Reverb Interview: Joey Santiago of the Pixies

As a founding member of the Pixies, Joey Santiago's surftastic licks helped cement records like Surfer Rosa and Doolittle as some of the most influential indie rock albums of all time. The Pixies split up in 1993, and while they reunited in 2004, the band didn't release a full-length album until this year's Indie Cindy.

We recently spoke to Joey, fresh off a festival stint in Japan, about his current rig and making the new record. Joey's actually no stranger to Reverb, and even told us how he used the site "...to track down an old Peavey amp I had. A Bandit." As Joey told us, "The saturation on that thing is just sick."

Read the interview here and check out the Pixies website for more information on Indie Cindy and their upcoming tour.

Reverb: You're a Les Paul guy through and through. What is it about the Les Paul that works to you?

It was out of necessity really. Charles beat me to a Telecaster. I like Les Pauls anyway because of the sustain, and it juxtaposes the Telecaster. It's like a Mick Jones, Strummer sort of deal.

Do you think if you didn't need to complement the Tele, you'd still gravitate towards the Les Paul?

I probably would. They're heavy.

In addition to the Les Paul, are there other guitars you've been using in the studio?

I actually use a lot this Guild Aristocrat. It's like a 1954 or something. It's a really, really bitey guitar, and it came through a lot on the new record.

Joey live with the Pixies on their latest tour. Frank Black (aka Black Francis) has been sporting an SG Jr along with his vintage Teles in recent shows.

Switching over to amps, I know lately you've been using a combo of a Marshall JCM800 and a Fender Vibrolux. When did you add the Fender to the mix and how does this expand your sound?

The Fender has more of an immediate sound, it goes upfront. The Marshall is more of a mushy sound. It's back there, and it's a different flavor, it's that Marshall sound. And the Vibrolux just gives you that definition.

Well it's a classic combo. It's almost like an amp version of the Tele/Les Paul combo.

Yes, exactly. Fender's tend to be more top-end.

I notice you've been using a lot of Mooger Fooger pedals lately including the Cluster Flux. What do you like about those pedals?

I use the flanger effect sometimes. It's very natural sounding. It doesn't sound like an effect for some reason. It's more of a drippy sound that's unlike any other flanger I've used. It's very natural. Charles even mentioned it, and usually he'd be opposed to that kind of sound, but this one just hits the mark.

I know you're also using a Boss FZ-2. There are tons of boutique fuzzes out there right now, what is it about the Boss that does it for you?

The Boss is just really easy to use. I've used it live a lot. And I use it in conjunction with my distortion pedal, the OCD. The OCD and that gives me a very aggressive sound that's usually just done for a wash. It's in the beginning of What Goes Boom. The sustain keeps going. It's not the most immediate definition, it's usually more of an air sound. It's almost atonal, and I can just let go of it and not even touch the guitar.

Speaking of the new record, obviously recording technology has changed quite a bit from the early Pixies material to now. How has this impacted your writing and recording process?

Well, we still have decent boards. We've still got Neves and APIs, so you still get that character. And the way ProTools is now, it's getting damn close to analog, and to me it's more of a true sound. The only thing I don't like about ProTools is people think you need a lot of takes. I like the choices of just having 24 tracks. I miss those days where you just commit to it.

Is there a particular song on Indie Cindy you look to as the best representation of your playing and guitar tone?

I would say again it would be What Goes Boom for the dirty stuff, and also Jaime Bravo. One I've been liking lately is on Ring the Bell. I like the chime and I used a 12-string on that, a '65 Rickenbacker.

What Goes Boom from the Pixies recent release, Indie Cindy

You're about to set out on a new tour. Any new toys you're taking with you?

It's basically the same rig. I've got two Gibsons I use predominantly. Really it's just the Les Paul - mostly the '59 Reissue. I've also got a '65 ES-345.

With the Varitone Switch, right?

Exactly, those things are pretty damn cool. I use the 3 switch setting as I think that's the neutral sound of the 345. I get '65 guitars if I can, that way I know how old they are. That's when I was born.

What was your first guitar?

I had this, I think it was a Yamaha nylon string acoustic. That was the first one I learned on. Actually I don't have it any more. I came home pretty sh*t faced in high school one day, and my father got really angry and smashed my guitar.

Well I'm glad that didn't discourage you from playing and laying down those classic tracks.

It encouraged me to pick up an electric guitar which was almost impossible to destroy.

Apart from your own, what's your favorite guitar recording of all time?

I'm going to say Jimi Hendrix. I like the backward-ey effect he has. I would say Third Stone from the Sun, even though it doesn't have that exact sound.

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