Born Charles Thompson, the artist known as Black Francis, and occasionally Frank Black, has built a career around his ability to shift between musical personas and styles.
He performs Thursday, May 9, at Sky City. Music starts at 10 p.m. Tickets are $17 advance or $20 the day of the show. See skycityaugusta.com.
Best known for his work as the lead singer of the indie rock act Pixies, Black Francis, over the course of nearly 30 years, experimented with and exploited a variety of pop-music templates.
Be it the dynamic shifts of the Pixies – rumored to be a significant influence on the Nirvana sound – the straight-ahead garage rock with his band the Catholics or his affectionate odes to classic country, Black Francis manages to explore without ever discarding his surrealist approach to songwriting.
He said his repertoire of songs is constructed on both his interest in working in a variety of styles and being true to the nature of the songs.
“It’s really all of the above,” he said during a recent telephone interview. “I listen to music. I make music. I write records and I write songs. What I’ve found is a pop song, the kind of songs I write, can always be rendered in a different direction. It’s always possible, for example, to play a country version of an Elvis Costello song. There’s a lot of ways to make a grilled cheese sandwich, you know?”
Currently touring as a solo artist, Black Francis said he worries less about reinventing his music than he does looking for ways the songs relate. He said playing solo allows him that freedom.
“It isn’t something I think about much,” he said. “But I do take pleasure in the connections. It’s nice to hear that there are Pixies songs, maybe something with a sort of cowpunk feel, that sound completely appropriate leading into one of the Nashville tunes.”
While much is made of the 2004 Pixies reunion, which brought the band back together after an acrimonious 1993 split, Black Francis said that playing large venues with that band or small clubs alone doesn’t really affect his approach. He said his shows are about the songs and the singer, and venues are chosen because they are appropriate.
“Sure, there’s less hassle and less stuff doing it this way,” he said of the Sky City date. “But there’s not a lot of thought behind it. I do the venues that are appropriate, the rooms I can fill. I’m not Elton John. I don’t play small rooms as a gimmick. If I do well in Georgia and find I can fill an arena, well, then I’m playing arenas.”
Black Francis said that while he does approach his career as just that – a job – he also understands that success means balancing art, commerce and audience expectations.
“Ultimately, I have to be satisfied with it,” he said of his music. “If I put my heart and my soul into a record and it doesn’t really sell, that will put a blot on my ego and might change the way I do things in the future. But I still have to be true to myself – just not so true that’s it happens in a vacuum.”