Black Francis/Frank Black/Charles Thompson IV is a man of many accomplishments. Whether it’s fronting the Pixies, producing records for Art Brut, releasing solo albums, recording with his wife as Grand Duchy, running a sort-of record label, or whatever exciting new task tickles his fancy, Francis consistently proves his genius, both lyrically and musically. And his newest release, The Golem, is just another new form of that genius. Instead of putting out another stellar rock album, Francis put together music to accompany the 1920 silent film The Golem: How He Came Into The World.
Oh, no, don’t worry about it.
I’m at a friend’s house, and I just wanted to transition into a space here that’s more for business. But there’s a very large black dog. We’ve not become friends yet. I’ll have to try not to talk too excitedly. Okay.
First, I was wondering about the history of The Golem, how you came to the project. I read that the San Fransisco Film Festival asked you to do something. Is that what prompted it?
Yeah. They had asked me to do something for a couple of years, and I was finally able to do it. It’s sort of a regular feature of their festival. Every year they have…in March, thereabouts… They gave me a short list of movies, and I think maybe I had heard of this particular film, or maybe at the very least of German Expressionism or whatever. So, that’s why I think I gravitated to that title. Anyway, it was the first time I’d ever done anything like that, and I enjoyed the whole experience. The writing, the recording, and finally, the performance in the orchestra pit, there, below the screen, which is something I’ve only ever seen on movies. To be there in that position, to be performing, was great. And, of course, not having to be communicating to the audience, not having to project. I liked that a lot.
I’d imagine that was pretty different.
Yeah. Totally. You do, I think, feel like you can get away with more, or something. I felt like I was…the pressure was on to be good. But I didn’t have to look good…or smile. I think I was wearing a hat, standing with my back to the audience. Everyone was so focused on the visuals, and, in a way, it had my visual attention too. When you’re all kind of looking at the same thing…that’s kind of interesting.
Was there any pressure to live up to the film, to fit the expectations it has, to be entirely faithful to what the film is?
Well, no. I mean, it’s an old film from another time. I was really just doing what I suppose other bands back in the day when they were performing to that silent film or other silent films would do, you know? Because the music was just the musicians down in the pit playing their repertoire with whatever new film was blowin’ through on the circuit. So there wasn’t any pressure. I didn’t feel much…I mean, I wanted it to be cool. I didn’t want it to be too precious. And I think I accomplished that. I mean, it was new for me to learn that’s what happened back in the day. With modern sound film, you have all these sounds going on, so the context of the music is totally different.
It’s almost like the music is competing with everything else for aural attention.
Right, right. And the music, in a subtle way, can emotionally change the mood of the scene. But back in the day, in silent films, it was just a local band playing their repertoire, which was much more of a raucous affair, not a cinematic, precious sound score… It was much more “Hit it boys!” Anyway, when they told me that, I was very encouraged. I didn’t feel like I had to…uh…change or anything, put on velvet gloves. I could just be myself.
Was the songwriting process very different from your other albums?
Well, certain things were different because I was timing scenes. Having said that, I didn’t feel restricted. I was trying to write songs, so sometimes the songs would carry over onto new scenes. So it wasn’t really different, but it was kind of different.
Did the process make you feel like you’d be interested in scoring another film?
Yeah, but I didn’t…Yes, but…yes and no…I didn’t…I wasn’t scoring a film. I mean, I was, but in a really abstract way. I wasn’t working with a filmmaker, trying to make his art more pleasing or working with movie producers or anything. A little film festival gave me a couple of bucks to bash out some music for one of their screenings. I’m not trying to minimize it; I’m just trying to say that it’s a totally different experience. I would love to continue to do this as I did. That’s great. Having to deal with the industry and movie producers…that just seems to be a lot of work [laughs]. I know people that do that, and I don’t think I’d want to do that.