80s Grunge Legends, The Pixies, On The Evolving Sound Of Rock & Roll

Following Kim Deal's departure in 2013, the American alt-rock band keep things unique with new bassist, Paz Lenchantin.

The Pixies are a four-piece alternative noise-rock group from Boston, Massachusetts. Formed in 1986 by singer-songwriter Black Francis and lead-guitarist Joey Santiago, the band is often credited as a major influencer of the 90s sound that would soon be marketed as “grunge rock.” Their blend of noise, pop, garage, punk, and psychedelic styles made waves in the late-80s and early 90s before their unexpected breakup in 1993.

11 years later, the band reunited and announced a full tour, eventually releasing a menage-a-trois of EPs that would later be compiled into the full-length album Indie Cindy (2014). BeatRoute spoke with founding member Joey Santiago as well as the band’s new bassist Paz Lenchantin who marked her recording debut as part of the group with their 2016 release, Head Carrier. “Paz is wonderful,” comments Santiago. “What she brings is something new to us. She’s very artsy-fartsy. In a good way. And silly. She’s very open-minded, relaxed, everything is just chill.” 

Before joining Pixies, Lenchantin served bass and other instrumental duties for a variety of major projects over her 20+ year career, including A Perfect Circle, Ashes Divide, Queens of the Stone Age, Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlain’s post-Smashing Pumpkins project Zwan, as well as the solo project of Melissa Auf der Maur.

“I feel like Pixies really completes me,” Lenchantin explains. “There’s a lot of harmony and they are really loyal guys. They’re committed and focused on just the one band. I appreciate that kind of monogamy in a band.” 

The Pixies completed a tour of South Africa in 2018 for the first time in their careers before crisscrossing North America for their  Head Carrier tour. The band was vocal about avoiding arranged setlists, instead improvising which songs they play to make each show fresh for both the band and their audiences.  

“We don’t wanna be stuck in a routine,” Santiago states. “We read the audience and see how we feel. If you stick to a program it ain’t gonna work. We did setlists before and we started falling out of it. I’m not used to looking down at a list anymore, it’s just distracting. Setlists are just very foreign to us right now.” 

Head Carrier is a record that explores various areas on the musical spectrum. Each song has its own unique shape and story yet the album as a whole has a smooth flow from beginning to end. The song “All I Think About Now” features Lenchantin on bass as well as vocal duties. Lyrically, Lenchantin admits that the song is a tribute to Kim Deal, the band’s original bassist who shockingly left the group in 2013. Both Santiago and Lenchantin also praise the album’s final track “All the Saints,” an unconventionally structured piece, as a personal favourite. 

“Every song on the record are all very different,” the bassist shares. “I think that kind of suits me, it’s not stagnant. I think the Pixies have a wide range of songs and even what type of song it is so that definitely suits me.” 

With rock music constantly shape-shifting in the mainstream, both Lenchantin and Santiago had some profound words when asked if they felt if rock was dead. “I feel like I’ve been hearing that for the last 15 years,” Lenchantin chuckles.  

“It depends how rock and roll is defined,” Santiago adds. “Was it the guitar that defined it? Or was it being counter-culture? Pop will always be pop. The DJ stuff and techno stuff are pushing the boundaries right now. To me, rock is not dead. Maybe people aren’t making it but people are certainly listening to it.”  

“I think the word ‘rock’ changes with the music,” Lenchantin chimes. “What did rock stand for in the 50s? Well, that 50s rock has changed, it’s not that sound anymore, however, the word still plows through. ‘Rock’ plows through with the change of music. What was rock in the 50s is not rock today but the word is what the word is.” 

In regards to their sound, Santiago says: “We’re very honest with ourselves. You could hear that we’re being honest with ourselves. This was my first band and I was still learning how to play the guitar. I was still at an infant stage [when the band started.] I had to just embrace the limitations I had. I didn’t wanna copy anyone else, I respected everyone’s space.” Santiago concludes: “The sound is what it is. For some reason it’s unique and I don’t know why.”

This feature originally appeared in the November 2018 print edition of BeatRoute Magazine.