Indie rock has never been a simple undertaking for David Bazan. From the moment he started Pedro the Lion in the mid-'90s, he's written songs not so much for the style, fun or emotional expression of it as to hash out, in visceral vignettes, things he and some members of his audience take very seriously: belief, doubt, profound failings and the use, or abuse, of power. All of this set against the backdrop of American Christian evangelicalism. Few in any genre have taken up that bundle of fraught topics more meaningfully, or more incisively. As a result, he's been asked to explain himself a lot.
"[T]here's a sense in which I've always been kind of grateful that there's been that aspect to it, at the same time kind of embarrassed about it," he says, "because ... why can't I just blend into the background and be like [Spoon's] Britt Daniel and just be really cool and not have all of these issues?"
Just because Bazan's now playing under his own name — and fronting a full-fledged band for the first time in the post-Pedro era — doesn't mean things have gotten free and easy. The hot topic of discussion now is his rejection of the evangelical Christian faith he once espoused. Scenes from that spiritual drama play out on the first Bazan full-length, Curse Your Branches, released last fall — the reasoning and wrestling, the raw wounds left by excising something that had been so all-consuming, the Jack Daniels method of coping and the toll it took on his still-devout family. It's potent honesty by anyone's standards.
Getting almost no play — though it's just as much of an anomaly in the indie-rock world — is what Bazan has held onto from the early years, dating all the way back to the very first shows Pedro played for church youth groups (in venues where the night usually ends with an altar call, never a last call). He still feels a very particular sense of responsibility toward his audience, and you could say that it takes him above and beyond the indie-rock call of duty. Call it an outreach philosophy.
"You know, oddly enough," Bazan says, "I wouldn't have thought of it in such explicit terms, but what I was signing up for when I first started playing music was ministry. ... And so I think that that sort of genesis — no pun intended — has left its mark on everything that I've done. Because even though, I think, by the time I made It's Hard To Find a Friend in '98, I had kind of abandoned the model of quote-unquote ministry in my head that I had sort of began with, I think that there was still the factors of being earnest and truth-telling."
Besides writing songs that give people plenty to chew on, Bazan does what he can to make it a two-way conversation when he performs. He includes a Q&A portion in his shows, and whether he's playing to a couple hundred people in a club or 40 people at a house concert who are prepared to head down philosophical rabbit trails, he responds to pretty much every question — silly, smartass or sincere — like it's worth his attention. (He did a bunch of these close-quarters shows on his own last year.) And following many a show, he can be found over by the merch table, talking about substantial stuff with show-goers who seek him out. Also, he points out, "I'm not getting hammered before I play and interact with people," which wasn't always the case.
"Part of the Q&A," he says, "is to sort of level the playing field a little bit and to include audience members in the show. In one sense, to exploit things that they might say for the benefit of everybody, but to take them seriously as people as much as one can in that limited situation. I've always tried to be really mindful of [the fact that] people are taking enormous risk here raising their hand and asking a question at a situation where ... foremost on most people's minds when they're at a rock 'n' roll show is 'Do I look cool?' "
Speaking of self-seriousness, there's surprisingly little of that on Curse Your Branches for a guy who's accusing God — in the moments when he actually feels like God exists — of a sort of malicious entrapment. "I mean, there's an out-and-out joke, like with a punch line and everything, in 'Harmless Sparks,' " he says. There's also a new sound in the mix —of unabashed Beatles-esque pop — which makes for appealingly dark humor when paired with his heavyweight lyrics and delivery. "When We Fell" has a tidy little blues-pop ending, a spitting image of "I Saw Her Standing There."
"And it's so not buttoned-up on a philosophical level," Bazan says with a chuckle.
Miss Trashley, the answer is, "no," you should not watch the Sgt. Pepper movie, unless…
When Jimi Hendrix was in the army and stationed at FT. Campbell, KY (approx. 60…
In the clip: SIR on Cherry ST in Nashville, TN...went to my first Tom Jackson…
Goose! Great post. Fear of Music is a fantastic read. Also, read Lethem's Fortress of…