Life to Black Francis
At times he has been Frank Black, at others, Black Francis. However, when Darren Carle patches in a call to the erstwhile Pixies frontman at his home in Eugene, Oregon, he is simply Charles Thompson, dutiful husband and father of four<br/><br/>""I can't give the world the Pixies but I'll give them Black Francis, whatever that symbolises. I'm trying to just not fight it.""
Amidst the breakfast clatter and the various children vying for his attention, Charles (let's just call him Frank from here on in, eh?) emerges slightly dazed and confused.
"I'm multi-tasking here, I'm really sorry," he begins before quantifying it as a particularly male form of multi-tasking. "I'm literally talking into my coffee and trying to sip my telephone!"
With a fifth child on the way, Black's ability to carry out two simple tasks at once will no doubt be stretched even more. However, his prolificacy in fatherhood seems to be matched by that in the studio. Last year, when asked to provide an 'obligatory new track' for his Frank Black retrospective, he emerged with the eleven track concept album, Bluefinger, based on the life and work of Dutch artist Herman Brood. Then, when a b-side was required for one of the singles, Black knocked out mini-album, Svn Fngrs, due for release in March. It was written, recorded and produced in six days with the artwork following on the seventh.
"In a way, having a family has brought on the increased activity because I have less time to do it," he explains, now sounding more focused. "I've always enjoyed working in a sort of haphazard, flippant kind of fashion - the thrill of doing it on the fly, and now that I've got kids I'm doing it on the fly all the time," he laughs before continuing with a deadpan monologue; "I've got a session booked on Friday. I better write some songs on Monday. Shit! It's Thursday night and I still haven't written any fucking songs. I go pick up an acoustic guitar, I strum a couple of chords, I say OK, there are my chords for tomorrow, then I just do it."
However, Frank isn't alone in juggling his musical and parental responsibilities. In Violet Clark he not only has a wife but also a talented and intuitive bass player. "Violet needed half a day or whatever to play the bass. She didn't even know the songs. I was just like 'OK I'll take the kids, I'll drop you off at the studio and you go play bass for a while!'"
"This method is really risky," he concedes, "but I ended up with seven (songs) that I really thought were good, and I was like 'OK screw it, it's a mini-album'. I think this has helped in terms of getting a release because the record company isn't quite so up in arms, like 'Oh God you just put out a record'. It's a different kind of thing - a smaller portion."
To add intrigue to it all, both Bluefinger and Svn Fngrs were recorded under the Black Francis moniker. Previously the domain of his tenure with the Pixies, it has understandably raised eyebrows and expectations from fans. So, why resurrect the decades-old alter ego now?
"I guess just to kind of reclaim it or something, y'know? I always have been Black Francis. I mean, Black Francis, Frank Black, who gives a shit, whatever! It's just a name, y'know, but there's the association, of course, with my former band with the Black Francis moniker."
Indeed there is, but those with their hearts set on a future Pixies project should probably avert their eyes now. "The band did a successful reunion tour but that kind of fizzled out," he says before definitively adding, "They're not going to make a record."
It's a statement that will end years of speculation and hope. Even in his words there is a feeling of disassociation already, and it is clear that he doesn't want to elaborate on the reasons why. However, aspersions will no doubt be cast on his temperamental relationship with Pixies bassist Kim Deal. In fact, when The Skinny last spoke to Black in mid-2006, a new Pixies album seemed to be on the cards. Although, perhaps tellingly, he stated that the final decision lay with Deal who, due to other commitments, wasn't interested at the time. It would seem that in the interim a more definitive decision has been made.
However, he is eager to make it clear that this no longer disappoints him. "I'm kind of glad. I've tapped into some kind of new space as a result," he claims. "I can't give the world the Pixies but I'll give them Black Francis, whatever that symbolises. I'm trying to just not fight it. I'm not trying hard at any of this. I'm trying to be really relaxed. I'm just kind of 'using the force'."
Whatever has brought him to this plateau, be it an exponential rate-of-increase of the Thompson clan, the dissolution of one of rock's greatest and most influential bands or quasi-religious mythology from a sci-fi film franchise, it certainly seems to have re-invigorated not only his musical output, but also the subjects he is dealing with.
"It's about the concept of the demigod," he states, returning somewhat swiftly to his new mini-album, Svn Fngrs. "The woman who lies with the man and then within the same evening, lies with a God. It's the mixture of the two seeds which creates this kind of demigod character. It's a ménage-a-trois. To me it's fairly sexy. There's a lusty, sexy thing running through the demigod concept." Each to their own, we say, but he's not finished fantasising yet.
"The song I Sent Away is about alternate sex fetish robots," he states somewhat coolly. Sorry!? "ASFR's are very specific in theirÃ‚Â…lusts, shall we say," he continues, seemingly unabated by The Skinny's mild alarm. "The fantasy (of the ASFR) is to have sexual relations with an android, someone who is not entirely human, that is part machine. I mean anyone can kind of go there I suppose. You or I could go there without too much effort," he states matter-of-factly.
He may have been bumbling Charles Thompson when we first started chatting, but it seems Black Francis and his dark, twisted visions are never too far away. We can only assume that the kids are no longer in earshot.
Back in the real world, and not one that resembles a deleted sex scene from Blade Runner, Black is about to embark on a European tour promoting his new Black Francis material. On top of this he will also be performing what he has termed 'pre-cores', as an alternative to encores. Through the blackfrancis.net website, fans can suggest locations for Frank to play solo before his shows, with the added promise of taking requests for Pixies songs.
"Yeah, I'm going to do one in Glasgow. I just haven't figured out where yet," he admits. "I'm just gonna show up with my acoustic guitar at whatever street corner. I've even invited people to suggest their homes or apartments."
Fancy a bona fide rock legend cracking out some classic tunes, at your request, in the comfort of your own living room? For a man effortlessly balancing his domestic and rock star lifestyles, he'll surely feel as right at home as you.
Black Francis plays The Garage, Glasgow on 10 Feb
Svn Fngrs is released on 3 March via Cooking Vinyl
Like the idea of Frank bashing out some Pixies numbers for your own delectation? Go to www.blackfrancis.net and get your suggestions in.