When original bassist Kim Deal left the Pixies in 2013, many fans wondered if it would spell the end of the line for the group.
But a few years after Deal’s departure, the Pixies appear to be enjoying a new lease on life.
The 2016 album Head Carrier ended up on many critics’ year-end top ten lists, and the band continues to play sold-out shows across the globe.
There’s no doubt much of the credit should go to Paz Lenchantin, who was tapped to join the Pixies as a touring bassist in January 2014, following the group’s blink-and-you-missed-it stint with Kim Shattuck.
Lenchantin has brought renewed energy to the fold, and after several years of live gigs, she was made an official band member last July by singer/guitarist Black Francis (real name: Charles Thompson), drummer David Lovering and guitarist Joey Santiago.
Though she previously did time with A Perfect Circle, Zwan, and The Entrance Band, and had appeared on records by Queens of the Stone Age, Jenny Lewis, Silver Jews and others, Lenchantin admitted to some jitters in her early Pixies days, as Deal cast a long shadow over the group.
“I was so nervous in the very beginning and wanted to please everybody,” said Lenchantin, who co-wrote and sang lead vocals on Head Carrier track “All I Think About Now,” which is intended as a tribute to Deal.
Last year, the Pixies launched an extensive tour with stops in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Japan and, for the first time ever, South Africa. On the Head Carrier trek, which finally hit the U.S. in April, the band is giving fans a treat by making up its set list on the fly, performing a different batch of songs each night.
The Aquarian recently caught up with Lenchantin by phone, as the bassist discussed her musical upbringing, how Santiago provided her first big break in the music business and why a bizarre dream gave her confidence replace Deal.
It seems like the band has been touring in support of Head Carrier for quite a while now, but it’s taken some time for you to get to the U.S. dates. How has it been playing to American audiences on this tour?
I’m really enjoying it. The United States tour is a friendly one. Not to say that other places aren’t friendly, but it’s just nice to be in the States and see old faces and old places. I’m looking forward to New Orleans, getting myself some jambalaya, some gumbo. I’m looking forward to Atlanta, some Southern food. We’ve got three nights in Boston—that’s a party—and three nights in New York City. We’re looking forward to that.
I understand that the Pixies aren’t using a set list for the current tour—that you, Joey and David don’t know what the next song is until Charles calls it out.
Yeah, they just kind of all happen. I love it; it keeps me on my toes. However, we’ve basically been doing a non-set list since the beginning of my time with the Pixies. I think they tried using a set list about three years ago when I hadjust started. Maybe they didn’t want to push it with me being the newcomer. “Oh, by the way, we don’t know what we’re playing.” But I really liked it. When it comes to 30 or so songs a night, the set list becomes kind of blurry. I’m more likely to mess up on a set list than I am on a call-off. There’s just so many words on a set list at this point.
I’ve heard the band rehearsed about 90 songs for this tour.
I lost count, but now with Head Carrier we’re probably in the eighties as far as how many songs we rotate. We’re always in a new rotation. I’m enjoying some of the older songs that haven’t been played in a while, songs like “Winterlong” and “Blown Away.”
Have you had any “oops” moments onstage so far, or been caught off guard, making the set up as you go along?
Not on this tour, but I remember a big “oops” that I did about three and half years ago, maybe my fifth show. Normally at that time, we would play “Planet of Sound” as the last song or an encore song, at the end. And that song is a Drop D tuning. But one day, the song was put in the middle of the set. I went into Drop D, played the song and it sounded good. Right after the song, I forgot to tune back up to E. And we followed that song with “Where Is My Mind?” and I go into the bass, and I’m completely out of tune. And I just feel like I’m naked, just vulnerable, and as I’m playing the E string, I try to tune up as fast as possible to get in tune to finish the song. And right as we were starting the next song, Charles whispers in my ear, “welcome to the Pixies, Paz!”
You’ve been a part of the Pixies family, so to speak, for several years now. Since you were made an “official” member of the band, is anything different for you?
I guess making a record is the big thing that made me more [official]. I guess no matter what anyone said, I made a record with the Pixies. That record’s going to outlive my life on this earth. There’s going to be this object around even when I’m gone. That alone made it more permanent.
But my Pixies story all began in the ’90s, really. My very first tour outside of L.A., before A Perfect Circle, before anyone knew who I was, I got a phone call from Joey Santiago around 1997 to see if I’m available to do this little tour with his project The Martinis, with his wife at the time. So, I like to think that it was actually Joey Santiago who discovered me. Our relationship started even way before my other known relationships in music, like A Perfect Circle and Zwan and Entrance Band.
It was just a little California tour, up the coast maybe to Portland. Big is hardly the word, but for me, it was enormous. Are you kidding me? Joey Santiago of the Pixies calling me—this little L.A., bass playing, trying-to-figure-out-who-I-am-and-where-I-belong gal? He gave me a few songs, I learned them in a couple of days, and off we went. So actually, our Pixies family was started long ago, or at least a seed was sown.
You were a Pixies fan from the very start of their career?
Oh, yeah. How could you not be? Especially being a bass player and female. There’s definitely only one Kim Deal.
What was it like for you when you first joined the band? You were replacing an iconic figure in Kim Deal.
At that point, I was asked to learn so many songs in a short amount of time. They had just gotten rid of Kim Shattuck and they gave me a call to do the tour. I had to learn a lot of songs very quickly, and I was just thinking about wanting to do a good job. I just wanted to go out there and help this great band move forward in this transitional situation they were in. They lost a crucial member of the band, and knowing these guys, they’re really loyal human beings. It wasn’t just hard on the fans, it was hard on the band. But like everyone, we must move on. And when they called me, I was excited for the task, and I knew I could do it. And I’m continuing to do it, and hopefully will for as long as they’ll have me around.
Did you intend to mimic Kim Deal’s vocals and basslines exactly, or did you try to put your own twist on things?
I’m going to tell you a story about a dream I had. I’m a pleaser by nature, I like pleasing people and making them happy, but I’m also an artist and I’m trying to figure out what is right for something. One of the things I was struggling with in the beginning was the voice. Kim had her voice, I was concerned that everyone wanted to hear her voice, and no matter what I did they would be disappointed.
On the road, I was thinking about it and I had fallen asleep in my bunk. This is like, after the fourth or fifth show. And I had a dream, where Kim came to me. Don’t judge me on this, but she was wearing a one-piece leather suit. Almost like Batgirl or something, and she had a microphone. It’s a dream, so I don’t know what everything means. She came up to me and whispered in my ear, “if you want to be like me, don’t be like me”—meaning, be yourself. And that’s a big part of who the Pixies are. They’re unique, they’re themselves, they’re honest. And I woke up from the dream and I said, I’m going to be myself and sing it the way my voice wants to sing this. Kim Deal never mimicked anyone, and that’s a spirit, and that’s just as important as the actual sound of her voice. Since that point, that’s what I’m doing.
That’s a great story. I don’t know what her outfit meant, but maybe it means you viewed her as a superhero of some sort.
Since joining the band, have you ever spoken with Kim, or heard what she thinks about your song “All I Think About Now,” which is really an ode to her?
I haven’t, not outside of the dream I had, or of just feeling connected to her. To me, being a musician is a very big part of my life, playing the bass. I feel like I am in a relationship with her through music. She’s now a part of my life, through music, and I embrace it.
You come from a very musical family and you’ve been playing violin and guitar since a very early age. Did you always want to do it for a living?
People have been calling me a musician since I was too young to even know what that word meant. I turned out this way not because I searched it or chased it. It constantly kept falling in my lap. When I was in grade school, they always called me “the music kid” or names like that. It was just how some people had blue eyes or long hair, I had music. And I couldn’t really change that. And I tried to a couple of times, just because we rebel and we wonder about other roads. But it always lead me right back [to music].
Growing up, who were some of the artists who inspired you?
In the very beginning, I was classically trained, so I was in love with Bach. I played all of his minuets. My parents were classical purists, so our record collection was pretty much classical music. The only way I really found out about anything else was through my friends, going to my friend’s house. And one time, when I was 9 or 10, I was at a grocery store with my friend and her father. And I heard this music that paralyzed me. And I ran to her father, and asked him, “Who is this music?” And he looked at me with this strange look in his eyes and said, “Are you kidding me? This is The Beatles!” And I was so embarrassed I didn’t know.
Then I rushed home and my mother was in the kitchen drinking tea with her friend, and I said, “Mom, who are The Beatles?” and both of them laughed. I then became obsessed. I immediately grabbed a classical guitar and used that as my first bass, and started learning all of the Paul McCartney basslines on the first four strings of the classical guitar.
I was a huge fan of the band you were in previously called The Entrance Band. Is there any chance you’d play with them again in the future?
Well, about a year ago we were asked to do kind of an impromptu record that I think will be coming out in a limited edition. The singer, Guy Blakeslee, is now going by just the name Entrance. He went by that name originally, and then we formed a band with Derek James, Guy and myself. And now he’s doing more of a solo project. He’s on tour right now. His records are really awesome. I worked on all of his solo stuff, either strings or a song, played bass. I’m a big supporter of Guy Blakeslee and Entrance. It’s not like we quit or broke up or anything. If there’s something that calls for us to get together, I’m sure we would.
The Pixies will perform at Webster Hall on May 24, and at Brooklyn Steel on May 25 and 26.For more info, go to pixiesmusic.com.