Photo by Ryan Russell
Like any longtime fan of pop music, David Bazan has experienced falling out of love with songs and bands that used to totally light his fire. Granted, some music ages poorly, but he’s mostly talking about how personal tastes shift over time.
“You know how you change and mature, and you’re like ‘Yeah, that’s still cool, but now I have expanded view,’ or whatever? And you can kind of see the way you used to view something?” Bazan asks. Now forty-two, he says that hasn’t happened for him yet with The Beatles, the first secular music he identified with as an early teenager: “I think I’m still in that original awe of The Beatles. I still have that basic, childlike wonder when I listen to them. It’s astonishing.”
Bazan is the brains behind Pedro the Lion, which he formed in 1995. The band is probably best known for its downtempo, sad-bastard songs for barrooms and concept albums that tackle themes like American consumerism, religion, and modern marriage.
Lately, Bazan has been holed up in his studio in Seattle, writing and recording the band’s much-anticipated new album and gearing up for their first tour since 2005. Speaking with ahead of Pedro the Lion’s show at Cat’s Cradle on February 21
, Bazan talks about his new album, his formative years and the Fab Four’s enormous influence on his life’s work.
INDY: How much of the new Pedro record is done?
We’ve got drums and electric guitar and bass set up and a multi-track thing plugged into the computer, and I’m just working on the arrangements for these tunes. We have it set up so we’re going to do a couple of days of recording this month, try to get three jams recorded. Then we’re doing another five days in April and another eight or nine days in June or July. So, I’m just trying to use the time I’m not on tour to make steady deposits in the bank of songs on the record. The band will get together and we’ll start with the general arrangements I’ve come up with, and then we’ll kind of evolve the songs together.
As a multi-instrumentalist, which instrument did you start with?
I played drums before I ever played guitar or sang or wrote songs or anything. I started playing guitar in tenth grade to lead songs for two- and three-year-olds in Sunday school classes shortly after moving to Seattle. But in ninth grade, I was drumming in the worship band at the church I went to in Paradise [California]. The youth pastor who led the worship band was a singer and guitar player. I don’t remember whose idea it was for me to learn a chord or two, but it just basically started with the C chord and the G chord.
But you obviously didn’t stop there.
That same year, my sister brought home a book that was like, easy piano classics, classic folk songs, and AM radio hits from the sixties and seventies. “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles was in there. That song was all open chords, and basically I think my entire chord vocabulary up until the late nineties or early 2000s came from that book. Man, I don’t think I’ve realized until this moment what a huge factor learning that song really was.
I was pretty primed to learn a lot from The Beatles because I had their 1967–1970
[compilation album] and the second disc of The White Album
on eternal rotation in my Walkman. And I still haven’t gotten over The Beatles. When you hear the new remix of Sgt. Pepper’s
, the bass playing kind of comes alive and you can hear everything so clearly in the mix. It takes my breath away. The bass playing on
"Getting Better" makes me crash my car, it’s so good.
Yeah, Paul McCartney is pretty incredible.
He’s just the genius beyond all geniuses, in my opinion. He didn’t really have shit to say like, ever, but musically he’s unparalleled. Best rock ‘n’ roll singer, too. I mean, is there a bigger rock star, in a subjective sense?
So, listening to The Beatles got you on your own musical path?
I wrote my first song and quickly understood that songwriting is kind of where it’s at in terms of self-propelled creative energy and having something that you can do on your own. Three-to-five-minute folk and pop songs are such a powerful little force, so I think I just got hooked on that.
Speaking of playing alone, you haven’t played as Pedro the Lion in a pretty long time, right?
I’ve been playing under my own name since the last Pedro show in October 2005. Most of those recordings were me manning everything or hiring out certain parts. Lately I’ve decided that I needed to be in a band again, and I assumed that would be Bazan Band sort of stuff. But shortly after I made the move to get a band together, I realized, ‘Oh, right. This is Pedro.’
Is it exciting to play with other people again?
Man, it is so good. Playing solo can be really fun, and there’s something I found there—an energy. There’s a back-and-forth on an energy level that you learn to recognize and interact with, and that can be really special. I don’t want to downplay that. But on a musical level, I love when parts fit together and lock in. That’s really what got me hooked on making music, the arrangements. Back to The Beatles, those rhythm guitar parts and drum beats and bass lines are so perfectly crafted for those songs. Learning how to fit that stuff together is my love. That’s my joy.