The Bass, The Wolf + The Gift Of Music | Talking with Paz Lenchantin
The first time I “saw” Paz Lenchantin was probably 2000. It was the first time I also saw the video for A Perfect Circle’s “Judith” – to this day, one of my absolute favorite bands, fronted by the man friends and I call “The Oracle”, Maynard James Keenan. I was mesmerized by her. She wasn’t just a proficient bass player, she was an auteur, and she wore these incredible heels and a mini skirt and long, lingering hair. Then she joined another supergroup, Zwan, and while many people were somewhat unforgiving of this album and this indulgently happy side of Billy Corgan, I loved it. It’s tied to my move from Oklahoma to California, and I so acutely remember the video where Paz and Billy chirpily sing to one another – wide, genuine smiles. I also loved this version of Paz. When I caught her live with this new band she had gym shorts on. She’d once again nailed another outfit I could only dream of attempting at that time. And if memory serves correctly, the performance actually took place in some sort of athletic center in San Diego.
Later, living in Los Angeles and working in music, I eventually began hearing about Paz again, for the psychedelic threesome she’s a core part of, The Entrance Band, and the strings arrangements she’d done for some of my favorite bands, namely Queens Of the Stone Age. Myself and many of my friends have independently seen The Entrance Band quite a few times. Now, she’s added another new chapter: full-time member of The Pixies – a seminal band for almost any rock music fan ingesting music in the 80s and 90s, who have returned with brand new music the last few years. When I spoke with her a few weeks ago, she was in Venice, the place she calls…”home”, as much as she’s called anything home for the last two decades or so of almost steady international touring. Paz’s voice is soft, articulate, with just a slight intonation of her Argentinian birthplace. We connected through a dear friend who Paz refers to as a “special soul sister”.
Of The Wolves will never be “reviewers”. By the act of sharing, our positive response to art and people is unspoken, tacit. The Pixies’ new album “Head Carrier”, via Pixiesmusic/Play It Again Sam/[PIAS], feels like home for two main reasons: they’ve honored key aspects of their decades-long sound, and Paz. Join me and Paz for our recent Friday afternoon conversation, as she contemplated whether she could fit in a quick surf session in between a whirlwind of press interviews.
Our tagline is Magically one of a kind, Powerfully part of the pack. Playing off that, what’s it like to be the solo addition into an established band of people with such a legacy like The Pixies?
Ya know, sometimes it’s good to put the mind aside and just focus on a duty that you’re being called upon to do. The feeling of the duty becomes the focus. I was called upon to do this thing that seemed to me at the time, and even now, something I felt I could do. As a human, we have feelings, but when it comes to getting things done sometimes you put feelings aside and get the thing done. I knew I could do this, and I wanted to.
Looking at your career, you have such a history of individual creative output as well as being a part of prestigious bands. How are these experiences different?
Well, most of what I’ve done has been really collaborative, especially if we’re talking about playing the bass. It’s not really a solo instrument. You plug into riffing with others. It’s almost as if I chose the bass so I’d never have to be alone…because it’s a supportive instrument. Bass is really playful; it’s percussive, it’s melodic, but still a support instrument that allows others to be more playful, too. One of the most important aspects of my journey of the bass is not how well I play but who I’m going to collaborate with. So tip of the hat to every person I’ve played with over the years because those people and those journeys shaped me into the player I am.
So you prefer to to be a collaborative artist over a solo artist?
Yeah, I’ve always had this weird idea that I don’t want to be an artist, playing acoustic guitar, by herself, in front of people – just singing a song. I never wanted to go that route. Ever since I was a child I played with others, like my brother – we’d join each other’s bands; it was just the way. It doesn’t mean I don’t like making music by myself, but it’s more of an interest than a career path. When I am home I do tend to focus more on the violin and work on string arrangements and layers. I made a film recently called The Spider Lady, and I perform live alongside the film. That’s a solo endeavor, and I’ve really enjoyed it because I have put myself in this interesting place my whole career in which I rely on others to do what I do. There are times when you want to create and do something one day, and no one’s available so you can’t. So, I wondered – how do I do something on my own where I’m not relying on people to be available to me. That’s when I started creating this film and treated the film as my bandmates, so to speak.
Will you be revisiting this film since you’re going out on tour with The Pixies soon?
I’m doing a really cool performance of it in Austin at the Blue Starlight drive in theatre, which I’m so excited about. Following the performance and screening of The Spider Lady, I’m going to be playing the soundtrack to “Nosferatu” live with my good friends in Texas called Dallas Acid. We’re going to perform on Halloween. I just love Austin – what a great city.
Speaking about your creations, there’s this consistent presence of wonderment and ecstasy in your performances and even in your interviews. Do you ever lose your muse? Is your relationship with music ever a challenging one?
Oh man, what a great bumper sticker: “don’t lose your muse!” I mean, I’m so lucky I have music and that it’s my muse. It’s with me everywhere I go. I know that’s a rare thing. Growing up, with my parents being classically trained musicians, and growing up in a family of musicians, I’ve really heard music and been given concerts since the womb. Music has always been around, and it was when I was a kid and my friends came over I realized I just took for granted that music is a constant presence. I didn’t realize it wasn’t the same for everyone. You laugh, but when you don’t know any different, and your whole family plays multiple instruments, that’s what you think is normal. When my father came into this country he started bringing in old pianos that had been abandoned and renovated them, and that’s how he started his business when we first came to the U.S. When you realize that this is something very special to you and your family, you hold onto this as a muse, really. Or a friend and a lover, even. You constantly want to feed it, recognize it, and promise you’ll constantly feed this angel of music so that we can live together forever. If you stop watering the music plant it’ll die. I constantly feed it because that music is my gift, my muse, my plant.
When you’re not in a year of heavy touring, do you tend to be relatively nomadic or stay at home and create?I’m pretty much touring every year. I don’t remember a year I wasn’t touring. I guess one year when I was working with The Entrance Band – when we were making a record – we just played every day and I’d surf every day and just worked on the record. But that’s very rare. But definitely when I’m home I call up Kassia (our recent OTW guest editor) and go for a surf. I live in Venice and make sure to go to the water everyday when I’m in town. Ugh, there’s a swell right now actually! I think after our phone call I might have to put on wetsuit and dive in.
Given you’re pretty nomadic, but have very grounded practices like surfing, what are your grounding practices when you’re touring all over the world?
Ya know, I’ve even been quite nomadic in my living situations, but I finally have a house and it’s very therapeutic to have this place to call home. I don’t think I’ve had that my entire adult life. I’ve grown so much from giving myself this. I used to live in The Entrance Band school bus that we traveled in for years, that took us everywhere. I took really good care of it and would park it in front of my friend’s house. Because I’ve been a gypsy most of my life, the world has felt like home, but Southern California has almost been home for almost 40 years and I always come back to it. I like routine though. I like going to yoga when I’m on tour. I like ordering the soup of the day wherever we are in the world! There’s something about that is so grounding “I’m going to have the soup of the day no matter where I am today”.
Ever since I first saw you years ago, I’ve always thought you have such an incredible and distinct sense of femininity, particularly amongst so many strong men. How important is your femininity to you?
I think one of the greatest aspects of a woman is her grace. And strength. When I look at a ballerina they’re the ultimate idea of what’s feminine. But no one says ‘take off your shoes, and let me see your feet’. If they did, you’d see all the work they’ve done to look so graceful and so feminine – all the blisters and calluses. I think the beauty of the ballerina is how graceful she is and how she looks like a feather, but her strength is actually the illusion of her feather. Having a ballerina as somewhat an inspiration for me of femininity, strength and grace, it’s easily applied to music. I am inspired immensely by men in music. That is a genre I certainly play in, but I interpret what I’ve been inspired by in a feminine way.
I’ve read this is a dream collaboration to play with The Pixies. What other dreams still linger for you?
I would like, as a goal, to be involved in film and in scoring. I feel like there is a whole story I haven’t fully dove into that takes place between film and music. So film scoring is a big goal. I mean, I’d love to own a house, but I’d probably never be in it with all the touring!
Speaking of houses, you grew up in Idyllwild, California after your family left Argentina, right?
Yes! I was raised in Idyllwild. I was hoping we’d talk about this. Growing up there we actually owned a wolf, and that was such an important creature in my life. She pretty much taught me everything I knew about strength and femininity. She kinda helped “raise” me, all the way up there in the mountains. Because I lived in the woods, I didn’t go to a lot of shows. The city life wasn’t a part of my upbringing, I was focused on music and the practicing of music and nature. In fact, I felt like a little fairy there, so being a Pixie now kind of goes back to my roots of growing up in Idyllwild.