Hiatus and the Birth of The Breeders
During the recording sessions of The Pixies' Doolittle LP, frontman Charles 'Black Francis' Thompson reclassifies his initially ambitious goals for the band. "In my own naïve way, I want to make records and be a rock star," he says, after the LP's release. Bassist Kim Deal, in particular, bristled at the increasing creative control, and increasing ego, that the band's leader was exhibiting.
"Kim was headstrong and wanted to include her own songs, to explore her own world," guitarist Joey Santiago would recall, to Mojo. Tensions reached a head at a show in Frankfurt in which Deal initially refused to play.
Convinced by management to continue, The Pixies call their 1989 US dates the "F**k or Fight Tour," and Deal and Thompson do plenty of the latter. With the decade ending, the band decide to go on hiatus. Santiago and Lovering go on holiday, Thompson moved to Los Angeles, and Deal decides its finally time to form her own band.
The Breeders begin life as Deal, the Throwing Muses' Tanya Donelly, bassist Josephine Wiggs, and former Slint drummer Britt Walford. They record a demo Thanksgiving 1989, then, in December, head to Scotland with Steve Albini to record for two weeks. The Breeders debut album, Pod —a more moody, obtuse work than The Pixies— is released in May of 1990, and debuts at #22 in the UK.
Bossanova and Trompe le Monde
By then, Santiago and drummer David Lovering had relocated to Los Angeles to join Thompson. Deal returned to Dayton, but came out to LA to work on The Pixies third album, Bossanova. Taking its key influence from surf-guitar music, the album is far more straight-ahead than its predecessors, and the band receives, for the first time, mixed critical response. The album debuts strongly —at #3 in the UK, and, finally, at #70 in the US— but sales tail off. In fact, by the end of 1990, The Breeders are selling just as well as The Pixies, which only hints that bad times are ahead.
In October 1990, Deal spontaneously tells the crowd at London's Brixton Academy that it's The Pixies "last-ever show." The rest of the tour is canceled, and, whilst Santiago and Lovering fly home, Deal goes to Brighton to work on new Breeders material with Wiggs, and Black plays a string of solo shows in London; suggesting the imminent future of The Pixies' key charges.
The Pixies' fourth and final album, 1991's Trompe le Monde, is recorded over six months, a far cry from the ten days in which they made their debut LP, Surfer Rosa. The recordings —which sprawl from Burbank, California to Paris and London— are not much of a band affair, Thompson presiding all of the writing and most of the playing, with major contributions coming from producer Eric Drew Feldman.
The Pixies follow the album's release with their largest-ever US tour. Initially, the opener is intended to be an upstart band named Nirvana, but Lovering convinces his bandmates their openers are due to become an overwhelming success. He's right. Bolstered by the breakout success of the single "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana are on their way to becoming one of the biggest bands in the world. Ironically enough, their frontman, Kurt Cobain, confesses, of the tune, "I was basically trying to rip off The Pixies."
The Pixies instead throw their lot behind another gargantuan band, supporting U2 on their Zoo TV tour in North America in 1992. After their leg of the tour, they play two headlining shows in Vancouver that turn out to be their last.
“I think I kind of knew that was it,” Thompson later admitted. “But, you know, it was the end of a tour, so it was an easy time to not really state one way or another that it was the last gig. It wasn’t like, ‘Okay everybody, sit down, I have an announcement to make.’ But I kind of knew down deep that was probably it for me.”
On January 13, 1993, Thompson tells a BBC Radio interviewer that The Pixies have broken up, though, at the time, he hasn't told any of the other members. He later sends faxes to Deal and Lovering informing them of his decision.
Given the acrimony of the break-up of The Pixies, few thought that they would ever get back together. A 1997 best-of was even called Death to The Pixies. Yet, in 2004, the members finally relented and reformed to play shows, but not record new material. Money was clearly their motivating factor, Thompson not even denying it.
"Right now we're just playing the old songs and getting paid lots of money for it. That's all anyone is asking for, so that's all we're motivated to do," Thompson laughed, to Slate, mid-way through their reunion shows. "[Record labels] aren't asking [for new material] and, to be honest, neither is the audience. This is all just about: 'You guys broke up too soon and I was in high school. So please tour again.'"
The Pixies would, over the next five years, intermittently play major festivals. At Coachella in 2004, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke initially refused to come on after the band, saying: "That's just not right! The Pixies opening for us is like the Beatles opening for us!"
In 2009, The Pixies released the limited-edition box-set Minotaur, whose $450 'deluxe' edition seemed like even more of a blatant money-grab than their reunion tour. Later that year, they embarked on a 20-year anniversary tour for Doolittle, playing the album in its entirety.
Though Thompson has suggested he's open to recording new Pixies material, for the moment their legacy is safe in their initial albums, who have gone on to sell way more copies after the band's break-up than they did before.
"People like to think the Pixies were so enormously popular, and we did very well, but, you know, we were a cult band,” Thompson said, in hindsight. “We were just some little band playing a few shows.”
Still, with their incredible influence on perhaps the three most defining alternative bands of the '90s —Nirvana, Radiohead, and Pavement— The Pixies are safe in their status as underground music legends.