Putting the ‘p’ in Pixies

Bassist Paz Lenchantin keeps the reunion tour from going rote

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Clockwise from top: Black Francis, Joey Santiago, David Lovering, Paz Lenchantin
Travis Shinn

The Pixies rose out of the subcultural netherworlds to transform the frenzied and underground indie-punk movement into something the mainstream could understand, or at least begin to handle. Up until the Pixies, the problem with indie was that it was hard to handle, devoid as it is of a hook or a prescribed musical style.

Rooted in the likes of Hüsker Dü and Black Flag, the Pixies represent a DIY ethos that’s inherently rebellious. The seemingly impossible feat was to trick the punk genie into a bottle, and while it might have been Sonic Youth that first pulled off this magic trick, it was the Pixies that codified creative discontent into something radio-worthy. And, once they were adopted by the masses, they gave voice to a genre of music that would inspire countless musicians, from Kurt Cobain to Arcade Fire.

Over the course of the Pixies’ 30-plus-year career they’ve proven an enduring ability to repeatedly shock even the most loyal fans — whether in the wide dynamics of their music or often acrimonious antics. No matter what, they refused to go rote and the people loved it. But some changes, like the absence of original member Kim Deal, can be a deal-breaker for the purists among the crowds.

Paz Lenchantin wasn’t the Pixies’ first choice for Deal’s replacement, but now that she’s there it’s obvious this is how it was meant to be. Lenchantin is a virtuoso in a very Pixies way — the genius of her music doesn’t lie in her head but at the tips of her fingers, always on the verge of spontaneity.

Forty-three-year-old Lenchantin has been around long enough to have an inherent understanding of the era that formed the Pixies, and she has spent most of her musical career in alternative rock and metal circles that pay homage to the band in some way. She’s played with A Perfect Circle, Zwan, Queens of the Stone Age, Silver Jews and most recently The Entrance Band, in addition to many more.

Through it all, critics who focused on Lenchantin as one among many stage musicians noted the effortlessness of her work. She is one with her instrument, enough so that even when it’s someone else’s music she plays, it’s still Lenchantin that comes out. The reason we don’t know of her beyond the scope of her association to these various bands is, simply, because she prefers it that way.

“I am interested in a lot of things — starting my own band or doing a solo project is not one of them,” Lenchantin says. “I am a solo traveler in life, which means my journey is to collaborate with other people if and when I meet them along the way.”

Watch her perform to see for yourself how easily she blends in and how it seems oddly impossible to imagine anyone else on stage with the Pixies. It’s not that Kim Deal is replaceable, just that you’ll be impressed by the umph Lenchantin adds to the show and at a moment, this moment in particular, when it’s sorely needed — when the band is on their second reunion tour and in serious danger of becoming predictable and overplayed.

It’s surprising then, that when Lenchantin gets on the phone she’s doing something as mundane as folding laundry and, further, that she thinks it interesting enough to talk about for more than the introductory minute. But by the end of the call, listening to the way she jumps from topic to topic easily and with unflagging enthusiasm, it’s clear she finds all of life delightful. The difference between her and the Pixies is that while the band made a name for themselves by funneling creative discontent, she seems to have made her’s in channeling creative delight.

“I have a lot of passion,” she says. “Anyone who has seen me work will tell you as much — it’s pure passion, absolutely.”

Her glee might be most apparent in her off-band projects — the bassist is also a hobby filmmaker and freelance score writer. In these side hustles, she adopts an avant garde approach, letting herself get weird and sometimes dark, but the darkness only serves to prove that she is a woman who can fall in love with anything and always seeks the light.

Take for instance her film-based performance piece, “The Spider Lady,” a 15-minute experience that oozes with surrealist hints of Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, frame-by-frame, on Super-8 film. Muse as much as you like about what it all means, but look no further than a spider who built mobiles out of toilet paper in her L.A. bathroom.

“This spider was an artist, and I knew I loved him from the beginning,” Lenchantin says. “But one day, after being on tour, I came back and he was dead. I cried. I had never cried for an insect before. It was then I knew it was like any other love so I made the spider into a woman and made it all into a movie.”

It may be “just a hobby,” but Lenchantin’s forays into film production and aesthetics serve as a vital connection to the zeitgeist of the Pixies. It’s why the band was more than willing to let her direct and shoot the video to their 2015 song “Classic Masher” and why the piece carries such an authentic sense of punk rock, even 30 years after the Pixies first carried that torch out of the underground. It turns out that punk is an ethos that, if authentically conjured, doesn’t fade in relevance, but reconnects us to our own creative truths.