Paz Lenchantin, Psychedelic Goddess
Once upon a time, circa 1966, the blues begat a mutant form. Known for a while as "power trio" or "blues rock," this form elongated the simplicity of the blues into electric explorations of guitar tones, with deviations into jazz and other complex structures.
Its heyday was fairly short: Think of Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Live at Leeds–era Who (after 1967, really a power trio plus a vocalist) as the classic stage, and Blue Cheer and the instrumental core of the Stooges as the decadent phase. By the time you get to Page-Jones-Bonham, Grand Funk Railroad and Motörhead, you're already on the way to metal, and that's a different branch of the blues' genealogical tree.
But the psychedelic trio never really disappeared after the rise of metal. It just went underground. And it kept developing.
It's no secret, for anyone who's caught their word-of-mouth-heralded live shows, that the best local practitioners of the form are the Entrance Band. Led by charismatic, slightly messianic singer and (crucial for psychedelia) guitar fiend Guy Blakeslee, and anchored by Derek James' drums, the Entrance Band has opened for the likes of Sonic Youth, Devendra Banhart, Will Oldham and Dungen. Which is very gutsy of them because, really, the kind of energy unleashed by the trio is a tough act follow. The band's repertory is just a basic blueprint for them to depart on groove-heavy journeys into the heavy mystic: Everyone, on and offstage, works up a sweat.
Oh, and then there's Paz Lenchantin.
What neither Hendrix nor Clapton nor Lemmy have had as a secret weapon is a dynamic, music-possessed, mesmerizing bass player who onstage outmesmerizes anyone in her celebrated cohort of First Ladies of Indie Bass (including Kim Gordon, the Pumpkins' D'arcy Wretzky and even Lenchantin's sometime collaborator Melissa Auf der Maur).
And she can most likely outplay them all.
The Entrance Band was chosen by the bookers of the Satellite, the Silver Lake venue formerly known as Spaceland, to play one of the club's earliest residencies, Thursdays in March. Lenchantin and Blakeslee are working on the Entrance Band's new album, a process that coincides with their relocation from the hippie-friendly hamlet of Idyllwild, in the San Jacinto Mountains, near Palm Springs, to the O.C.'s San Clemente (going, so to speak, from Oliver Stone's The Doors to Oliver Stone's Nixon). Drummer James still lives in Laurel Canyon, where Blakeslee lived until last year, in a home photographed by arbiter of lifestyle cool Todd Selby.
These locations, even surf bum–friend ly San Clemente, define a certain idea of bohemian Southern California, one deeply rooted in local rock mythology. Lenchantin's straight, long hair; her striking features (striking is an adjective often used about her, and she grows more so when she straps on a bass and gets down to business); her fashion sense (classy, idiosyncratic, wouldn't have been out of place in a David Bailey photo shoot from 1969). Hers is not the L.A. of showbiz and the downtown Nokia venues or the Gothic black letter of the tattooed Strip.
An earthier psychedelic flair also has defined our considerable town, particularly produced and exported by Angelenos who come to L.A. from elsewhere suffering from a certain physical and psychological displacement — cf. Jim Morrison, Gram Parsons, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell. You can add Guy Blakeslee and Paz Lenchantin to that list.
But nothing is so simple in this city of mirages. When we met Lenchantin in Echo Park, she was in town for just a couple of days and couldn't wait to go back to Idyllwild to continue packing up her house. "I don't come to L.A. very often," she told us. "But I was here for the NBA All-Star Game." Is she into basketball? "No, I played violin for Rihanna." What?
"My sister Ana is organizing string sections all the time for different events. If they wanna go on tour, or, like yesterday, for the All-Star Game. She called me and said, 'What are you doing Sunday?' I said, 'I'm packing, I'm moving to San Clemente,' and she goes, 'Well, if you're interested, Rihanna needs a string section and I'm organizing it.' "
We asked Lenchantin — impeccably attired for the Eastside in gray-and-black argyle tights, tap shorts and a vintage velvet blazer with a homemade pin of a magical eye — if there was a dress code for the violinists at Staples Center.
"There was, yes," she laughed. "Black, elegant."
Did she know the song in advance? "It was the 'Umbrella' song, but we still had to learn the part. We rehearsed a few times. It was the half-time show at the game."
And that's how psychedelic goddess Paz Lenchantin of the Entrance Band ended up on TNT playing violin for Rihanna. "She's amazing," added Lenchantin about the pop star. "A natural star. And it was her birthday! She has a great voice and she's also very professional, really nice.
"I don't do many gigs like that," she said. "This is something that seemed interesting enough. I generally only focus on music with the Entrance Band."
Lenchantin and Blakeslee met in Chicago, during the strange (and uncharacteristically high-profile) phase in her career when she joined the Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin, Chavez's Matt Sweeney and Slint's David Pajo in the doomed Zwan project. Before that, between 1999 and 2002, she was recruited by Tool's Maynard James Keenan for A Perfect Circle.
"A Perfect Circle did a tour with Smashing Pumpkins and then Billy Corgan thought I was good. I ran into him at a birthday party and said hello, and he was starting a new project with Matt Sweeney, the guitar player. I was very interested in Matt Sweeney — I loved his background and I think he's a music genius! He knows so much about music, and I thought, 'This is something I could do,' mainly because of Matt Sweeney. He is quite a musician and I knew there was something he could bring for me to further my love for music. I wanted to know more. I didn't want to be stuck in any way.
"Matt Sweeney was the one that handed me Guy Blakeslee's Entrance demos. Just gave them to me and said, 'Tell me what you think about this.' He would always say that, and it was always extraordinary the things he would give to me. I was in music heaven, just hearing things that I never had been exposed to."
Lenchantin was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina, to two concert pianists. She was classically trained from a very early age. "My mother gave concerts while I was in the womb," she explained. "With my parents, it was very classically based — tangos as well. But mainly classical."
In the late 1970s, the Lenchantins emigrated to Los Angeles. While Paz and siblings Ana and Luciano continued to work on classical instruments — she would eventually attend the prestigious art school at Idyllwild — Paz also taught herself to play bass. "My mother had her father's guitar in the house and it was missing two strings, so I just turned it into a bass and played along to my favorite records— Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd. Nonstop." She also developed a love for jazz. "I started listening to a lot of John Coltrane and I would play violin to his saxophone."
Unbeknownst to her, this sui generis way of engaging with popular music as an improviser made her an ideal partner for the kinds of psychedelic explorations that Blakeslee's originally solo Entrance project was mutating into. "When I got his demos I thought he was just brilliant, incredible. The first Entrance record I worked on is called Wandering Stranger , came out on Fat Possum. That's just Guy by himself with a drummer and I'm playing violin only. Then Prayer of Death , and that came out first on our own and then on Tee Pee. By the third one we did together, Entrance became the Entrance Band. That one was through [Thurston Moore's label] Ecstatic Peace . That's when we started playing together, and then we moved here."
After a long, exhausting tour promoting the Ecstatic Peace album, the band started work on the new material they'll premiere at the Satellite. "We're kind of free agents," she said. "We want to maybe put it out ourselves. Times are different. The previous album was through Ecstatic Peace/Universal, so there were a couple of things that, personally, the approach is different."
The fundamental Entrance Band experience, though, remains the small-venue live gig. The band has done some live recordings that they sell at shows. "We put out actually our own bootlegs of the live shows. We really like the live sound of what we do. We're always doing something different."
For Lenchantin, one of the most memorable shows was here in L.A. at the Bootleg Theater, "because it was very electric, meaning fiery. It was so fiery I ended up jumping off the stage and doing stage dives. That was the last show of the tour that we started for the last record. We started it with Sonic Youth, we did a lot of touring, we were touring so much, and it was all of our friends we hadn't seen in a long time. It was fire. That's how I refer to it. I won't forget that show."
Fire. Yes, you want to catch the Entrance Band's Satellite residency to revel in the 21st-century take on the psychedelic blues. And yes, you'll be enthralled by the pyrotechnic energy Lenchantin can conjure out of a humble bass. But there's another, more contemplative side to her music that, in yet another unlikely turn of events, soon will make its way, almost subconsciously, into the world.
"My brother passed away a little while ago and it was a great shock to my family," she said, still tearing up a bit about the 2003 death of her brother Luciano. "So I couldn't stay around here and I went to Kentucky, and while I was there, just healing, you know, just playing the violin, I just thought I would learn to play fiddle. While I was there I was just recording myself, I didn't think too much about what I was doing. I wanted to continue playing music, but just not the bass at that moment. And then someone heard these tapes I had made, really liked them. A solo album came out, Songs for Luci . I sing too, but it's mainly violin, drums here and there. To tell you the truth, I didn't know what I was doing. I did whatever was natural to me. Never thinking no one was ever gonna hear it. I did it to keep my senses occupied and for my healing, to get on with that.
"Anyway, last August I got a phone call saying there's a movie coming out now in May called Everything Must Go with Will Ferrell, and they're using one of the tracks in the end credits, I think." The movie is based on Raymond Carver's short story "Why Don't You Dance?"
The recordings on Songs for Luci — intimate and immediate, spontaneous and true — are of a piece with the kind of music Lenchantin has been listening to in preparation for the new Entrance Band record and shows. "I've been listening to a lot of mixtapes that are made by Mississippi Records," she said, referring to the lovingly curated selections of old recordings put out by the Portland, Ore., label. The Entrance Band tour vehicles have been grooving to music from Thailand, Link Wray and Thelonious Monk.
"There's an influence, obviously, that we all can relate to by listening," Lenchantin said. "We all love similar things and we are all pretty similar in our tastes, which is one of our unions. So obviously we are westernized, coming fundamentally from the blues architecture but incorporating other sounds from other parts of the world or things we're into, be it rhythms or chords or harmonies. But yeah, chord structures: Music is very similar to architecture. It's a sound architecture."
THE ENTRANCE BAND performs a Thursday residency at the Satellite on March 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31. Every set will be different. 1717 Silverlake Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 661-4380, thesatellitela.com.
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