Pixies: how we made Where Is My Mind?

Black Francis, songwriter

The song is about a high-school trip to the Bahamas. I was swimming in clear water and there was a small fish – about four inches, not dangerous at all – that was aggressively following me and poking me. It kept doing it – it freaked me out. I was like: “I have to get away from this fucking crazy fish.”

I used to write songs in my apartment’s bathroom – for privacy. One day my ex-wife was in there doing her makeup. She dressed quite goth, so it took a while. I was in the bedroom playing this song and she stuck her head out – and she never did this with any other song, ever – and said: “That’s a good one, finish it.”

The recording took place in 1987 and was released on the Surfer Rosa album the following year. We worked with Steve Albini in the studio. We had a laissez-faire attitude, like, “Oh here’s this idea that is completely unrealised and it goes like this …” It wasn’t that we didn’t care – maybe we were just on fire at the time. Steve’s approach was more cavalier than thoughtful, it was just: “Let’s fucking try that.” But I think his attitude worked because it blended well with the naivety of the band. We didn’t know what we were doing but we did it well. There’s something about the major to minor chord shift in the song that resonates along with the universal sentiment of the title. Sonically, if you had to pick a song to sum up our band this would be it. It’s emblematic of what we do with that loud/quiet dynamic.

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Listen to Where Is My Mind?

I only listen to the original when it comes on in a coffee shop or something. It’s funny, especially if I’m in a place filled with young hipsters and I’m just this middle-aged paunch-bellied man getting his espresso. Some people credit Fight Club for bringing the song to a larger audience. It was a great scene that highlighted it, so I suppose there must be some truth there. It’s the song that pays my mortgage – it’s the gift that keeps on giving. I get offers once a week for yet another advertisement, movie or TV show to use it. I say yes to all of them.

The musician and producer Steve Albini at his studio in Chicago in 2005.

‘I regret the way I treated the band in print afterwards’ … musician and producer Steve Albini at his studio in Chicago in 2005. Photograph: Paul Natkin/Getty Images

We recorded in a modest studio in Boston but it sounded great. The band played well and my job was pretty easy. There were parts of the song that needed a dynamic blow-up where things would get heavier but the band were playing through really small amps. I suggested some Marshall amps for the big loud parts – they took to that like a fish to water. I don’t know if that was the first time they ever played with really powerful amps but they certainly made the most of them.

The studio was limited – one performing room – so we used the big communal washroom. That became a reverb chamber where Kim Deal did her ghostly hoo-hoo backing vocals. Her voice has a really lovely sustain to it and I exaggerated that using a long electronic reverb to make it a structural element of the song as opposed to just decoration.

That dynamic of me suggesting goofy stuff and them going along with it was partly due to my insecurity. It was early in my tenure as an engineer and I wanted to validate myself and have an impact. I’d suggest ridiculous stuff, some of it worked and some of it didn’t. I regret a lot of those decisions – not because they made the record worse but because they weren’t wholly the band. Asserting myself in the production took away some of their authorship. Kim and I are close friends now and she has admitted to me that it was uncomfortable for her to have to answer all these interview questions about this crazy Steve Albini guy doing all these goofy sound effects.

I regret the way I treated the band in print afterwards. Forced Exposure magazine got me to review albums that I had been credited as producer on. At the time, I bristled at the idea of being called a producer so I responded in a peculiar way and went overboard on being negative about those albums, and for Pixies’ Surfer Rosa I went too far. Because of my intellectual insecurity I was associating arrogance and petulance with a purity of vision – thinking being frank was a mark of authenticity, but it was just an excuse to be rude. I’ve made my apologies to the band, but they remain insufficient.

Where is My Mind? later became one of the records that other bands would reference when they wanted to work with me. Over time it has acquired a status that it didn’t have at the time. Nobody expected it to take off because no underground American band of that generation had even a fleeting notion of commercial success as a goal. People just wanted to blow minds.


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