“Honestly, I got so deep into these songs that I simply got lost within them. Not lost musically, because my hands were on auto pilot. My hands just do it and I’m not doing it. The kick and snare were playing my hands. The guitars were playing my hands. The rhythm and melody and harmony were all playing my hands, but I was not. I have an almost out of body experience from it. It’s a very cool experience, but at some point I can psych myself out within a set, especially when I’m playing “Where’s My Mind?” [laughs]. When I hear those lyrics, it makes me wonder where my mind really is.”
Paz Lenchantin paces her Los Angeles home as she thinks back to the early days of the writing process for the Pixies’ latest album Doggerel. She revisits the relief she felt in rejoining her band after two years of solitude during the lockdown, and laments on the anguish she experienced in not being able to tour for their previous release, Beneath the Eyrie . But now she’s riding a wave of elation, as the ever-jovial bassist is excited to be back touring the world in support of an album that she couldn’t be happier with. The constantly changing moods and tempo shifts of Doggerel seem to match the rollercoaster of emotions experienced mutually by Paz and her bandmates—vocalist/rhythm guitarist Black Francis, lead guitarist Joey Santiago, and drummer David Lovering—over the course the album’s creation.
Now eight years into her tenure as the Pixies’ bassist after filling the big shoes of founding member Kim Deal in 2014, Lenchantin feels entirely at home with her legendary outlet. Her bass serves as a driving force and even focal point on much of the new album, including her charging work on “Nomatterday,” “Dregs of the Wine,” and “There’s a Moon On.” Her sound is more dialed in than ever as she embraces the simplicity of her beloved 1965 P-Bass through an Ampeg SVT full stack. Her vocals provide a beautiful melodic contrast to those of Black Francis’ iconic and often jarring voice, and her stage presence has become a welcomed sight to their hordes of decade-long fans. The pent up emotions that were quelled and finally emoted into the frequencies of this album are all being released now, and Paz is experiencing as much relief and she is excitement.
After releasing Beneath the Eyrie right as COVID hit, it must’ve felt good going back in to create this new album.
To be honest, I was pretty heartbroken that we weren't able to tour the Beneath the Eyrie record. I love that album and we were literally gearing up to tour it when the lockdown started. Just like any broken heart, you want to fill it the next time with something that's even stronger. I think we accomplished that. If it were any sooner, we might not have felt that we needed to make another record. But because so much time went by it made sense. And it felt so good to get back into it and write these songs.
What was the writing process like for Doggerel?
When it seemed like things were going to start opening up again and we were gearing up for the new cycle, I got a phone call saying, Hey, let’s make a new record. Charles (Black Francis) had started writing a lot of material and every day I would get another song from him. Over the next two months he wrote 40 songs. They were all in demo form, with some being just acoustic, some without lyrics, and some with only a melody. Our producer Tom Dalgety listened to all of them and shaped a record that he saw would be the strongest for Pixies. We picked about 16 of the 40. We headed off to Vermont to record and we ended up finishing them all in about three weeks. One of my favorite things before making record is driving to the airport in complete silence and knowing that the next time I'll be in this car driving back I’ll have the record playing. It doesn’t even exist at the point of driving there and it’s pretty magical that it will exist the next time I’m in that car. There's this mystery in the silence and you have no idea what it’s going to sound like.
You recorded the last album in Dreamland Recordings in Woodstock. What was it like recording this one in Vermont?
We recorded in February, and it was just gorgeous. Everything was covered in snow and there’s something so dramatic about that. We recorded at Gilford Sound, which is a newer studio, about ten years old. We lived on the compound of the studio and I would take a hike every morning with the studio dog, and I would set the intention for the day. For me, to make a record and to reach this potential you have to go where there are no distractions. As you get older there are always more and more distractions. Going together as a band is like a dream. Nowadays most bands send each other files, but we’re keeping the dream alive of doing this the right way. You reach this place that can only be achieved with that kind of isolation with your bandmates.
How do you feel about the results of those recording sessions?
This is the best record I’ve ever made with the Pixies and it’s also the best bass sound I’ve ever gotten. It’s because they have this grounding system in the console room where there’s a pole that’s tapped into all the wiring and is grounded straight into the ground. There’s absolute silence in the room and no buzzing. I was going in direct to my Ampeg and playing through my 1965 P-Bass, and you hear that sound exclusively. Nothing else. The difference was the room this time. It was the actual voltage and the console. I’m completely in awe of the recordings we got. There’s nothing like playing when you’re totally into the sound.
So you went direct into your Ampeg for the whole album?
Yep. There’s nothing between me and my amp on this music. There’s something about knowing from the second I plugged in that it was going to go well because it sounded so good. The cool thing about working in a studio that doesn’t have much history is that you’re the ones creating it. The legacy of the place is coming from what you do. In a lot of studios you’re surrounded by platinum plaques and tons of iconic artist images, and you can get overwhelmed by all of it. How do I even live up to this studio? I loved the lightness of working in a new studio and there’s inspiration in that, as well.
Your trusty 1965 Fender Precision is becoming synonymous with you. Is that the only bass you play now?
It is, and it has been for a long time. Actually, when I got it in Chicago they sold it to me as a 1970 Precision. It needed some work and I had a dear friend help me set it up. He took apart the neck and body and there was a stamp that said June 5th, 1965. He showed me and told me that the bass instantly went up in value. I always had a feeling about that, so it was no surprise. But I love that bass so much. I never use anything else. I’ve only used my backup bass once because a string broke.
Does it have a name?
I do like naming things, like my car, which is a 1973 Dodge Dart Swinger, which is the same color as my bass. I named it Daisy because the “i” on the Swinger logo is a daisy. Some time ago ago, maybe 12 years, I was playing in San Francisco with the Entrance Band and the bass player of the opening band was so high that he didn’t bring his gear. I’ve never ever had anyone play my bass because it’s very intimate to me. Only my bass tech Jumpy ever plays it. Anyway, I let this guy use it and his name was Sunflower, so because he’s the only one who has played it I named that bass Sunflower.
And you kept a flower fastened around your headstock for a while.
I did. But even fake flowers die, unfortunately. I didn’t realize that would sound so profound [laughs].
What was your process for writing the bass lines?
Going into the last album we didn’t have all of the material written and finalized, so there was a lot of writing in the studio together. We didn’t write any songs in the studio this time. The demos were pretty complete for this one and the structures were there. They were in a very acoustic format, but there were no surprises. When Charles brought in the song ideas and Joey brought in his, I was writing to it the whole time. Charles was sending us new material every day and I was writing to it as it came. It got my fingers into the chord progressions and how they felt. I would record my ideas and get familiar with them so that I could be creative when we got together and I heard what everyone else was doing on the songs. I’ve found that it’s very important that your very first instinct with the song is your right instinct. You gotta just go with it. The more you do it, the more you start boxing it out and you know too much. When you know very little and the song is new to you, that’s where the magic comes from.
How was your approach different for this album than it was for Beneath the Eyrie?
Relationships have something to do with how you play together. I’m eight years in and I’ve been playing these songs probably longer than Kim Deal did. I don’t know her stage time and I haven’t done the math, but I’ve played thousands of sets of this material. Something develops from doing that organically. Time is the pink elephant in the room. The alchemy of all things happen through time and that changes you without you even knowing it. Going into Doggerel I had even more of a sense of belonging and everything felt very natural. The band is special and to be a part of it for as long as I have has definitely influenced how I play and what I write. Everything that I wrote on bass for these songs felt like it was what was meant to be there. I’m sure the longer I do this the more natural and instinctual it will feel.
A lot of the songs have abrupt rhythmic and tempo changes, like “Vault of Heaven” and “Dregs of Wine.” How fun is this music to play?
So much fun. I love all of the tempo changes and wondering if this is one song or two songs. There’s nothing that’s predictable on the album and that’s always been part of the Pixies’ sound. It’s not obvious what’s going to happen next and it has you on the edge of your seat, saying, And then what? There isn’t a boring part on the whole record. We did some overdubs with a synth, whether it was a Moog or a Juno. I play one note throughout a part and even that wasn’t boring. I’m way into minimal music when it comes to what I listen to at home, so I try to take that less is more mentality to my playing. I’m going to be very busy with these songs live, playing the Taurus pedal with my feet for some of the synth parts. It’s a trip to play that with your feet, while you play bass.
What was inspiring you during the creation of this music?
During the pandemic I was dealing with the heartbreak of not being able to tour with Beneath the Eyrie, and I was dealing with the worries that I was never going to be able to tour again for the rest of my life. I needed to take a break. Sometimes we grow by not doing. I took up pottery, of all things. I couldn’t surf at the time, I couldn’t see anybody, and I was having anxiety. So I took up pottery and got a wheel and a kiln. When I would do it, I would get just as lost as I do when I play music. It became and easy meditation. When you’re having anxiety it’s hard to tell your mind to think of nothing. Which is kind of an oxymoron in the first place, to ask your mind to stop thinking. And when you’re doing it are you really doing it? And if you’re thinking about whether or not you’re doing it, you’re definitely not doing it. It’s very confusing. I need something like music or surfing. But with music I have judgement and some sort of standard or bar where it’s not exactly going into the void. But with pottery, and with learning something new, you’re focused on the symmetry of keeping your hands a certain way and you’re not thinking of anything else. I do it in silence so there’s no distraction, and to me it became very calming. My anxiety started to dissipate. And that helped me show up with a clear mind when it was finally time to make music. I grew from that.
In our last interview we spoke about your admiration for Kim Deal. Have you met her yet?
In this life we have relationships that are very rare and very special, and they don’t have to belong the same way they do with a friend. We have relationships that are ours. My relationship to Kim is very special mainly because it’s intimate in a way that no other relationship of mine has been intimate because of bass. This has nothing to do with meeting her. This has nothing to do with having a friendship. This has nothing to do with calling her on the phone. This is specifically a relationship where I went inside of her mind and inside of her picking and her rhythm and her world through this dialog that’s been my tool forever, and that’s the bass. I only have this relationship with her and it’s special. If we were best friends, I would take it, but it’s not something I search for because I value this just as deeply as I value my closest relationships. Also, it’s through something that matters a lot to me, and that is bass. –BM
Hear Her On: Pixies, Doggerel [BMG, 2022]
Bass 1965 Fender Precision
Rig Ampeg Classic Series SVT-CL, Ampeg SVT-810
Pedals Moog Taurus, MXR Bass Chorus, DarkGlass Electronics
Strings Ernie Ball Slinky Mediums
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