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Pixies making it up as they go

Travis Shinn

The Pixies

By Marc Hirsh Globe Correspondent 

Audiences might not know what to expect from any given Pixies concert, but don’t worry, neither do the Pixies. “We never do sound checks or anything. We’ll just show up and do the show,” says drummer David Lovering. “The only thing that we know is, we know what the first song is and we know what the last song is. Anything else in between, we basically have a master list on the ground that’s 70 songs that we choose from. And we just wing it, basically.”

For the Boston alt-rock legends, who play three sold-out shows this weekend at the House of Blues and the Paradise, it’s an approach that’s worked well in the past, for their creative output if not their commercial prospects. “All the albums before [last year’s “Head Carrier”], we did them pretty fast, and there was a lot of pressure trying to get them right and learn them on the fly, things like that,” Lovering says. But the Pixies changed strategies for the new album, if not for their live show.

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Q. [2014’s] “Indie Cindy” was a collection of EPs that you had recently released, but “Head Carrier” marks the first album that the Pixies have recorded as an album in decades. How did that feel?

A. Oh, there was a difference in “Head Carrier.” This is the first record since, gosh, since [1987 debut] “Come On Pilgrim” — which was basically a demo — that we had seven weeks of pre-production, of just really working on these songs, knowing these songs, making them comfortable. And we worked with [producer] Tom Dalgety. So this was a whole new thing. We weren’t working with our old producer [Gil Norton]. This was the first time we recorded with [new bassist Paz Lenchantin] as a member.

We decided this is a whole new animal for us, let’s get a new producer, the new Paz experience. Let’s take seven weeks and do pre-production and really work these songs. And this was a luxury. So when we went into the studio, we had a list of songs to do and just turned them out. Within three days, I did my drums. And I just said, “What am I supposed to do for the next two weeks?”

Q. Right from the start, the Pixies were actively looking for a female bass player, and from Kim Deal to Kim Shattuck to Paz Lenchantin, you’ve stuck pretty firmly to that plan. What’s been so important to you about having a woman in the band?

A. Well, that’s what we were initially. That’s what our . . . I won’t say “vision,” but that’s how we started the band, [with] Charles [a.k.a. frontman Black Francis] looking for a female bass player. And just having the female vocals with the male vocals, that’s part of the part of the Pixies thing.

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Q. Was it strange going with a bassist whose name wasn’t Kim?

A. Oh, no, no, no, no. Paz has been fantastic. To [guitarist] Joe [Santiago], to myself and to Charles, she still feels like the new woman in the band. And because of that, we’re still behaving very, very well around her [laughs]. So we’re getting along famously. We’re just having a blast, so it’s wonderful that she has that effect. And I think the other effect that Paz has is that we’re better as musicians. She’s [made] all of us play better, especially me, because she’s such a good musician. I don’t want to be embarrassed around her. So I had to step up my game as well.

Q. The Pixies first started playing reunion shows 13 years ago. Now that you’ve gotten over the initial hump of learning to be a band again and the novelty has worn off, does it feel any different now than when you first got back together?

A. It’s an awesome thing. Playing, doing shows, it’s all the same. The only thing I can say that’s different now that we’ve come on 30 years, not continuous, [is that] I think that we’re playing much better and better as musicians. That’s one of the things that I think that is different.

Q. So you feel like you’re finally getting it right.

A. Yeah! Honestly, yeah. The Pixies, back in the late ’80s and ’90s, we were never the tightest band. And especially when I look back at my drumming, the timing of a lot of songs was never solid. I think it was just years and years of playing it where you get better at it, and it’s one of those “a-ha!” moments. This is the way it should go. It took me 30 years to do it, but yeah.

There’s a song that we always have to play, “Where Is My Mind?” We don’t usually write a setlist, and if there’s one thing we know about doing a show without a setlist, we have to play the songs people want to hear. And one night we didn’t do “Where Is My Mind?” For some chance, I had just listened to it or something. This is 25 years after we recorded it, and I realized that for all this time, I’d been playing it wrong [laughs]. I hadn’t been putting a hi-hat in. And it took me all this time to realize what was wrong.


Marc Hirsh can be reached at officialmarc@gmail.com.