Paz Lenchantin is understandably thankful to be the newest member of the Pixies, the groundbreaking alternative-rock band that she joined in 2014. But the Argentinian-born bassist and singer is just as thankful that she didn’t pass her audition to join the group, after Pixies’ co-founder Kim Deal abruptly quit in late 2013.
“I was in France, surfing, when I got the call to audition,” said Lenchantin, who rose to prominence in the Tool offshoot band A Perfect Circle and the Smashing Pumpkins’ offshoot band Zwan.
“I was asked to learn 10 songs, so I knew the audition wasn’t just a casual one and that it must have been between me and someone else. Because I am familiar with how these things usually work: ‘Learn these two songs,’ and you’re in and out of the audition. Whereas, with 10 songs, you’re being considered more seriously.”
Lenchantin learned the songs, then did the audition. And then?
“I didn’t get the part, which was very strange,” she recalled, speaking from her home in Venice Beach. “Because my feeling was: ‘This is what I’m supposed to do now.’ Not because, I’m better, but it just felt like I was supposed to be in this band.”
Instead, the job went to Kim Shattuck, the former bassist in The Muffs and The Pandoras. Her tenure in The Pixies lasted less than six months, at which point Lenchantin got the call. She’s been a Pixie ever since.
“I’m very thankful they chose Kim Shattuck instead of me, because following Kim Deal would have been a big challenge,” Lenchantin said.
“To have someone in between her and me made it easier for me to follow. It was in my gut that I’m supposed to be in this band. So, sure enough, I am.”
A classically trained violinist whose parents are both concert pianists, Lenchantin has an array of musical attributes. She is prominently featured on “Head Carrier,” the sixth studio album by The Pixies, which formed in 1986, disbanded in 1993, and reunited in 2004.
“I had three weeks to learn 90 songs!” said Lenchantin, who grew up primarily in Los Angeles and Idyllwild, where her family befriended former San Diego jazz bass great Marshall Hawkins, who gave her one pivotal music lesson.
Couldn’t she just have bought sheet music to learn the Pixies’ entire back catalog?
Lenchantin, who performs Saturday with the Pixies at SDSU, laughed.
“They just said: ‘These are the songs that are most likely to be played live.’ So I learned every single song off all the Pixies’ records. Any sheet music out there is by someone trying to figure it out. I just learned exactly what I heard on the records.
“I was really respectful. I wanted to communicate what Kim Deal or whoever played the bass parts on the records did, because I don’t think she played on all of the recordings.”
And what about making her first album with the Pixies, “Head Carrier?” It’s a more focused work than 2014’s “Indie Cindy,” which in turn was the first Pixies’ album since 1991’s “Trompe le Monde?”
“Oh, my gosh, it was so much fun!” said Lenchantin, who in 1997 did a West Coast tour in Pixies’ guitarist Joey Santiago’s side band, The Martinis.
“Being in The Pixies is a dream scenario for me, as there are very few true, honest bands out there. Losing a member was not just hard for the fans, but - I could tell - for this group of guys, who are very loyal and to whom being in a band is like a marriage. And it’s always been like that for me, too. I’m definitely committed and monogamous to this band.”
Lenchantin was born in the Argentinian city of Mar del Plata, which is also the hometown of the late nuevo tango pioneer Astor Piazzola.
The Pixies, with Public Access T.V.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Cal Coast Credit Union Open Air Theatre, 5500 Campanille Drive, SDSU
Tickets: $30-$35, plus service charges
Phone: (800) 745-3000
Although she was not yet in grade school when her family moved to Los Angeles, Lenchantin lit up when asked how much she was influenced by such Argentinian greats as singer Mercedes Sosa, composer Alberto Ginastera and noted painters as Carlos Alonso and Antonio Berni.
“Yes, they definitely influenced me,” she said. " Astor Piazzolla is a genius! One of his ex-wives is a dear friend of my family and she is still making music. Both my parents still have residences in Argentina, fortunately, so I can go back and forth as I wish.
“So, even though I’ve lived in Southern California for 40 years, there is no denying the roots I come from - even though I consider myself a Southern California native.”
“Some people hear me speak, and ask: ‘Where is your accent from?’ I have no idea! Because, as a touring musician, I’ve lived everywhere. I’m at home for half of my life - and everywhere else the rest of my life.
“As a child, I guess I was a bit confused when we moved from Argentina to Los Angeles. But then we moved to Idyllwild when I was 13, so I could go to the Idyllwild Arts Academy. And I went to summer camp in Idyllwild since I was seven. So, being there in a small town in the mountains - in an art community - everyone was coming from everywhere.
“Half of my school orchestra was Chinese, so I started taking courses to learn Chinese. Fortunately, I was raised in an atmosphere where it was okay to be different and where you could just learn through different cultures. My parents were also unique as Argentinians - even in Argentina, they would be considered eccentric. So, being raised in an eccentric family, in an eccentric atmosphere, I kind of turned out like this.”
Lenchantin was only 12 when she taught herself electric bass, inspired by hearing Paul McCartney’s playing with The Beatles.
When she was 20, she asked jazz bass great Hawkins - who heads the Jazz Department at the Idyllwild School of Music - to teach her to play the upright acoustic bass she had recently acquired.
“He’s definitely one of the giants in my eyes,” she said, “And I wanted to learn from him.”
Hawkins told her he could give her a lesson the following Wednesday - at 5:30 a.m.
“I said: ‘5:30 a.m.? That’s a very early lesson!’ And Marshall said: ‘Yes’,” she recalled, laughing at the memory.
“On Tuesday night, I called him and said: ‘I’m going to bed early and waking up early, and we’ll have our lesson tomorrow.’ He said: ‘Fine’.”
When, 45 minutes after its scheduled start time, Hawkins had still not shown up for her lesson, Lenchantin called him.
“He picked up the phone, dead asleep, and said: ‘Paz, what on earth are you doing calling me at this hour?’ ” she recalled, laughing again. “I said: ‘We’ve got a lesson.’ He said: ‘Let’s re-schedule for next Wednesday - at 5:30 a.m.’ ”
In a “Groundhog Day"-like sequence of events, Lenchantin contacted Hawkins again the following Tuesday night to re-confirm their lesson for 5:30 a.m. Wednesday. When he did not show up the next morning, she phoned him and again woke him.
“Marshall asked me: ‘Why are you calling me again so early?’ ” she said.
“Then, he said: ‘Paz, listen to me. This is the greatest lesson you will ever learn - I never took a single lesson from anybody! I taught myself how to do it. So take this as your one and only lesson from me: Teach yourself! Pick up your instrument - you can do it. Let me just save you some time!’
“He told me to pick it up, and I did. I just love Marshall so much. He taught me the importance of keeping things organic and unique.”
Did You Know?
Pixies’ bassist Paz Lenchantin has also played bass with A Perfect Circle, Zwan, Queens of The Stone Age, Melissa Auf der Maur, Ashes Divide and The Entrance Band.