Pixies Talk “Head Carrier”

Pixies are gearing up to release their sixth studio LP Head Carrier and first with new bassist Paz Lenchantin. It’s their first step forward in this new formation of the band, and one that Paz says has been like “a family since day one.”

Pixies, however, are not looking to get away from what made them one of alternative rock’s biggest names for the last several decades. And this is immediately apparent from the Paz and Black Francis penned tune “All I Think About Now”, which is a thank you letter to Kim Deal. As Paz says, “she’s the reason why I’m in the band. She’s like a phantom in my heart.”

ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann spoke with Paz about the band’s new record Head Carrier, what it was like stepping in and working with someone as prolific as Black Francis, and how embracing mistakes can turn into beautiful thank you notes.

Christopher Friedmann: We’re talking a few weeks ahead of a new Pixies album. Head Carrier is set for release at the end of September. How is the mood in the camp?

Paz Lenchantin: I feel really proud and good about it. I think we made a good record. We worked on the songs to get them to the potential, and I’m just really happy about it.

CF: We heard “Um Chagga Lagga” a few weeks ago, and we learned that this album will have songs that have your co-writing credits.

PL: Yeah, that’s all I think about now.

CF: Perhaps you’re the best person to ask – what’s new, and what remains of the signature ‘Pixies’ sound?

PL: Whatever sounds good. I don’t really think about sound too much, I just hear our music and try to put my… whether it’s a bass line or something, I just try to do what sounds good without thinking too much of style or sound. I just try to do what sounds good. The music has a better idea than I do.

CF: Do you feel this album sounds similar to past Pixies records, or is it totally in a new light?

PL: I think to me it sounds like a classic Pixies record and I hope that fans will enjoy it.

CF: Black Francis was an enormous influence on an entire wave of bands that followed in the wake of early Pixies releases. Can you tell us something about the experience of collaborating with an artist of such gravitas?

PL: (Laughs) I’m only laughing because I don’t even know what it feels like. My instinct is to do something with someone else. I’m not doing anything by myself, and working with people who love music as much as I do it kind of works out. 

With the song I collaborated with Black Francis, it wasn’t something I was planning to do. It was actually a mistake where we were at the studio in London, and while we were there we had a batch of songs we had ready for recording, and at this point I think Joey and Black Francis and I were living in the apartment next door to the studio, and since we had a little bit of free time, Black Francis wrote a song that he showed me on the iPhone and Joey’s guitar was mixed pretty loud. 

I could hardly hear the chord changes, so I wrote this whole song from the twinkling guitar that I heard. And when I went down to the studio to record what I heard, I realized, “Oh my goodness, I’m in the wrong key,” everything was completely wrong of what I heard of the song, and I was embarrassed, and also a little bit sad because I really like what I came up with, and so I said, “I have to show you this thing that I heard wrong,” cause I was a little upset that I heard it wrong and that I liked it and this I had to throw it away. 

Anyway he said, “What? let me see, show it to me.” And then I realized, “Oh my goodness, what am I doing?” And sure enough though, he really liked what I came up, and he said, “Well Paz, I really think you should sing on this song.” And I said, “Well okay I’ll sing on this song, but you have to write the lyrics.” And he said, “Okay, well if I write the lyrics, you have to tell me what you want to sing about.” And I thought for a couple of seconds and I said, “Well the only thing I would really love to sing about for this is Kim Deal,” who is such a big part of this, obviously, in the history of the Pixies, she’s the reason why I’m in the band. She’s like a phantom in my heart. And I said, “I would love a thank you letter to Kim.” 

Of course the song is open to an interpretation that anyone can relate to, it doesn’t have to be specific to it. And I love how he was able to… for example my ex-boyfriend thought the song was about him (Laughs). And I was like, “I don’t know about that, but for sure. Do whatever you want with the song.” But it came from this place that Black Francis said, “It kind of wrote itself out.” And I sang it the next day, and I’m just glad it made the record, and I really just hope people like it. It’s the first time I ever sang a song by myself on a record like that. I’m excited about that.

CF: Now you’ve added material to the canon of Pixies material – can we ask; an old classic song that you had a relationship with before playing with the band, or your new material – what gives you more pleasure to play live…?

PL: The majority of the songs that we play are from the back catalogue. We usually play four, five song from Indie Cindy on tour. But, to tell you the truth, I’m really excited to play this song live. Every time we start playing “Classic Masher”, we’ve been playing that live for the past tour that we did, and we played “Head Carrier”, “Classic Masher”, “Baal’s Back”, and “Um Chagga Lagga”, it’s just exciting because no one really knows these songs and you kind of put yourself out like “ahhh, you can’t sing along to this one” (Laughs). 

It’s fun to see the development of something new, but everything has its enjoyment that’s what I love. I feel like Pixies really completes me, every song has a different tone of enjoyment. It kind of just completes me. They love music just as much as I do, and it’s all kinds of music, and it’s really fun.

CF: Now that you’re a full time band member of Pixies. Can you tell us something about what it was like at the point you updated your W9 tax form and arrived at that first rehearsal?

PL: The first rehearsal was really something. I remember standing in front of the door of the rehearsal before I entered, and I just stood there looking at the knob. And thought, “Once you turn that knob and you walk through, you are going to turn into a Pixie. Your ears are going to start elongating and you might shrink a little” (Laughs). And I was just standing there in front of the door for a full five to ten minutes taking a deep breath going, “Okay, are you sure you’re ready for this because, you know.” And sure enough I walk through and my ears got kind of pointed and I shrunk a little bit. 

I walked in and the first thing David Lovering did was, “Want to see a magic trick?” And he just showed me this beautiful magic trick. And I said, “Wow, I’m really in the best place ever.” And it’s been a family since day one, which is really important to me more than anything is that here we go on a journey together and we’re gonna spend a lot of time together, and the feeling of family, it’s like a home away from home because I’m on the road half of my year. So half of the year is with pointy ears and the other half I turn into a human again, I think at least.

CF: As you said,you spend half of your year touring with the band and have for the last few years. Can you tell us about some of the band’s weirder habits while out on the road?

PL: (Laughs) I mean, I smoke cigarettes, I should probably quit. I guess that’s a weird habit because it doesn’t make that much sense, but I enjoy it (Laughs). Black Francis and I have gone to see films together and we were doing yoga at one point, I’d like to do that again. It’s really nice to do a bit of yoga right before you get on stage. You feel nice and warmed up, bikram heated yoga. We hang out a lot. We really enjoy each others company, Joey is a great DJ, he turned me on to new music. It’s kind of a romantic band really. We do hang out all the time and we’re drinking wine and talking about music and writing songs and recording songs and playing shows and travelling around and it’s really fun.

CF: As an individual you’ve played with a number of highly notable artists, from Zwan and Queens of the Stone Age to Jenny Lewis.

PL: Well with Queens of the Stone Age it was just a couple songs I arranged with strings. When I’m home I tend to focus more on the violin and working on the stringy side of my life, so when I worked with them it was mainly to do some violin work on Songs for the Deaf in 2002 or something. Luckily I got to work with great different artists that kind of helped me, especially in the recording process, to figure out how everything worked so I can be where I am today.

CF: Through all of these experiences, can you name one moment that was more human-scale and grounding that resonates with you as a person, if not as a ‘rock ‘n’ roller’?

PL: I mean there are always humbling experiences, and I’m starting to really enjoy… like I was saying about mistakes and it’s not that I want to make a mistake, but there’s something about mistakes that is humbling and also inspiring. And how there’s almost like a pavement and the pavement kind of cracks and then something can go through the cracks. And how it does kind of ground you and keep you learning and humbles you through embracing mistakes.

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