December 26, 2013

Black Francis to play Asylum in Portland on Saturday

The Pixies frontman makes holiday music with family to get in the seasonal mood

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Warm holiday wishes, from Black Francis’ family to your family.

click image to enlarge

The Pixies frontman makes holiday music with family to get in the seasonal mood.

Courtesy photo

IF YOU GO

BLACK FRANCIS

WHEN: 9 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Asylum, 121 Center St., Portland

HOW MUCH: $15; 18-plus show

INFO: Portlandasylum.com

That’s the gist of what Pixies front man Black Francis and his musical-minded family does each December. Francis, his wife and at least four of their five children head into the studio on the property of their home in western Massachusetts, and record their parts for the annual family Christmas album. The kids are ages 5 to 15.

Some families put every mundane occurrence of the past year in a holiday letter and send it out to unsuspecting relatives.

But Francis and his family put all of their creative energies into writing and recording original music that can be sent out to family and friends as an alternative to photos by the fireplace and fruitcake.

“It’s the family Christmas EP, we do it all together. I’m supposed to be in there right now,” said Francis, 48, during an interview in early December. “It’s like a poetry slam in there. It’s a new kind of Christmas album.”

Francis will bring his alternative rock vision and pedigree to Portland Saturday when he plays a show at Asylum.

Formed in Boston around 1986, the Pixies became a hugely influential alternative rock band, but gained more commercial success in Europe than in the U.S.

With Francis as the main songwriter, the group blended psychedelic music, surf rock and similarly scruffy sounds to create songs like “Cactus,” “Gigantic,” “Debaser,” and “Here Comes Your Man.”

“Here Comes Your Man” likely could have been a mainstream hit, with a catchy riff and a sound reminiscent of the Velvet Underground.

But the band was hesitant to play it live, or on TV shows, and it didn’t get widespread radio airplay.

Black Francis was born Charles Thompson (he still goes by Charles when not giving interviews or performing) in Boston, but grew up in various places, including California, before landing at the University of Massachusetts. There he met Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago.

The rest of the band soon formed and they began playing Boston bars. They were noticed by a record producer while opening for Throwing Muses, and soon began recording.

Part of Francis’ allure, for some fans, is that he’s tough to figure out. He changed his stage name to Frank Black for a while, while performing away from the Pixies, but now uses Black Francis whether he’s playing with the Pixies or not.

“It’s all just one big gig, one big album anyway, it’s all the same,” he said.

When asked what fans might see at his Portland show, Francis responded slowly and methodically.

“Well, I have an electric guitar, and a microphone, and I will perform songs from my career and from the Pixies,” said Francis. “I’ve been doing a lot of Pixies tours lately, so I have Pixies on the brain.”

When asked what the future for him and the Pixies might hold – more recordings? more hiatuses? – he said:

“It’s my day job. I’ve got five kids. What can I tell you?”

When he’s not writing or performing music, Francis said he paints. It’s something he’s become passionate about lately.

“Mostly naked women. I figure it was good enough for Picasso,” he said.

He got a little more serious when talking about his earliest and musical influences, especially the Beatles and other rockers of the ’60s.

“I think that you form your musical tastes pretty young, and for me, that means I have a deep reverence for a lot of rock of the ’60s. I’ve always like the Beatles as far back as I can remember,” he said. 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

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