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Both Christians and non-Christians have embraced Pedro the Lion’s thought-provoking brand of indie rock since David Bazan’s critically acclaimed 1998 release “It’s Hard to Find A Friend.” His new record “Control” is bound to shock some listeners with its graphic depictions of extramarital sex and the dropping of the s-bomb, as it tells the story of a man who has an affair and is later killed by his wife. Amidst the R-rated content, “Control” has made its way into the top five on the CMJ chart and has even received praise from some Christian listeners.
When I heard “Control,” I wondered why Bazan was using such strong words on the album. On April 28, I got a chance to ask him about it during the Pedro the Lion performance in Minneapolis. In-between songs, Bazan was fielding questions from the audience. I got up the courage to ask, “Why did you drop the s-bomb on the new record?” First, Bazan explained what the “s-bomb” was. Then, he said that he essentially wanted to be true to himself because he uses that word a lot. He also mentioned to the audience that if profanity offends anyone, then they probably shouldn’t pick up the new album or get the new Jade Tree Records sampler (He drops the f-bomb on the sampler).
The next question that he was asked from the audience was where he stands spiritually and if he serves Jesus Christ. It must have been an amazingly awkward moment for him, but he handled it gracefully nonetheless. He basically said that at times Christianity is messed up, but that he’s got no problem with Jesus.
I felt a little dumb asking about the s-bomb and because in some sense I felt that my question had triggered the question about his spirituality, so I apologized to him after the show. He said that he didn’t mind the question and that there wasn’t any reason to apologize. He said he actually enjoys taking questions from the audience.
On April 29, thanks to Bazan’s PR lady Jessica Hopper at Hyper PR, I was able to do a phone interview with him for about 20 minutes, during which he thoroughly addressed questions concerning his faith and some of the controversial lyrics from “Control.” For those listeners who may have questions for Bazan, hopefully this interview will provide some answers that will explain where he is at spiritually and artistically.
Matt M: Yeah I saw you at the show last night.
David Bazan: Oh right.
MM: Yeah I was the one who asked the s bomb question.
Bazan: That’s fine. You apologized afterward and I realized that I hoped that you knew that there was nothing to apologize about.
MM: I read in something that Matt Johnson had written that you went to school at Northwest College. Is that right?
MM: Is that an A/G (Assemblies of God) school?
Bazan: It is.
MM: Cuz’ it’s kind of funny, I go to North Central, used to be Bible College it’s University now, in Minneapolis. And a couple of guys from my floor actually interviewed, I think a few months ago, when you played the Women’s Club in Minneapolis.
Bazan: Oh right.
MM: So I was kind of curious about your affiliation growing up with the A/G?
Bazan: With what now?
MM: Did you grow up in an A/G church?
Bazan: I did yeah.
MM: And then you went to Northwest just for like a year or two or?
Bazan: I went there for two years, yeah and I was a religion and philosophy major. I learned quite a bit actually and I really enjoyed it, but the reason why I was going was because I figured that would make me maybe a better songwriter if I had a pretty broad-based liberal arts education. And though I think that was true, I was wasting an awful lot of money doing poorly, so my dad actually suggested that maybe I should quit school and just focus on the band. Which is pretty unbelievable, but that was his advice.
MM: So you grew up in the church. It seems like you have kind of a cynical attitude towards the church or maybe it seems like you’ve been hurt. Where did that come in?
Bazan: Well, I don’t feel like I’ve been so much hurt. I went through a period where I think I really misunderstood Christianity and the way that it worked. The reason why it was a problem was because the goal of Christianity-if a person believes in the biblical God and feels alienated from him, for that alienation to be resolved and there to be some reconciliation and that was never really the case. That wasn’t really happening. So there were aspects of Christianity that I started to question. But more than that I just tried to look deeper in it and find out if maybe there was something that I had been missing and I found out that there was. Now that I’m satisfied with that reconciliation and that connection with who I believe God is, the way that the church does it is really destructive and wrong. It’s really difficult for me to harmonize what I perceive Jesus being about and saying, and what the history of the Christian church has been. Even after the Reformation, there were definitely some real positive things that took place. But it didn’t take very long for it to deteriorate again into basically a more insidious version of what was wrong with Catholicism at that point prior to the Reformation. It’s not so much that I got burned by the church personally or anything like that. But I just really feel like as far as the aims of Christianity and what Christ says about love, I think that Christianity is such a tremendous failure as a religion, or Christianity at large anyways. I think that by and large people’s ridicule of it as a faith is very well-founded. I feel all those things at the same time that I have a really intense love for Jesus and the Bible, a deep satisfaction in the connection that I feel with God and with what I perceive as possible, because those things are true and because God loves us the way that he does. That’s kind of more where I’m coming from with that. So that’s where the cynicism comes from.
MM: How much does your faith play into your songs? How much of that is reflective of your personal faith and how much of that is part of the story?
Bazan: Usually the characters and the scenarios are all fiction. They’re sort of modified by my thoughts and ideas. They’re obviously come up with out of my mind. A lot of times it will be a character that is representing some part of something that is interesting to me or some irony or something that has particularly grabbed my attention. Then they’re usually modified by my thoughts and feeling about it. It changes whether or not I modify it to reflect my beliefs or to be a reaction, sort of playing the devil’s advocate and being the opposite of what I believe and trying to make some point that way. But then there are other songs, like “Secret of the Easy Yoke” and “The Longer I Lay Here,” which the characters and the scenarios actually are autobiographical. Then they are modified later and turned into fiction so that the story or the song is stronger, rather than having to rely on the facts of my life; that’s influenced by different books on poetry that I’ve read. One in particular called “The Triggering Town” by Richard Hugo. In poetry-which I don’t feel like I write poetry, it’s a pretty big deal to not have to stick to the facts because a lot of times that will ruin it. It is a fiction at a certain level and so it’s not wrong to not stick with the facts of a feeling or something like that. Sometimes the truck just needs to be brown when it was white always. Brown is just a way better word to use in the context of the poem. So that’s how that works. As far as my faith influencing it, it does in the way that I believe that God exists and that He created the world and because of that He created art. I believe that He created art for a purpose and also He gave us the ability to reason for a purpose. I think critical analysis and sort of figuring out art and also just doing art is pretty important. And that if He created art, then it would ultimately be even like He created everything for His glory. So I really believe that art for art’s sake is God’s glory. When we just do art for the sake of it, it’s something that is right and good. Actually when we do it for the sake of proselytizing or sloganizing or evangelizing or something like that, then it actually kind of bastardizes this thing that was never really meant for that. But actually does a way better job of getting at truth in its nature state, when it’s done for its own sake, which again I believe is God’s glory. So that would be how my faith influences it.
MM: Do you feel that your music is misinterpreted or do you feel like the listeners are getting what you’re trying to say?
Bazan: I don’t know. I think that because the audience that Pedro the Lion has does really kind of run the gamut, it’s difficult to know. For instance there’s some people with “Winners Never Quit.” Like the first song on “Winners Never Quit” is basically a critique of the lack of love and the self-centered, self-righteous manner in which I think the church goes about doing certain things. Some people understood it as that, but then a lot of other people understood it as this very pro-Christian statement about how I’m a good person and I’m gonna to go to heaven because I’m a good person. Also just playing out some flaws in the theology of why we go to heaven and what earns us that. Different people responded really differently to it. I don’t know, that’s just one example, so I don’t really know. I think that it is maybe misinterpreted as much as it is interpreted correctly. But I also know that people are just coming from all kinds of different places and are going to interact with it in many ways that I don’t even begin to know. At a certain level, I just try to write what I feel like is what I’m supposed to be writing or what is coming out. No matter what it is, I think people are gonna interpret it or misinterpret or deepen it in all sorts of different ways. There is I guess a certain amount of misinterpretation, but I don’t think it’s peculiar to my music. I think that’s just the way that art goes. I say misinterpretation, but that’s to say they’re just different interpretations and sometimes interpreted opposite to what I’d perceive it to be. But nonetheless that’s just I think how it goes for anybody.
MM: I have some questions about the “Control” album. There were four songs that I had questions about specific lyrics or the song. With the rapture one how does the affair and then the idea of the rapture-how do those two things go together? Where are you going with that one?
Bazan: That one was a completely different song and I started re-writing the lyrics when that other song wasn’t working and so it turned into this image of an affair. For the chorus I really felt like because the music had already existed, it kind of did lift up into that kind of anthemic chorus, I really saw that as I was writing the song as being sort of maybe the orgasmic reference in the song just because of how the lyrics were going up until that point. It seemed like it would work dramatically. So I set out to find a way to represent that from the perspective of one of the people involved, most likely the male. What I was looking for was something that felt kind of dirty and sort of represented to me an adulterous affair. The thing that I kind of came up with that was the most tasteful and yet the most dirty was him in a very sacreligious fashion using that language as an expletive to communicate the pleasure or ecstatic feeling that he was experiencing. After I kind of got done with it I realized that it was possibly the dirtiest thing that could have gone there. So that’s basically what I was getting at. His character is using that as an expletive basically the way that is pretty common I think. So that was the purpose of that moment in the song.
MM: With the songs “Indian Summer” and “Penetration,” the idea of corporate cum and penetration-“if it’s not penetration, then it’s not worth a kiss.” Is that talking about corporate America?
Bazan: Definitely yeah. I don’t think that people with money are better than people who are poor. They just have the opportunity to take advantage of other people in a way that I think that poor people would do if they had the chance to. But it’s just the way that I think money takes advantage of people without. I think that it’s hidden a lot in this country because we actually are the beneficiaries of it as American citizens more times than not with paying extremely low gas prices and just having general wealth that we live in relative to other countries around the world. So I think that it’s masked a lot and I wanted it to be put in terms that I think it exists in. Which I think it’s very brutal and disgusting the way that it works. In terms of the way when a man rapes a woman. There is a very deliberate thing to it and something that is very brutal and very violating. Those were the terms in which I wanted, because I believe that’s how it is and that’s how it works. I don’t feel like then maybe necessarily that’s very obvious, so that was what I was hoping to communicate.
MM: From the song “Magazine,” the line “I feel the darkness growing as you cram light down my throat,” what was that really in reference to?
Bazan: Well, just dealing with a lot of people that I know who grew up and didn’t have anything to do with Christianity or God. Their experiences with the church have been so off-putting. Not because necessarily the content was offensive. In most cases the real content of the Bible or Christianity wasn’t really ever gotten to because they were so offended or so judged or whatever initially. That’s the idea-the force and the arrogance or whatever with which Christians sort of wield their Christianity or can do that, I think actually furthers the cause they’re supposedly trying to be fighting against and doing harm to the concept of who Christ is. So that’s the “I feel the darkness growing stronger as you cram light down my throat.” And then the irony is that to me is there is a sense in which Christian people I think naively or ignorantly are trying to live above reproach as though it were possible and I think sort of misunderstanding what Paul was trying to say at that point. By that standard, by trying to live above reproach there is this notion that a person could get through a day without sinning or that those sins are able to be like tallied and maybe sort of getting less accrued to you. But that by furthering the cause of quote unquote darkness, that they’re actually working the other way from being above reproach to actually there’s quite a bit to be reproached for in that way in my opinion. So that’s kind of the line fit together. Then the chorus of that just expands upon that a little bit, and is kind of a reference to when Jesus is talking about the Pharisees being white-washed tombs. Being so concerned with the superficial when what is going on inside is the thing that is so screwed up and is such a problem.
MM: With the last song “Rejoice,” I’ve noticed that as the albums goes along it seems to be getting progressively more negative and it’s kind of unclear; at one time you say it’s great if it’s meaningless, then it’s meaningful, then it turns to ****, then it’s rejoice. So which is it?
Bazan: Well some of the point of that song was there to be an ambiguity to it. I don’t necessarily feel like “Winners Never Quit” the song is. I think that people perceive that to be ambiguous as well. I really liked the role that song played at the end of that record. “Winners Never Quit” was actually meant to be some sort of resolution to that record. I think that it is. I think it’s possible to get to what that song means. But this one I meant to be sort of the predecessor to the next record, which is going to have some level of resolution in it and include themes of redemption in it. Because of that, this record, I didn’t really want there to be any resolution. But at some level, that “Rejoice” is resolution to me, because a lot of it is very similar to “Winner Never Quit.” It’s when we come to the end of our rope and realize how futile trying to go it alone is that it’s a possibility for redemption to really make sense, so I was wanting to set it up for that. For me at different times the “rejoice” part is either cynical or sort of joyous depending on which aspect of it I’m currently focusing on. It was meant to be vague at a certain point and I’m hoping to get the next record out in a pretty timely fashion so that the resolution comes before everybody is just totally pissed. Which is too late now I realize, but that was the idea.
MM: Well, it’ll be interesting to see how JPUSA…if you guys will still be playing main stage.
Bazan: Oh yeah, that’s gonna be weird. I don’t really know. I mean I know those guys that put on the festival and I was actually a little surprised that they were having us play the main stage this year. But nonetheless, they did. I’m not really sure why, but that’s their thing.
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David Bazan has caused quite a stir with Pedro the Lion’s latest release “Control,” but making people think is what his music is all about. Whether you agree or disagree with his methods, no one can deny that he has a way with words and has been gifted with the art of putting gut-wrenching stories to song.
Although it had only been a little over two months since I last interviewed him, I couldn’t resist a second opportunity to talk with him. So at Cornerstone I tracked him down during his sound check on the last day of the festival.
Almost as interesting as the interview was the setting of it. It occurred as Bazan drove one of his buddies and I up from the main stage to the merch tent. The second part of the interview occurred on the trip back. Finally, we finished the interview in Pedro the Lion’s air-conditioned dressing room.
Somehow the funniest things seemed to happen in the van when Bazan was driving during the interview. He missed hitting a car by six inches, he yelled at a stupid Cornerstone pedestrian and nudged/hit another one with the van. From that experience it’s clear where the inspiration for “Big Trucks” came from, but it’s also quite cool to see that someone whose music is so sincere and blatantly honest can have such a good sense of humor.
If you’ve ever wondered why Bazan likes hymns, why he doesn’t play Rock for Life shows, why he swears, why Pedro the Lion is a solo act or what he hopes to accomplish through his music, then you need to read this interview. If you find his music interesting, when you read his thoughts on these and other subjects, you’ll realize his views are just as fascinating as his lyrics.
Matt M: You’ve talked a lot about how you don’t like how “Christian rock” because it’s basically second-class propaganda. However, you probably didn’t think that way when you were a kid in youth group. When you were growing up, what were some of the “Christian” groups that you were into?
David Bazan: Carmen and Petra and Whitecross. I had that One Pig Bad album with “Bowl of Wrath” on it. Before I listened to Tourniquet, Vengeance Rising and The Crucified. Earlier it was more…like my mom listened to a lot of Sandi Patti, so we ended up hearing that stuff a lot. There were some other things like Bash ‘ the Code. I think the mainstays were definitely Carmen and Petra. But I was kind of a new Petra fan, so the only Petra records I had were the John Schlitt Petra records. I think that about covers it, but there’s got to be some more stuff that I’m forgetting about. Oh, I liked some White Heart. I’m trying to think what record it was. It was the one with “Invitation;” it has some good songs. I can’t remember which record it was that I liked.
MM: Supposedly, a couple years back, you a played an acoustic set of hymns out at Vanguard University in California. What is it that you like about hymns and what are some of your favorites?
Bazan: I don’t remember that, but maybe I did. Well, usually the texts are really meaningful to me in a way that was pretty great to me in light of a lot of the choruses and a lot of the modern choruses that we sing. I guess for the time periods, there might just be a small percentage…more of hymns that are good. I mean there are a lot of really lame hymns, like bad text really horrible music. But I think there might be a few more good hymns per time period than there are choruses nowadays. ]
MM: Somewhere, it was written that you didn’t want to play a Rock for Life show or something. Can you explain that and what you disagree with them about?
Bazan: Well, basically I do believe that abortion should not happen. I think abortion is something that’s a tragedy for a mother and child, in spite of the fact that it could be the most convenient thing at the time. I think ultimately it devalues human life. But I also really disagree about the way that propaganda-driven battles are fought. I also think that it should be legal. Because I think, that in spite of the fact that I think it’s wrong and shouldn’t happen, the only way people are really going to understand and be convinced that that’s the case is outside of a battle, outside the context of a fight. The only way that I think one can disarm the sort of hatred between the two groups and the bitter rivalry is to disengage. So just on a political platform stance I have a difference of opinion with Rock for Life. I also don’t really care for the propaganda that is used. I also think that it’s kind of destructive. A lot of the ways that the slogans are used are more antagonistic than ultimately would be the smartest strategy for communicating what my thoughts are about abortion. Then also too, it seems like that they’re really informed by Christian culture and the tactics of Christian culture, but they’re very similar to the kinds of things that happen on Christian T-shirts. It’s just originated from a pretty lame standpoint.
MM: What’s been the reaction to the lyrical content on “Control” from Christians and non-Christians?
Bazan: I think that Christian reaction is somewhat divided. My perception of it has been informed by this festival, as well as just running into Christians at shows. Some people are really into it and they feel like it’s a valid expression of reality. It’s been mixed. There have been a few Christians…and you were at that Minneapolis show.
Bazan: And were you around there was like a big crowd of kids around at the end?
MM: I was.
Bazan: So you were at that, so that was one of the probably four or five times on tour that kids walked up and were pretty aggressive in explaining to me how what I was doing was wrong. Using terminology like “the spirit of confusion,” by spirit I mean demon spirit. There definitely has been some reaction against it, but I think most of the people who are bummed on it haven’t really made a point to come up and tell me. They just have been quietly disappointed and didn’t buy the record, although there has been a lot of e-mail I guess. So that’s basically it and the non-Christians-there was one review in BasementLife.com that the guy was really offended because he thought my worldview was pretty pathetic. Because it was so negative is why. But generally people say that they like it. But I think mostly what I’m going to hear is that anyways, because people would maybe go out of their way more to tell me they like the record than go out of their way to tell me that they really don’t like it. I try to ask people who aren’t me, obviously, about what their friends are saying. Because it’s interesting because most people don’t really have the courage to walk to me and just be like, “What’s the deal?”
MM: Since you’re such a nice guy in person, it’s hard to believe that you swear.
MM: Why do you swear and how does your theology or personal beliefs justify that?
Bazan: Well, I do swear. I think I swear mainly because I like the way that the words sound in sentences. In a lot of occasions it punctuates humor in a way that’s really attractive to me. Then, in general I just like the way that the words kind of sound. They kind of punctuate speech in general in a way that is attractive to me. So that’s the reason why it’s really natural for me to do, because there are aspects of my personality that are just really naturally drawn to it. As far as theology, there’s still… Let’s see, what’s the best way to get out of this as easy as I can. Basically after a lot of discussion with people I respect including my parents, my sister and different professors in college, I think that the swearing…also just trying to look outside the cultural context of the United States, it’s just sort of nothing at all, kind of either way. Just like in my opinion drinking alcohol or in a more drastic sense like going to movies or playing cards or dancing; I think in general is a social convention that is a remnant of Holiness codes and whatnot, early this century and late last century. I think in regards to the culture that I live in and am a part of, both the Christian aspects of it and then just the general non-Christian or the secular aspects of it, I guess it just isn’t anything either way. Like it’s just words, like the difference between saying poop and s***, it’s just really arbitrary. But for me where it runs into being a problem is sometimes I’m kind of impatient when I drive, that impatience is usually punctuated by me swearing. And so in that context I don’t think it’s appropriate, but I don’t think it’s the swearing that’s inappropriate as much as the impatience and sort of the anger. It’s not rage so much, it’s just extreme impatience and that’s not of the Spirit. It gives voice to it in a way that is pretty fantastic. So that’s an example of a point where it gets used for bad or for me to sin. Or like sometimes like if I was being mean to someone, which I don’t feel very comfortable doing very much. But like when it’s just us in the van and we’re just joking around. Usually I try to be respectful because I realize there is some tenet of the stumbling rule. Modern Christianity is extremely difficult. My cousins and me have argued about whether or not I violate the stumbling rule, just that my band exists at all. The stumbling rule as it’s applied, as it’s talked about with Paul has a tendency…and I think that this is a distortion of what he was aiming for. In this age where information is able to go really fast and we’re part of this sort of national Christian community. It’s used to make sure that people always appeal to the lowest common denominator in a way that I think is really inappropriate and actually really destructive. But there is still a sense in which, if I know it’s going to be a really big issue or I feel…I’ll deliberately not use foul language just because there’s no reason to make waves where it’s unnecessary. People are just going to bummed and it’s going to be issue, and it’s more comfortable to not, to not do it. But like for instance in the tour van or whatever that’s just how or who we are. I still pray because I want to find out… So that’s that. How satisfying that is to you or to the readers I’m not totally sure. That’s all that there really is. I guess the questions that might come up are where swearing and coarse joking is brought up in a couple of different places. As far as swearing goes I think it’s pretty safe to say from an exegetical point of view that it’s not really talking about saying s***, it has something to do with something else entirely. As far as the coarse joking thing, I’m not really sure how I relate to that or how I let that be. Because I definitely I could think of one joke in particular that I told recently that’s pretty harsh. So in those ways basically… Oh shoot, I could have said this a long time ago. Basically there’s this thing that’s been going on in my own life and in my own understanding of faith where I perceive that just about everything that I got from my churches growing up is theologically and in reference to my relationship to Jesus has been wrong and backwards. So I kind of realized that I didn’t really care to assume that a lot of the conventions that came along with the theology, the behavioral conventions were necessarily right also. So there’s been a process of…and you always do things in community. Now it’s just a community of people that believe similarly about the gospel as I do. But also we have community with the Holy Spirit and his interaction with us as we read the Bible. So I’ve been going through the process of trying to see what of these things are real and what of these things are just conventions to control people’s behavior. So this is definitely one of them and it’s one of them that I’ve been inspired to do to check it out on my own, just because it does come so naturally to me, and on an intellectual level it does likes just really arbitrary that one word for fecal matter would be a sin and that the other one wouldn’t be. So those are some of things that have compelled me to look into this, dig deeper and try to figure some things out for myself, which puts me at odds with a lot of Christians at certain times. Well, I won’t have the answer immediately and I don’t feel like I necessarily have to. I don’t feel, I guess, convicted when I use words like that in certain context. And then it’s interesting for me because there are other contexts when even when I’m not using those words, language representing anger or bitterness or insecurity or impatience, I really do feel convicted about a lot. So that’s sort of my process on that.
MM: Your dad is or was a music pastor with the Assemblies of God and you went to an A/G college. Does your family or church friends or college friends have a problem with any of your views or theology on swearing?
Bazan: I don’t know about my college friends. Actually I do, there’s this one dude that I went to college with there his name is Cameron. He has the same views that I have about it. As far as friends from college, I kind of gravitated obviously toward people that I enjoyed their company and had similar personalities to me. Especially the people that I’ve continued to be in contact with, at least as far as college friends. As far as my immediate family, my sister is definitely a pretty conservative person who does not swear. Who doesn’t say swear words herself, but we have, I think, similar views on it. And then my folks, who I swear around and in conversation to, who also don’t swear and they don’t really have a problem with it. I don’t think my dad necessarily prefers it as part of his personality; he doesn’t like that sort of thing. But we have discussions about it and a lot of those other things. I think my dad has a similar view as I do about it now or after our conversations. That’s where he’s fine with it and my mom is too. My mom is concerned about the fact that I drink alcohol, but mainly that’s just because my grandpa was an alcoholic. So she’s just kind of a little bit paranoid and a little bit reactionary. But so she doesn’t really have a problem with the swearing. My extended family, some of them have similar views as I do, but not all of them. I guess I’m thinking more of on my dad’s side and they’re all A/G churchgoers. Some pastors and then some of the ones that disagree are also pastors.
MM: You dropped the “f” bomb on the Jadetree sampler.
MM: What was the context in which you used that word and what was the intent behind using that word?
Bazan: I was poking fun at a particular mindset by amplifying it and kind of blowing it out of proportion. Sort of equating it to another mindset, just the whole bigotry and reaction to September 11th, I likened it to being a redneck who might use the word “camelf***er” as a racial slur. So have you heard that song before?
MM: I have.
Bazan: So that’s the immediate context and I’m not sure what my intent was necessarily except that I wrote that verse and it’s such a shame when… So there’s that first verse and there’s the bridge; basically the song is three verses and a bridge. And I wrote that first verse and the bridge in a matter of about three minutes on September 14, 2001 and so it all just kind of came out. Then after it sat around for a few months. I found it again in a notebook and decided to finish it out, and that’s when I wrote verses two and three. Then I continued to use it because I liked that as a tool, as a literary device, the mocking way that it sort of dealt with the issue seemed attractive and appropriate to me as far as in relations to my feelings on the subject.
MM: Do you anticipate that being released on any of your albums?
Bazan: It probably won’t be on the album. I hope that it will come out on an EP on Jadetree, but I don’t think it will necessarily be on a full album.
MM: You said that there was a third album, a follow-up to the last two that you did? When are you going to start working on that?
Bazan: Well, I’ve begun work on it and my process at this point is that we’re going to be working on a lot of the lyrics first. Then, once we get some of those mapped out, we’re going to start putting music to them and trying to develop the record as a whole. The story is done and it’s just a process now of telling a story through lyrics, which is going to be this time the most difficult that it’s ever been. So before then, I’m actually going to make another record of songs that I’ve written or that I’m going to write that don’t have anything to do with that story. And it won’t come out as a Pedro the Lion record, it will come out probably as a David Bazan record, but I’m not totally sure. So it’s going to be awhile, six or eight months before I actively start working on it and it alone, because I just have a desire to make a record that just doesn’t have anything to do with that, because it’s pretty painstaking to make those kind of records and I like it to a certain degree, but I like it as a means to an end. The end is getting the whole thing out in a way that is meaningful to me. But I have a desire to just make records that are just a lot more expressive and with that song, that we were talking about, “Backwoods Nation,” where I just came up with a bunch of lyrics, the distance to the finished product from the inspiration was pretty sort. And with all these other records it’s just a really long process. Once the music’s done, I’ve got to tweak the lyrics more. And then sometimes it takes forever for the lyrics to get done. It ends up being pretty contrived in the end and ultimately I want to make records in a different way for the rest of my life. But I’ve already started on this project and I feel like I really need to finish, and I really like the story that the third record is going to tell.
MM: You seem to be quite shy, is that an accurate understanding of your personality, are you just uncomfortable in front of people playing shows or is it something else?
Bazan: I think I’ve got different elements. It makes sense when I think of my sister who comes off as being really shy, but then when she gets in a group of people that she feels comfortable with and knows, she gets really zany and kind of crazy. And I don’t feel like I get zany and crazy, but I definitely once I get comfortable with people I’m a lot less awkward. But in context, sometimes in interviews and but a lot of times in front of a lot of people that I don’t know, I think I react to it like getting kind of anxious and getting a little more awkward, or maybe I guess I could be called shy or soft spoken, second-guessing myself and my words.
MM: Why do you think Pedro the Lion has become a solo act and do you think that has anything to do with you?
Bazan: Oh yeah for sure. Basically it started as a five-piece band and the four other dudes didn’t want to really do it for a living. So they took off and let me do it because they did know that I did want to make into something pretty steady and a regular thing where we’re constantly touring and recording. Then over the course of the years, I just ended up using “hired guns” as it were, guys to help fill in and those few years I ended up playing and writing a lot of the stuff myself. And then I hired a couple of “permanent members” to play the parts that I had written, but in the end that was kind of a naïve thing because I think it’s just hard to keep that thing together. Some people have done it I suppose. But what it either should be is: I write everything and then just hire guys to be play-it’s got to be a little more free, people can come and go as they chose and have no permanent members, but just members for as long as they want to do it or I want them to do it, or it should be a band where people are sort of contributing, writing their own parts and collaborating on arrangements. So for me, it’s just that because I am capable within my background playing drums and doing everything myself it’s worked out really well. My creative process actually depends on my ability or the opportunity to do that, because a lot of times the songs that I might write just as they stand are kind of boring. But the thing that might be interesting is the way that the drum part interacts really simply with the melody or the guitar or something like that. So for me, it’s just a much better process because of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer.
MM: Songs like “The Longer I Lay Here” and “The Secret of the Easy Yoke” are autobiographical and they seem to have such profound meaning for so many people. Do you think you’ll ever get back to writing songs about your personal experiences?
Bazan: I don’t really know. I mean in a way those things are autobiographical for sure, but there is an element of fiction even in it. The opening scene in “The Secret of the Easy Yoke” is definitely hypothetical, but it’s something that’s so familiar. You know I could picture it in my head, but I pictured it at church that I didn’t go to, I pictured it at something else. I’m not really sure if I will or not, it kind of just depends on… I’ve spent a lot of time not writing songs recently, where I just am not spending that much time writing. But I’m trying to write everyday now; I’m trying to write more and more. I’m not sure. I’ve been trying to write a lot more lately and whatever ends coming out naturally is what it’s going to be. And I’m sure inevitably something like that will be coming out.
MM: At the end of the day, when all is said and done, what do you want people to walk away with after they’ve seen Pedro the Lion perform or heard your records?
Bazan: Well, I’d like for people to be challenged to think critically. And I hope that… If people are going to really interact with Pedro the Lion’s songs I think they almost kind of have to. A lot of times…like even with a song that came out really early, a song called “Nothing,” like you can listen to it and if you listen carefully, and perceive what the lyrics are saying, you have to make some decision and think critically about what is maybe going on. Okay well, this guy is saying that absolute truth doesn’t exist and the reason he’s giving for why he thinks it doesn’t is because he wants to do it his own way. It’s just the process of critical thinking and you just have to start asking questions about it and try to quantify all the different things. So like, “Is this what the singer saying he believes?” Then, you have to sort of look at other elements on the record. You have to basically look at the context of the song. That’s the foremost thing that I want people to have to do, because I think there are emotional elements that might strike a chord with people that would maybe hearken to something deeper or some deeper sense of spirituality or something that has to do with God or just whatever because everybody’s in a real different place who ends up listening to Pedro the Lion’s music. And I think that those sorts of things cause us to search for this greater truth, which I perceive as being Jesus. And so I imagine that if people are stirred in that way-emotionally and spiritually and then are helped to think critically about the things that are stirring them, that it will just create a sense of people where they’re naturally, hopefully able to search for truth and not be so easily satisfied when they find something that’s comfortable. Because I think that critical thinking often turns itself inward and [it makes you] be able to sort of like not buy your own bologna. So that’s basically it. I really think things in pop culture are geared to relieve you of the responsibility of thinking critically about your life and how it relates to the world around you-the physical world and the spiritual world. So I hope I can challenge a few people to cause them to think critically about things and people will be better off because I really think that critical analysis is a pretty key to living a full on life.
MM: It’s the end of the interview and you have a minute or two to say anything you like on any subject. Do you have anything to say?
Bazan: Well, I think people should yield the left lane. That’s pretty much it.
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