Isn’t it funny how you find or are introduced to your favorite classic bands? Usually you find them on the radio, via your favorite streaming service, on YouTube, or because a friend plays a song for you. But, on the rare occasion, there’s a unique tale behind how you heard them first. Today’s featured act provided the crescendo to one of my favorite movies of all-time, Fight Club—a great climax to an outstanding film.
Guitarist Joey Santiago and songwriter Black Francis met while being neighbors at UMass – Amherst. Joey noticed Black was playing music in his apartment, and soon enough he started to go over and jam with him. Black embarked on a student exchange program for six months, and when he returned the two reconnected and spent 1984 working for a warehouse. This was just a means to compose music and write lyrics. The duo finally formed a band in 1986 and, two weeks later, placed an ad for a bassist. It read, “looking for bass player who likes Peter, Paul and Mary – but also Husker Du.” Quite the eclectic person clearly, and only one person replied. Kim Deal arrived to try out, without a bass guitar, as she’d never played one before. Despite the deficiencies, she was hired anyway. After searching for a drummer, they needed a band name Joey grabbed a dictionary and randomly selected the word “pixies”. The group loved the definition “mischievous little elves”.
Playing shows in the Boston area, the Pixies got noticed by producer Gary Smith of Fort Apache Studios. With grandeur in their eyes, they produced a 17-track demo for Gary, funded by Black’s father for $1,000. He started shopping it around and the owner of the label 4AD almost passed it up—finding the band a bit “too rock ‘n’ roll”—but his girlfriend at the time loved their sound and insisted he sign the group.
The Pixies would go on to release their first studio album Surfer Rosa in March of 1988. They were only given ten days to record the record with a total budget of $10,000. They used the entire time window and barely made it to the finish line. Why? Some back and forth between the producer and the band about two tracks. The producer wanted to change the dynamics of the vocal by insisting Kim do them in a bathroom to create a more echo effect, plus other experimentations. The band insists, if it wasn’t for those, the album would have been done in less than seven days. Was all the fuss and hassle worth it?
Most of the critical reviews at the time were positive—but not necessarily in such a way to make you think the band was destined for stardom. But when you look back on the record today, it’s nothing but glowing reviews and a discussion of how it influenced so many after. Kurt Cobain, for example, cited Surfer Rosa as his basis for the songwriting on the infamous album Nevermind. And the whole band loved the sound so much, Nirvana hired the same producer to work on their follow up record In Utero. So many others like Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins and PJ Harvey used the Pixies as inspiration down the line as well.
From a sales perspective, this album never lit up the charts the way anyone hoped. It’s sold just over a million copies to date in the U.S. But the principle single “Where Is My Mind?” has been used in countless media—from the aforementioned blockbuster movie to entrance music for wrestling in the relatively new AEW promotion, and everything else in between.
That single, and this album, has become a staple for me since I first saw Fight Club back in 1999. It has that honest feel to it—like it could be a group of guys you knew from college that made a record, but even better because it has songs that you love to hear and sing when you’re in that boring conference call. I think you’ll agree with my take, so try out Surfer Rosa today. You may wonder where they’ve been all your life … perhaps waaaaaaay out in the water, see them swimmin’.
Top 3 Tracks: