Interview: David Bazan

David Bazan - Photo by Christy Byrd

David Bazan – Photo by Christy Byrd

It has been nearly two decades – 16 years precisely – since singer-songwriter David Bazan first emerged on the indie rock slowcore scene with his solo project turned two-man band, Pedro the Lion. Beginning with 1997’s Whole EP on alternative Christian label Tooth & Nail, Bazan soon signed with Jade Tree, with whom he released four full-lengths and a handful of other releases.

After a short stint as the band Headphones, Bazan ditched the band names and began performing under his own name in 2006. Meanwhile, it’s safe to say that Bazan’s ideals and beliefs have followed a trajectory similar to his various projects, with each one representing a different phase in his life.

Case in point: the end of Pedro the Lion and beginning of Headphones occurred in 2005, shortly after Bazan began dealing with tougher kinds of questions, mostly pertaining to the way he was raised and his outlook on faith.

“[In] late 2004, I really started to look deeply into these kinds of questions that were starting to kind of become persistent in my mind…I was really trying to hash things out, you know. And it’s a little wobbly, also ’cause there was a lot of booze those years too, so it was wobbly for a bunch of reasons,” he said sitting backstage at Berlin’s Privatclub earlier this year. “So it was those years where I was really just trying to explore what seemed true to me, and inevitably, because the culture that I grew up in has such a strong hold on a person – not even just in like an authoritarian kind of way, but how you think of yourself as a part of this culture and how uncomfortable it is to think of yourself outside of that culture. So that was all, you know, a part of it.”

And after a couple of years of dealing with the fundamental questions of existence and morality, Bazan was able to piece together his own ideas about what he really does believe – ideas which are still evolving and growing and regularly being challenged.

“My desire is to collect data, and to honor that data, and try to be honest with myself, and not lie to my wife, and it’s a lot,” Bazan explained. “That already, that’s a lot and so that’s been satisfying to me, as I’m grappling with the bigger existential questions, which I do, several times a week.”

As to the deeper questions of what he believes, again, Bazan couldn’t pinpoint anything exactly, but he did refer to his upbringing as a way of highlighting the differences between the spiritually driven lyrical content from Pedro the Lion as compared to his current belief system and creative output.

“I believe that the moral arc of the universe is long, but that it bends toward justice. Why that is, I don’t know. I believe that it’s not necessary to have answered all the existential questions to be a good person and to try to do right by the people around you, and to be honest with yourself. That a lot of those big questions can be left blank and you can still be moral,” he shared. “That’s a big point of contention with the Evangelical Christianity that I grew up in. They tend to believe that all morality comes from, they wouldn’t say it this way, but when you look at the logic of it, that all morality comes from fear of burning in hell for all eternity, slash, you know, just fear of God. And again, I don’t think that anybody that I grew up with would be cool to characterize it in that way, but I think that that is the actual mechanics of what’s going on in that.”

Bazan explains all of this with a humble curiosity, suggesting that a lot is still up for debate or discovery, but that he’s OK with that. In particular, music has always been a vehicle for him to safely explore the realm of spirituality, morals, and belief systems, and no doubt about it: solo album number three will likely continue in the same manner. Yet at the same time, he did point out that there was a new experience after he released his last album in 2011.

“To me, it’s interesting, because after Strange Negotiations, I felt like I had a clean slate for some reason. And I didn’t feel that way before. And so what that meant for me, is like, casting a really wide net in terms of what kind of record do I wanna make? What kind of music do I even wanna make? As though I have some, you know, great choice in the matter,” he said smiling. “And so I…cast a pretty wide net and I’ve been in limbo for kind of a long time, a year or more, and kinda coming out of that limbo and really feeling like, ‘OK this direction is meaningful to me.'”

What is meant by that, Bazan couldn’t specifically pinpoint, other than to say that he suspects it will be a quieter record.

“All the material will work in this kind of new direction,” he shared. “It’ll be a bit of a departure I think, but then again people will hear it and be like, ‘Oh, this is Bazan.'”

He also likened the process to reaching toward the “Garden of Eden scenario,” in that he wants to return to his roots a bit more and, somewhat paradoxically to his intellectual journey, not question everything musically so much.

“I think that there’s a period of, like, really blissful naivety [where] you’re not questioning and you’re just allowed to do. And then for me, there came a point where I was like ‘What am I doing?’ And then I started trying to like nail everything down,” Bazan elaborated. “So, my attempt now is to get back to…just being ignorant to the possibilities of failure and just to…let the sophisticated things that my subconscious wants to transmit be and try to get out of the way.”

Interestingly enough, Bazan shared that his first album is the one that best mimics what he is seeking to do with his upcoming full-length, something he realized when he was mastering the Pedro the Lion records.

“The album of all four of them that felt most vital to me was the very first one. And I disagree with so many choices I made on that record, absolutely, but it was the one that had the most nuanced kind of voice and I had no fucking clue what I was doing,” he said. “I mean, it was just like going with my gut and not knowing anything. And so you obviously can’t get back to that actually, but some form of that, some kind of zen, like letting go of the process – it would be cool to be able to do that.”

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