Country and Western" always has been a breed defined by heartache. From Marty Robbins to Patsy Cline to the king of sorrowful, even dangerous songs, Johnny Cash, beery weepers have provided the soundtrack for generations of cowboys and ne'er-do-wells.
It's little wonder, then, that Frank Black is fascinated. His latest album, Honeycomb, due out July 17, finds the ex-Pixies frontman getting in touch with his Nashville side. The result is a dark, calmly heartbreaking album.
Could the indie icon possibly become the new Man in Black?
Changing genres certainly isn't an issue. Speaking from his home between Pixies reunion gigs, Black derides the idea that switching from aggressive indie rock to country was at all difficult.
"It doesn't really perplex me, of course, because it's all me," he says. "If I'm given credit for being versatile, then great. But it's really just a day in the life of a musician. It's not like I have to clear the mind, or go consult a shaman or anything like that."
Eschewing his usual backing band, the Catholics, Black nailed down Honeycomb in just four days with a troupe of legends, including Steve Cropper, Buddy Miller and Spooner Oldham -- fellows who have worked with Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Elvis Presley.
After recording, Black, who's been a major rock influence since the 1980s, finally felt like an accomplished musician.
"I'm satisfied that I kept up my end of the bargain, so to speak, that I was able to write songs and perform them live with those guys and it sounded good, so I sounded like a real musician," he says. "I feel like I was validated ... It's like, 'Oh yeah, I do write songs. I do work with people who not only are my peers, but with people who are my senior, who have played with Dylan or Elvis Presley or whatever.'"
According to Black, recording sessions were a learning experience for everyone. A song's first take usually would be the first time they heard it.
"I think that they got a chuckle out of [the songs] ... the songs were a little odder, they weren't so square," he explains. "There's odd key changes and things like that. Because I had no musical training, I write in a really random way, and there's no rules to break. A lot of trained people rely on formulaics. On the other hand, they can go to places that I can't."
Black insists that although his bandmates influenced the album's direction, he was in the driver's seat the entire time. Not that he had a real firm grip on what the outcome would be.
"I never hear an album in my head ... I have no vision whatsoever. I just don't really think like that.
"I can only say that according to the Chinese zodiac, I'm a snake, and a snake feels his way along. He's not up a tree, looking down the road at what might happen. He goes step by step; he's looking directly in front of him. That's definitely how I operate."
-- Kara Luger
Release date: July 17