A Fiendish Conversation with David Bazan
The singer-songwriter revisits his Pedro the Lion past.
Pedro the Lion is dead. Sort of. When Seattle songwriter David Bazan stopped playing under the Pedro the Lion moniker in 2005, fans were afraid they’d lost one of indie rock’s most introspective and melancholy voices. But Bazan simply soldiered on under his own name, releasing some great records and touring constantly, both with a backing band and on his own in living rooms across the nation. But now, 10 years after the release of Pedro the Lion’s Control, he’s revisiting the past and performing the LP in its entirety on December 15 at the Neptune.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation we talked to Bazan about the local musicians writing some “smart shit,” band name semantics, and Lester Bangs.
How has the fan reaction been so far to the Control tour?
It’s been good. Attendance is way up at the shows, which is… interesting. I don’t know exactly how to interpret that, but certainly it means that people seem to know that we’re there to play Control and are really excited when we start playing it. So that’s cool. And I’ve been really enjoying it. There still is a lot to kind of sink my teeth into in terms of the themes, and the arrangements, and the instrumentation, and how to express myself in that set.
Besides it being Control’s 10th anniversary, were there any other reasons you wanted to give the album another crack?
The main thing, even more than the anniversary, was the rerelease of all the Pedro vinyl. The idea was that we needed to do some kind of tour to promote the Pedro vinyl rerelease as if it were a new record. And so, in the end, we decided that the best way to do that was to play Control all the way through. It seemed like a decent idea—an easier, more concise idea. This idea that people go out to see us play a Pedro record. If that was going to be a thing, then Control was the obvious choice, because it’s the only one that I really like every song on it. All the rest of them have at least one or two songs, if not more, that I don’t enjoy.
This may be getting into semantics, but why is the tour billed as “David Bazan Plays Pedro the Lion’s Control” instead of just saying this is a Pedro the Lion tour?
I just never intended to play under the name Pedro the Lion again. Also, in the wake of that decision in 2005, I’ve been working really hard to develop some brand recognition, for lack of a better term, with my own name. So this was a way that we could maybe communicate to the remaining folks that hadn’t totally got the connection between Bazan and Pedro the Lion. Anybody who saw a Pedro show from 1998–2005, if they see us play these songs, without having to explain it, they will realize, “Oh, this is the same thing,” in terms of content and performance. Any degree to which I can close that gap makes my life easier, because more and more people would theoretically come out to see my solo shows and the band shows, all that stuff. And it’s already shameful enough to play a record; I don’t really want to do a reunion tour on top of that.
How do you think Seattle has affected your sound and voice?
I think that the ever-evolving community of musicians in Seattle is, by and large, an inspiring bunch of people. Since the very beginning, with the Jurados and the Death Cab for Cuties and John Roderick, when a new band pops up, usually there’s some really intelligent song craft. There are real inventive kinds of arrangements that I think enhance everybody’s expectation of themselves. It’s a culture. Just the other artists that are showing up at shows, with, “Here, I wrote a new song.” And they play it and it’s like, “Dude, that song is great.” Your J. Tillmans and your Fleet Foxes and these kind of bands hit the scene and it’s really smart shit. I think that had an influence on me.
What’s the best live show you’ve seen in the past year or so?
I’m always moved, deeply, when I see John Roderick play. I’ve seen him twice this year, actually: opening for Jonathan Coulton and then with the Seattle School of Rock kids.
What are you general feelings about music critics?
I think you have to look at the whole history of criticism. I think of Lester Bangs: He’s this thoughtful, careful, introverted dude who’s kind of going up against these huge, coke-fueled rock stars. And I do like the idea, in that context, of the music critic bringing some kind of humanity and balance to the world. Now, in a lot of ways, I think that it’s flipped a little bit, where in some cases certain music criticism outlets wield more power than any one act, or even dozens of acts stacked up on top of each other. I do think that being a critic of something—without having a creative outlet of your own that would bring some balance to your perspective about the difficulty of expressing yourself in the marketplace—is probably not a good idea. It would yield some really unbalanced and unjust kind of criticism. That said, I don’t think you have to be a musician to do music criticism, but some kind of creative output of your own that itself is subject to criticism.
David Bazan Plays Pedro the Lion’s Control
Feb 15, Neptune Theatre, $16–$18