“We didn’t feel like we were making a masterpiece,” says Pixies drummer Dave Lovering of the group’s beloved 1989 album Doolittle. “I guess I can see that it’s a classic now. At the time of its release, I just thought of it as another Pixies album. It was the next thing we were doing.”
Following the abrasive, straight ahead Steve Albini-produced Surfer Rosa (“Still probably my favorite of everything we’ve done,” says Lovering), the Boston-based Pixies – singer-guitarist Black Francis (real name, Charles Thompson aka Frank Black), bassist-singer Kim Deal, guitarist Joey Santiago and Lovering – chose the British-born Gil Norton to helm their major label debut.
“When we did Doolittle with Gil, the production became more polished and pro,” Lovering recalls. “The songs were more accessible, too, which just might have been where we were going as a band. Not to say that I didn’t like it; in fact, I was extremely proud of Doolittle when I first heard it being played back. I couldn’t believe it was us – it sounded so big and accomplished.”
A riveting, eclectic mix of genres, spanning the gamut from primal scream punk fury to avant-garde noise rock to twisted homages to surf pop, spaghetti westerns, country and reggae (to say nothing of the lyrical references – Luis Bunuel, anyone?), Doolittle was an immediate hit with critics and something of a non-starter with the public.
Although the Pixies broke up acrimoniously in 1993, groups like Nirvana, Radiohead, Weezer and dozens more cited them as influences; the loud-quiet-loud aesthetic, prominently rendered on Doolittle, was a much-copied musical dynamic. “Hearing that kind of praise was pretty astonishing,” says Lovering. “I would say those bands were very responsible for us reuniting in 2004. A lot of the kids who liked them listened to what they said and turned to us, so we owe a big debt of gratitude to those bands.”
Since 2009, the Pixies have been on what the drummer describes as “an ongoing Doolittle tour,” and later this year they’ll hit the road once again to perform the disc live in its entirety in both major and secondary markets in the US.
On the following pages, David Lovering takes a track-by-track look at Doolittle, offering his thoughts on making the seminal recording and describing what it feels like to perform the songs today. “It’s a great record,” he says. “After all these years, it’s like it hasn’t aged. Time sort of caught up with it.”