Most people seem to be thrown together with their college roommates by happenstance. But for Joey Santiago, the seemingly random factors that paired him with a fellow University of Massachusetts-Amherst student named Charles Thompson not only impacted the course of both their lives, but had a profound effect on the state of alternative music over the past 30-plus years.
The two were the founding members of the Pixies, a band that combined surf rock and punk rock for a series of groundbreaking and influential albums from 1986 to 1993, when they imploded in a series of nasty arguments. But they came back stronger than ever in 2004, not only releasing a string of new albums, but touring the world constantly — including a show this Saturday at the Pasadena Daydream festival, where they stand second only to The Cure in a powerhouse lineup of alternative music.
The daylong festival also features Deftones, Mogwai, Throwing Muses and six other alt-rock artists performing on two large stages outside the Rose Bowl starting at 2 p.m. Saturday. The fest was created by The Cure’s lead singer Robert Smith, who has long organized an annual, daylong music event of his favorite bands in England.
“Charles wanted to start a band and that was on my list to do too,” recalls Santiago. “I found my favorite songs were very interesting. I tried to play interesting stuff on the guitar. I was still a diamond in the rough, I still am.
“It just worked out, because he was doing blues-based music and just to me it just wasn’t serving him,” he continues. “My guitar that I had, I just played around with it and I came up with a way of playing that I called ‘bent’ and ‘angular’ and had nothing to do with the blues.”
A native of Manila, the 54-year-old Santiago moved to the US with his family when he was 7. He first played a Hammond organ starting when he was eight, but didn’t focus on it because he had to share the instrument with his five brothers.
He found his calling at 9, when he took hold of a classical guitar hanging on his oldest brother’s wall for decoration and learned to play The Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll.” But Thompson changed everything, as the future frontman — adopting the moniker Black Francis for his musical career — wrote to Santiago amid six months of studying in Puerto Rico and told him they had to start a band and chase their dreams immediately.
Known for ever-surprising loud-quiet shifts and unusual song structures, the Pixies also drew attention for offbeat lyrics that included themes of extraterrestrials and biblical violence. They were highly acclaimed by critics and drew enough of a cult following to be one of the opening acts on U2’s gargantuan Zoo TV tour in 1992. But the pressures of fame and the drug use of bassist Kim Deal the following year combined to break the band up for more than a decade.
The Pixies might have remained just a legendary memory, but they noticed their fan base grow with each passing year as superstar bands including Weezer and the Smashing Pumpkins named them as key influences. The original foursome — including Deal and drummer David Lovering — put aside their differences and lasted nine years, until Paz Lanchantin replaced Deal in 2013. The reunion has proved fruitful, with several new albums, including the impending release “Beneath the Eyrie.”
“We don’t have a particular direction whatsoever with the music, because the songs are presented by Charles and from then on it takes a life of its own,” explains Santiago. “We don’t fight it and go along with the flow of what has to happen to that piece in bringing it into the fold. It always manages to sound like the Pixies whether it’s country, straight up pop or psychobilly, and we’re pretty confident it’s going to come out strong.
“The demand keeps happening, offers keep coming in,” he continues. “We thought it was going to dry up at some point and right now it’s not at all. To boot, it’s fun, but we will hang it up if the joy goes out of it. We’ve learned to separate our two lives, occasionally maybe one of these times it’s admirable to make a lifestyle choice. I don’t want to give it up right now, I’d rather work on both sides—the onstage and off— in a healthy way.” n
The Pixies perform at 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. Saturday at the Pasadena Daydream festival, which begins at 2 p.m. at Brookside Park, 1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena. Tickets are $149 to $299, with prepaid parking available for $40 per vehicle. Visit pasadenadaydream.com.