“I hate to even think about where I’d be if I hadn’t gotten that call,” Lovering tells CityBeat. “Leading up to that time, I’d stopped drumming and was just trying to figure out what I was going to do. I had resigned myself to the Pixies being over. I could never foresee the band getting back together, and when it happened, I was completely floored.”
Lovering was already near bottom in the summer of 2003 when guitarist Joey Santiago’s number came up on his caller ID. At the time, his finances were at subsistence levels, his career as a magician was floundering and his musical legacy was being entombed in obscurity as the most overlooked member of the most underappreciated band of the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“I couldn’t even touch my drum set,” Lovering says. “I knew that I couldn’t top the Pixies—for me that was the pinnacle, and so I didn’t play for at least 12 years. When we got back together and I sat down at the drum set for the first time, I almost cried because it was like having something you loved come back after being taken away.”
After an initial run that produced five albums in five years, helped spawn the alt-rock revolution and heavily influenced the most iconic bands of the ’90s—Nirvana, Radiohead and Pearl Jam—the Boston quartet had little to show for it other than ethereal praise and a palpable urge to strangle one another.
“Everybody who loved the band was exploding all around it,” Lovering says. “The kicker was that all these successful bands were talking about how much they loved the Pixies, but we weren’t very successful ourselves.”
After singer / guitarist Charles “Black Francis” Thompson effectively dissolved the band in 1993 (infamously relaying the message to Lovering and bassist Kim Deal via fax), Thompson went solo and Deal launched The Breeders while Santiago formed The Martinis and did session work.
Lovering became a magician. “It was nice to find a new profession where I could go out and do my own shows,” Lovering says. “But if you think being a musician is hard, being a magician is 20 times harder, as far as making a living goes.”
A former Radio Shack employee who studied electrical engineering in college, Lovering dubbed himself The Scientific Phenomenalist and performed science-based “magic,” often opening for his former bandmates. Signature tricks included blowing smoke rings out of a kick drum and lighting up a pickle with 110 volts. “People like fire and smoke,” he chuckles.
He’s still nerdishly passionate about science as magic (a career highlight includes NASA beaming “Where is My Mind?” to “wake up” the Mars rover Spirit), but Lovering doesn’t seem particularly wistful about doing tricks for tepid audiences pleading for him to perform “La La Love You.”
“I don’t miss much,” Lovering says. “I had a lot of free time and I can always go back and do magic when the Pixies are done touring. I have the best of both worlds now.”
After being “awestruck” by the response to the band’s official reunion in 2004, a series of sold-out tours has since proven the Pixies’ appeal goes far beyond nostalgia.
“It’s amazing to me that the audience can sing along with every song,” Lovering says. “There are a lot of people at these shows who weren’t even bowhen we did our albums and they’re singing along with every word. That blows me away.”
The band’s San Diego show this week will be the last stop on its extended Doolittle Tour commemorating the 20th anniversary of arguably the band’s most celebrated album. After the show at RIMAC Arena, Doolittle will effectively be put to rest while the band takes a planned break. As innocuous as that sounds, Lovering acknowledges feeling a little restless whenever the band goes on vacation these days.
“That’s the way it is with the Pixies: hiatus—back on—hiatus,” Lovering says. “Last year it was a little more up in the air, and it was, like, ‘Oh, God, are we going to do this again?’ It’s more comfortable now, but sometimes you still wonder.”
Lovering says he’s only completely secure when the Pixies tour. There’s been talk of a new album—“but that’s all there’s been is talk.” Still, the band’s delayed success has given him enough cushion to pursue his magic career between tours without fear of eviction. But, considering the pickle-jolting alternative, Lovering vigilantly relishes every Pixies show, every night.
“We’re much older and wiser,” he says. “I still think we’re dysfunctional like every other band, but we’re better at minding our P’s and Q’s. I think we’re all definitely enjoying it a lot more now than we did the first time around.”
Pixies play with Fuck Buttons at RIMAC Arena on Sunday, Sept. 26. pixiesmusic.com