It’s been eight years since rockers Pedro The Lion released their last full-length album.
A band that was known for both its gritty and melancholy sound and its secular undertones, Pedro The Lion was always far more an indie band than a Christian one. Yet with the release of 2002’s Control, front man David Bazan began having to answer to frustrated fans. The band’s Christian fan base felt betrayed that their music was questioning and/or challenging the idea of God, rather than praising him. And as Bazan continued to release music, his own battle with his faith become so tumultuous, that the singer/songwriter ultimately declared himself an agnostic.
Recording under his own name rather than Pedro The Lion, Bazan has released two solo albums since Pedro’s last record hit shelves. This year, however, fans of Bazan’s original band had reason to celebrate: he announced that he would be remastering all five of Pedro The Lion’s albums on vinyl. And to commemorate these re-releases, he would embark on a national tour to play Pedro The Lion’s Control from start to finish.
Preparing for his show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Bazan chatted with me about revisiting Pedro The Lion, his struggles with religion and alcohol, his plans for the future, and more.
ALEX NAGORSKI: It’s been a decade since the release of Control. How have the ten years since its release impacted what the songs on that album mean to you and the way you perform them?
DAVID BAZAN: I think by the end of the first Control tour in 2002, I was afraid that I had turned Pedro The Lion into an emo band … and I most certainly did not want to be an emo band! Now, I don’t really care. The main thing is that I have perspective now on the record and I genuinely like it. Some of the expressions are a little bit juvenile. I was naïve, but not as much as in some other songs that I wrote. I’ve been finding myself genuinely enjoying digging way into it every night. It’s great. I was just kind of going on autopilot ten years ago.
Out of all of the albums in your expansive repertoire, why is Control the one you decided to play from start to finish on this tour?
As it turns out, it’s the only one I can play every song from and that I like playing every song from. There are at least three or four songs from all the rest of the records that I just refuse to play. Control was the only possible candidate if we were going to do something like this, and as it turns out, I think it was a pretty good way to promote the rereleases of all the Pedro records.
Speaking of that, what made you decide that now is the time to make those records available again?
It dawned on us two or three years ago that it’s something that we wanted to do. More and more people are consuming vinyl, which I really like as a way of consuming music. It’s just so different from hitting shuffle on your iPod and I think that it creates more engaged listeners and fans. People were coming up to us and saying, “Hey, we want to get all your vinyls and I saw Control for $150 on eBay. Are you guys ever going to rerelease it?” I thought, “yeah, why not?” It just really took this long to get it done because we had to coordinate with [record label] Jade Tree. We finally were able to get everything going and it just took two or three years to make it happen. That’s why now.
Your first couple records included a lot of pro-Christian imagery. However, as your career progressed, you became more and more detached from Christianity. In 2009, you released Curse Your Branches, an album that has been described as your break-up letter with God. How do you feel your detailed spiritual journey has impacted the evolution of your sound?
It’s funny. I would say that the early Pedro The Lion records had Christian imagery. But in a lot of cases, it was quite critical. I mean, Winners Never Quit was very critical of Christianity. It has helped in some mock narrative, but it really is my attempt at sort of an indictment. While Branches is a more overt statement about me not being Christian anymore, I feel like I’ve always been kind of working at the same thing – which is writing about myself and critiquing institutions that are not helpful.
Sonically, I don’t know if there was any link that I can decipher between the lyrical content and the spiritual shift and the sound of the music. My records have become more autobiographical over the years. Curse Your Branches is quite autobiographical. I don’t know if that’s a trend that will continue. Honestly, I have no idea, but that is something that you could point to.
Do you still receive a lot of backlash from Christians who may feel abandoned by your music? What is your response to them?
Yeah, sometimes, but it’s mostly on the Internet. What are you going to do about that? People are at their worst in comment sections on the Internet. I just don’t pay much attention to it now. I have been quite earnest in my pursuit of truth as I understand it, and I’ve taken the process quite seriously, and with a great deal of respect.
People who take issue with the conclusions that I’ve come to in an honest as a way I know how … that’s not a valid criticism. If I would have done it in a manner that was more offensive and they took issue with the manner that I did it in, that’s fair. But just taking issue with my collecting data and coming to certain conclusions does not make me feel inclined to take that kind of criticism seriously.
If people have expectations based on their interpretations of my music, that’s fine. But if they’re disappointed because it means something about their own journey that is unexpected and uncomfortable … I understand all those things. But criticisms about the conclusions that I’ve come to are really something I have no time or bandwidth to take seriously.
Absolutely. Another topic that you widely tackle in your songwriting is the struggle you had with alcoholism in the mid-2000s. How did you become sober and what effect did that experience have on your music?
Well, to be clear, I still drink but I just don’t have a drinking problem like the one that I had in the mid-2000s. That has been a very interesting and kind of long negotiation. A big component of my compulsion to drink so heavily and so dangerously was the deep conflict and cognitive dismay that I was feeling about issues with faith. Once I finally took stock of myself in regards to my faith and was honest about just how marbled my feelings were about it, a lot of that compulsion lifted. I still have the chemical component of the addiction and so that took a while to get on top of. It was very two steps forward, one step back for two or three years. I still enjoy drinking but I can take it or leave it most of the time.
Do you have any plans yet for a follow-up to your 2011 album, Strange Negotiations?
I’m working very hard to make that happen. It’s been a little slow going, but hopefully, in 2013 … maybe the fall of 2013.
Can you tell me anything about how your sound or songwriting might have evolved since the last album?
I wish I could. I wish I knew. There’s sketches of things, but they don’t feel right yet, so I’m not claiming them as my own quite yet, you know? It might just be like a weigh station for whatever I land on, or I might turn a corner with these tunes and realize, “Oh, with this kind of production and these instruments, this is what I want it to be like.”
As someone who has been in the business for nearly two decades, what career goals do you still have left that you would like to accomplish?
I would like to be better at my craft – writing and recording and playing shows. I’m pretty content, though, to tell you the truth. Money is really hard, but I feel like all of my goals are kind of internal. I want to understand music more than I do and be more fluent with the kind of lyrics that I want to write and the kind of music that I want to have come out of my body. That’s what my goals tend to amount to. Not so much that I want X amount of records sold or to draw this many people or whatever.
If you could only perform one song you’ve written everyday for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?
Even if I agreed to that, I wouldn’t follow through with it. Oh geez. What I play a lot is “Cold Beer and Cigarettes,” but I would get sick of any song really quickly.
What do you find has been the most rewarding part of re-embracing Pedro The Lion during this tour?
The process of remastering all the Pedro vinyls was really eye-opening and enjoyable. For example, I realized just how proud of It’s Hard To Find A Friend I am, and how much I really don’t care for Winners Never Quit. It was all about clarity. Just understanding my own taste and what I actually accomplished and didn’t accomplish with previous releases.
Click here to catch David Bazan on tour now.