Back in Black
Like most of Sacramento, Frank Black finds peace in Americana
Frank Black claims there’s no theme running through his career. But over the course of a recent interview, the theme became obvious: This guy wants to do what this guy wants to do. And he does all right.
When it came time to record this year’s Fast Man Raider Man, Black resumed what he calls “the Nashville experiment,” by which, just before a 2004 Pixies reunion tour, he convened with some of that city’s best sessioners to lay down the mellow, almost offhand Americana of last year’s Honeycomb. “All I did was write the songs,” he said. “I didn’t get too involved with picking the band. I just wanted to be a superstar, walk in the room and play. The experiment worked well. Let’s do it again.”
What’s more: “The sessions were kind of quick, so you tend to adopt a kind of Frank Sinatra cockiness. Like, ‘Let’s just do this, boys, and get out of here.’ You have to be confident and not all wound up and aggressive. It’s more of a laid-back, cool kind of thing.”
It’s a kind of thing that extends to the current tour, which features just Black and an acoustic guitar. “There’s lots of room for my ego,” he said with a laugh. “But there’s less to fall back on, you know? I make more mistakes when I play solo. And sometimes overzealous audience members screw me up because they insist on singing along. Then I’m very self-conscious that they know the words. But it’s a good challenge. I like it. The people seem to like it. There are moments that are fantastic.”
Then a scream came through the phone. “Sorry,” Black said, chuckling again. “I let little Jack come in here for the interview, and he likes to pinch and bite occasionally. He’s trying to get me to wrestle.”
That’s right. Frank Black, alt-rock wailer and newly mellowed Nashville laboratory researcher, has hit the road with his wife and kids. “It’s great,” he reported, passing off the toddler to Mom. “We’re concerned that maybe there’s too much switcheroo all the time for the younger ones, but everyone’s doing fine. It’s an experiment.”
Black’s excited about his August 31 Harlow’s appearance. “I’m looking forward to the hot weather and the state-capital vibe,” he cracked. He was happy to report that his good friend Reid Paley, who co-wrote some of Fast Man Raider Man, will open for him. “I enjoy Harlow’s,” Black went on. “Played there many times over the years. I feel at home in California. I was partly raised there. I’ve got some family in Sacramento. And then I’ll be looking forward to getting home because it’s my next stop.”
Soon enough after the Harlow’s gig, though, Black begins a month of rehearsals with a full band. They’ll open two shows for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in late September. Then they’ll headline a tour throughout North America in October and November.
“I’m a troubadour,” Black said. “That’s what I do. You go on tour, you put out a record. You go on tour, you put out a record. There’s no particular rhyme or reason to it other than it’s the rhythm of my life.”
And does the rhythm of his life, as experimental as it is, include another Pixies tour?
“Um, Kim [Deal]’s working on a Breeders record right now. And I’m doing this tour, so … we’ve got some sort of loose plan to get together and do some jamming. There’s no specific date or anything.”
How about Pixies recordings?
“There cannot be a plan to record until the plan to try the jamming part works out, you know?”
If it sounds cagey or noncommittal, maybe it is. Maybe a Pixies tour just doesn’t fit in with the ongoing Nashville experiment. Right now, all that’s on the Frank Black agenda is simply holding on to that Sinatra cockiness and just doing what he wants to do.