Black Francis, or Frank Black, or whatever you’d like to call the former Pixies front man, has been friends with singer/songwriter Reid Paley for a long time. Ever since the Pixies opened up for his band The Five back in the ’80s. After many years of touring together and the occasional songwriting collaboration, the two have finally decided to make an entire record together, simply titled Paley & Francis. With these two legendary songwriters playing guitar and swapping vocal duties, it would be hard to believe this album could disappoint. Reid Paley was cool enough to take sometime out of his day to tell us a bit about it.
Mxdwn: So you and Francis have worked together in various forms but what made you decide to do an entire record together?
Paley: Well we’ve written songs together before that he’s recorded on his albums. He covered one of my songs years ago. We’ve written songs together for awhile, since like 2003. We’ve known each other for a long time; we’ve done a bunch of tours with me as his support act.
Mxdwn: But what made you guys decide that now is the time to do an entire album? Did you guys finally compile enough songs or what?
Paley: Well songs are never a problem for me. There’s never a shortage of songs. It just happened. He’s kind of a busy guy and he was in town here [New York City] for like three days at Joe’s Pub, doing a simple thing with himself and the mighty, legendary Eric Drew Feldman [on keyboards/bass] and Todd Demma on a cocktail [drum] kit. But anyway it was during the day. We just hung out in my apartment and wrote songs. We normally kind of just write songs, but this time we were just kind of banging out the music first, and lo and behold, at the end of the day we had about ten songs and decided to just split them in half. He took half to finish off with lyrics and tweek. He went off to meet the Pixies to tour and we met up in Nashville a couple weeks later. We had short days in the studio because he had the shows in the evenings so we went in there and he played acoustic guitar on most of them and I played electric guitar on all of them and we each sang lead on the songs that we did the lyrics for and we sung back ups for each other. We even had a couple of really great old Muscle Shoals guys on there. Fucking brilliant. Spooner Oldham on piano and David Hood on bass. You know that song “Mustang Sally?” Those are the guys playing on that song. It’s like ‘have you ever heard of Aretha Franklin?’ They’re legendary motherfuckers. They’re really good. And it came out and we were surprised that we got all the songs done in that time and rough mixes. It was kind of amazing. We worked really fast, we did the first take, you know, just kind of getting it done and we had an album.
Mxdwn: So did you guys always plan on doing an album together or was it just kind of a timing thing then?
Paley: Well it was kind of always in the air and yeah it was a timing thing. Its opportunity, scheduling. We enjoy working together its fun [laughing].
Mxdwn: How do you write lyrics, is it kind of a stream on consciousness thing or what?
Paley: How do you write lyrics? I don’t fucking know. I just do it. I don’t think that much about it. In terms of me writing songs, sometimes a song happens in my head while I’m on the subway, or sometimes I’m in the shower, or I’m sitting around messing with my guitar. Writing lyrics is pretty much writing lyrics. To me, its pretty much just not getting in your own way.
Mxdwn: You guys both dabble in a lot of different styles what musical direction is this album in?
Paley: I wouldn’t say we dabbled because were not dabblers. I would say eclectic. Both of us, for what its worth, in various ways, basically this is what our life is about. So were not fucking dabbling at all, dabbling sort of implies that your kind of faking it, and obviously I’m not into faking it. But we do have kind of an eclectic taste. The thing is that we both have our set of roles that we work in and when we work together it becomes yet a different thing but it’s formed by what he does and what I do. You know rock, bluesy, jazzy, I’ve always kind of liked country songs because the construction is really interesting to me, the way they work. There’s only 12 notes, it’s a 12 note scale in rock and country and blues. It’s all kinds of haiku. It’s all a very simple thing, and with some slight changes, they become unique. There are a billion songs with the same chords but they all sound different, that is if you write them well. The album is influenced by how we did it. We don’t have drum kits on the album its just percussion, fan brushes and tambourines and stuff like that. When we go out on this mini tour, we’re going out as a four piece without the piano this time; just he and I on guitars and vocals with my bass player, who normally plays upright in my band, playing his Fender. Also a drummer I’ve done a bunch of work with will be playing on a minimal drum kit.
Mxdwn: How many shows do you have planned so far ?
Paley: Right now, were just doing a couple. We have the one in Albany on September 7th. We’re doing Buffalo on September 8th and then the Super Crawl Festival in Hamilton, Ontario on the 10th.
Mxdwn: Are you going to do a full tour as Paley and Francis?
Paley: We’ll probably do stuff. He’s going to be busy with what he likes to call “the old band” till the end of the year after this, so probably February/March we’ll start doing little runs here and there.
Mxdwn: How would you say the music is different from what you guys do solo?
Paley: It sounds like what he and I do. It’s obviously going to be formed by what he does and it’s been formed by what I do. When we work together, we pull each other towards each other’s things. He pulls me a little more toward his thing and I pull him a little more towards my thing. So some of the songs have a little more of his imprint on them and some songs have a little more of my imprint on them. It might feel a little more like his stuff or a little more like my stuff depending on the song.
Mxdwn: How did you guys originally meet?
Paley: We met a long, long time ago. Pixies were opening up for my old band and we met then.
Mxdwn: Damn I was hoping for some long, epic story [laughing]
Paley: [laughing] Sorry it’s not a long epic story. We met, we got along, we had mutual friends, we became friends. We were both playing the Boston club scene and could play well and the rest is history.
Mxdwn: Are you working on a solo record now?
Paley: Well I’ve got 3 albums out, and the Sub Pop single and various compilation tracks and stuff like that. Yeah sure, I’ve been working on a new album. I’ve got a bunch of stuff recorded for the next Reid Paley Trio album. I’m very easy to find just go to reidpaley.com. I’m appallingly easy to find, disturbingly easy to find. It makes me a little bit nervous but still.
Mxdwn: You’ve been influential to a lot of people. What are your musical influences?
Paley: At a very early age, I liked a lot of old jazz like Charlie Parker and Coltrane and stuff like that. At home I tend to listen to Miles Davis, old blues and R&B stuff like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Etta James. I listen to a lot of my friends’ bands people that I like. Peg Simone is a great guitar player.
Mxdwn: Anything else burning on your mind you want to share?
There’s alot on mind I don’t know if you want to go there [laughing]. There’s plenty on my mind. I’m a deep, sensitive song writer, you know. I’m very fuckin sensitive. I have alot on my mind all the time.
Mxdwn: People should think all the time.
Paley: Yeah they should but as a species we tend not to. But yeah I really ont have anything to add really just go to Reidpaley.com and Frankblack.net.
Mxdwn: Well thanks for the interview I’m really looking forward to listening to the record.