Frank Black was born Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, in 1964. Black had rather an unusual childhood - his father was a publician who constantly dragged his family around the United States in search of work, Black attending a total of ten separate schools. This and the fact that his family was heavily involved in the Pentecostal Church meant that he never really fit in with his peers, spending a lot of time alone.
As he grew up Black taught himself the guitar, piano and drums, and learned bass from his uncle. A Thai rock star living in America (I couldn't find this guy's name anywhere) taught Black to sing, supposedly by advising "scream it!".1
Black studied economics for two years at the University of Massachussetts, where he met Joey Santiago, the pair sharing a dorm and becoming close friends. During his college years Black went on exchange to Puerto Rico for several months, learning Spanish (though not well), dropping out of college and drinking and partying a lot. After a year, he moved back to Boston and then to Long Beach, California.
Black is a heavy fan of science fiction, especially the work of Kim Stanley Robinson, and claims to have been abducted by aliens as a child. He says that extraterrestrials probably live amongst us, and that the US government is involved in a plot to cover this up. This hypothesis - Black does acknowledge that it might not be true - stems from a fantastic experience he had as a child, which he described in a 1990 interview:
"In 1965, I was a few months old, and I was en route to San Fransisco with my family.
"We stopped at some cousins' house in Nebraska. I think it was the city of Alliance. It's a small town in North Central Nebraska. It was late in the afternoon, but was still light out, and a large saucer-shaped ship, kind of reddish-orange.
"It had sort of what you could describe as portholes, as my mother describes it, little windows or something... Cousins and different people (saw it too).
"It was floating above the house. It must have been there for about ten or fifteen minutes I think. And they called the police, and the police came down. It moved real fast. The police tried to follow it, but it moved too fast. And that's all I know about it really."1
Check out the Pixies node, where there is a beautifully detailed discography as well as general information on the group.
In 1987 Black moved back to Boston from Long Beach and with Santiago decided to form a rock band. They advertised for a bassist, in the ad listing "only Husker Du and Peter, Paul and Mary as required influences"2 and receiving a sole reply - from Kim Deal, of the Breeders, who arrived sans bass. With drummer David Lovering, the Pixies released their first album Come on Pilgrim in 1987, Black adopting the stage name Black Francis shortly after. The group gained a cult following and are credited with changing the face of contemporary rock music, particularly by making "grunge" mainstream.
But despite their incredible influence the group enjoyed only moderate commercial gain themselves over the next six years, so when Kurt Cobain (who constantly cited the Pixies as a major influence) began to have massive success with Nirvana it was seen by many as an opportunity for the Pixies to gain widespread recognition. But this was not to be - Black had already begun work on his first solo album, Frank Black, and the Pixies had a rather rocky breakup to say the least.
Most of the problems stemmed from a clash of personalities between Black and Deal. The disagreements culminated in March of 1993, Black announcing the breakup during a radio interview on the day Frank Black, which he co-produced with Eric Drew Feldman, was released. The other band members were informed later that day - by fax. Black has a deserved reputation for rudeness to his fans also.
Frank Black, incorporating synths and keyboards, was not a commercial success. Although with its combination of pretty melodies, hard guitars, trippy background noises, solid drumbeats and Black's pleasant, breathy drone it is truly ass-kicking, the album sold quite badly. 1994's Teenager of the Year was quite a different album but even better and slightly more reminiscent of the Pixies - it fared even worse, possibly in part due to Black's reluctance to do interviews because he was sick of discussing the breakup of the Pixies.
His third album The Cult Of Ray was released in 1996 and again was only moderately successful - this time 4AD decided they'd had enough. In 1998 Black assembled a band which he dubbed the Catholics - Rich Gilbert on guitar, David McCaffrey on bass, Scott Boutier on drums and Eric Drew Feldman on keyboards. The decision was made to record live onto 2-tracks, mostly in order to save money.
Frank Black and the Catholics and Pistolero in (1999) fared ordinarily, as did Dog In The Sand (2001). The Catholics are still together and touring regularly, and the recent release of Black Letter Days and Devil's Workshop (2002) seem to indicate that Black is happy with his cheap new rough-and-ready style.
Frank Black has a small devoted following, although even his most diehard fans will admit that his first two albums were the best of the solo efforts and anything post '94 is not Black at his best. His first two albums can best be described as like the Pixies, but cheesier - not that this is necessarily a bad thing, and I for one like them just as much. The same can't be said for what came next.
In an interview with the British Mojo Magazine, Black named his biggest influence as Iggy Pop. Others include the Beatles and the Doors, and in a 1996 interview he said he was listening to The Damned and Freddy Fender.
Although Black can play the keyboards, bass and drums, his primary love and skill is the guitar. His various Telecasters are his current favourites.
Black is quite popular in France, where he claims his most fanatical fans reside1, and France's Mediterranean coast is his favourite part of Europe. Frank enjoys gambling, often holidaying in Las Vegas. He is married, without children.
The Pixies reformed in 2004 and played a number of festivals around the world in 2004 and 2005.
The Pixies node has an excellent discography which I shall not bother reproducing.
- Frank Black, 4AD, 1993
- Teenager of the Year, 4AD, 1994
- Cult of Ray, Sony, 1996
- Frank Black and the Catholics, Pias, 1998
- Pistolero, Pias, 1999
- Oddballs, WAR, 2000
- Dog in the Sand, WAR, 2001
- Black Letter Days, SpinArt, 2002
- Devil's Workshop, SpinArt, 2002
2. Thanks to CloudStrife for this tidbit.
Protector of Mankind sez: I saw Frank Black in an alley many years ago. We were just out for a walk going down this alley and there was Frank Black standing there talking to somebody. He signed my boot and never looked me in the eye.
- Los Angeles 4'08"
- I Heard Ramona Sing 3'40"
- Hang on to Your Ego 3'24"
- Fu Manchu 3'02"
- Places Named After Numbers 2'52"
- Czar 2'42"
- Old Black Dawning 2'02"
- 10 Percenter 3'28"
- Brackish Boy 1'35"
- Two Spaces 2'25"
- Tossed (Instrumental Version) 4'09"
- Parry the Wind High, Low 4'32"
- Adda Lee 2'00"
- Every Time I Go Around Here 3'31"
- Don't Ya Rile 'Em 2'52"
Frank Black's first solo effort lacks the crazy energy of the Pixies but anyone after an incredible rock and roll album will not be disappointed. Often with a hint of cheese and synth overkill (Hang on to Your Ego), I have heard it dismissed as "contrived" but that is overly harsh. Personally I can listen to this album for days on end.
And the liner notes:
Produced by Eric Drew Feldman and Frank Black
Recorded and mixed by Al Clay
Recorded at the Clubhouse, Burbank, California
Mixed at the Plant Studios, Sausalito, California
Additional recording at Master Control Studio, Burbank, California
Second Engineers: Efren Herrera, Sean Leonard, Matt Packuko
Mastered at Captiol Tower Mastering by Wally Traugott
Vocals, guitar: Frank Black
Bass, Keyboard, Synthetics: Eric Drew Feldman
Drums, Percussion: Nick Vincent
Additional Guitars: Joey Santiago, Moris Tepper, David Sardy
Additional Drums: Bob Giusti
Saxophones: John Linnell and Kurt Hoffman
John Linnell appears courtesy of Elektra Records
David Sardy appears courtesy of Def American Records
Kurt Hoffman appears courtesy of Bar-None Records
Management: Ken Goes, Anything Goes Management
Design: Vaughan Oliver and Chris Bigg at v23
Portrait Photography: Michael Halsband
Artwork Photography: Simon Larbalestier
OMG! PIXIES BACK TOGETHER! WOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!