The Pixies’ Joey Santiago

A brief chat with Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago
by John Noyd
September 2014

Joey Santiago

Joey Santiago

A self-proclaimed quiet thinker, self-taught guitarist and sonic architect, Joey Santiago would much prefer to talk about how producer Roy Thomas Baker brought his unique skills to shape both Queen and the Cars than about himself or his substantial contribution to creating the Pixies’ now classic loud quiet loud dynamic. The third of six sons, Joey remembers his mom calling up to his room asking if everything was alright. Santiago refers to being “stuck in the middle” growing up, but his youthful strategy to fly solo and let his curiosity lead the way brought an early discovery that the public library lets you check out vinyl. With the world at your feet Santiago says, “you’re not afraid to go check out riskier stuff,” and he soon became an avid reader of liner notes educating himself on everything from cool jazz to hot punk; a knowledge that tuned his college roommate Charles Thompson into sounds that eventually prompted them to drop out and form a band.

In preparation for their October 12th concert at Madison’s Orpheum Theater with up and coming rockers ROYAL BLOOD, MAXIMUM INK talked to Joey; which was not all that different from the music he is best known for; elusive then emphatic, he dodged questions with stories as revealing as any answer. Asked about his guitar playing and educating himself on Pro Tools, Santiago begins by saying he embraces his limitations, calling himself a “stress case” when it comes to getting the sounds in his head on to tape or more likely computer file. At the same time Santiago says, “Charles (Frank Black) and Gil (long-time producer Gil Norton) hand it over to me and let me run with it.” Joey admits that no matter what guitar he picks up it always sounds like him. He stumbles at trying to describe his style, referring to it as a “pointy thing,” then recalls former Pixies bassist Kim Deal calling him up after she watched an episode from the first season of Weeds, instinctively recognizing Joey’s sound in the incidental music.

Today, Weeds is over, Kim has reunited with the Breeders and the Pixies are in the middle of the second leg of a North America tour. Joey says the band is the happiest it’s ever been, people are joking and everyone’s having fun. “I’m the band’s biggest fan,” Santiago says and believes teamwork is key to their success. “I perform for the band,” he adds and feels this time around so is everyone else. Their second bassist since Kim, Paz Lenchantin brings the female harmonies they need as well as a thundering groove and vibrant persona; they’ve had time to break in the new material and are on top of their game. Madison should be ecstatic they’re in town. When pointed out that Madison’s date is the last one for the foreseeable future Joey couldn’t say what that might imply, he’s very much a creature of the here and now and seems pleased to be where he is.

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