"That’s the thing about music, of course, is that it’s so primal," says Frank Black, alt-rock cult hero and founding member of the seminal post-punk rock outfit, the Pixies. "It really predates showbiz, and economy, and all these stupid concepts that we have to deal with everyday, like having a set of keys. … It’s nice when something like rock music can, even if it’s just an illusion, be above that, you know? Mystical. Shamanistic."
It’s an attitude that shinesthrough in his music. Black’s work, whether with the Pixies or throughout his solo career — which in 13 years has produced 12 albums and countless tour dates around the globe — reflects a raw, animalistic approach to songwriting and performing.
Black performs tonight at the Fillmore in San Francisco.
The powerful vocals and wild, unflinching musicality for which Black is best known are not the only keys on his ring. In June of this year, Frank released Fast Man Raider Man, a two-disc set of new material born out of studio sessions in Nashville and Los Angeles during the last two years.
The album features a roster of heavy-hitting musicians, including P.F. Sloan, the Band’s Levon Helm, Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick and Jon Tiven, who also produced the record.
"You go to Nashville, baby, you’re gonna get that Nashville sound," Black says. "It’s like, you just gotta show up and walk in and go, ‘Here’s m’songs, boys.’ They’re, like, looking at the chart with one eye, and then looking at you with the other eye and playing it with feeling — and they haven’t even rehearsed the thing before. They’d literally never heard the songs."
The result is a haunting collection of songs, a powerful balance between the instinctive, cagey songwriting of Frank Black, and the steely, twang-inflected backdrop of an impressive set of supporting musicians.
But even with the strength of the new album, Black is a performer, and makes it clear that his loyalties lie elsewhere.
"All that matters is the song. It begins here, it ends here, it’s three minutes long. That’s what it’s all about. It’s that one song, when you’re writing it, when you’re recording it, when you’re performing it. … The whole universe revolves around this little song. Because that’s what you’re hoping for, you’re hoping to ring the bell. You’re hoping to be magical, you’re hoping to achieve some sort of greatness."