The Pixies were a late 80s band whose music influenced almost every alternative rock band of the 90s. They consisted of Black Francis (vocals, guitar), Kim Deal (bass, vocals), Joey Santiago (guitar), and Dave Lovering (drums).
The band hailed from Boston, Massachusetts, where they were formed in 1986 by Joey Santiago and Black Francis (born Charles Thompson). After placing a classified ad looking for additional members (it famously listed Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul, and Mary as influences), they hooked up with Deal and Lovering.
They flipped through the dictionary for a band name (and selecting "Pixies" as opposed to "The Pixies"), they began playing around Boston and were noticed by Gary Smith. Smith took on the Pixies as their manager, and as owner of a studio had them produce a demo tape. The demo fell into the hands of 4AD Records, who signed the band. Some of the songs on the tape were then released directly as an EP, Come on Pilgrim. Their first full-length album, Surfer Rosa was released in the first part of 1988.
4AD were a British label, and the notoriously rabid British music press immediately clutched the Pixies to their collective bosoms and refused to let go. The band remained unsigned in the US for a while, but after a foray up the UK pop charts and some inroads into American college rock stations, they were picked up by Elektra Records. For the remainder of their career, the Pixies remained large-scale stars in Britain and minor figures in the US.
Their next album was Doolittle, and featured three prominent singles: "Debaser", "Here Comes Your Man" and "Monkey Gone to Heaven". It was a top 10 hit in the UK and reached the top 100 in North America.
After that album, Black Francis went solo for a little while, while Kim Deal formed The Breeders with fellow Boston-ite Tanya Donnelly of The Throwing Muses. During this time Black Francis appears to have decided to cut Deal's contributions to the band -- the first two albums had been partly written by Deal, but when Bossanova was released in 1990, all the songs were by him. Deal was not pleased, and announced an apparently unilateral break-up of the band on-stage during the following tour. The Pixies were at the height of their popularity, however, and a highly enthusiastic version of "Debaser" played while headlining at the Reading Festival in 1991 (and the matching highly enthusiastic audience response) has become legendary.
Break-up announcements notwithstanding, one more album was to follow. Trompe le Monde featured little input from Deal, though, and after opening for U2 on the North American portion of their Zoo TV tour the group essentially fell apart. A year later, Black Francis charmingly faxed an official notice of the end to the other members of the band.
He renamed himself Frank Black, and has since released a series of solo albums to steadily diminishing returns. Deal returned to the Breeders, and scored a hit with "Cannonball" from that group's Last Splash in 1993 -- since then they have joined the ranks of The Stone Roses and Elastica for lengthy struggles to produce another album. Lovering and Santiago have dropped back into obscurity.
Musically, the Pixies were just slightly ahead of their time. Right at the moment they were imploding, Nirvana was recording Nevermind, the album that would break alternative rock into the big time. There are substantial parallels between the two groups' sounds and Kurt Cobain was known to have been a fan -- in fact, an admission by him in a Rolling Stone interview that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was his attempt to write a Pixies song sparked a small burst of re-interest in the band after they were gone.