why we picked the far corner of the Earth to try it out — Canada,” he joked.

But he said that, despite some rough spots during their live performances, closing the gap after more than a decade has been easier than he expected.

“As a band, our reunion has been remarkably uneventful,” Thompson said. “There was some awkwardness in the first rehearsals. But once you’re over that, we’re all the same. The same personalities. Maybe now we play better.”

He said he has no idea what will happen to the Pixies down the road.

“We don’t have any vision or plan,” he said. “We didn’t have any vision or plan the first time around. You may think three, six months, maybe a year ahead. But you don’t plan it all out.”