BY BOB DOERSCHUK
There’s no magic involved in playing drums with The Pixies. Nobody understands that better than David Lovering, who has inhabited each of these worlds long enough to know his way around both.
At age 57, Lovering has been a Pixie since the band’s birth more than 30 years ago. True, they did take a decade-long break at one point, which hindsight suggests was a canny career move: What brought them back together was not a desire to rehash their early groundbreaking material but rather a sense that they still had a lot to say.
That takes us to their latest album, Beneath The Eyrie, released in September last year, with Lovering, guitarist Joey Santiago, and bassist Paz Lenchantin animating Black Francis’ cryptic poetics. If any drummer knows how to fulfill that mission, it’s Lovering, these days an upbeat dad with two kids and a simpatico connection to lyrics such as “Have you seen that death horizon just there out of view? … That death horizon gonna burn you right through,” on the incongruously perky “Death Horizon.”
What inspired Lovering and his colleagues to lay down this sunny beat within the darkness summoned by their frontman? Simple, Lovering explains: “I actually have no clue what I’m doing. Neither does Joey or Paz. The thing is, the lyrics don’t exist yet when we record the drum parts. From day one, the way we’ve worked is that Charles [Thompson, aka Black Francis] comes in and plays something on acoustic guitar or even just sings it. Then we start jamming, trying out parts. If he doesn’t like what we’re doing, he’ll tell us and we’ll change it. The lyrics are almost always the last thing that goes down.”
Lovering adds, “The funny thing is, I really don’t know a lot of Pixies lyrics! Not even the songs I really love. I’ll hear certain words and use them as markers in the melody line. Really, I just listen to the music. So, the fact is, it’s not that hard for me to cut tracks without the words that Charles eventually writes. I just go with whatever the rhythm is.”
The Pixies used to do a lot of their writing on studio time. This, Lovering points out, is why some of his earlier parts are probably busier than they should have been. “I sounded like Neil Peart on everything we did,” he says. “Through a conscious effort, I play a lot less these days. Now, when we perform our older stuff, I will stay true to what I recorded, although I may not play it exactly as I recorded it—I’m not as young as I used to be! But we do try to recreate what we did before when we play live.”
Sometimes he doesn’t hit it right on the money, if only because, “to be honest, I don’t listen to Pixies stuff. I mean, we’ll listen to the new album before we go out in August or September, to make sure we’ve got it all down. But I never listen to, say, ‘Where Is My Mind.’ A while ago, though, I did listen to it intently and I heard something I’d forgotten. There’s a hi-hat opening throughout the song. I’d never played it that way after our reunion in 2004. But I’ve been doing it that way ever since that epiphany.”
More important to Lovering and his band is their commitment to generating new material. “When we reunited in 2004, we realized we couldn’t just keep playing the stuff we’d been playing all those years before. We had to do new stuff. That was the impetus behind Indie Cindy in 2014: We had returned in 2004 and been playing all those years, longer than when were a national band back in the day. And we realized we had to do new stuff.”
On Beneath The Eyrie Lovering stuck to the basics in terms of gear as well as what he played: 4-piece Gretsch kit, Vater sticks, Zildjian cymbals, Evans drumheads, and DW hardware. The kit itself, however, is brand new. “I’d always played the Gretsch kit I’d bought back in 1992. When the band broke up it sat in storage all the way up to our reunion in 2004. The new one is the same color as my old one, except the 16″ x 14″ floor tom is now 16″ x 16″. Our producer, Tom Delgaty, did ask me to throw a bunch of cotton balls into that floor tom to muffle it, to cut out a bit of its ringing. I was like, ‘Whoa! That’s a great idea!’”
There is one other change to his setup, inspired by the new tune “This Is My Fate.” “Every time we came to this little break as we were writing this, I would play a wacky fill around the drums. I couldn’t help it! Everyone was laughing—so we decided to stick with it. Then when we were recording, I switched it over to percussion that was in the studio. Now I’m piecing this little tree together, with woodblocks and bells and this stuff on a little tree.”
As for the lack of magic, well, he finds his fill of that elsewhere. When not doing Pixies work, Lovering morphs into his alter ego as a “scientific phenomenalist.” This involves doing magic shows, which, as he sees it, are actually more about “bizarre science.” Usually the two never meet except for one trick he worked up involving his drum throne.
“I built this stool that collapses when I’m playing,” he says, laughing. “It drops one foot down, I writhe in pain and when I get up the rod looks like it has penetrated me. It’s a gag but it’s pretty horrific. People do kind of run out of the room in shock sometimes. So I don’t think I’ll be doing it in any Pixies shows.”
When it’s too dark for even this band, you know you’re onto something.
DRUMS: Gretsch USA Custom 2018 in Cherry Red
- 22″ x 14″ bass drum
- 16″ x 16″ floor tom
- 13″ x 9″ mounted tom
- 14″ x 6.5″ Ludwig Black Beauty snare drum
- 14″ x 5.25″ Ludwig Acrolite snare drum
- 18″ A Custom crash
- 19” A Custom crash
- 14″ New Beat hi-hats
- 21″ Projection ride
- 8″ splash
HARDWARE, PERCUSSION, STICKS
- Tama Iron Cobra bass drum pedal
- DW hardware
- LP percussion blocks
- Vater 5A signature stick
Update: Keeping Busy During Quarantine
This story was scheduled to run before the whole world was shut down by Covid-19 and The Pixies’ tour was postponed. So, we decided to ask a few questions about what Lovering’s been up to lately.
DRUM!: What have you been up to while sheltering in place?
David Lovering: Playing my drums everyday. Actually more than I have ever played since I was a kid! Can’t believe of the new beats, independence and hi-hat control I’ve discovered that reaffirms my lost belief that practice does indeed work wonders!
Have you ever experienced anything like this, where a tour was cancelled or you were otherwise prevented from playing?
We’ve never experienced anything even remotely like this. It’s affected everyone. We’ve definitely cancelled or postponed a tour or show due to other issues, but nothing like this magnitude. Also, I’m a firm believer in playing regardless of my health (with the exception of the Coronavirus). Personally I’ve had some of the best shows playing under the weather. The show must go on and adrenaline can work wonders!
If you had to pick a song to describe this time in the world right now, with everyone staying home and the pandemic raging throughout the world, what would it be?
Other than a drummer, I’m a huge synth head. I love and appreciate any music with a synth. That being said, what comes to mind especially with the title is Howard Jones’ “Things Can Only Get Better.”