That’s not only because Black is a highly intelligent songwriter and legendary rock star with an imposing body of work, but also because he has a deserved reputation for not suffering fools gladly.
Not that such a reputation is an indictment of him. Quite the opposite, in fact. Truth is that ever since Black first burst onto the underground (and later, the above ground) music scene in the mid-1980s as the frontman and chief composer for the Boston-based noise-pop quartet the Pixies, he’s had to field some of the most inane questions imaginable.
One would have to look back to the golden age of Bob Dylan’s dada-esque mid-’60s press conferences to find some sort of corollary. Back then, Dylan was forced to either limit his answers to snide, terse, offhanded remarks, or go on the attack, fending off similar inanities and queries from writers less interested in getting to know what really made their subject tick than in regurgitating the same old party line.
The similarities between Dylan and Black don’t end there. Both are voracious readers who take great pride in the lyrical construct of their work. Both emerged seemingly whole, at a time when the music world seemed quite unaware that it was drastically in need of a severe thrashing. And both of them would create and release albums early in their careers that would —in many respects— haunt them for years.
Some would argue that Dylan has never lived down the amazing, mind bending imagery and disjointed, trashcan blues of his heyday, and that in fact, his neverending attempts to outrun his own legacy are what keep him writing, recording, and touring to this day.
For an entirely different generation— those weaned on punk rock and all it begat— Frank Black (who, like Dylan, works under a pseudonym) and the albums he made as Black Francis with his first serious band the Pixies, resonate with the same timeless, elusive qualities as Dylan’s mid-’60s triptych of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde.
It’s those qualities, along with the harsh and caustic sonic characteristics of their records, their cathartic live shows, and the stark and naked first-person imagery of Black’s lyrics (comparable in their starkness and often disturbingly surreal subject matter to those of The Velvet Underground or of early Patti Smith) that spawned countless new bands and solo artists — all enraptured with the same intoxicating sense of rock freedom (or Freedom Rock).
In hindsight, the Pixies discs —which were marginalized by many critics and listeners upon initial release— are now generally considered classics of what came to be known as “alternative rock,” although in all fairness, there were scores of adventurous music fans at the time who instantly recognized them as some of the most exciting, refreshing and inexplicable pop records ever made.
And, just like Dylan’s most enduring works, those albums (Come On Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa, Doolittle, Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde) still stand up remarkably well today, almost two decades after their initial appearance.
While that band imploded only a few years into their promising career amid tension and disappointment that’s been chronicled in minute detail countless times before in untold fanzines and music mags, Black (Born Charles Michael Kitteridge Thompson IV) defiantly soldiered on, slyly reversing the order of his adopted handle, and burying himself headfirst into an idiosyncratic solo career that has found him releasing a steady stream of inventive, quirky, irrepressible albums full of brainy rock and roll that is at turns noisy, soft, brash, sweet, ugly, ethereal, spiritual, violent, morose and playful — qualities shared in large part by the Pixies’ back catalog.
First solely under his own freshly-minted assumed name, and later as the leader of a (slightly) rotating cast of ace backing musicians he christened The Catholics, Black’s career arc has in some ways mimicked that of Dylan’s or Elvis Costello’s — or of another restless, mercurial seeker of a songwriter who’s not content to rest on his laurels: Neil Young.
All four have taken (not totally) unexpected detours into the fringes of their chosen bags, exploring the more traditional formats of country, folk, blues, swing and Tin Pan Alley songwriting.
In Black’s case (and to some degree, all of theirs) along the way, there have been high points and low points, albums that sold surprisingly well, and those that seemed in many respects to be little more than curious love letters to an adoring and fiercely loyal cult fanbase. Yet, through it all, Black has retained an unassailably high standard of quality, not to mention the artistic respect of most all who’ve worked with him in a creative capacity.
When the Pixies surprisingly reunited a few years back to almost universal —if not sadly belated— acclaim (and a seemingly neverending retrospective tour of their own in major venues across the globe), it seemed to many longtime observers as though Black was nearing a turning point in his artistic journey.
Sure enough, right on the cusp of that unexpected development, Black disbanded The Catholics, with whom he had famously insisted on recording the old-fashioned way: completely live in the studio, without the benefit of overdubs, post-production, or other modern-day fixes. He then set about fulfilling a personal fantasy he’d harbored for years: cutting an album in Nashville with some of the veteran journeyman session players that helped create the classic rock, soul and country albums of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.
It was a notion born from Black’s fascination with Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde album, the 1966 2-LP set that found the Beat poetry-inspired rock chameleon paired with the cream of Music City’s backing musiacians. In fact, for ages, the cheeky working title of Black’s album was actually Black on Blonde.
Tracked in just four days on the eve of a lengthy string of Pixies dates, those sessions, helmed by veteran producer and songwriter Jon Tiven (who’d previously worked with everyone from Big Star’s Alex Chilton to Jim Carroll to Wilson Pickett), posited Black as one of the most versatile and unselfconscious singer/songwriters of his generation. The unabashedly soulful material still retained Black’s trademark oblique lyrical bent, but, when married to the smooth, almost scarily confident playing of folks like drummer Anton Fig (of The CBS Orchestra), Emmylou Harris guitarist Buddy Miller, Booker T & The MGs/Blues Brothers axeman Steve Cropper and keyboardist Spooner Oldham (who’s recorded and toured with both Bob Dylan and Neil Young), the combination became downright beatific.
Despite rough mixes of the sessions finding their way into unauthorized circulation before the finished LP could find a home, it was eventually picked up by Back Porch Records, a subsidiary of EMI specializing in roots-rock and Americana, and released to no shortage of critical acclaim in 2005. It was the closest Black had come to fully embracing straight-up country-rock and R & B since starting to lean heavily in those directions around 2002 with his one-two punch of separate-but equal Catholics discs, Devil’s Workshop and Black Letter Days.
His brand-new 2-CD set Fastman Raiderman continues in that same vein, with a whopping 27 songs honed to some sort of loose perfection by an all-star cast of characters that includes The Band’s Levon Helm, Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson, The Faces’ Ian McLagen, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ drummer Steve Ferrone, Dylan keyboardist (and Blood, Sweat & Tears founder) Al Kooper, reclusive “Eve of Destruction” songwriter P.F. Sloan, and famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist David Hood, among others.
Composed of set-asides from the original Honeycomb sessions, as well as several songs tracked in a bizarrely ambitious marathon 24-hour straight session that Black squeezed in between high-dollar, throat shredding Pixies dates (and which found three different all-star lineups working around the clock in shifts to finish in time), it’s a meandering collection of woozy ditties, Van Morrison-esque rave-ups and somber ruminations on love, death, divorce and destiny that seems at times like some bizarro world redux of Black’s other Magnum Opus, 1994’s Teenager of The Year, a sprawling, 22-song collection of frenetic, post-punk sci-fi art-rock which many diehard fans still insist is his finest (and most idiosyncratic) accomplishment to date.
Now, for the first time since 2003 —and in fact, the first time since the Pixies reunited— Black is touring with a brand-new electric backing band. This stripped-down lineup of Black on rhythm guitar and vocals, Billy Block on drums, Duane Jarvis on lead guitar and Eric Drew Feldman on bass and keys is at first glance an odd grouping.
Block’s a respected Nashville ringer and songwriter who’s played and recorded with the likes of Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams and John Trudell. Jarvis has a well-received solo career of his own as a singer/songwriter, who spends much of his time in Portland, Or., where Black and his family recently moved. Feldman is a multi-instrumentalist who’s worked off and on with Black over the years (even co-producing Teenager of The Year), as well as with such other oddball rock luminaries as Captain Beefheart, PJ Harvey and the late Snakefinger.
I caught up with the man by phone a few hours before he would lead his band through their first official debut gig — which also marked the start of their tour. In atypical fashion, instead of breaking the group in at some out of the way dive bar, they were set to open 2 nights in a row for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles — on Petty’s sold-out 30th Anniversary Tour, no less!
I mentioned at the start of this article that any music journalist worth their salt likely gets nervous when speaking with Frank Black. That’s because he’s well known for being wonderfully easy to talk with, and quite gregarious and forthcoming — up to a point.
This was the 4th time I’ve had the pleasure to pick his brain, and every time before this, I wound up constantly second-guessing myself throughout the proceedings — always on guard not to do or say something that might trigger that instant loss of interest on Black’s part that is all too familiar to those who follow such articles.
This time, I did my darnedest to just roll with it, and not get caught up so much in the minutiae of the chat. The result? Within 30 minutes after hanging up the phone I was kicking myself for not getting around to asking some of the questions I’d most wanted to field.
So, you won’t find out from this piece if Frank Black feels any more or less free as an artist now that the Pixies are back together. Or, the criteria he used in selecting which songs from his expansive catalog this new group would play on their first headlining tour. Or, what it is in particular about his old pal Reid Paley that has made him a favored opening act on Black’s solo tours for years.
You also won’t find out whether he actually composes many of his songs on the ukulele, as I suspect he does (not that 99% of you cared about that anyway). Hell, you won’t find out a lot of things that I —and possibly many of you— wanted to know.
Hopefully, though, you will discover a few pleasant surprises, and in the end, it will have been worth your time, as well as his.
Connect Savannah: How are things this morning?
Frank Black: Well, I’m feeling a little rough... I stayed up too late last night.
Connect Savannah: Last night was the first gig with the new band, right?
Frank Black: We had a little impromptu show. It was real casual. Not like a formal gig, you know? We crashed a P.F. Sloan gig and played after him.
Connect Savannah: How was it received?
Frank Black: You know, the drunk guy that was dancing all night in front of me — I think he was pleased. (Laughs)
Connect Savannah: Did you get to rap with him after the show?
Frank Black: Thank God, no. He may even have been ejected before it got that far. He was very enthusiastic. He gave me a guitar before the show.
Connect Savannah: To sign, or just to have?
Frank Black: To have.
Connect Savannah: Was it a nice guitar?
Frank Black: I don’t know. I forgot it. Then he gave me his driver’s license, and when I showed it to the club owner, he said, “Oh, this guy!”
Connect Savannah: So he’s a regular there.
Frank Black: Yeah. Regular trouble, I think.
Connect Savannah: Ah, to be back in the bars again.
Frank Black: Yeah. Some people shouldn’t drink, basically. That’s how I’d sum that up. (Laughs)
(At this point, Frank takes a call on another line from his drummer and Tour Manager, Billy Block, and I can clearly hear Black’s end of the conversation.)
Frank Black: (to Block) You might have to babsysit me on this tour. I don’t know. Anyway, I won’t be pullin’ that anymore. So, I’m fine. I’m gonna go get some soup and begin resuscitating my voice... It’s all that gabbing you know. Talking to people in a loud nightclub. Classic. Anyway, I’ll be fine by the time we’re at the gig tonight! (Laughs) Thanks for checking in on me. (To Connect) That’s my drummer and also my Tour Manager.
Connect Savannah: He’s cracking the whip? (Laughs)
Frank Black: (warily) He and I have never worked together on the road before, so I hope I’m not giving him too poor an impression. Now he’s gonna think... Well, I was kinda havin’ a couple of beers last night during the show and gettin’ a little loud. Which is a pretty rare thing for me. I don’t do that stuff too often. But, we’ve been rehearsing all week, and me and Eric Feldman kept laughing the whole time about the sort of “industrial complex” that we were rehearsing in. The big motorized barbed wire gate that opens and closes to let bands in an out of this rehearsal facility had us pretending and fantasizing that we were in some sort of minimum security prison. It felt so good of them to let us out from time to time to walk around the neighborhood and get some coffee at the local coffeeshop. (Laughs and coughs) Anyway, after three days in this place, it really was like getting released from our little prison, so last night I reunited with all my old friends I hadn’t seen for a while, and had a few drinks and wound up talkin’ up a storm.
Connect Savannah: Also a P.F. Sloan gig is a pretty rare occurrence on its own, so that’s something to celebrate.
Frank Black: Yeah, apparently he hasn’t done too many of these. His first concert tour ever.
Connect Savannah: That’s really amazing.
Frank Black: Yeah. It just goes to show that everybody’s career or experience in show business is not the same necessarily.
Connect Savannah: I know you’ve been intensely rehearsing the band. Was that all done in California or did any take place in Oregon?
Frank Black: It was all done here.
Connect Savannah: Is the group getting up to speed the way you’d hoped they would?
Frank Black: Oh yeah. They’re good players, you know. We’re a little rough on the edges, but I think that’s sort of OK. We know about 20 songs.
Connect Savannah: Do you imagine you’ll be adding more songs as the tour progresses, or you’ll just stick with those 20?
Frank Black: I don’t know yet. I imagine we’ll add some more.
Connect Savannah: This group seems cherry-picked to promote your last 2 solo albums which obviously lean in a more roots-rock vein than some of your earlier stuff. Do you see this band as a one-off project with a finite lifespan, or could it have the potential to continue on for years, much like The Catholics did?
Frank Black: Well, it may appear that way on the surface, because I’ve gotten a couple of the guys who played on the Nashville sessions, but then I add Eric Feldman in there. So I have one compadré on board... I think it’s more like I’m taking my new Nashville friends and saying, ok, so we’re going on tour! But, guess what? We’re gonna be more of like, well, a punk band. So, let’s play like that. I mean, in whatever country-style songs we might be playing, we’re approaching them with a kind of punk-rock abandon. At least that’s what it seems like. I don’t know. I feel like it’s sounding more like The Replacements or something, rather than a slick Nashville thing. I’m not sure why that is, either. I guess I don’t feel comfortable with us going out there and being real slick. I don’t mind doing that in a recording session. But going and playing that way in nightclubs is not my idea of... I mean, I think I’m much more comfortable being kinda loud, you know? So, that’s what we’re doing. And I think we’re playing to the “loud crowd” as well. If I had inherited John Hiatt’s audience, then maybe I wouldn’t be doing this. But I don’t think that I did. I believe I’m playing to the louder, more punk-rock crowd.
Connect Savannah: Did you tell the bandmembers what you were after right from the start, or did you wait until rehearsals began to spring it on them?
Frank Black: These guys have rock and roll conventions. It’s not like they’re gonna go, “What?” See, a lot of people don’t ever seem to understand that a lot of it’s the same world.
Connect Savannah: It’s just like a different set of clothes.
Frank Black: Kind of, yeah. Like, I was having a drink in a bar in Wales on a tour. I think it was with the Pixies. And, it was a little quiet village on my way to Ireland, and an American guy came over to the table and he’d heard me chatting with a bunch of English roadies. I don’t know who he was, but it seemed like he was an artist who performed some sort of popular songs, but nothing like rock and roll.
Connect Savannah: Like folk music?
Frank Black: Not even that. It was more square than that. He was probably like Jerry Vale. For an older crowd
Connect Savannah: A lounge singer.
Frank Black: Yeah, but the kind that would play in theatres or something. He must have been a name of some sort. He was well heeled, and he was older than me. Anyway, he could tell that we were musicians and that we were on the road. As was he! And he was coming from Ireland. Like us, he had the night off for travelling, and here we all were in this little pub in the middle of Wales. He said how’s it goin’, and that he’d overheard we were on a tour playin’ in such and such a town. Well, he’d just come from there, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Well, it was nice to see you guys, and have a good trip. We talked for about 10 minutes about fishing or golf or something. The point is, that as far as he was concerned, we were all in the same club as him. Right? And I appreciated that. He knew damn well that we were rock and roll people. He didn’t say, “Hey, I’m a rock and roller, too.” He didn’t pretend to be something other than what he was. But basically, (adopts a carny barker’s voice) “We’re all in showbiz here.” That was his take on it. And I totally agree. That’s why I think people get too hung up on musical genres and stuff like that. At the end of the day, people that are in showbiz like to think of themselves as... Well, we’s all people in showbiz! There’s not all this division. We all step into the limelight and take the stage to do our thing. We’re all troubadours or whatever you want to call it. I like to think about it like that. And so, I get disappointed when people — especially other musicians or music fans— get too caught up with “well, they sound like that, and that’s their bag.” “See, this is our bag over here and we don’t hang with that over there.” It’s not that different, you know what I mean? People are gathering this evening at the appointed hour. Perhaps it’s a drinking room, or perhaps not. Whatever. But they’re gonna gather for the concert. Big night out! You know? We’re gonna take the stage and we’re gonna try to give ‘em their money’s worth. That’s why I really love reading books about jazz musicians in the ‘30s or Vaudeville comedians. You know, reading about the Three Stooges or whatever. I mean, I’ve played in rooms and older theatres, where I’ve realized, oh my God! Ted Healy and the Three Stooges probably played here in 1925! (Laughs) So, how different was their world from mine? Well, of course there are a lot of big differences, but what’s so interesting are the similarities. They travelled to this town from that town. They probably took the same road. They stayed in a hotel in this part of town. They had to wake up in the morning and go find coffee and breakfast. They saw the same kind of sunlight and smelled a lot of the same smells. For crying out loud, they came in contact with the same gene pool that I’m coming into contact with! You know what I mean? There’s all those kind of connections. Anyway, I find it fascinating.
Connect Savannah: Thanks for being so eager to speak with me.
Frank Black: Sure. I appreciate it. I’ve never played in Savannah.
Connect Savannah: Well, we’ve been trying to get you here for a long while.
Frank Black: I’m looking very forward to it! I guess most people first heard about Savannah because of that big murder story.
Connect Savannah: Midnight In The Garden of Good & Evil.
Frank Black: Yeah, yeah. All that stuff. You know. Of course, I’m expecting...
Connect Savannah: Weirdness?
Frank Black: Weirdness. You know. Old ladies drinking mint juleps and thinking about murder in the shadows. (Laughs)
Connect Savannah: Well, if you want, we always keep mint julep ladies on standby, and we can have them trucked over from Central Casting.
Frank Black: (Laughs)
Connect Savannah: Well, I’ve seen you play in Charleston before, and Savannah’s a little like Charleston.
Frank Black: It’s steamy down there.
Connect Savannah: Yes. It’s steamy, but it’s less snooty. We’re kind of like the slightly backwards, more keep-to-ourselves version of Charleston.
Frank Black: I like it. I like it.
Connect Savannah: For those of us for whom your post-Pixies output is at least as important —if not more so— than your work with that band, it’s hard to imagine a world in which there’s no hope of you working with The Catholics again, and specifically under the regimented live-to-2-track tape method that you adhered to with that project. Do you have any interest in ever working with those folks again under similar circumstances, or is that gone forever?
Frank Black: I don’t know. I mean, you know, those guys were great. But they also became disinterested in the process. So, if the band isn’t still feeling whatever kick you’re on, then it’s over. I mean, I still like that kind of approach to working, but I haven’t taken it up again yet. I suppose I will. I don’t know. I guess I’m just taking a break from that now.
Connect Savannah: Was there ever a real possibility of getting some of the extremely famous session guys from your last 2 albums to accompany you on the road — such as Steve Cropper or Spooner Oldham? I know those guys don’t really like to travel that much.
Frank Black: I don’t know. The possibility always remains, but I don’t tour on quite the same level as Neil Young. I don’t know that I was ever really gonna be able to attract those guys. As far as my road experience goes, I think they’ve been there and done that in their younger years. They don’t wanna go on the road for 6 weeks and stay in a lot of Best Westerns, you know?
Connect Savannah: But there is a certain charm in that.
Frank Black: Oh, yeah. It’s great!
Connect Savannah: A lot of your new material prominently features pedal steel and keyboards on the albums. Was it hard to rearrange those songs to work with this road band lineup of 2 guitars, bass and drums?
Frank Black: We’re still in the process of forging a sound for this new band. We’re trying to make it deep, you know. All of the old songs that we’re playing that are slow, we’re makin’ ‘em slower, but we’re not makin’ ‘em more mellow. We’re tryin’ to make ‘em tougher. We want ‘em to have a kind of tough, raw, Beatles or Doug Sahm kind of “oomph,” you know? Anyway, it’s still developing, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have our shit together by the time we get to Savannah.
Connect Savannah: So, tonight is the official debut gig with the new band, right?
Frank Black: Yeah, but I’m giving myself till Arizona, ‘cause these are just opening gigs that we’re doing. I’m very happy that Tom Petty has asked us to be there, obviously. I might add, he’s very generous in paying his opening bands. Much more generous than most, shall we say. So, we’re gonna be giving them a real show, but my own tour starts on Sunday, so I’m still considering this a work in progress.
Connect Savannah: Are you a big Petty fan?
Frank Black: I love Tom Petty, yeah.
Connect Savannah: I know he’s done a lot of work with Rick Rubin, who you’ve worked with before. Have your paths ever crossed socially? Are you and he good friends?
Frank Black: We’ve met a few times, but you know. He’s a big superstar. I appreciate these situations. I say hello and everything. But, whatever. He’s a very nice guy.
Connect Savannah: What’s the mood of the band going into such a high profile first gig tonight? Are they nervous?
Frank Black: I think they’re looking forward to it. I don’t know how nervous they are. These guys have played every kind of gig possible. In the universe. Whether it’s playing behind chicken wire in a roadhouse, or headlining some arts festival in Rotterdam, you know? This will be old hat to them in a manner of speaking. But we all love it. That’s why we do it.
Connect Savannah: I was a little surprised to read that your setlist for this tour would include some Pixies material.
Frank Black: Nah, there’s no Pixies stuff.
Connect Savannah: Okay. Well, that makes sense to me, because I assumed that now that the Pixies were back together that you’d segregate those tunes to those shows alone.
Frank Black: Exactly! That’s exactly what’s happened. They’ve been segregated.
Connect Savannah: Yet you still do some of those songs when you play one-man acoustic shows. Did you choose to drop those songs on your own, or did some of the other Pixies feel it would be weird for you to do that as long as they were a functioning unit?
Frank Black: Well, there was no discussion. It’s a free country. I wrote the damn songs, and I can sing ‘em in whatever context I want. But yeah, it seems a little awkward. And I’d add, at this particular moment in time.
Connect Savannah: I’ve always appreciated the relative unpretentious and self-deprecating way you conduct yourself at your solo shows. It remind me a lot of Jonathan Richman. There’s a high comfortability factor between you, your material and your audience. I think that has a great deal to do with the great affection you fanbase has for you. Are you surprised that more artists at your level don’t react to their own output and fame with what comes across in your case as good natured bemusement?
Frank Black: I think everyone reacts to the situation of being in the music business in a different way. I don’t want to criticize anybody for walking around like a pompous ass. (Laughs) I mean, it’s a funny situation to be in. It requires a lot of ego, and some people get very nervous and uptight about the whole thing, and that affects how they deal with fans. I guess I try not to take it too seriously.
Connect Savannah: You try to be very serious about not being very serious.
Frank Black: Exactly.
Connect Savannah: I know you’ve recently become a father, and that your entire family will be travelling with you on this tour. Have you noticed a difference in the way you write songs now that you have 4 young children?
Frank Black: Yeah. Now I write on the road, or when they’re not with me. I don’t work at home anymore. Now, I only seem to write when I get out of Oregon. I don’t mind that. It’s just a matter of making better use of my time, instead of having all this time at home.
Connect Savannah: Any real difference in terms of the output?
Frank Black: Naw. “Now I’m going to do a song about my precious little baby girl...” (Laughs) She is my precious little baby girl, but I’m not gonna get up there like that.
Connect Savannah: I didn’t mean actually writing songs about your kids, but you hear folks talk eloquently about how their worldview shifts once they become a parent.
Frank Black: Well, sure. That happens. I mean, you have all kinds of poignant shifts once you become a father, but I think my art reflects all kinds of things anyway.
Connect Savannah: You often draw on historical facts and references to religious doctrines and different types of mythologies in your lyrics, and some of your songs seem like these oblique constructions that challenge the patient listener to discover the true meaning of the song. Is it safe to say there’s a certain amount of playful obfuscation on your part when writing songs for a core audience that you know can sometimes obsess over stuff like that?
Frank Black: I believe it’s called a riddle. Yeah. (Laughs) Sure. I riddle.
Connect Savannah: (Laughs) Do you find yourself coming up with a riddle and then constructing a song around it?
Frank Black: Well, when you’re a riddler, you just riddle. It doesn’t require extra time to riddle. You know? Trying to figure out what rhymes with elephant is a whimsical challenge. The whole process of songwriting as far as I’m concerned, is riddled with... You know... Games.
Connect Savannah: Have you always felt that way?
Frank Black: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Always felt that way. Always worked that way.
Connect Savannah: Who are some other artists whose work you might enjoy personally in the same manner that I have described your fans pouring over your own songs for clues and inspiration? Whose songs do you sit and wonder about?
Frank Black: The Beatles.
Connect Savannah: Any particular songs that you are especially proud of, in terms of how you constructed the riddle, and which to your knowledge, no one has ever solved?
Frank Black: Oh, ahh...
Connect Savannah: The songs of yours that I enjoy the most seem rather elliptical. They seem to have red herrings thrown in there to knock you off the track. They’re like written math questions which include erroneous or misleading information to confuse the reader. Is that a method that you find yourself applying when writing songs?
Frank Black: Yes.
Connect Savannah: (Laughs) Well, I appreciate you being patient with me while I linger on this tangent!
Frank Black: No, no. It’s rare that someone would discuss things of this nature with me on this kind of a level. It’s usually like, (adopts a foolish voice) “So, Frank, you know. How do you write your songs?” I guess that’s kind of the same question, isn’t it? But it’s just obvious that they’re not clued in. They’re not even close to being on the same page.
Connect Savannah: I don’t mean to seem like I’m trying to pry into your methods.
Frank Black: No, it’s cool. I’m egging you on. (Laughs) It’s rare that I would just answer a question with “Yes.” But, if the question is chock full of information, and upon analyzing the question I determine that the best answer would be yes, then I have to go with that. (Laughs)
Connect Savannah: I have noticed similar refracted songwriting methods in a lot of Elvis Costello’s work, and over the past few years, he’s become much more open, penning liner notes and discussing a lot of the ideas behind his songs. Can you imagine a time when you might be more forthcoming, and perhaps aid people in cracking some of these codes and solving some of these riddles?
Frank Black: Well, the main thing is that most people don’t ask yet. You know, when someone is asking you questions from the angle of, “So Frank, your new album is called blah-bity blah blah blah. Uh, what’s the theme of this record? What’s it all about?” It’s like they don’t just want me to fill in the blanks, but they also want me to decide what the blank is.
Connect Savannah: It’s like a Mad Lib interview. (Laughs)
Frank Black: Yeah! (Laughs) Most people don’t get that specific with their questions. They wanna ask about the Pixies and that whole “Kurt Cobain said ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was a rip-off of a Pixies song” thing. “How does that make you feel?”
Connect Savannah: You should tell them that smells like they looked you up on Allmusic.com right before they called! (Laughs)
Frank Black: Exactly. (Laughs)
Tiny Team Concerts and Connect Savannah present Frank Black and his new band with special opening act The Reid Paley Trio at Savannah Smiles (314 Williamson St. near the corner of MLK, Jr., Blvd. and Bay St.), Sunday night, October 15. Tickets for this 21+ show are $30 in advance or $33 at the door, and can be charged online at www.tinyteamconcerts.info, or purchased at the following Cash Only outlets: Primary Art Supply, Le Chai Wine Gallerie, Annie’s Guitars & Drums, Marigold Beauty Concepts, Silly Mad CDs and Angel’s BBQ.