Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Bassist Paz Lenchantin talks about finding her place in the Pixies

Pixies are back with the release of their new album Head Carrier.
Pixies are back with the release of their new album Head Carrier.

It's odd to refer to Paz Lenchantin as the new Pixie. Especially as she's been (wo)manning the bass for the alt-rock icons for three years.

But Pixies are defined by oddity and for most of that time Lenchantin's official role was "touring bassist".

"It's like when I get a new car... but it's a used car. I'm still gonna call it 'new' even though it's used," she laughs when congratulated on her recent promotion to "full band member".

"It's almost like we got married or something, ya know? The dating went well, we've been living together for a while and now we're getting married."

Lenchantin is cool to talk to. She has a fantastically sunny voice, with a long Los Angeles drawl and an infectious laugh. She says, "ya know?" a lot, much like we say "eh?", and tends to run her sentences together.

She also has a smidge of that indefinable Pixies oddity about her. It's easy to see why Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago recently said, "We knew the chemistry with Paz was right, right away; it was instant and effortless."

They may have known, but Lenchantin didn't. It was only last September, as the band began recording new album Head Carrier, that she finally began to feel like a proper Pixie.

"It was going so well," Lenchantin says. "That's when I felt that electricity of a new place, a more permanent place, working on the record together."

She may be 'new', but Lenchantin is an old hand on the LA music scene. Before Pixies she was in A Perfect Circle, the art-metal group fronted by Tool's James Maynard Keenan, and was also part of Billy Corgan's post-Smashing Pumpkins outfit Zwan. These bands, you may have noticed, are a whole lot harder than Pixies.

Sure, Pixies can make an almightily calamitous racket when the mood takes them, but it's a very different sort of heavy.

"When I strap on my bass I really do want to rock," she says when asked about incorporating her harder sound into her new home. "Luckily, the Pixies kind of want to rock too. But they have that sentimental side, that softer side, which is also part of my love of music. I feel Pixies complete me."

"But the most important thing is to do what sounds good for the song. Not my idea, but the song's idea. Every song wants to be something. I try to hear what the song wants to be and... just... sock it to it."

Kim Deal, Joey Santiago, David Lovering, Frank Black Pix of the Pixies.
Kim Deal, Joey Santiago, David Lovering, Frank Black Pix of the Pixies.

Listening to Head Carrier it's obvious that what this new collection of songs most want to be are Pixies songs. A dumb thing to say, perhaps, but this wasn't always apparent on the group's last effort, 2014's Indie Cindy.

"You have to keep in mind they lost a crucial member," Lenchantin says, referring to Kim Deal, the much-loved original bassist who permanently switched off her on-again/off-again relationship with the band in 2013, just prior to recording.

"They could have cheated with some studio musician that sounded like Kim to make it sound Pixies. But it's more experimental, transitional. Perhaps it doesn't sound as classic as people would hope but I still think it's a great record."

This is the great dichotomy Pixies wrestle with. There's an expectation of how a band that consistently broke expectation should sound.

Head Carrier more than meets any fan expectation. It's a great album that undeniably sounds like Pixies.

"At this point we felt like a band," Lenchantin tells me. "For the past three years I've been playing and listening to Pixies more than anything. It's bright in my memory. However, it's not something that was intentional. It just naturally happened because I felt the songs were asking for it. My immediate reaction when playing was a sound that's familiar. But there wasn't too much thought in sounding like that. At least on my part."

Head Carrier is familiar and new all at once. It's loud, quiet, loud and features one of Pixies' most touching moments. All I Think about Now, a song born out of error, poignantly and publically acknowledges Deal and her uneasy relationship with the band.

During rehearsals Lenchantin misheard a song and wrote a "completely wrong" bassline.

"However I really liked it, so I showed it to Francis," (Pixies' frontman and main songwriter). "Not only did he like it but he said I should sing on it. That was a surprise to me. I said, 'Ok, I'll sing, but you have to write the lyrics.' He said, 'Ok, what do you want to sing about?'. In an instant I said, 'I want to sing a thank you letter for Kim'. Because if it wasn't for her I wouldn't even be in this position. So it's like a tip of the hat."

She tells me there are plans to visit New Zealand and that the vibe in the once notoriously prickly Pixies camp is 'happy'.

And as for the newest Pixie herself?

"I literally sometimes don't know if time is actually going forwards or backwards," she muses before going charmingly full Pixie.

"I feel like I've been in this band now all of my life. As if I was in training throughout my life for this moment. Like Cinderella being presented the shoe that fit, and now I'm going to the ball."

- NZ Herald

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