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Black Francis (born Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV on April 6, 1965) is an American singer, songwriter and guitarist. He is best known as the frontman of the influential alternative rock band Pixies, where he performs under the stage name Black Francis. Following the band's breakup in 1993, he embarked on a solo career under the name Frank Black. After releasing two albums with 4AD, he left the label and formed a backing band, Frank Black and the Catholics. He reformed the Pixies in 2004, and continues to release solo records and tour as a solo artist, having re-adopted his current stage name in 2007.
His vocal style has varied from a screaming, yowling delivery as lead vocalist of the Pixies to a more measured and melodical style in his solo career. In a recent interview on CBC's The Hour, Black described his musical transformation: "Pixies were quite abstract in their repertoire, it was kind of surrealist, kind of drop-out lyrics, but instinctively I knew I wasn't going to sing about all of my 'hard times' or whatever because it wouldn't have rang true. Now I've had a good life, I've had some ups and downs like everybody and so you feel you could be a little more Leonard Cohen or something."His cryptic lyrics mostly explore unconventional subjects, such as surrealism, incest and Biblical violence, along with dam collapses, science fiction and surf culture. His use of atypical meter signatures, loud-quiet dynamics and distinct preference for live-to-two-track recording in his career as a solo artist give him a more specific style in alternative rock.
While the Pixies' 1991 album Trompe le Monde was being recorded, Thompson had discussions with the album's producer, Gil Norton, about a possible solo record.He told Norton he was keen to record again, even though he had no new material; as a result, the two decided on a cover album. However, by the time Thompson visited a recording studio again in 1992, he had "plenty of tunes and musical scraps."
He collaborated with Feldman to record new material; they began by trimming down the number of covers to one, The Beach Boys' "Hang On to Your Ego". Feldman became the album's producer, and played keyboard and bass guitar on several songs, with Santiago featuring on lead guitarand Nick Vincent on drums. Francis recorded the album during the hiatus and breakup of the Pixies in late 1992 and early 1993. He then adopted the stage name "Frank Black" (inverting his old persona "Black Francis") and released the results as Frank Black in March 1993. Frank Black was characterized by a focus on UFOs and science fiction, although he explored other eclectic subjects, such as in "I Heard Ramona Sing", a song about the Ramones. The album was similar in style, both musically and lyrically, to the Pixies' albums Bossanova and Trompe le Monde. Feldman later said that the first record connected his solo career with Trompe le Monde, "but at the same time it is an island, like nothing else he [Black] did."
The following year, Black released his second solo record, a 22-song double album entitled Teenager of the Year. Teenager included the song "Headache" ( sample (helpinfo)), a moderate success on alternative rock playlists; critics described the song as "irresistible pop".The production of Teenager of the Year was markedly different from Frank Black; in the previous album, MIDI templates were used when writing songs, but in Teenager, Black showed individual parts to band members, the core of which included drummer Vincent and Lyle Workman on lead guitar. Feldman noted that Thompson's songwriting became "a lot more spontaneous" while recording the album. Thompson had begun to stray from his style with the Pixies, writing songs that covered a variety of genres and topics, and his new-found method of recording was closer to later albums than that of Frank Black and Trompe le Monde.
Both Frank Black and Teenager of the Year were critically well-received and remain fan favorites. In 1995, Thompson left his long-time labels 4AD and Elektra.He continued to write new material: In 1996, he released The Cult of Ray on Rick Rubin's American Recordings; the album marked a turn away from the elaborate production of his first solo works and was recorded primarily live with few overdubs. His band for this album featured sole Teenager holdover Lyle Workman on lead guitar, along with bassist David McCaffrey and Scott Boutier on drums.
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