Travis Shinn

Sleight of Hand – Pixies Drummer David Lovering Talks Carpal Tunnel, Magic Tricks, & ‘Trompe le Monde’

Sometimes after a band goes on a hiatus, purposefully or otherwise, they return with a bit less lackluster than before. For Pixies, every resurrection and resurgence of theirs has come with a new sense of musical urgency.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a trying time for touring musicians, Pixies drummer David Lovering rediscovered his magic touch.

Also a practicing magician, Lovering used his pandemic downtime to engage his other performance hobby, presenting weekly video clips known as “Magic Mondays” on the Pixies social media channels. The segments showed Lovering performing card tricks and other illusions, often accompanied by his cat, Norman.

An extended break from touring proved to be a blessing in disguise, as Lovering took the opportunity to have surgery on both his hands to correct carpal tunnel issues that had plagued him for years. Lovering reports that he is now a “new man,” playing drums and doing card tricks better than he has in some time. 

This month, Pixies were slated to return to the stage for the first time since March 2020, when COVID-19 forced them off a world tour in support of Beneath the Eyrie, released the previous year. However, after planning an 11-date run of North American shows for September, the band opted to cancel the gigs in the interest of safety as cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant surged throughout the country.

Lovering’s first opportunity to perform post-surgery will have to wait.

And yet, September was not all bad news for Pixies, as the band prepares to issue a limited vinyl edition of Trompe le Monde, an often-overlooked record that marked the last Pixies offering before the group endured an 11-year breakup starting in 1993.

Recently, The Aquarian caught up with Lovering by phone to discuss Trompe le Monde and how the drummer has been spending his COVID downtime.

The band cancelled its North American tour dates due to rising COVID rates, which I’m sure was a very difficult decision. Why did Pixies feel it was the best move for everyone involved?

It was universal among the band and crew in terms of the safety of everyone with the way everything was heading. It just seemed like a wise thing to do. It was a smaller tour just to get our feet back in the water of playing again, but it seemed a little more risky right now and a good idea to hold off until a later date.

What plans do you have at this point to resume touring?

Hopefully in April we’ll get back out there. We hope to resume the world tour we pulled out of in March 2020 when COVID started. 

How do you think it’ll feel to finally be back on stage again? 

I think it’ll be a thrill for everyone. It’ll be wonderful to be out there again. I was lucky in that there was a silver lining for me during this pandemic, as I was able to get surgery for carpal tunnel on both my hands. Before COVID cancelled our 2020 tour, it didn’t look good in terms of having to play that way. At that time, I was thinking, “Wow, this is getting worse and I have this tour in front of a lot of people.” I’m glad I got [the surgery] done. It seems like I have a new lease on playing drums. I’m very interested to just go out and do it now without suffering in some way. That’ll be a joy.

That must have been a painful condition to deal with. How did it affect your drum playing?

I was getting away with it because I had the timing. But it had become hard. It was hard to use an iPhone and hold the handlebars while riding a bike. The funny thingGregg, is it had just become a way of life. I knew something was weird, but I just kind of lived with it. It’s like getting glasses and being able to see better — you really didn’t know how bad your eyesight was until you can actually see better again.

During the pandemic, you’ve been able to spend a lot more time practicing magic. I’ve really enjoyed watching your Magic Mondays videos. Has it been fun doing that?

Yeah, it has! Being a magician and a musician were both pretty hard during this pandemic. There’s nowhere to do anything. It’s wonderful to be doing magic. I wasn’t doing it professionally much anymore, but even doing it socially was on the back burner during the pandemic. To be able to do this on a weekly basis has been fun because I’ve had to dream up new presentations for almost everything in a way that would translate to social media, and to make it funny rather than just a boring trick.

Tony Barratt (1991)

What are your favorite types of tricks to perform?

I really love a deck of cards. I feel I’m skilled at it but it’s hard to convey a lot of card magic online. You need someone to pick a card or pick a number and remember it. There’s not a lot of tricks I can do. That’s why I have to dream up other stuff for social media. 

I understand that you also spent a lot of COVID downtime searching for items with your metal detector. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever uncovered? 

I grew up in Massachusetts, so I have a lot of Revolutionary War stuff like musket balls and other relics. My favorite thing that I’ve found would be a dime from 1822. I found it by a pond in back of my parents’ house where I grew up. The interesting thing is there were only about 100,000 of these dimes minted, so because of that it’s worth a lot of money. When I found it, I couldn’t even tell what it was, it was so corroded. Using a pencil eraser and electrolysis, I was able to discern what the date was and what kind of coin it was. But when I sent it in, it turns out all that cleaning doesn’t really help the price of it. [Laughs] So, I wiped out a very valuable coin to maybe half of what it’s worth! But I enjoy it and I remember every coin and where I found them. It’s a nice history lesson and a fun thing to do. You get to be outdoors and shout “Eureka!” some of the time. 

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Trompe le Monde and you’re reissuing the album this month on cool-looking green vinyl. It was a notable Pixies record because it featured a more abrasive sound and ended up being the final record the band made before splitting up for more than a decade. What memories first come to mind about creating that record?

When we did our first record, Come On Pilgrim, we had played songs in a rehearsal studio for months before we recorded them. As the records went on, we would write songs quicker and quicker, until eventually we were writing them in the studio. Trompe le Monde was a good example of where we were at that point – we had a few songs going, but we wrote a lot in the studio and kind of honed them in. 

With Trompe le Monde back then, I thought it was good but I didn’t think it was as good as Surfer Rosa, which is my favorite Pixies album, or Doolittle or Bossanova. It’s not until more recently that I’m appreciating it more than I did. I realize that I do really like a lot of the songs on there. 

What are some songs that stand out for you? 

“Space (I Believe In),” “The Navajo Know,” are interesting and very different kinds of Pixies songs. “Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons” is another one. 

“Space (I Believe In)” has such a weird, almost funky sound.

Since we got back together in 2004, I think we’ve played all the Trompe le Monde songs live except one. I don’t think we’ve ever, ever played “Space (I Believe In).” When I listen to that, I understand why. I don’t know how we’d be able to play it today.

It’s been well documented that there was a lot of tension in the band at the time of Trompe le Monde, at least between Black Francis and Kim Deal. Do you feel that affected the making of that record?

There have been a lot of things written about it and a lot has been said that there weren’t a lot of Kim’s vocals on the album. As for [tension], I would say we were on album number five at that point and we were young and could be somewhat dysfunctional. Even with Kim not being on it as much, I don’t think it really entered our minds back then. It’s the way we were working at the time. I don’t know if you’d call it dysfunctional or what.

Were you working on your parts more separately for those sessions?

I think the first album was the only one we worked on as a unit. The first one was a demo and we had been playing the songs for six or seven months and we just banged it out. I think as every album came, you just did it the way the producers wanted. Generally, you will all play together and at least capture the bass and the drums. The way I preferred to work, I found that if I played with anyone, it could throw me off. I would rather hear a click track. I learned the songs so much in my head that I could hum them. I just played to myself [humming] and a click track, and that’s the way I did a lot of the songs for Trompe le Monde. It was just a lot easier to do that. It wasn’t a separation due to dysfunction or anything like that; it’s just the way we preferred to record it or the way the producer wanted it. 

Did you have any sense while you were making that record or touring for it that the end for the band was near? 

It wasn’t so apparent to me at the time, but looking back in hindsight, maybe you could say that signs were there. Although, when we broke up, it was still a surprise.

The album artwork for Trompe le Monde is very unusual. To me, the front cover looks like eyeballs stuck in vanilla frosting. Graphic designer Vaughn Oliver did all of the album art for the Pixies and many of the other 4AD bands. Do you recall what the inspiration was for the cover art? 

We didn’t have any role. We were always huge fans of Vaughn Oliver. Ever since the first album, we would let him do whatever he wanted. He would ask for songs or snippets of lyrics and dream something up. It was always a thrill – you look at any 4AD album he did, they’re always fantastic pieces of art. On the Trompe le Monde cover, I know they’re cow’s eyes. That’s about all I know.

While touring for Trompe le Monde, Pixies served as the opening act for U2 on their Zoo TV tour, which meant you were playing to much bigger crowds than you were accustomed to. Do you have any interesting memories from that U2 tour?

Yeah, when we did Trompe le Monde we had keyboard player Eric Drew Feldman touring with us, so we had extra instrumentation with us on stage. We wanted to have a different sound, a synth sound, to accompany us. The U2 tour was an experience because we had never played with a band that was on such a grandiose level. We had our 30-minute slot and it was great. Usually on tour, you’re done by 11:00 at night or something like that. With U2, I think by 8:00 at night our set was done and we were like, “Hey, time for dinner!” [Laughs]

That tour was bittersweet because a lot of the fans were just there for U2 and didn’t even know who the Pixies were. There would always be some people rooting for us in some way, though. The killer was when we played the Boston Garden on St. Patrick’s Day. We’re a Boston band, I’m from Boston, we’re playing an Irish town on St. Patrick’s Day with U2. We were so excited. The funny thing is, though, we went out there, and I felt like nobody knew who we were. I’m talking nobody – and we’re from Boston. We’re like, “Wow!” [Laughs] It was really hardcore U2 fans. For that show, we didn’t have a dressing room because the Boston Garden was so small. We shared the restroom with the belly dancer from the Zoo TV tour. [Laughs], but it was a fun tour and interesting to see such an immense production going on.

Pixies have had an unusual career in the sense that you maybe didn’t get the credit or popularity you were due when you were first together, but your legend seemed to grow after you split up. Then when you reunited, people were just so anxious to see you and it’s now been 17 years that you’ve been an active band again.

We’re very fortunate. I think we were together initially as a band for seven years. After we reunited in 2004, seven years later was when it really felt surreal because we were together for longer than we were the first time. That was the inspiration for us to do Indie Cindy and the records we’ve been doing since then, to show we’re still a viable band. We’ve been doing this so long that we’re able to have an audience out there that spans different ages. We’re very fortunate to have that type of following and still be able to do what we love.