Black Francis

The former Pixies frontman teams up with his wife Violet Clark and new band Grand Duchy….

Interview, Music feature

Where did the idea for Grand Duchy come from?
VC: I think I had been really jealous of Charles (Black Francis) for a while because I really like making music too, but obviously I didn’t have the legacy. In our family dynamic it was much less easy to rationalise me pulling myself away from the children. It’s easy for him – well, I won’t say it’s easy, but it’s expected. So it became obvious that this was the perfect solution to me not being mad at him as much.

BF: If Violet didn’t have any interest in music then there wouldn’t be the same type of frustration. But it’s a little frustrating to say: ‘Hi Honey, what are you doing?’ ‘Oh, I’m changing diapers, what are you doing?’ ‘Well, I get to have dinner with David Bowie tonight.’ That can be enraging for the other person.

VC: It was OK for a couple of years, then one day it became not as OK.

So, husband and wife in a recording studio. Was there tension?
VC: (Laughs loudly)

BF: Was there tension? There was tension from the very first second. The first day was really smooth, that was kind of magical, and it just sort of happened without really trying. That was what spurred us on. The second time we went in it got really tense. But we got through that period, and it’s still tense, but not as tense.

VC: Put it this way: Charles is more open now to my contributions or my taking charge. I don’t know if I’m as open yet to him taking charge.

How would you describe your marriage?
VC: I think we’re the exact same person split into two different genders. And that can either be really, really fun, or it can just be really, really hard. We’re exactly the same.

Where did you meet?
BF: We met at a music venue.

VC: I think I was shocked because this was prior to the Pixies reunion; he was with The Catholics and he was carrying his own gear out after a show, and I was completely gobsmacked and said something really cocky like, ‘Why are you carrying your own gear? That’s crazy.’

So, how did you divide songwriting duties?
BF: Sometimes I would write part of the song and leave it blank then Violet would fill in the blanks, or vice versa. Sometimes we’d sit down together at the same time, but it’s difficult because we have five children.

VC: We’re really crazy about our kids and so everything has been kind of revolving around them in the sense that we just figured out how to make a record around this parenting thing.

How? Did you just take the kids into the studio?
BF: If you listen to the record with headphones, there are moments that are really subtle where there are children screaming on the tracks. Sometimes we have babies and kids in the recording studio, but they don’t really like it much, there’s not really a lot for them to do there, so we try not to force them.

VC: But it’s not like it’s some super dorky environment. It’s not like it’s the Osmonds or something.

Describe to me the Grand Duchy sound?
BF: Obviously there’s a big ’80s influence. The synthesisers especially.

VC: Yeah, it’s kind of more primitive.

BF: There’s a Velvet Underground influence and dancey kind of drum patterns. It’s been nice having really simple drum patterns because it leaves a lot of space for keyboards – they cut through everything – and for our voices also.

The pair of you played every instrument on the Petit Fours album. Was this liberating or a nightmare?
BF: A little of both I think. We wanted to keep a certain naivety with the sound. It’s good that we’re not drummers or virtuoso pianists, but it’s just a lot of work to start involving other people. At the moment we work with a couple of studios where we are friends with the owners and we kind of get in at the last minute. There’s not a lot of long term planning, we just kind of do it on the fly.

VC: The whole thing is kind of a big experiment.

You say it’s an experiment. Is this a one-off, then?
VC: No. I would be appalled if this was a one-off.

BF: I suppose before too long we started thinking big. We started to call ourselves Grand Duchy because we are going to take all our proceeds from our record sales and buy a pied de terre in Luxembourg city or some place like that. So, you’ve got big plans then?

I think that we do have big ambitions, because we like to travel and see other places and we want our children to have interesting experiences and really cool lives. We don’t really want to live in some little town. It’s not our style. We want to be a showbiz family.
Grand Duchy’s Petit Fours is available from

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