Singer works on finding his musical style
Black has been leaning toward Americana music.
By JOHN BENSON
Pixies fans thinking about exploring the solo career of its frontman-songwriter Frank Black best be warned before attending his upcoming show Friday at Pittsburgh's Mr. Small's Theatre and Monday date at Cleveland's House of Blues.
What you won't be seeing live is any of the discordant and highly influential material from his erstwhile band, which is now back in mothballs after a successful reunion run a few years ago. Instead, Black (born Charles Thompson and known early on as Black Francis while in the Pixies) has been exploring his musicality with his recent solo efforts -- 2005's "Honeycomb" and the recently released double CD "Fastman Raiderman" -- which on the surface paint him in a different light.
However, if you ask Black, he's been gravitating toward the Americana-tinged, singer-songwriter vein since the late '90s and his solo work then billed as Frank Black and the Catholics.
"Sure, I think a lot of the Catholics stuff, especially after a couple of records, started to turn into, for a lack of a better word, an Americana kind of thing," said Black, calling from his home in Eugene, Ore., with baby daughter Lucy in the background. "Just a lot of twang, which is really part of rock music, more than country. It's the influence of country music on rock music more than going 'country,' which is how I think some people perceive it."
What he's recording
Whatever perceptions music fans have of the Americana scene, Black has spent his last two solo efforts fully exploring his Nashville itch by recording with such legends as Levon Helm, Tom Petersson, Al Kooper, Steve Cropper, Spooner Oldman and more. His latest double-disc affair, all 27 songs of it, features a few standout tracks, such as the Van Morrison-esque "If Your Poison Gets You" and a cover of Ewan MacColl's British folk classic "Dirty Old Town."
With a potent backing band -- Duane Jarvis (guitar), Eric Drew Feldman (bass) and Billy Block (drums) -- in tow, Black is quite aware of how his solo efforts, and the subsequent digression away from indie rock, is perceived by fans, but he feels he's content in following his musical heart.
"I mostly just want to continue to establish myself as a rock 'n' roller in my genre, as opposed to saying, 'And here's my Nashville period,'" Black said. "Because that's a bit contrived. But that's not who's coming to my show. It's not like I have all of the John Hiatt fans. If they were, I'd be trying to [feature] my last couple of records verbatim but that's not who's coming to my show. I can tell."
He added, "It's people who are more familiar with my work and probably not so familiar with the work of John Hiatt."
What remains true is that no matter what Black's future may hold, the shadow of his Pixies past will invariably loom large. And what's going on with the venerable indie rock act, you ask? It appears band relations are exactly where they were before the improbable reunion a few years ago with Black saying, "Joey [Santiago] owes me a call. I'm waiting."
Now more than ever, there's no denying that Black's career is in the, well, black with the two-year cash cow Pixies reunion acting as a comeuppance for the highly revered yet commercially unsuccessful late '80s and early '90s band. Though critics and fans have questioned whether the Pixies cashed on the band's credibility, Black sets the record straight.
"The goal of every musician is to get paid for what you do so you don't have to get paid for stocking shelves, which is what I used to do," Black said. "I don't mind stocking shelves, but I'd just rather sing rock songs. I get a lot more out of it, and thank you for all of you wonderful customers out there. God bless everyone."