New Pixie Paz Lenchantin Talks ‘Head Carrier’ & Getting “The Call” (INTERVIEW)

Being the new person in a band with as an extraordinary reputation as that of the Pixies can be a daunting experience. After all, here’s a group whose trajectory extends back 30 years and whose list of accomplishments — not the least of which is to establish a distinctive hardcore presence in a post punk universe — has made them indisputable icons. The Pixies’ previous albums, beginning with Surfer Rosa in 1988 and continuing through their masterpiece Doolittle a year later and eventually to 2014’s EP compilation Indie Cindy brought them to the heights of indie adulation, but their various break-ups and make-ups have also seized the headlines, making it difficult at times to discern where the band stand. Their first demise took place in 1993, only to find them reforming a decade later. Then in 2014, bassist Kim Deal left the fold for good, leaving her compatriots — vocalist, guitarist Black Francis (also known as Frank Black), guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering — to find her replacement.

At first the band turned to another Kim, Kim Shattuck, but Shattuck’s tenure in the band didn’t last as long as either party might have expected. That’s when the group turned to Paz Lenchantin, not only a bassist, but a multi-instrumentalist whose previous efforts have included contributions to A Perfect Circle, Silver Jews, Zwan and Queens of the Stone Age. She’s now spent three years in the Pixies’ employ, touring and contributing to Cindy Indie as well as the band’s new opus entitled Head Carrier. She seems to have fit in well, making such a smooth segue way in fact that the new album actually succeeds in capturing the essence of the classic Pixies sound, Doolittle in particular. Still, rather than underplay Lenchantin’s efforts at assimilating, Glide seized the opportunity to speak with her on the eve of the new album’s release.

It’s kind of interesting that they’re giving you your initiation by make you the one who’s available to talk about the new album.

Right! They got me talking on Sunday with a little bit of coffee.

The new album is quite reminiscent of Doolittle, what with the melodic textures combined with those aggressive overtones. And you have a song on the new album, “All I Think About Is Now.” How did that come about?

Oh I don’t even know. It kind of wrote itself. It was the last song we recorded. We did it in a  studio in London. We were there 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 studio where Joey and Black Francis were also living, and Black Francis showed me a song he was working on and he gave it to me on my iPhone. I couldn’t really hear the chord changes. I could just kind of hear Joey’s guitar up there on top. It was just a hand held recorder on the iPhone, but I started playing bass on what I thought I heard on the song. When I went downstairs to record it, I found out I heard the song wrong and I was so embarrassed. I said, “I’m so sorry, I just heard this whole other song.” They just sort of looked at me, so I said, “You really ought to hear this other song.” So Black Francis said, “Show me your song. So I said okay and he 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, I’ll write the lyrics, but you have to tell me what to write about.” I said, “I’d like to sing about Kim. 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, and it was the last song we recorded on the record.

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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, and by the time we were ready to make the record, we had a couple of years of being together. I’ve played on the majority of songs they’ve ever written live, because the set list is always changing. There really is no set list, because we just start playing when we’re on stage. So 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 everyday, just listening to the Pixies and catching up with their  history to the point where making the record seemed fluent.

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.

In 1997, I got a phone call for my very 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. When that blew up, I went in my own direction. I didn’t talk to Joey again for about 15, 16 years later, until I got another phone call saying they 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 just 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 to myself, “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.

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Is there a particular theme tied to this new album?

There are three guys and one girl in the room. We grabbed our instruments and we just started playing. We just try to do what sounds good at the time and just keep trying to flush out the songs. Some songs turn out a little better than other songs, but we keep on working on the more favorable ones until we have a nice batch of songs. Then we found a great producer, Tom Dalgety, who we got along really well with and we trusted him to make the right decisions on what songs were really right for the record. Then picked the order and we got an album. There wasn’t a lot that was pre-thought. We just played what sounded good.

You play a number of different instruments in addition to bass. In the future, do you see yourself adding more to the musical mix?

Yes, if the song calls for it, I’ll do it. With this record, there wasn’t a lot of need for overdubbing or for further instruments. I do play a little bit of piano on “Classic Masher.” If there’s some overdubbing that needs to be done, sure I’ll give it a try. But I’m pretty complete without any extra kind of stringy stuff.

You have a European tour coming up in November…

Yeah, that’s exciting. We had to extend it. It sold out.

Have you been to Europe with the band previously?

Oh yes. We’ve been touring around the world for almost three years.

 It must be very gratifying to see these audiences expressing their enthusiasm for this revered band. What’s it like to be 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 by Travis Shinn

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