Interview with Black Francis
Jim: Good afternoon, this is Jim Rolfe with St. Louis Music Press. How is your day going?
Black Francis: She-Ra, She-Ra…I am She-Ra!
Jim: This is a great honor for me. You’ve pretty much changed the way I’ve listened to music. I first heard you play with The Pixies at the Blue Note in Columbia, MO when I was in college at Mizzou.
Black Francis: Columbia, MO, you’re kidding me! That’s where my wife went to college. My wife used to work at the Blue Note.
Jim: Was that at the old Blue Note?
Black Francis: I don’t know which Blue Note…I think there’s been about three Blue Notes.
Jim: Can you give fans in St. Louis an idea of what they can expect to hear when you come to perform at The Old Rock House on July 19th?
Black Francis: Well, I believe I’m gonna play at least one selection from every one of my releases.
Jim: Wow…that would be great!
Black Francis: So, I don’t know how many releases I have, but it’s twenty odd or so. So, I’m gonna do a retrospective kinda, something from everything.
Jim: Do you have a favorite song that you love to play live?
Black Francis: Um…do I have a favorite song? You know… songs that I really like playing are songs from other people that I occasionally get to play. I really like playing this Roxy Music song called “Remake Remodel”.
Jim: Could you possibly play that song for us in St. Louis?
Black Francis: Could be…I don’t know. I have to work it out with my bandmate Eric Feldman. It’s gonna be a duo of me and Eric Feldman, and we’re gonna get together and rehearse on Friday, I believe. Friday and Saturday we’re gonna do some practicing and start to work out what will be played in St. Louis.
Jim: What kind of music are you currently listening to?
Black Francis: …some Beethoven, Nick Drake, some Charlie Parker ….well you know with the Itunes, the Ipods, you know….the musical diet is all over the place.
Jim: Where do you get your ideas for your song lyrics?
Black Francis: Well, ideas just emerge. It’s a very random process….thinking, rhyming dictionaries, research on the internet or in a book. You know, ideas just really aren’t a problem. I mean, what rhymes with coffee….that’s a bigger problem.
Black Francis: Cuz it’s like…coffee, coffee….um….better get my rhyming dictionary out. Ew, that’s an obscure word…that’s not gonna work out. Oh! That’s a nice obscure word…I LOVE it! And suddenly that new obscure word might potentially be what drives your new song….you know what I mean?
Black Francis: I mean, that’s how I work it anyway. It’s a more random process. I’m not deciding beforehand…”I’m gonna write a song about recycling!!” I think some other people do work that way, and that’s fine. I prefer a much more random process.
Jim: As far as recording, touring, performing on stage….is there favorite part of the whole process?
Black Francis: They are all pretty fun. I suppose that really for a certain amount of time, I really like recording a lot. I mean, I think that gets old too after awhile, I suppose. I mean, any activity… touring, recording… can get a little bit like “Groundhog Day”, you know? I guess if I had to pick a preference, then maybe the recording part. Do I like chocolate or vanilla better? You know what I mean?….They’re both pretty good. Maybe I like the chocolate a little better….I don’t know.
Jim: When you’re on tour and you come to St. Louis, are you about to get out at all and see the city?
Black Francis: The last time I was in St. Louis, I think I was there for two days, and I think I was just there stopping over to let the bus driver sleep. I just went down to that college area….you know by Blueberry Hill and all that?
Jim: Yeah, University City…the “Loop”.
Black Francis: I went to my yoga, walked around the campus, ate Thai food for lunch the next day. I saw a movie at that art cinema there….in that college area. But yeah, the last time I was in St. Louis, actually, I got a lot out of it. Did my laundry, I think.
Jim: So do you like St. Louis?
Black Francis: Yeah! Been there with my kids, been up in the Arch and we’ve eaten the cheese curds, you know….I’ve spent a lot of time in St. Louis over the past years, but I haven’t gotten to know my way around perfectly. I kinda know where the downtown is, where the college zone is, where the roads are clean and where the poorer part of town is and looking at all those old brick buildings.
Jim: Yeah, I’m also a big fan of the old architecture.
Black Francis: Right. I wish I knew where that Scott Joplin House was. I’ve never been there to see it. I’m sure there must be some sort of a plaque or something that says “Scott Joplin was born here”.
Jim: I have never been there myself, but have wanted to go. So when you’re out in public, do you get recognized a lot?
Black Francis: Once in awhile.
Jim: Do you sign autographs or no?
Black Francis: Yeah.
Jim: When you get to go out to eat, is Thai food your favorite?
Black Francis: When I’m on the road, I’m always happy to find a little Thai restaurant. It’s kinda comforting. A lot of them around the world are pretty good. It’s kinda spicy and kinda salty, so it’s got a festive aspect to it. If you’re out with your fellow musicians; you can have a beer; the Thai experience….it’s a nice thing.
Jim: If you could go back, …..sorry for stuttering but I’m a little star-struck…
Black Francis: It’s alright. If you were sitting in this minivan, you’d be a little less star struck.
Jim: If you could go back in time, would you have done anything differently in your music career?
Black Francis: Oh, I don’t know…not really…I don’t think so….no.
Jim: What’s next on the horizon for you?
Black Francis: Well, my wife and I, we have a Grand Duchy album coming out in September that we’ve been working on and started in January….so it’s kind of a big record, lots of remixes and stuff. We’ve been working on that. I’ve got a record coming out with my friend Reid Paley in September called “Paley and Francis” . I’m also putting together a “Frank Black and the Catholics” box set; we just had it all remastered with the tape vaults and we got it all organized, and we’ll put it together with the artwork now.
Jim: You’ve said that you get a lot of stuff from the internet and iPods….how do you feel about all of that? I like to just buy an album and just sit and listen to it.
Black Francis: Yeah, it all just depends on what your lifestyle is, I suppose….I mean, I like the idea of buying a nice vinyl piece and just sitting down at the record playing and just savoring it and enjoying it, but you know, if you travel a lot and you’re boppin’ around a lot you’re using the Iphones and the laptops…you know, you start to download songs when you’re like sitting in traffic or whatever. It’s just kinda convenient , a quick kind of way to get some enjoyment out of music. It’s just kind of irresistible. It’s like, “Oh, I wanna hear that Soft Cell song….right now… what’s the name of that song? Oh yeah, oh, here it is.”
Jim: So it’s all a positive thing?
Black Francis: I don’t see anything negative about it. Potentially, one day it will be greener than pressing up a bunch of vinyl or plastic CDs, I suppose. I don’t know that it’s truly greener. The internet itself burns a lot of coal, literally, so it’s generating waste, so it’s tangible, but there’s a lot of power grid in the world, and it’s driven by nuclear power… gas and oil and coal…coal’s the biggest one…and the internet is the biggest stock company on the entire planet, so it’s sorta dubious as to how green it all is. We will, potentially, one day get a green power source, and then you could have green music, but I think that green music really doesn’t exist other than just picking up a guitar and playing it. I guess live music is fairly green.
Jim: As far as going greener….we recently just got chickens and we live in the city. Do you have any pets? Are you an animal lover?
Black Francis: Oh yeah, cool. We have a dog, and we have a cat, and we’ve dreamed about chickens, but I think that we’re not really… we had a really good garden , but actually someone else had to plant it for us, so….[laughs]… I have five kids, so it’s kinda hard be a traveling rock musician and a family man and maintain domestic animals.
Jim: Do you see any of your kids following in your footsteps?
Black Francis: I don’t know….they’re a little young to really know. I don’t know what they’re gonna do. None of them have studied piano or classic violin or anything like that.
Jim: What do they think of your music? Do they love your music?
Black Francis: Eh….I don’t know. It doesn’t quite work that way with kids; they’ re really not impressed with what you do.
[Black Francis can be heard handing out sandwiches to kids in the back of the van.]
Jim: I really appreciate the opportunity for this interview.
Black Francis: Sure! I look forward to my stop there in St. Louis. I can’t wait! I imagine that Eric Feldman and I will be having a little Thai food there…