It's mad to think that Pixies have only released seven studio albums throughout their storied history, given their seismic influence on rock music. Three albums of which have been released since 2014, ten years after the band's re-formation which saw them split for over a decade.
Continually linked to the 1990s grunge movement due to Kurt Cobain's vocal adoration for them, they're detaching from previous iterations of the band with their brooding new album Doggerel, which twists the tropes and conventions we've come to associate with the alt-rock icons whilst adding yet another distinguished album to their enviable canon.
After recently embarking on a European tour which will see them headlining the likes of Mad Cool Festival, End Of The Road, and supporting grunge mainstays Pearl Jam at Hyde Park, we caught up with Paz Lenchantin, Pixies bassist extraordinaire who was handed the task of reinvigorating the band as a recording group with ambitious new material.
Clearly psyched about being back on the road, the enchanting Lenchantin opened up about her evolving chemistry with one of rock music's great bands on their upcoming album, why Doggerel differs from anything they've previously produced, and protecting Pixies' legacy as they usher as new era.
In the two years since you recorded Beneath The Eyrie, can you pinpoint the main creative shift within the band and how did it shape Doggerel?
To be honest, no one knew what the hell was happening with the pandemic - whether we'd all see each other again, whether the world would end... So it wasn't really until a month before we scheduled to start recording that Charles [Frank Black/Black Francis] started writing songs and then put about 40 demos together. Then our producer Tom [Dalgety], whose third record it is working with Pixies, and mine - listened to them and helped choose the fourteen that'd make the album. It was a very different approach, as we usually have some demos to kickstart the recording sessions and write in the studio together. It'd be way more loose.
For Doggerel it was definitely more tailored. Tom chose his 'batch of cookies', some of which I wouldn't have chosen, but quickly we all saw what he envisaged for the record which helped us guide us through the process. At this point, Tom has an incredibly good idea of what we're like as musicians. He knows how to communicate with us individually based on our abilities, and pulls the best out of us. That approach was perfect for this record, but it's taken time to get to this level together.
So, the dictionary definition of 'doggerel' is: loosely styled and irregular in measure especially for burlesque or comic effect. Why did the title encapsulate the mood or meaning behind the album?
In my understanding of the word - and in terms of making it the title of the record - it's when it's on purpose. Like bad poetry: it's for whimsical or comedic effect. I do this with my sister when I say "p-sketty". She knows when I say it, it triggers her and she'll correct me. But I'll say it every single time. Sometimes you don't know if you're joking or not, but you're intrigued and you're engaged in it. You've taken the bait.
You’re now clearly an integral creative force within the Pixies universe - aside from your contributions on bass and performing live, you’ve co-written tracks, taken up lead vocal on ‘Hear Me Out’ and even directed the video to ‘Human Crime’. Do you feel like Doggerel is the moment where your chemistry with the band is really coming to the fore?
This is my favourite record with Pixies, and maybe my favourite record that I've ever done. But that's my personal journey. I've made a lot of records - with Silver Jews, Zwan, A Perfect Circle, all records I love. But Doggerel is the most closely aligned with my own personal goal, and it's the best record we've made as Pixies since I've been in the band. That's speaking as a fan!
Pixies are one of the most influential bands in rock history, and your influence on grunge as a genre in particular is well noted. Is there ever a pressure to protect the band’s legacy with new material?
The thing is, the band is 'the band'. We're going to sound like Pixies no matter what because that's the voice. Yeah, I'm a new member and entered in a fan sort of way. But it took a couple of records to start gelling as a real band, learning the role, Pixies' background and all that.
The essence of being in a band is almost extinct. In rock, and in music in general. You don't make a band because you're a great player, you make a band because you want to hang out with kids in your neighbourhood. You start playing together, then people like you, then you go from there. I find myself getting into bands I never used to like, mainly because they've stuck around. It's like: "wow you're still together? I'll come see your show!" Bands kinda feel like a myth nowadays. So without sounding like a hypocrite, I'm in Pixies to keep that legacy going. If the plumbing in your house explodes, you get it fixed to keep the house intact.
So you can add plumbing to the list of your many talents too?
[Haha] I'm a plumber, for sure. Here's my card!
You said that the song ‘Human Crime’ was loosely based on an inside joke about shifting from a “reality state into the altered state of becoming and being a Pixie.” Do you ever still have moments where you step back and think: ‘fuck, I’m playing with Pixies’ or has that completely sunk in after eight years?
Playing with Pixies is the best job on the planet. It still feels like a dream come true. How do you put a value to that? But yeah, it's exactly where I want to be, so barely step back and think: "wait a minute? Do I deserve this?" No, it's exactly where I want to be. It fits my personality, my playing. Pixies has brought out the best in me. It's not some sort of out of body experience. I'm here and I wouldn't trade it for the world.
How have you personally managed comparisons to the band’s former iteration with Kim Deal, and do you think your ambitious new album helps to cement a new era for the band?
The baton has been handed to me to continue the band's legacy, so I'm the right person! They feel it, I feel it. No one had to teach me how to be one of the band, or to be a 'Pixie'. I just showed up, and now (what's the expression?) it's just another day in the office..
Am I right in thinking you met [Pixies lead guitarist] Joey way back in 1997?
That's correct, yeah. But he barely remembers it! I met 'Joey Santiago', and he met 'Paz... something'? Obviously I don't blame him, but it was when he was working on his side-project with [his ex-wife] Linda. She was 'the go-to LA bass player'. She could play incredibly, she could sing incredibly, she could do everything. But when she wasn't available she'd call me and ask if I could do it. She was a vicarious player like me, and so I got the phone call to jump on the tour. It was my first tour ever. Joey was such a gentleman. Then fifteen, twenty years later, he calls me again.
Was it kind of serendipitous? Did you ever think: "I'm going to be in Pixies one day"?
No way! Pixies to me was with Kim. If she was going to leave the band then, yeah. But I didn't want her to leave the band!
You kicked off your European tour recently - I saw footage from your recent shows in Italy and the crowd looked mad. How does the energy from British and European audiences differ from elsewhere in the world when you perform live?
Well, everything right now feels a lot more alive than it has in the past. Since being back on the road it's been exciting for us, but also for the crowds that have been so thirsty for live shows. We're so happy to be doing this again. The world was deprived of going to safely see a show, and now there's an explosion. For lack of a better word, we've been constipated [haha]. Or maybe ‘congested’ works better? We've been held back from enjoying live music, and now everybody can.
Aside from a handful of warm-up shows it’s been the longest period of time the band haven’t toured since they reunited in 2004. After the enforced break - with this new 'post-constipation energy' from crowds - how have you been constructing your setlists for upcoming festival shows and are there any specific tracks you’re excited to perform live?
I don't know if you've heard... but we don't do setlists! We know the first song, that's it. That's all we know what will happen. It's the second song during the set when we all lock in and figure it out from there.
I am really excited to play our latest single 'There's A Moon On'. I really enjoy that track. Going on tour really puts you on your toes to play new material. The classic Pixies tracks are all embedded into our psyches, so we can enjoy performing them as much as the fans enjoy coming to see them. But it's newer tracks where you're sticking out your tongues, figuring out how it's going to unfold. We just want to play them as much as possible so they'll catch up with our other songs.
What we love about music is that it's nostalgic, but the only way it can become nostalgic is to attach experiences to it. 'There's A Moon On' will become one of those moments, performing it live for the first time, and it'll have its own story tens years later for instance. But you gotta play them first!
Doggerel is out on 30th September via BMG. Click here to see full list of festivals you can see Pixies perform.