Pixies Bassist Talks About the Challenges of Operating Without a Setlist

click to enlarge Pixies Bassist Talks About the Challenges of Operating Without a Setlist
Travis Shinn
When bassist Paz Lenchantin joined the Pixies a couple of years ago and took the place of Kim Shattuck, the replacement for original bassist Kim Deal, she had make a few adjustments. Most bands rely on set lists when they play live. Not the Pixies. Rather, singer Black Francis will shout out the names of songs during the concert.

Lenchantin still remembers that first gig, which took place in 2014.

“It was up there as one of the most memorable and nervous shows of my career,” says Lenchantin in a recent phone interview.

She said she arrived to rehearse with the band during the dead of “one of the most brutal winters the East Coast has ever had.” Her flight was delayed and then diverted. She wound up taking a car to Northampton for rehearsals.

“I learned all the back catalog including Indie Cindy,” she says. “We go through all the songs. I think we played 70 songs once. Then, they said, ‘Now, we’re going to record a B-side.’ I was like, ‘What?’ So we recorded ‘Women of War.’ That was really fun because I realized I couldn’t wait to make a record. As far as rehearsals, I didn’t know if we would ever properly rehearse. They told me I’d be fine.”

When they got to the gig and there was no setlist, Lenchantin began to panic.

“It could be any song,” she says. “I didn’t know if we rehearsed really. I knew we made a really cool B-side. I was nervous and then realized once we got through that, it would be fun. I knew it would be a journey, and it’s awesome. We still don’t play with a set list and that keeps me on my toes.”

According to the press release announcing the current tour, which includes an Oct. 3 stop at the Agora, the “official addition of Lenchantin to Pixies’ permanent lineup marks “a bright new chapter for the band.” She even participated with the writing and recording of the new album, Head Carrier.

Lenchantin says those songs started to come together a couple of years ago at soundchecks and rehearsals. When the band booked studio time in Toronto, the tunes came into focus.

“It gets confusing when you’re writing songs when you’re touring,” says Lenchantin. “Now, you can hone in on that. We were working on the skeletons along the way. Some songs we thought were the ones didn’t even make the record and other songs came out of nowhere. It’s all a process. You could never predict how well we could collaborate with me coming in later to the band. It was to our great surprise that we could collaborate so well.”

The gritty title track features distorted guitars and Francis’ typically deranged vocals as he yells out the song’s title and sounds a bit like Neil Young as he sings, “I’m going down the drain again.”

“It’s like he had a concept record,” says Lenchantin. “There are four people in a room playing songs and we’re figuring things out and fixing lyrics and fixing choruses. When it’s done, and all the songs are put together and you listen to it, somehow it all makes sense.”

Lenchantin takes over lead vocals on "All I Think About Now," a dreamy tune with a guitar riff reminiscent of the band’s underground hit “This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven.”

“That one is a special song because it was a song I wrote with Black Francis,” Lenchantin says of “All I Think About Now.” “We were in the last remaining days of the studio and we were wrapping it up. We had the songs ready to go and you could only hope a little goodie could come out of nowhere when you’re in that creative space. That doesn’t always happen. To our surprise, a little ditty came out. When I showed it to Black Francis, he really liked it and to my surprise, he wanted me to sing on it. I wanted to sing about Kim Deal. It seemed appropriate to sing about the handing over of the torch or baton. He went to his room and the next day, he had a sheet of paper with all the lyrics. I sang it and didn’t change a thing and it all worked out.”

A year ago, Lenchantin also helped create an instrumental version of “Where Is My Mind” for an Acura ad.

“That was really fun,” she says. “That was about a year and a half ago. I was asked with Joey [Santiago] to do a piano and string version with no words or lyrics for for Acura. It was for the Super Bowl or some big epic commercial. I was a little nervous. I wanted to make it a little different. Without the lyrics, I didn’t know what would drive it, so I just wanted to come up with different ways to make it work.”

Since Lenchantin can play violin, she says it’s possible the band will incorporate more strings into the mix in the future.

“Maybe we’ll experiment more with string arrangements and production, which I really do love,” she says. “I love doing string arrangements and if more is better, let’s do it. But if accomplish something with minimal instrumentation, that’s awesome. There’s nothing wrong with two guitars, bass drums and vocals. If you want to throw in some strings, that’s cool.

The Pixies, Sunflower Bean, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $45 ADV, $50 DOS, agoracleveland.com

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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