Black Francis (the stage name for Charles Thompson, aka Frank Black) brought yowling angst and fiery guitar squall to the Pixies. His wife, Violet Clark, loves the sort of breezy, synth-pop that the Pixies provided an antidote for in the late ’80s.
Together they are Grand Duchy, a duo that will showcase the eclectic and infectious sounds of debut album “Petits Four” on Saturday night at Jazzbones in Tacoma.
Recently I called the couple at home in Eugene, Ore., for insight into one of the best pop albums of 2009.
What was the catalyst for starting a group?
Violet: He’s been recording me for some time now on various Black Francis projects. I’m either playing bass or singing or something. It’s very pleasant and very fun.
We know each other so well. We’re always together anyway, and when we’re not, it’s kind of a noted absence. So this allows us to be creative together and spend time together. And it’s a totally different thing than the raising of the kids and the more mundane aspects of being husband and wife.
Were there times during the recording when you drove each other crazy?
In unison: Oh yeah, sure.
Violet: That’s unavoidable. I think that we’re realizing now that it wasn’t so much a product of either of us being difficult or annoying so much as just the pressure of trying to work out some new thing and work out our sound.
Francis: All the while having five hours and the clock is ticking.
Violet: So-and-so has to be picked up.
Francis: Trying to finish a bass track while three kids are totally losing it and screaming and getting ready to tear the studio apart.
That’s gotta be challenging.
Francis: Yeah, and we’ve learned to not try to bring the kids to the studio so much.
What’s the significance of the name?
Violet: It’s a conceptual thing, as though we are founding our own little micro-state, our own little Luxembourgish realm where we’re the duke and the duchess. And whoever is into what we are doing can be a citizen. (Laughs)
A Luxembourgish project, huh.
Violet: I only mean that in the sense that it can be a very small little world that we are founding and inhabiting.
Francis: I think Violet has always wanted to be about something else besides just making pop records. … We’re trying to create an art book with other people participating. We’re trying to learn how to use digital editing software so we can make films. We’re trying to paint. We’re trying to think about well, could we design our own perfume?
I don’t want to give you the wrong impression that we just want to sell a bunch of crap. We want to be creative and we don’t only want to come up with songs that have verses and choruses. Whatever we do remains to be seen.
And in what ways do you inspire each other?
Violet: I’ve been with people who were not interested if I made a little record. They didn’t care; they didn’t want to hear it. That’s kind of exhausting (or) a little bit sad. And I feel like my inner child is very strong, and Charles’ inner child is very active, as well.
So we get together and we’re not trying to repress that magical, creative thing in each other. We’re validating it, so we end up having a lot of fun and we end up feeling really free to do whatever strikes our fancy without feeling like we’re going to be chastised.
I’ve had “Lovesick” stuck in my head since I got the album. What was the catalyst for that song?
Violet: I guess it’s about times that we’ve had to be apart and that kind of sense of being in the lurch, and the frustration and what do you do about it?
There seems like there’s kind of a seize-the-day sentiment in there, too, with that line “listen to the devil on your shoulder.”
Violet: Absolutely. When you first start dating a rock star it’s a very surreal experience. …
And there are people who are trying to give you all kinds of advice (saying) don’t get your hopes up or something. Just play it safe. And I’m not a play-it-safe kind of person. I liked him and he liked me, and we just both kind of went for it.
But there was a lot of time in the beginning when we were apart for many, many, many weeks at a time, and so had to just figure it out. And some of it was kind of sexy and romantic, and some of it was just grueling and like torture. (Laughs)
Do you have other stuff you’re working on?
Violet: There’s some new material that potentially will be being played over in England on an NME (magazine) session.
Where can fans find that?
Violet: We don’t know yet. (Laughs)
Francis: People just say, “Do you have some new material for this thing?” And we’re like, “Oh, OK, here ya go.” And sometimes it materializes and other times (it doesn’t.) Nobody’s told me about the NME thing yet.
Assuming they show up, what are the song titles?
Violet: There’s a song called “I Can’t Understand You When You Cry.” And another song called “See Through” and “Need Your Love.” Some version of those three songs will be on our next record, for sure.
Ernest A. Jasmin: 253-274-7389