GOOD HEAD: The Pixies

L-R: Paz Lenchantin, David Lovering, Joey Santiago, Black Francis

L-R: Paz Lenchantin, David Lovering, Joey Santiago, Black Francis

Bloodied but unbowed by their recent bass-position upheavals, the alt-rock avatars make their bid for the future. A new album, Head Carrier, arrives at the end of September, and then the legendary band will commence a world tour in November. The Pixies flipped a coin, and newest member Paz Lenchantin—above, apparently flipping that coin—won the toss for submitting to the BLURT inquisition about all this, and more.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

There are plenty of other bands far less intimidating to join than casting one’s lot with the Pixies. After all, this is a group that helped define the indie ethos in the post punk world of the early ‘80s. They’ve set a high bar, and though they’ve only released seven albums in thirty years — including their latest opus, Head Carrier — they earned the kind of reputation that legends are built upon. Part of that stems from the aggression, edge and angst that’s been inherent in their sound since their first two albums, Surfer Rosa and the magnificent Doolittle, but it’s also due in part to the tenuous relationship within the band itself. The band disbanded in 1993, reformed just over ten years later, and just as they were in the full flush of their second wind, founding bassist Kim Deal left the fold in 2014. The three remaining members — vocalist, guitarist Black Francis (also known as Frank Black), guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering — hired Kim Shattuck to take Deal’s place, but Shattuck left almost as soon as she started.

In walked bassist and multi-instrumentalist Paz Lenchantin, a seasoned musician whose included contributions to A Perfect Circle, Silver Jews, Zwan and Queens of the Stone Age. At first, she was recruited to join the band on tour, making her recording debut with the group on 2014‘s EP compilation Cindy Indie.  Now with a new album under their collective belt, she’s graduated to being one of the band’s spokespersons, a formidable responsibility considering that it’s her recorded bow. “They got me talking on a Sunday with a little bit of coffee,” she chuckles, obviously willing to pass this audition of sorts.

In fact, Lenchantin proved an ideal explainer in chief as far as the new album and other Pixies matter were concerned. Happily too, she can also claim a song contribution as well. It seemed like a good place to start our interview.

BLURT: Your song on the new album, “All I Think about Is Now” fits in rather well with the Pixies’ purpose. Can you tell us how that came about?

LENCHANTIN: It kind of wrote itself. It was the last song we recorded. We were at a studio in London to record a batch of songs that we’ve been working on for a few weeks at that point. I had a little apartment next to the studios where Joey and Black Francis were also living, and Black Francis showed me a song he was working on. He gave it to me on my IPhone, but I couldn’t really hear the chord changes. It was just a hand held recorder on the IPhone but I started playing bass on what I thought I heard on the song. However, when I went downstairs to record it, I found out I heard the whole song wrong and I was so embarrassed. I said, “I’m so sorry, I just heard this whole other song, but you really ought to hear this.” So Black Francis said, “Well Paz, I think you should sing on this composition.” And I said, “Okay, but only if you write the lyrics.” And he said okay, but he asked me what to write about.” I said, “If I’m going to sing anything on this record, I’d like to give a tip of the hat, a thank you letter to Kim.” So he went upstairs and the next morning he had the lyrics. It was the last song we recorded on the record.

You have an impressive resume of your own, but to go in and be part of a band with such a venerable history must be somewhat intimidating, no?

It’s a band that deserves to keep running, and I was honored to be asked to help keep it running. In the process, the relationship kept growing. I had to be ready for anything that’s thrown my way. To be prepared meant to really listen for the past three years, with headphones every day, just listening to the Pixies and catching up with their history to the point where just making the record seemed fluent.

How long did it actually take you to learn the band’s repertoire at first?

Just to listen to every one of the songs once was three and a half hours. Just to hear everything just one time! So to listen to every song twice, it took seven hours. It took a lot of hours of listening to get through it. It took about three weeks of nonstop listening before my first rehearsal. I really had to pay attention. I’d go to a restaurant and listen, or I’d listen while I was cooking, and practically everywhere I went… I wouldn’t stop listening to it because every minute mattered. (laughs) And then we started rehearsing.

And how long did it take in those initial rehearsals to get you up to speed?

The first real rehearsal we did when all of us together was to make a B side for the song “Indie Cindy.” We didn’t even rehearse any of the older songs. So it gave me confidence knowing that they had confidence that I would know the songs. But, I was quite nervous because we hardly rehearsed for the first show. I guess they figured, “She’s fine, because we had all these shows ahead of us, and let’s just have fun.” We mainly spent our rehearsal time recording a song called “Woman of War” which was the B side of “Indie Cindy.”

So all the listening paid off.

Yeah.

You had to step into some big shoes replacing Kim Deal, What was that like?

There’s something really fun about being the new kid. It also gives you a bit of outside perspective. It seems like a new and refreshing time to have a new kid around. It’s been a total honor to be part of the band, and I have so much respect for what Kim has done. Hopefully, our shoes are kind of the same size. They seem to fit pretty well at least.

Have you had opportunity to speak with Kim? Did she give you any kind of briefing on what to expect? Did she say anything to you when you joined the band, any words of advice?

Only in my dreams. And I mean that literally. She would come visit me in my dreams and it was really helpful. I never met her personally, but I have felt her like a phantom in my heart as part of this journey.

There was another Kim that toured with the band between, Kim Shattuck. She toured with the band and then left. Did they ever tell you why that didn’t work out?

I believe her journey was quite short. I don’t know much. They were trying to figure out what would work, and I don’t think it worked with her for whatever reason. I think she’s a fine player. Sometimes it’s just more of a chemistry. I don’t really know what happened.

So how did you get the call?

In 1997, I got a phone call for my first gig from Joey Santiago. He had a side project called the Martinis. I was so excited. “Joey Santiago is calling me! Joe from the Pixies, and I’m a nobody. He heard from somebody that there was this kid who plays bass. I was just playing around in L.A. and he gave me a call. I auditioned for the Martinis and I did this little tour of California, up to Portland. We parted ways, and I started playing with some other folks, one of them being a band called A Perfect Circle, and when that blew up, I went in my own direction. I didn’t talk to Joe again for about 15, 16 years later until I got another phone call saying we need a new bass player for the Pixies. I went “Wow! I just felt like it was something in my heart that just felt right to me. I really wanted the part and here we are, talking about the record we made.

Was it intimidating? Were you starstruck?

I can’t help but be nervous anytime I do something for the first time, walking in the door, staring at this knob for a little while. Okay, I’m going to turn this knob and walk into my first rehearsal and see what happens, I do remember that I said, “No matter what happens, just have fun and be yourself. Even if just ends on the first day, I can still say I got to play with the Pixies! So just enjoy it. I went in and sure enough that’s what happened. I really enjoyed myself, but I can’t say, I wasn’t on the nervous side. I was playing with these incredible legends.

 How many songs were actually demoed for this album?

Maybe, we had twenty songs, but I’m not really sure. There were songs that were floating around that never got flushed out. Some got more flushed out than others.

There seemed to be some kind of air of reflection, especially on the song you co-wrote.

On “All I Think About Now,” because it was different when Black Francis asked me what to sing about, and I mentioned Kim, in the lyric he put a kind of reflection of that. So for that song specifically, I wrote that way because it was specific to that.

In the songs “Plaster of Paris” and “Tenement Song,” there seemed to be some hint of nostalgia. Was any of that discussed in any way?

Oh no.

It must be very gratifying to see these audiences expressing their enthusiasm for this revered band. What’s it like to b e a part of that?

I really love it when I can tell that a father and a son are going to see a show. There’s a feeling that you’re reaching out to both generations. Maybe like a mother and a daughter or a mother and a son. However you want to do the formula. That’s always exciting to me when I see different generations enjoying the same concert.

Photos credit: Travis Shinn

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