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How Frank Black Got in the Mood for a New Band : The former Black Francis traded the stability of the Pixies for musical freedom, formed a sort of avant-alternative supergroup and has a solo album in release.

July 10, 1993|RICHARD CROMELIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Frank Black's first solo album is full of homages to contemporary pop music heroes, from Iggy Pop to John Denver, the Ramones to the Beach Boys. But when he recounts the official end of his band, the Pixies, at the dawn of 1993, he cites a figure from the distant past.

"A la Glenn Miller, on New Year's Eve I broke up the band."

Black, an aficionado of pop music culture and myth, got a charge when he read a Miller CD booklet shortly after his Dec. 31 Pixie-cide and discovered that he'd re-enacted the Swing Era legend's disbanding of his orchestra on the same holiday, different decade.

"Fortunately," Black adds, alluding to Miller's death while flying to entertain the troops in World War II, "I'm not much into the military, 'cause I'd be really freakin' out."

The singer, sipping a martini in the bar of a Burbank restaurant before hitting the road on his first solo tour, is a garrulous, jocular character. He doesn't betray much sentiment for the past or sympathy for his former bandmates, whom he dumped by fax, but after six-plus years the personal and musical dynamics had simply gone stale.

"Five albums and as many tours. I mean it's sort of like, 'Aw, let's finally do this.' Everyone's wondering if I was gonna do it anyway, so let's just do it."

Black, whose real name is Charles Thompson and who was known as Black Francis during the Pixies era, is off to a promising if unspectacular start on his own. His album, "Frank Black," came out in April and has sold more than 100,000 copies, earning strong reviews and settling near the top of the college airplay charts.

His first post-Pixies music is a more expansive variation on the harsh, brawny, eccentric sound he formulated with that band, framing a series of songs that range from the ridiculous to the sublime. "Los Angeles" is a frenzied study in pronunciation and dislocation. "I Heard Ramona Sing" salutes the therapeutic powers of the Ramones' punk-rock. "Hang On to Your Ego" is the Beach Boys anthem from "Pet Sounds" driven hard by Who-like synthesizer riffs.

His tour brings him to the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Sunday, then to the Palace on Wednesday, the Ventura Theatre in Ventura on Thursday and Iguanas in Tijuana next Saturday. His band is a sort of avant-alternative supergroup, combining former Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago with Pere Ubu members Tony Maimone (bass) and the album's co-producer Eric Drew Feldman (synthesizers).

Though born too soon to partake of alternative rock's current commercial boom, the Boston-based Pixies anticipated it, starting deep in the underground and building their audience until they were headlining large theaters. They dented the national pop album charts with 1989's "Doolittle," and got further exposure when U2 invited them to open a leg of last year's arena tour.

The Pixies offered a secure situation, but Black, 28, is happy to have traded stability for freedom.

"I could have cashed in a big check if I would have kept the Pixies going for another year or two," he says. "But with that comes the responsibility of coming up with another couple of good records and promoting them in the appropriate way. If you just whip out a couple of records and then don't tour or anything people get pissed off.

"I mean, it's not like I'm so high and noble, but if you only do it because you can get a little more cash, it's like, then why are you doin' it? You should only do what you like to do. There's so many things to do in this world."

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