Backstage Hummus: A Q&A with Joey Santiago of The Pixies

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I ruined a promising relationship by going to see the Pixies.

I was living in Boston, and took the train to New York City to spend a couple of days giving a budding romance with a New York boy a chance. This was May of 1988, and the band I loved the most at the time was the Pixies—fellow Bostonians—who had a gig at Maxwell’s in Hoboken that week. Perfect, I thought. The New Boyfriend and I can go see my Favorite Band at the Bar I Love.

Except the Boyfriend, as it turned out, was not into the Pixies. He refused to go to the show and even asked me not to go. I had a clear choice: the Boyfriend or the Pixies.

Think me heartless: I chose the Pixies. With a tinge of sadness but no regrets, I found my way to Hoboken on the PATH train and soon was settled, cozy and alone, on top of the piano at the back of Maxwell’s. Any last trace of sadness evaporated in the glorious reverberations of the band at their ferocious peak. When I recall that gig I can almost see the piano levitating, lifting me above the crowd where I could gaze upon the four members of the Pixies: Black Francis, practically speaking in tongues; Dave Lovering powering out monstrous beats; Kim Deal, driving each song with her melodic bass lines, flashing a big smile and flipping the bird to the dumb dude who yelled, “I love you, Kim.”

And Joey Santiago. Santiago’s playing stood in stark contrast to the jangle that seemed to come from every other Boston guitarist. His sound was spacious, sharp, and a little scary, with notes wrapped in washes of feedback that hung in the room like magic. I was positive I’d made the right decision. There would be other boys. There would never again be a chance to see this band so close and on fire.

The Pixies maintained a heroic pace of gigging and releasing records until they broke up in 1993. Since reuniting in 2004, they have been playing to big crowds at festivals and major venues around the world. Much has changed since 1988, but some things remain the same. The Pixies still rock. And, as Joey Santiago disclosed in a recent chat with Paste, the Pixies still have hummus in their dressing room, just like they always have. Santiago ate nothing but celery and hummus before that gig at Maxwell’s, and it’s the only thing he’ll eat before playing to festival crowds today.

Santiago, who now lives on the other side of the continent in California, has eaten his way around the world, and holds strong opinions about sushi in LA (better than in Japan), curry in Nashville (better than in Manchester) and the relative merits of consuming Simple Green versus rotten shark.

Paste: What’s the quirkiest food item in the Pixies’ rider?

Joey Santiago: It’s not quirky, but it’s a weird fact: from day one we have always had hummus. But one time we were given instead a bowl of mayonnaise in our dressing room?!

Paste: You’re at a truck stop, you’re starving, and you have five minutes to assemble a meal. Please describe that meal.

JS: I just grab a bag of trail mix. My only rule is it must contain almonds.

Paste: When you’re on tour, what food from home do you crave?

JS: Sushi. I live in LA, and I’ve yet to find a better place for sushi. And that includes Japan.

Paste: When you’re home, what do miss about eating on tour?

JS: I miss the variety of local cuisine, like barbecue from the south, lobster from New England, or steaks from Argentina.

Paste: Can you describe one or two restaurants anywhere in the world that you most look forward to visiting when you’re on tour?

JS: First on my list is Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City. It’s inside a gas station, which is quite charming. I get the brisket there.

Second is a great Indonesian restaurant in Utrecht. I don’t know the name, I only know it by sight. I know the corner it’s on. Their language has a lot v’s and k’s and is stingy on vowels.

We always get the rijsttafel (rice table). It’s a variety of veggies and proteins in little cups.

Paste: Is there anything special you like to eat before playing a show?

JS: Hummus and celery is the only thing I eat in our dressing room.

Paste: Do you have any superstitious pre-show drink rituals?

JS: I like to have a double shot of vodka and an espresso fifteen minutes before the show.

Paste: Can you tell me about a food that you were supposed to like but didn’t?

JS: One of the local dishes in Iceland is hákarl. It’s rotten shark. Smells like ammonia and taste like ammonia. I’d rather drink Simple Green.

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Paste: Do you have any funny on-the-road food stories?

JS: We were all eating at a restaurant in Barcelona. Two of our crewmembers were eating mussels covered with salt and other ingredients. I was wondering what they were having that was so crunchy and loud. They were eating the shells too!!

Paste: What’s the best meal you’ve had lately?

JS: That would be Indian curry at Chauhan Ale and Marsala House in Nashville, Tennessee. I was sitting next to a professor from Vanderbilt on the plane to Nashville, where the Pixies were rehearsing for a leg of a tour, and he recommended it. Our crew is from Manchester, U.K.—they love their curry there, so we made a reservation.

The curry was just as good if not better (gasp) than the ones I’ve had in Manchester.

Paste: Can you describe something you like to cook at home?

JS: My kids crave macaroni and cheese. The directions are on the box.

Freda Love Smith is a drummer and writer whose food memoir, Red Velvet Underground, is forthcoming on Agate. She blogs at lovesmiths.blogspot.com. Follow her on twitter: @fredalovesmith

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