Under Cover: The Pixies

Pixies albums are often lauded for their loud/quiet/loud sounds, but their cover art is decidedly spooky/mysterious/surreal. While Charles Thompson (a.k.a. frontman Black Francis) wrote the songs that influenced bands from Nirvana to Spoon, Vaughan Oliver created the look that launched a revolution in graphic design. By the time the Pixies were being scouted by 4AD, Oliver was acting as the in-house designer for the London-based label, turning out artful covers for the Cocteau Twins, Modern English and others. During a 1987 trip to the U.S., Oliver became a de facto A&R man as well, witnessing the Pixies play in Providence, R.I., at the urging of 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell.

“They completely knocked me out,” remembers Oliver. “I said to Ivo, ‘Let’s do it.’”

Surfer Rosa (1988)
What I do with every band is listen to the music and read the lyrics and have a conversation with the artist. Charles was very keen on a sense of nudity. We talked about film, and David Lynch was an influence we shared. I think the idea for Surfer Rosa came from Charles singing “Vamos” in Spanish and from his time spent in Puerto Rico as an exchange student. Flamenco dancing is a very proud and traditional exercise, and subverting that puts a decadent perspective on it. The dancer being topless was a nice counterpoint to the traditional sense. That’s (Cocteau Twin) Robin Guthrie’s guitar neck in the photo. The whole thing happened in a pub opposite the 4AD label office because we couldn’t afford a studio.

Doolittle (1989)
This cover was based on a simplistic view of the lyrics to “Monkey Gone To Heaven.” Kind of “five, six, seven, monkey gone to heaven.” The song wasn’t about that, but when I described the idea to Charles, he approved. He said, “Vaughan, good pop music is simply mathematical.” That confounded me. I thought it sprang from the heart. And he was saying it was mathematical! Where in the visual arts do we find a comparison? I went back to the Golden Section, which is an idea from the Renaissance. It’s a formulaic way of making paintings by splitting up the area we work with. So I put the mathematical grid over the monkey. Doolittle is my favorite cover; when you go inside the sleeve, you’ve got images that relate to the songs. It’s a very successful package.

Bossa Nova (1990)
This was our first excursion into color. Everything previously had been sepia-tinted or black-and-white. Even before the music came to me, I was thinking along a “planet Pixies” line. They kind of create their own world. I think Charles actually saw a flying saucer, and his father was very interested in UFOs. So we built this planet out of clear acrylic; it was all pre-computer and done on an artwork board. The whole (visual) effect was an accident. We had a blue-velvet background and a clear planet. In the studio, there was just a slight tinge of pink on this clear acrylic globe due to a red filter on the lights. What we didn’t realize was that when it was shot, the red filter would flood the entire picture. We were technically inept, but it turned out more kitschy than what we saw and we went with it. The four circles in the corners of the cover are references to songs: The doll refers to “Velouria.” The mole is a reference to “Dig For Fire.” There’s a barbed-wire lasso that’s a reference to “Hang Wire.” Then there’s a frog … What the hell was that about?

Trompe Le Monde (1991)
The idea was that it was supposed to be the surface of a planet, and (co-designer) Chris Bigg created it with salt. The title comes from trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”), a technique in interior design where a mural on the wall is the same scale as the room but curtains are painted onto it. I used real bull’s eyes from the butcher; they were very hard to get a hold of because mad cow disease was rife at the time. But Simon Larbalestier, the photographer who shot all the Pixies covers with me, was very persuasive. Initially, we were going to put them in a bowl of water but didn’t realize the eyeballs would go all milky.

—Matthew Fritch

Slint Members Form Metal Band Dead Child

When Slint re-formed in 2005 for a string of live performances, fans of the seminal Louisville, Ky., post-rock band might’ve anticipated a possible new album. Guitarist David Pajo reveals that plans were indeed made for recording, except those plans had very little to do with Slint.

“Michael McMahan (guitarist for Slint reunion), Todd Cook (bass) and I lightheartedly discussed continuing to play together after the Slint tour,” says Pajo. “Weeks later, Todd turned to me in the van and said, ‘Do you know what a good name for a metal band is? Dead Child.’”

Attack, the full-length debut from Dead Child (Pajo, Cook, McMahan, drummer Tony Bailey and vocalist Dahm), arrives April 8 on Quarterstick. Keeping with McMahan’s original vision and the sound of last year’s self-titled EP, Attack honors heavy metal’s classic tendencies (wailing vocals, hard-wired riffs) while avoiding its modern pitfalls (no programmed drums or cookie-monster vocals).

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Funny Guys Andrew Earles And Jeffrey Jensen Sign To Matador; Yeah THAT Andrew Earles

Judging from the volume and content of letters submitted to MAGNET over the past few years, readers will be either delighted or appalled to learn that contributing writer Andrew Earles (author of Where’s The Street Team?) has signed to Matador to issue a comedy CD. Earles & Jensen Present: Just Farr A Laugh Vol. 1 And 2, due in April, consists of prank phone calls by Earles and partner Jeffrey Jensen. Listeners expecting Jerky Boys-style locker-room humor will be disappointed; the duo instead traffics in slow-developing, character-driven calls. One features the singer of a smooth-R&B cover band called Bedroom ETA attempting to secure a gig at a Memphis blues club, while another has a junk-collector type attempting to sell Garfield memorabilia to an antiques dealer.

“We wanted to make a different type of prank-call CD,” says Earles. “One devoid of cruelty and overstuffed with pop-culture references.”

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Please Explain: Stephen Malkmus

What’s up with your passion for fantasy sports? We heard you played online multi-player basketball while recording your latest album, Real Emotional Trash (Matador).

I’m the commissioner for the basketball league that (current Jicks bandmates) Janet Weiss, Joanna Bolme, (Pavement drummer) Bob Nastanovich and others play in. People can protest trades, and I can flat-out reject them if I think they’re unfair. But I won’t, because we’re all adults, and people can make their own choices. Within reason. Lately, I haven’t cared about who wins the NBA Finals—it’s just a show, entertainment. The Spurs win because they do lots of fundamental things well. But fantasy is where the fun is. It’s streaky, guys drop like flies from injuries, people do well for a short time, then someone else shines and does well. You start the season full of hope, then you ride the wave.

Al Jourgensen: Please Explain

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You spend much of Ministry’s final album, The Last Sucker (13th Planet/Megaforce), warning us about the evils of the Bush administration. You even call Dick Cheney “the son of Satan.” Does this mean that you actually care about us?

I think that after I got out of my heroin haze of the ’90s, Ministry became a socially relevant band singing about social issues. How am I not gonna sing about George W. Bush? What am I gonna do, pick up an acoustic guitar and sing for the next six years about how I kicked heroin? I actually give a shit again about our culture, our society and the state of things. A lot of other people are doing it, too, but I like the way we do it. We do it with a sense of humor; I hope people can pick up on this. I just saw a right-wing Web site where I was public enemy number two, behind Michael Moore. I love that. It tells me I’m doing something right.