Paz Lenchantin discusses her hefty writing role on Beneath the Eyrie, how she finally achieved her favorite bass tone of all time, and her real-life transformation into a pixie
“When I first joined The Pixies, I was about to turn the doorknob to enter my first rehearsal ever with the band, and I waited outside the door for probably about five minutes, maybe longer. I knew that right when I turned that knob, I was going to physically turn into a little fairy pixie and go into this totally new life and my whole world would change. I stared at that door and focused on the knob and when I finally turned it, that’s exactly what happened. I turned into a pixie. And now every time I leave to go home from a tour or a recording session, I stand outside of my door, turn the knob, walk into my house, and return to my normal form as Paz. That is my fairytale life now.”
Paz Lenchantin lounges in her Los Angeles home ruminating about the past whirlwind six years of her life and how joining The Pixies ended her lifelong search for her perfect band. Her gratitude is evident and her happiness infectious, as she gushes about her role in the iconic lineup of a band that she idolized for many years before joining them. In this moment, she’s even just happy to be home, which is a rarity for a September day — for her, typically it would be occupied with headlining festival slots, long stretches of touring, and the subsequent radio and television appearances that go along with it. But today marks the calm before that storm, and a moment of thankful reflection, having just released the second Pixies album she’s contributed to, Beneath the Eyrie.
After replacing co-founding bassist Kim Deal in 2013, Lenchantin wasn’t sure what her role would be in the band beyond that of touring bass player, but her talents as a vocalist and songwriter were immediately noticed by frontman Charles “Black Francis” Thompson, who enlisted her vocals, lyrics, and playing for 2016’s Head Carrier. That same year, Paz was announced as a full-fledged member, and on the band’s new effort she co-wrote three of the songs that made the album. Paz’s charging lines serve as the propulsion of an eclectic record that breaks into unexplored territory, while still channeling the celebrated sound of Pixies past. Paz’s voice is featured on much of the album, as her reflective vocals add the perfect contrast to Black Francis’ raspy and familiar baritone.
While her playing stays true to the unique vibe of The Pixies, her driving riffs and melodic moments are intrinsic to her own voice, which served her well in her time with her previous bands A Perfect Circle, Zwan, and The Entrance Band. Regarding tone on the new album, Paz is elated to claim that it’s her absolute favorite sound she’s ever captured. That’s saying a lot, having started playing music at age five, shortly after moving to the States from her Argentina birthplace. But beyond her tone, this album has solidified Paz’s role in one of the most influential alternative bands of the past three decades, and according to her, it’s literally transformed her into a pixie fairy. Who are we to doubt her on that?
What was the writing process like this time around?
For the most part, all of the songs come from Charles bringing in a chord progression with charts, and then we all start molding it together and finding the chorus structure and the bridge, and we start putting it all together. A lot of times, something will start as a slow song and then progress into a galloping fast song, or vice versa. Then Charles typically comes up with the lyrics and melody from working on the music first. There are songs that are different, where we’ll stay up until five in the morning writing on scraps of paper and shooting ideas back and forth. We listen to a lot of music and bring new ideas to the table about tones for songs. We talked a lot about death and dying and suicide and murder, and we’d write about it all.
You co-wrote “On Graveyard Hill,” “The Long Ride,” and “Los Surfer Muertos.” How did you compose those?
Every song is really different; on the previous record, after I co-wrote “All I Think About Now,” Charles said it would be great to write more songs together. “The Long Ride” was a song we wrote for Head Carrier, but it didn’t hit all of the marks, so we brought it back for this record, and it fit well. Charles felt too hooked on the lyrics he had written then, so he asked me to take a stab at it. I wrote about my friend who passed away surfing, and I rearranged the melody and worked with him on it, and it came out really well. I’m so thankful for him believing in me and showing me his approach to lyric writing and how to fine-tune your weak spots. I shoot out ideas, and he refines them. I’ve always been about collaborating with people. I’m not a “me, me, me” type of person by any means. I love musical interplay in a similar way to hitting a tennis ball back and forth.
When we chatted during the recording of Head Carrier, you discussed how you like using first takes because of the energy they have. Did you do that this time around?
I do still love to do that. On a song like “Death Horizon” it was a one-take track where David [Lovering] and I played it together on drums and bass and nailed it on the first try. It was the one that made the album, and I just love that. It became even more powerful recording the drums and bass together like that, especially hitting it on the first try. I’m a big fan of that song, and it’s a great way to end the album. It’s almost visual in the way that it feels like the sun setting, so it’s very fitting.
How would you say you’ve personally influenced The Pixies’ music?
We influence each other. I’m definitely a spirit that is a color, and when you add that color to the mix, it changes the color of the whole palette. However, we’re all moving forward together in the same spirit that they had from the past; bands work together and collaborate and have parts in the puzzle that are not just one singer–songwriter. We figure things out collectively and move along toward something. If we are going to compare the two records that I’ve done with this band, we’ve grown so much and have shown up stronger on this album. We came in with 20 songs, and then we narrowed it down to ten songs, and then we wrote an additional seven. Our producer helped us narrow them and started shaping the tone of the record by choosing a few songs, and then those songs influenced other songs.
You get just fantastic tone on this album.
Our producer, Tom Dalgety, killed it on this. I was going through a SansAmp DI through my Ampeg SVT, which I love, and you can really hear my Precision Bass through it. I love that bass like nothing else in the world. It’s my truest love. I feel sorry for any person who comes into my life, because they’ll always be second behind that bass; there’s just no competing. So for someone to really bring out that bass’ tone, I was just blown away. It’s never sounded so good before, and I’ve never been happier with my sound.
You’ve used a SansAmp DI to record before, right?
I used a SansAmp with A Perfect Circle, but I used a different Precision Bass back then, and it wasn’t my baby. It was an active bass, and it just wasn’t my vibe. When I finally found my bass, it was a natural thing for me. I don’t have to do much to it. But you can also diffuse what it can do if you put it through the wrong [signal chains]. There are really two elements that enhanced that bass’ sound, and that’s the SansAmp DI and my Ampeg.
Your tone varies from song to song, though. Did you dial it in differently for each track?
Each song definitely has a different vibe, so I tried to adjust accordingly. I used a chorus all over the album. I used a chorus for most of “On Graveyard Hill,” and I’m going to bring one on the road because that’s the whole tone of that song. On “In the Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain,” there’s a lot going on, and it’s easy for the bass to get buried behind overdubs and frequencies, but it still doesn’t get muddy and it pops out. Again, that’s just how good our producer is.
Did you exclusively use a pick on this album?
I’ve been pretty headstrong that the sound of The Pixies is in using a pick. When I was growing up and teaching myself bass, I decided early on that I was exclusively going to be a finger player, and I was very stubborn about it. Then I listened to some Joy Division with Peter Hook, and he captivated my heart — I wanted to play like that and get those cool sounds. Then when A Perfect Circle was writing material, it was obvious that some songs needed a pick tone to bring out the bass in a different way from fingers. Listening to the entire Pixies repertoire, everything is played with a pick; Kim even had a unique style where she struck the strings really high up, closer to the neck, like a guitar player. The one thing I changed in those regards is that I pick behind the pickups. I have such a pick-blistered finger and I love it so much. The thing with The Pixies is that on bass, you’re playing all the time. For three hours every day, I just don’t stop with my right arm. I’m the motor that’s on the entire show, so I’ve grown some big blood blisters on my thumb. And they’re not going way any time soon. They’re a part of me now.
You recorded this album at Dreamland Recordings in Woodstock, New York. What was your studio experience like?
What a dream that was. It’s a perfect name for that studio. Ever since I started listening to The Band — Rick Danko is one of my favorite bass players of all time, by the way — I always dreamed of recording in Woodstock and making records in a secluded place like that. When I got word that we were going to record in there, I was so excited. The building used to be a church, and it definitely looks like there are ghosts playing in every room and on every organ they have there when you go to sleep. It has such a haunted feeling, but not in a scary way. It was very inspiring to be there. In the back was a cabin that we called “the Hamlet,” where we lived and worked when we weren’t in the studio. The only time I would leave there was to be in the studio recording. Otherwise I’d be cooking in the kitchen or writing or playing. I was scared that something like this process didn’t exist anymore, and that everyone now just does their own tracks and emails them in to be pasted together. I love that we lived together and worked together like a real band; I strongly feel that records should still be made that way. Hopefully you can hear all of that in the songs.
I know you have a huge amount of adoration for Kim Deal. Have you had any interaction with her since you joined the band?
I’ve still never met her. We have some mutual friends, and they all talk about how awesome of a human being she is and how great of a person she is to be around. I’ve always really been into relationships that aren’t so traditional, and I feel like I’m in a relationship with Kim in a way that is completely abstract. You might wonder how you can have a relationship with someone you’ve never met, but it’s because music has its own dialogue, and that dialogue has nothing to do with physical form. The relationship I have with her is sacred, and it’s one of the most important relationships I’ve ever had with anybody. It’s with another female, and I’m learning her dialect through the channel of the thing I’ve been so passionate about all my life, which is bass and music. I find that relationship to be untouchable and very special.
Do you have a greater appreciation for Kim’s playing, having performed her lines for six years now?
It just feels like I’ve been playing them from the beginning of time. Even if I’m at a diner and one of their songs comes on from Surfer Rosa or something, I honestly think it’s me playing. I relate with it so much that I think I’m in it. I think it’s my song, and because I’m so connected to this music, it feels like it is. I feel that in playing these songs live so true to their original recordings, they’re embedded in me.
Die-hard Pixies fans fully embrace you. Did you have any trepidation about that when you first joined the band?
I was more concerned about tangible things, like learning to play the songs the right way and orders of setlists. My whole focus was that I had a huge amount of music to catch up on through their 25-year journey as a band. I had blinders on like those horses wear, and I just had to dig in and keep learning and playing those songs. I couldn’t have seen you flicking me off right in front of my face if you tired. I just wanted to learn the songs and play them well and care about every note I was playing. Even if people didn’t like it, I just had to do what I was doing. There were people who had never even heard me play a note before joining this band. I couldn’t help the people who couldn’t accept the psychology of change as it occurs, and you can’t win over everybody. But I am so happy that people are happy that I’m in the band, because I sure am.
How have you become a better bass player since joining The Pixies?
I was very challenged with the decision to join a band that’s already been super-established. I’ve never been a bass player who just learns someone else’s parts — I’m a player with my own sound and my own creation — but if there was ever a band that I would ever do that for, it would be The Pixies. This challenged me in all the right ways. I knew I could grow as a musician, and that there was a paved road that no other band could lay down for me. I knew it would complete me finally, and that I could stop searching for my dream situation at long last. But beyond that, just musically, to go in depth into the whole history of something and plunge it back out through yourself and your soul, it’s made me grow so much as a person, as a creator, as a musician, and as a bass player.
The Pixies, Beneath the Eyrie [2019, BMG]
Bass 1965 Fender Precision, Luna Paz Lenchantin Signature, Hofner Club
Rig Ampeg Classic Series SVT-CL, Ampeg SVT-810, Mesa Boogie Walkabout Scout 15″ combo
Pedals Moog Taurus, MXR Bass Chorus, DarkGlass Electronics
Strings Ernie Ball Slinky Mediums