Why do so many bands say they're influenced by The Pixies?
June 14, 2012 10:08 PM   Subscribe

A lot of bands I like say The Pixies are one of the bands that most influenced them, so I downloaded some of their music, and I hated most of what I heard. What am I missing?
posted by vash to Media & Arts (44 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
"Influenced by" is not the same as "sounds like".
posted by caek at 10:13 PM on June 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

What bands do you like? And what exactly didn't you like about listening to The Pixies? Providing a little more information will help.
posted by book 'em dano at 10:15 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Probably Surfer Rosa, Come on Pilgrim, and Doolittle.
posted by fleacircus at 10:16 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

my gateway song was "Wave of Mutilation". ymmv
posted by wayland at 10:17 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

There's also a fairly wide range of sounds among Pixies albums--early ones are rougher, later ones are slicker. If you happened to hear mostly stuff from one end of their career, you might want to try the other end too.
posted by equalpants at 10:17 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I like Radiohead a lot. The Pixies sound really discordant, and the singer's voice is really unpleasant.
posted by vash at 10:17 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nirvana cited the Pixies as an influence, and I think the particular thing was their sense of dynamics (soft then loud & vice versa). Smells Like Teen Spirit is a perfect example.

The Pixies have a pretty wide range from (off the top of my head) "Chien Andalusian" (which I think is pretty funny, and is fairly raw) to "Here Comes Your Man" (which I thought was a 60s pop hit I'd never heard before). Different bands might be referencing different segments.

Also, the Pixies came around in 1986 which was a dead spot in indie rock history; so they may have gotten a lot more attention to all the band people looking for something new then as opposed to some band that came out in, say, 1992.
posted by msalt at 10:23 PM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

They're not always discordant. Try Here Comes Your Man, or Where Is My Mind?
posted by salvia at 10:26 PM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't call myself a Pixies fan--I prefer Radiohead-type sounds to Pixies-type sounds--but I count some of their songs among my favorite songs.
Gouge Away
Wave of Mutilation
Where Is My Mind
posted by quiet coyote at 10:26 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Here Comes Your Man was the first song that hooked me...and then came Where Is My Mind? Granted, these are two of their top three hits, but I'm a sucker for the Top 40, so... it seems to me that the appeal of the Pixies, for me at least, is that they provide the kind of catchy hooks that I also find in my favorite pre-digested Z100 playlist. (Shuddering to admit this on Metafilter, but...you asked!)
posted by artemisia at 10:26 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I like the cover of Where Is My Mind by Placebo. I have I think all of the Pixies' albums, but I was listening to them from first to last, and I couldn't get through them all. It helps to know which songs to listen to.
posted by vash at 10:33 PM on June 14, 2012

So... I used to be in the same boat. I thought the Pixies sounded like shit.

Then... one night... I was up late, hacking on some software. My brain was pretty fried. I was tired - I was alone at a hackerspace (a place that people pay a bit of money to have access to a work area).

The Pixies came on the radio. I think it was Bone Machine. And bam! I got it. I immediately started liking the Pixies, and it was really weird.

Next day I was at a friends house, and he played a different Pixies song (Debaser) and not only did I now recognize who it was but I liked that song too.


Anyways - maybe you just need to have the right moment to like the Pixies. Good luck finding it, because if you do, its worth it.
posted by farmersckn at 10:34 PM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

often music has to grow on me. For me at least this can take time.
posted by mattoxic at 10:36 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Head On (a Jesus & Mary Chain cover)
posted by salvia at 10:37 PM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

As everyone else has already said, Where Is My Mind is the gateway track for a lot of people thanks to Fight Club. I also really like Mr. Grieves, which showcases another dimension to their sound.

I sort of think The Unicorns are a more poppy, agreeable version of Pixies.

Doolittle is the starter, and Surfer Rosa is the grower.

Pixies are great because they have the start-stop tempo and control of a band like Fugazi, but a raw crunchy guitar closer to Big Black. I mean... they're singing about bone machines! Black Francis's voice is disarming sort of like Jeff Mangum's.

Anyway, good on you for not dismissing an artist you don't immediately like!
posted by yaymukund at 10:54 PM on June 14, 2012

Yeah, listening to them back to back is probably not the best introduction. The albums are so different that it was rare I ever liked more than one album at a time. They are like a rock wall with different veins. If you like Where is My Mind?, try the rest of Surfer Rosa.

Continuing with my list of gateway songs, here's Letter to Memphis, and The Happening (at least catch some of the euphoria around 1:15 and even moreso at 3:15 before you quit the song).
posted by salvia at 10:58 PM on June 14, 2012

I also took a while to get into the Pixies and then it all just clicked. I definitely have to be in the mood though. Try Into the White and I Bleed, both of which feature the female vocalist who isn't quite as shouty. Those plus Caribou and Hey were the songs that originally got me hooked. They are pretty much the opposite of Radiohead, sonically. Radiohead is so polished and layered and eargasmic, the Pixies are rough and raw and cathartic. And Weird.

Album wise, try Doolittle and Bossanova.
posted by smartypantz at 11:06 PM on June 14, 2012

Mod note: A couple of comments deleted. Hey guys, the question definitely dances close to the "chatfilter" line, but this needs not to be an open discussion, debate, or argument about The Pixies, The Pixies vs [Other Band], or music, generally. Please try to focus on concrete aspects that have made the band influential. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:23 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Avoid Bossanova.

There, I said it.
posted by bardic at 11:31 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

What Radiohead and The Pixies have in common, I think, is a willingness to blend catchy pop melodies with discordant noises. Instead of approaching this from "what Pixies songs should I listen to," which other people have already covered, I'm going to recommend you follow up your next Pixies session with some early Radiohead.

Listen to "Anyone Can Play Guitar," in particular. That burst of guitar noise at the beginning that coalesces into a thick, sparse bass-and-drums line with bits of guitar noise for texture, then fills in again on the chorus? The way that wiggly guitar squeal follows up each line of vocals during the verses? That's very much Pixies-influenced, to the point that I just listened to it and thought, "My god, how did I never notice that before?" (I'm a huge Pixies fan and like Radiohead well enough but never followed them close enough to realize that they cited the Pixies as an influence.)
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:48 PM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

The Pixies were my favorite band back in the day and I saw them several times. I think of lot of what it means when a band says they were influenced by The Pixies, is that The Pixies contravened a lot of expectations, they were cool but they shouldn't have been, ironic but heartfelt at the same time, they just had this vibe at the time, they made you feel like anything was possible. Black Francis wrote some great songs, amazing little surrealistic story songs and everyone sang along. Also Kim Deal.
posted by Mrs. Buck Turgidson at 11:53 PM on June 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

I remember life before the Pixies, is the thing. It's a little harder to go backward in music history - The Pixies came out of a Punk rock (for me). For a while I lumped them in with X (a great great band) but I think they were more East coast in their influences. The thing that struck me when I first heard them (late 80's) was how their recordings sounded almost improvised, with lots of talking, chatter, songs that felt a little half-made. I was also really into the Minutemen then and there was some of that free-associative music making. At the same time they were a lot more pop and polished.

A while ago a friend gave me Architecture in Helsinki's "In Case We Die" which really reminded me of the first time I heard the Pixies.

I think you should listen to more Hüsker Du and X and Bad Brains and Minutemen. Then go back to the Pixies.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:00 AM on June 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oh, and this occured to me too. I remember finding out that Ray Manzarek had produced X and it kind of blew me away.

The Pixies were produced by Steve Albini. Something to think on.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:02 AM on June 15, 2012

There's a perfectly titled documentary called Loud Quiet Loud (just looked and the whole thing is available on hulu and vimeo) which can explain a lot to you.
I didn't get it at first either. I had a girlfriend who was very into them and so I heard them a LOT and never hated it but just didn't get her awe. Same as you, vocals were weird, songs were short or illogical.. And then, like mentioned above, one day something snapped, and suddenly I was the fanatic, and 20 years later their entire catalog (and solo offshoots) are still heavy in my rotation.
I didn't even make the connection at the time, but it makes sense that Nirvana and Weezer and others struck a chord- it was like getting a little more Pixie dust after they'd broken up.
Anyway, the same might not happen to you; some of it might just be the Zeitgeist of that era, but I really do recommend the documentary. Though of course I would- it's full of Pixies stuff :)
posted by hypersloth at 12:03 AM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: So the thing about the Pixies is, some elements of their sound have been so widely imitated that it's actually hard to hear the influence anymore.

The loud-quiet-loud thing that msalt mentions is a good example of this. Before the Pixies, it wasn't really a thing that bands did. After the Pixies — and then Nirvana and Pablo Honey-era Radiohead* — started doing it, it became so widespread that for a while it was just, you know, the standard way to write a song. Is it 1994? Are you a rock band? Do you want to be on the radio? Then the verses should be quiet and dreamy and the chorus should be loud and crunchy; end of story.

So now, when you listen to the Pixies for the first time, you don't go "Oh man! This quiet-loud-quiet thing is so new and interesting!" or even "Oh man! This quiet-loud-quiet thing sounds just like Pablo Honey!" It's more like "Yeah, they do the quiet-verse-loud-chorus thing. Doesn't everyone? Is this even news?" Same goes for the produced-by-Steve-Albini sound, or for Kim Deal's bass playing and vocal style — which were hugely influential during the 90s, to the point where they just fade into the background now rather than jumping out at you. If you'd first heard them in 1988, those stylistic features would have jumped out at you for sure. Now they just sound like generic early-to-mid-90s alt-rock clichés.

On the other hand, some elements of their sound really haven't been imitated much at all. So for instance, when bands talk about what a big influence the Pixies were on them, they usually don't mean "we yelp maniacally just like Frank Black does" or "an upsetting number of our songs seem to be about incest" or whatever. But listening back with modern ears, the yelping and the incest are what stands out, precisely because those are the parts of their sound that we haven't been habituated to by a gazillion imitators.

*So this is the other thing, if you're coming from Radiohead in particular. It really matters which album you're talking about. Pablo Honey owes a huge amount to the Pixies. The Bends has a little bit of that sound still. After that, Radiohead were going full-tilt off in their own direction, and the Pixies influence is very muted and hard to hear. Basically all that's left of the Pixies now in Radiohead's style is "Well, we like to alternate between floaty dreamy bits and harsh crunchy bits." Which, like I said, sounds pretty much standard to anyone who was alive during 1994.

(Also, you could think of Thom Yorke's vocal style as "What happens when a dude tries to sing like Kim Deal," but maybe that's too much of a stretch.)

posted by nebulawindphone at 12:05 AM on June 15, 2012 [58 favorites]

I think you should listen to more Hüsker Du and X and Bad Brains and Minutemen. Then go back to the Pixies.

This is excellent advice.

As to the singer's "unpleasant" voice: that's kinda the point, I think. Especially on a song like "U Mass" where he's basically just screaming and bellowing his way through it. It's less about conveying a tone and more about physically assaulting you with his vocal cords. Remember that one of the things that made Nirvana great was Cobain's uncanny ability to scream on key. Black Francis wrote the book on that. He stripped away the histrionics of Robert Plant and the other white-boy blues screamers. What was left was just raw and powerful. Cobain picked up that technique, I think.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:15 AM on June 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you really want to hear the Pixies sounding their most influential and ahead-of-their-time, listen to Holiday Song. Imagine re-recording it with a smoother-sounding singer — you could have put it on the radio in 1994 with no difficulty at all. It would have fit in nicely next to that one Sponge song, say. Nice combination of poppy and grungey. Good beat. Catchy guitar riff.

It was actually made in 1987. Top hits that year included "Walk Like an Egyptian," "Mony Mony" and "With or Without You." Nirvana hadn't recorded their first single yet.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:45 AM on June 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Bands say they were influenced by The Pixies because they were a heavy band from the early 90s that wasn't grunge. They still get to bring up grunge via The Breeders and Steve Albini via Surfer Rosa, not to mention GBV and Pavement atonal slop. Boom, "influences" part of the interview tackled. The Pixies are a nexus.
posted by rhizome at 1:07 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If knowing which songs to give a try is helping you then might I suggest Velouria?
posted by beekept at 1:35 AM on June 15, 2012

Possibly relevant.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 2:22 AM on June 15, 2012

Some people, especially singers, are an acquired taste. For years I much preferred Dylan's songs done by other people, but I got really into 'Things Have Changed' and now the earlier stuff is great. Same with Leonard Cohen (not 'depressing', exactly, but provoked some weird mournful feeling in me that I couldn't articulatE) and Morrissey. I think Frank Black's voice is very similar - it's quite idiosyncratic in a lot of ways and to begin with it sounds almost discordant.
posted by mippy at 3:50 AM on June 15, 2012

I like Radiohead a lot. The Pixies sound really discordant, and the singer's voice is really unpleasant.

Lots of people might say Radiohead sounds really discordant and that Thom Yorke's voice is really unpleasant. It's a matter of acclimatization.

I guarantee you'll start to like the Pixies if you listen to them enough.
posted by pracowity at 3:52 AM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's nothing wrong with not liking a band that was influential on a lot of music you like. Very often, the music that comes later is better. Also, the Pixies are so well known for influencing Nirvana that citing the Pixies has become a way to give a signal that "I was influenced by Nirvana, but I'm savvy enough to realize that this means I was at least indirectly influenced by the Pixies." I have no qualms about admitting that I like Nirvana better than the Pixies, Soundgarden better than Led Zeppelin, Green Day better than the Ramones, and Of Montreal better than David Bowie. Free yourself to like whatever you actually like, not what you feel like you're supposed to like.
posted by John Cohen at 5:11 AM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have changed my mind about many bands over the years but I'm 35 now and I don't think I'm ever going to change my mind about the Pixies. I don't deny that they're seminal, but I don't like to listen to them and that's okay.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:11 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I thought of the Pixies as punk minus the obligatory stupid "look at me go GRRR" anger. But they still had passion and a kind of purity. They were raw and seemed genuine in their weird fucked up-ness, and weren't like trying to develop a rock persona. They weren't vain and complacent like a lot of indie rock at the time. They didn't sound like something that had rolled around the studio too much and got stuck in their own sound, nor did they sound like a bunch of teenagers trying too hard. They weren't overskilled noodlers pretending to be experimental. They combined simple things in odd new ways and did weird things from song to song.

Frank Black's voice might make more sense if you think of it as a chameleon voice that can never quite be any of the hundred things it wants to be, so it bounces around manic, lost, and kind of tragic, but it's okay with that.

Doolittle has some of their best stuff but also a sad amount of poop like Here Comes Your Man. Gouge Away, I Bleed, No. 13 Baby, Hey, Debaser.. there are some excellent songs in there to get your toes tapping and the earlier stuff has gems (like River Euphrates, Cactus, hell Nimrod's Son, Caribou) and more oddness.
posted by fleacircus at 6:26 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

For a while I lumped them in with X (a great great band)

Gasp. I love both these bands (although X rules) and truly do not comprehend any lumping opportunities. It's not a throwdown, just interesting how "ears" hear.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:29 AM on June 15, 2012

The Pixies were my husband's favorite band when we started dating in 1990, but I was not won over to Frank Black's loudness. However, I loved Kim Deal after seeing them live in Boston. When the Pixies took a hiatus I began listening to her band The Breeders instead. Quote from Kurt Cobain "The main reason I like [The Breeders] is for their songs, for the way they structure them, which is totally unique, very atmospheric. I wish Kim was allowed to write more songs for the Pixies, because 'Gigantic' is the best Pixies song, and Kim wrote it."
posted by saffry at 8:01 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm kind of surprised to not see Monkey Gone to Heaven mentioned (less Frank screaming), but more to the point, think about Velvet Underground. Not quite every band since their time has cited them as an influence, and they can be something of an acquired taste even if you like the influenced bands.

Full disclosure: Can't stand VU. Yes, I know, my credentials are revoked. I'm ok with that.
posted by Nabubrush at 10:29 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

"I like the cover of Where Is My Mind by Placebo"

Oh, Placebo is terrible. That's why the Pixies don't make sense.
posted by dozo at 10:46 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, one of my favorite Pandora stations is "Pixies Radio," even though I don't really care for the Pixies specifically.
posted by ws at 11:51 AM on June 15, 2012

I thought the Pixies sounded like shit.

Then... one night...

This has happened to me over and over through the years.

In college I had this group of older friends who were all obsessed with Leonard Cohen. I had one of them play some of his stuff for me, and I was polite about it, but secretly thinking, "Holy shit, what do people see in this terrible garbage?"

Then... one night...

Growing up I never understood why people liked Bruce Springsteen. His stuff is OK, I dunno, maybe it just doesn't speak to me for generational/class reasons, but super meh.

Then... a couple months ago, I was digging through the $2 bin of a record store and found his first album, from like 1974. Thought it was a pretty reasonable investment in the WTF Bruce Springsteen fund. Blew me away. I'm now on a bit of a Springsteen kick.

Same for The Smiths. Same for The Rolling Stones. Something is happening lately between me and Elvis Costello that I can't explain, considering my absolute hatred of his music up to about three weeks ago. Let's not even talk about my reversal on Belle And Sebastian.
posted by Sara C. at 12:00 PM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Just did a little Pixies thing on YT and for them that's interested, here's Bowie's take on the question (he briefly gets into the VU thing toward the end). Comments indicate that this is from a documentary called "Gouge".
posted by Nabubrush at 12:28 PM on June 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't know wny I'm so fascinated by this question. Another take is that they had a sound and body of work with no obvious direct inspiration, which is pretty rare.

And unlike say U2, who could say the same thing about their excellent first album "Boy," the Pixies had the grace to break up before they got crappy. It's easier to cite an inspiration that isn't still playing, cause otherwise people will just go see that band you're trying to be like.
posted by msalt at 9:52 PM on June 15, 2012

I thought *everyone* who was into underground/alt stuff before Nirvana happened.. was into the Pixies. They had a lot of unusual influences themselves and while I can't hear the influence in Radiohead's sound, I can hear it in the lyrics on stuff like Bends/OK Computer-era Radiohead, the songs that might be about paranoid, creepy neighbors.

It was like, so hush hush.. they were so.. quiet about it! and then the next thing you know..

also, Weird In My School and a song about a superhero named Tony.
posted by citron at 9:56 PM on June 15, 2012

« Older Mr. Vanity Klaw   |   Where should I take an outdoorsy girl near (but... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.