Paz Lenchantin doesn’t give herself enough credit.
The bassist and newest member of Pixies says that her hands, not her brain, control her performance at every single show on tour — which she admits the band hasn’t rehearsed for once in her time since joining in 2014. “There’s no setlist,” Lenchantin says of Pixies’ live show, “but when you put yourself out in the fire like that, you pick something up really quickly. Survival kicks in… and it became easier every day.”
Lenchantin is a fast learner, and joined Pixies with an impressive background. Prior to landing a her gig with the beloved Massachusetts alt-rock icons, Lenchantin performed with Queens of the Stone Age, Zwan, and A Perfect Circle. But it’s safe to say that neither of those gigs came with the baggage of replacing a very recognizable and revered founding member, as Lenchantin has by filling the thought-to-be-irreplacable boots of departed bassist Kim Deal.
On the band’s latest album, 2016’s Head Carrier, Lenchantin doesn’t just blend in — she stands out, further expanding her repertoire with lead vocals on “All I Think About Now,” an ode to none other than Deal herself.
In advance of Pixies’ troika of upcoming shows in Boston — two at the House of Blues this Friday and Saturday (May 19 and 20) and a closer Sunday (May 21) at the Paradise Rock Club — Lenchantin phoned Vanyaland recently while on tour from Virginia to discuss her integration into the band, Pixies’ own brand of sign language, and just how “All I Think About Now” accidentally came to be in London.
Victoria Wasylak: For this particular tour, you guys are never going to play the same set twice, and you have an arsenal of song stocked up and ready to go. What is that like to rehearse and prepare for?
Paz Lenchantin: We definitely have at least 50 [songs] in rotation, meaning there are other songs that most likely we’re not going to be playing, even though they’re great songs, and sometimes I don’t know why we don’t play them! And yes, every set is totally different, and it’s exciting that way; you’re awake.
I don’t really remember rehearsing ever, I think we rehearsed once. We’re a touring band, we tour a lot, so [at] every show I started to get more acquainted with the songs. I mean, I learned all the songs on my own, and then I went to my first rehearsal with Charles, Black Francis in Northampton. Instead of rehearsing, we decided to do a b-side, “Indie Cindy,” record it for Women of War.
So I’m thinking, “Okay, we’re not rehearsing, we’re just gonna record,” and so we did our first recording, which was really exciting. At the same time, when the show date came I’m like “Wait, we didn’t rehearse one day!” There’s no setlist, but when you put yourself out in the fire like that, you pick something up really quickly. Survival kicks in and I got through that date, and it became easier every day, to the point that I honestly don’t know anything. My hand, however — apparently my hand knows how to play. I have to reward my hand with things all the time, because if my hand gets angry, then I have a really bad show. I have to make sure to give my hand candy, give my hand flowers — my hand loves flowers — and if I please my hand, then I have a great show.
Your muscle memory must be really good for something like that.
Definitely relying on my muscle memory a lot. After a show, I’m always like “Who just did that? I don’t even understand what just happened.” I just dance around and hopefully my hand does the right thing.
You said that you guys don’t use a setlist — how do you keep track of which songs you’re going to play? Or do you just pick them as you go?
Backstage, we pick the first song of the show — we collectively agree that that’s a good start, but mainly it’s Charles [picking the songs]. I think it has a lot to do with how you feel. You feel different every day. Why do we have more than one outfit in our closet? Well, because today I feel like this, or the sun is shining. There’s so many reasons why we feel different, so why force the same set, or force something to occur? Charles makes most of the calls for the set onstage, whether it’s him starting it out on the guitar or some sign language. There’s also a microphone that’s just for the band and crew.
You’ve probably deciphered your own language at this point.
If we’re playing the song “Velouria,” for example, he throws Joey a peace sign, meaning the letter V with your two fingers. It’s kinda like baseball, you know?
What solidified you as a permanent member of the band?
I think making a record — Head Carrier, in this case. It speaks for itself because it’s an object that’s more permanent than I am in this world, so I guess that’s a good enough permanency of something with Pixies.
You guys are playing three shows while you’re here in Boston, and at two different venues.
I do know there’s a nostalgia behind playing one of the venues, Pixies played there [in] ‘88 and 2004, and now we’re in this reincarnation. ‘88, the beginning of Pixies, 2004 when we reunited, and now in this reincarnation. It’s kind of exciting.
How many times have you played with the band in Boston?
Three times? Four? I’m not sure.
You actually sing lead on one of the new songs, “All I Think About Now.” What is it like to be in front of a microphone when usually you’re playing bass?
That is very exciting for me — I’ll be honest, I’ve always been a little bit shy of the limelight. I never had it in my mind to be a lead. Not because I can’t sing or I can’t take the role, I just felt more comfortable as a supporter — backup vocals, bassist. I could relate it to my personality, the maternal side of me. Being a supporter is a more comfortable place, but [being] more in the limelight is a challenge I am really embracing. It’s really fun to have been playing music for as long as I have been touring, and still find beautiful challenges in the craft that you do. To sing lead with Pixies — that’s pretty worth waiting for.
Did they come to ask if you wanted to sing lead, or was it your idea?
Well the song kind of was a fluke. We were in the recording studio at RAK Studios in London — we were there with a batch of songs, maybe almost 20 songs, ready to record them, and while we were recording, last minute, without a plan, this song kind of came out of nowhere. Charles was working on his own song that he wanted me to hear, and I heard it and got inspired from that song — there were some chord changes in that song that I was inspired by — and kind of created this whole other song. Once [we] made a demo, I showed it to Charles and to Joey, and Charles asked me if I would sing on it. I wasn’t originally planning on [singing]. I liked the music, everyone liked the music and Charles said, “You should sing on it.” I said, “Well, okay, I’ll take that challenge! And then you should write the lyrics,” I told him. And he’s like “Okay, what do you want to sing about?”
At that point, I realized, wow, this is a really cool moment where Charles is asking me what I want to sing about for the next record that we’re making. Who should I thank for this moment? And so the song is really inspired by a thank you note to Kim Deal. However you want to see it in the song, it’s thanking her for Pixies. For me, it’s thanking her for everything. Not that she chose me, but because of her, I’m here.
PIXIES + CYMBALS EAT GUITARS :: Friday, May 19 and Saturday, May 20 at the House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne Street in Boston, MA :: 7 p.m., all ages, $55 to $65 :: Advance tickets: May 19 + May 20 :: Sunday, May 21 at the Paradise Rock Club, 967 Commonwealth Ave. in Boston, MA :: 7 p.m., 18-plus, sold out :: Featured photo by Travis Shinn