Pedro the Lion Rocks Indie

Pedro the Lion is not Christian rock. Get it straight. They occasionally dabble in spiritual lyrics and biblical allusions. They were featured in a documentary about Christian rock. On iTunes, instead of "rock" they’re filed under "inspirational."

But leader David Bazan isn’t having it.

"Christian music is retarded," he says. "The point of it is foolish and the implementation of the craft is cut-rate at every turn."

What sets the Washington indie rock band apart from Creed and other Jesus bands? Their music is actually worth remembering. Wavering between hushed tones of despair and the occasionally flip aside, Pedro the Lion (named after Bazan’s yet to be realized children’s book) has gained a loyal college rock following over the past nine years and produced five albums — including the latest "Achilles Heel."

Ready to headline Sonoma State University’s last concert before the winter break, Bazan took a studio break while recording with his new side-project, The Headphones:

Question: I guess congratulations are in order, you just had a new addition to the family.

Answer: Yeah, we had a baby daughter — Ellanor Ann.

Q: And you’re already back on tour? How does your wife let you get away with that?

A: Because she wants, like, money to pay the bills.

Q: That always seems to come in handy. Have you suffered much of a stigma as an indie Christian rock band?

A: Yeah, certainly, because what that makes a reference to is bull—-. Doing art under any other pretense than "Let’s see what happens, I’m feeling like making something" is wrong. It’s unethical, particularly when it’s this bait-and-switch model that evangelical Christians and car salemen have adopted throughout time.

Q: Have you ever felt lured down that road?

A: Definitely. But I never wanted our records to be sold in Christian bookstores. I didn’t want to play Christian shows. It’s just a bunch of kids so stoked they get to go out on a Friday night, they’ll play hackey-sack while you’re playing. And the promoters are schmucks. They don’t pay you the way they’re supposed to. They pull you aside after the show and say, ‘Hey, bro, this is a ministry and we didn’t really do as well as we thought we were tonight.’ "

Q: One line from "Achilles Heel" that keeps coming back to me is "You were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord to hear the voice of the spirit begging you to shut the (heck) up." Have you been more reluctant to talk about God and religion lately?

A: Only because it’s so consistently misunderstood. The presence of religion on "Winners Never Quit" is often misunderstood as being pro-, but from my perspective it was an indictment of religion and Christianity and how it didn’t work. It was a very mocking record.

Q: "Arizona" might be the first song to expose rampant geographical lovemaking between states. I never knew that Arizona had this thing for California and New Mexico is downright jealous.

A: Well, the whole thing came from the way California and Nevada are kind of spooning on the map. But I didn’t really feel like writing a song about Nevada so much. I grew up in Arizona and there’s always been a special place in my heart for that state.

Q: Now that you have a manager, how does he feel about your satirical take on "Bands with Managers"?

A: I wrote the song before we had a manager, then we got one and he was a little bit insecure when he first heard it: ‘What does this mean? Are you guys just (messing) with me or what?’ I explained to him where it came from and he said fine. It’s basically about the bands who betray their loyal supporters and fans to make it.

Q: Do you think (’80s Christian hair-metal band) Stryper ever did that?

A: I don’t know. There’s so much that’s unethical about that band, I wouldn’t put it past them.

Q: What are the top three things you remember about Stryper?

A: I know that their Bible verse was Isaiah 53:4. Christian bands would put a bible verse after their names so people would understand the reference that their name means.

Q: Don’t forget the black-and-yellow bumblebee motiff.

A: Exactly. And I’ve actually seen the singer perform a solo set at Paramount’s Great America in San Jose.

Q: I bet that was awesome.

A: You have no idea.

PEDRO THE LION IS PURE VOLUME MAN

PEDRO THE LION have just finished their first leg of ther Winter tour, but are hardly sitting still. All 22 songs from a show recorded in Omaha during the summer tour are available for free at . There are a few back-catalog album tracks available for download and you can use the pop-up player to hear all of the live songs in order.

Also A new version of Pedro The Lion’s "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" can be found on a new being released by Nettwerk Records. There are also exclusive tracks by Death Cab For Cutie, The Polyphonic Spree, Ivy, and many others. All proceeds go to Toys For Tots.

So while the band gears up for their next string of December dates, be sure to get all up on this stuff.

MP3:

Please consult the Pedro The Lion for current dates.

Pedro the Lion Intervew

What do you know? 30 finally got an interview with Pedro the Lion. It was a long, treacherous battle, but, hey we somehow did it. Was it worth the wait? Oh, hell yes. From finding out that David Bazan’s wife sometimes can’t deal with his lyrics to realizing he may never write a “happy” song, we pick apart this prolific songwriters brain. And it’s all for you, the faithful reader.

From Detroit to Buffalo, one socially/economically depressed city to the next, Pedro the Lion embarks on their Fall tour in support of Achilles Heel. After the sun sets and business hours are spent, downtown Buffalo becomes a ghost town; the men and women in suits leave the city to the wind strewn trash and the hollow corridors of the vacant cityscape. In many ways, David Bazan’s stark allegories of the downtrodden and dilapidated human condition are at home here. And as the kids line up in the cold waiting for the doors to open, 30 sits down with Mr. Bazan.

30: It’s been about five months since Achilles Heel came out. How do you feel about the record now?

David Bazan: Pretty good. I feel less and less like I need each album to be definitive. So, there’s not as much writing on each one?°¦ Well, I guess just that. Needing it to be some definitive statement about who the band is and all that other stuff. That being said, I like it. It’s pleasant, I think. Definitively not everything I would want it to be, but a good snapshot of the time and the songs.

30: Is it hard being on the road, playing these songs and thinking about what different directions they could have gone in?

Bazan: Yeah, but more you just reference the songs. When you think of an album you just think of the songs that you play, and that you like it. Just, “I like this song and that album had this song that I like.”

30: Lyrically, your songs always tend to lean towards the sinister side of life. Where do all these topics come from? As you have said, the songs are mostly fictional, but what is the source, where does it come from?

Bazan: I don’t know. I guess it’s whatever is going on in my subconscious. The kinds of things I like to think of: crime, movies–

30: Presidential politics?

Bazan: Yeah, that’s?°¦there’s just a lot of room to be deviant when thinking of American life. So, it probably stems from all of that. I like a lot of different stuff. I like Tarantino’s movies?°¦

(Bazan’s cell phone rings, and the interview is momentarily on hold.)

Bazan: That was my wife.

30: It’s just, you’re songs are depressing. They have all these hurtful feelings coming out, have you ever thought of, or have you ever written, a straight up happy song.

Bazan: That critique has been around for a really long time. People have encouraged me to write a happy song and I would think, “Why can’t I write a happy song?” I mean, I don’t know. I sat down and tried to do it, but it just feels fake or something. It’s nothing I could really sing and get behind because in most cases I just don’t buy it. I’m not sure in a general sense. Yet, I enjoy my life and am relatively happy and at peace.

30: But has your wife ever bothered you about it? “Write me a happy song.”

Bazan: Nah. She doesn’t like some songs occasionally. There was a line in “I do” that I changed for her. It used to say, “and when his tiny head emerged from hair and folds of skin” which she thought to be pornographic or whatever. She suggested “blood” and I changed it to that. That’s fine. Probably left to my own I would have kept “hair”. It is more graphic, but no, she isn’t pissed about the general direction of the music.

30: Achilles’ Heel seems to be more poppier than the other Pedro discs. Is this a direction you’re going to continue in?

Bazan: I really don’t know. You just trying to figure out where your own tastes are and write songs that you like. As things go, I like pop songs a lot. I don’t know what is going to happen now, though – if I aim to write more songs like that. The songs I am writing now are definitely pop songs in similar ways.

30: In an interview with Jade Tee co-owner, Tim Owen, he said that Pedro the Lion was one of the bands he had always dreamed of signing. How did the whole deal go down?

Bazan: With them, the guy who was running Made in Mexico, who was a longtime friend when he started the label, asked me if I wanted to be on his label and I said ?°»Yeah.” He had been a longtime friend with Tim from Jade Tree. At one point, there was a couple of major labels that were interested and were courting Pedro the Lion but usually just junior A & R guys, nothing really legitimate. We were entertaining the idea, and the guy running Made in Mexico said, “That’s stupid. If you are going to go some place else you should go to the next logical step. You shouldn’t jump ahead. Tim likes your band and would be interested in signing you. You should do that if you are going someplace else.” Then eventually in late ?°»99, on tour, we played in DC and Tim Owen took us out to dinner and asked to sign us.

30: You’ve gone quite far with Pedro the Lion. What keeps you going? The music itself or the fans, the response you get?

Bazan: I wouldn’t say it’s the response and the fans. I love doing it. I love getting up every day and working on music, writing music, and I love going on tour. It’s a decent way to make a modest living for now. I am obsessed with music and making up songs and figuring how they are going to go and what the instrumentations are going to be.

30: Have you been on tour with Starflyer 59 before?

Bazan: Yeah, we’ve been buddies with them for a long time. We’ve played mostly in Southern California, well on the West Coast we’ve played with them a lot because they live in Southern California. Last summer we did some shows where I played solo, opening up for them. So, we must have played 40 or 50 shows with them.

30: Is there some sort of West Coast community, especially among what are considered Christian bands? From a far off perspective, it seems like there is this community atmosphere.

Bazan: I don’t know. There’s the SoCal thing that these guys [Starflyer] know about and run in that would’ve included like Gene Eugene, Mike Knott, and the 77’s. I think they knew of each other through Gene’s studio, the Green Room. Gene worked on Starflyer’s records and he was in bands with Mike Rowe and Terry Taylor. And we’re just buddies with these guys, and I don’t know any other bands from down there. I know Martin. So, It doesn’t feel like that with me but they’re my buddies and I like them a lot, and when I go down for Christmas to see my folks my wife and I go out to dinner with Martin and his wife. In Seattle, obviously, where you live you have buddies that you would consider community.

30: I read that you were digging I am the Portuguese Blues. It must be really fun going tour with a band like this.

Bazan: Oh yeah. I think I got the Silver record in ’94 and have been a big fan ever since. Around ’96 I met Jason and starting hanging out and playing shows together.

30: What type of music were you listening to when you were 17?

Bazan: When I was 17, I was listening to Fugazi, the Cure, U2, Nirvana, the Violent Femmes, the Breeders. I listened to the radio and other stuff too, but the records I remember putting in and listening to. That’s pretty much it.

Pedro the Lion is loved by Christ-core rockers, indie-scene heathens, and everyone in between.

No matter how big David Bazan’s Pedro the Lion gets, the band will probably never get on "Jay Leno" or "SNL" or "The OC." Three pudgy guys with beards and poor posture playing quiet, smart songs about God, infidelity and feminism are not exactly a KISS or Blue Man Group-like blueprint of showy prime-time entertainment.

By the time the band’s next record drops, though, Pedro the Lion could be one of the biggest and most successful groups in independent music, mainly due to the band’s connection with non-secular music. Pedro’s lyrics about faith, and the lack thereof, have earned the band a huge Christian rock following — despite the fact that many of the lyrics deal with losing faith, doubting God’s power and "backsliding" in the commitment to religion.

If there’s one thing Christian rock audiences have it’s money — money for shows, money for records, money for band t-shirts, stickers, and pins. An album in a Christian rock record store means big sales. Christian kids are looking for something better than the white-bread praise music they’re fed by parents and clergy members. Give them bands with a more balanced point of view, something a little darker though still church-friendly, and they will eat it up.

This makes for an interesting dynamic at shows. Youth-group Christian teens in giggly masses, eyes closed and singing along, rub shoulders with cynical, scene-versed indie rock fans, who stand rail still and pretend not to care about anything. It’s a wide polar divide. The Sharks and Jets ain’t got nothin’ on a Pedro audience.

The music also has a lot to do with Pedro’s big-time status. Bazan’s soft, sleepy mumble is earnest and trustworthy, a low whisper of storytelling, articulate and full of evocative, cinematic imagery.

Pedro’s latest full-length record, "Achilles Heal" (Jade Tree), steps back and forth between solid but sparse guitar/bass/drums-rock and low-key solo tracks. All of Bazan’s old themes are there: cheatin’ hearts, sex, faith and the downfalls of a patriarchal society.

It is an album that shows a man on the brink of a spiritual breakdown, on the edge of an emotional precipice. Bazan’s own stories and philosophies and ideas are told as dramatized accounts of fictional characters. It is a stunning, relevant piece of music — sad, engaging, and beautifully written.

Pedro also has a tour-only EP available at shows, featuring covers of Cat Power, Radiohead and Randy Newman. Ask Bazan for it at the merch booth. He’s totally approachable.

PEDRO THE LION WINTER TOUR

PEDRO THE LION after taking a few weeks off are ready to head back out again in support of their most recent release. The band has been on the road non-stop since Achilles Heel dropped to rave reviews and across the board praise early this summer. This time out they’ll be back on the town beginning November 8th with shoegazers Starflyer 59 in tow.

Also we’d like to extend mad props to Josh Allen who entered and won the PEDRO THE LION contest on achilles-heel.net. Josh and a friend will meet the band at the first show of the tour at The Magic Stick in Detroit, Michigan in addition to a generous goody bag of merch.


MP3:

Please consult the Pedro The Lion for current dates.

PEDRO THE LION LAUNCHES NOVEMBER TOUR

It’s been a busy year for PEDRO THE LION; the boys from Seattle released the critically lauded Achilles Heel, toured endlessly with the likes of Death Cab for Cutie, John Vanderslice, and Tilly and The Wall, dropped a tour-only EP of covers and rarities, and posted downloadable live tracks from their gigs garnering an amazing 250,000 downloads in a mere 40 days.

So in keeping with their madman momentum, PEDRO THE LION will be heading back out on the road beginning November 8th with the shoegazing Starflyer 59 in tow as support.


MP3:

Please consult the Pedro The Lion for current dates.

Pedro The Lion [I]Achilles Heel[/I] Review

The sad bit about rating systems is that they’ll never capture the complexities of an album’s listenability. While Achilles Heel may be rocking the middle ground of my taste’s sliding scale, I still think the album should be listened to. That said, Achilles Heel is a little rocky on the path to its mark. Frontman/songwriter Dave Bazan has strayed from the narrative drive of his last two efforts, and that compromises these songs somewhat. Also, the alt-Christian aspects suffer from the lack of parable. But maybe this is Bazan (like Daniel) in the lion’s den, testing himself and the faith of his listeners. So Achilles Heel may be a stagger toward perfection, but even in that, it’s closer than most ever come.

PEDRO THE LION AND DESPISTADO TAKE ACTION

have announced the track listing for the newest installment in the Take Action! series. This year’s compilation features unreleased, rare, and album tracks from DESPISTADO, PEDRO THE LION, Taking Back Sunday, Coheed and Cambria, Against Me!, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and more.

The Take Action! serves as an extension of the Sub City concept of raising funds and awareness for non-profit organizations through music. Once again, the artists on the comp are teaming up to support and raise funds for The National Hopeline Network (www.hopeline.com), a suicide prevention and crisis hotline network. This year proceeds will go to benefit a new feature of the Hopeline, The National Youthline Network 1-877-YOUTHLINE (968-8454) which offers a special peer-to-peer line. Over the past four years, the Take Action! tour and CD compilations have raised over $150,000.00 for this cause.



Take Action! vol. 4 will hit the streets on October 5, 2004.

TRACKLISTING:

Disc One
1. PSA by Andrew W.K.
2. NOFX – Concerns of a GOP Neo-Phyte (Wrong Version)
3. Squad Five-0 – Lay it Down
4. The Break – The Wolves Are At The Front Door
5. The Kicks – Radar
6. Against Me! – You Look Like I Need A Drink
7. Murder By Death – Canyon Inn, Room 16
8. Boys Night Out – I Got Punched In The Nose For…
9. Ever We Fall – Three Wires In
10. Hawthorne Heights – Ohio is for Lovers
11. Fear Before the March of Flames – Consequences David, You’ll Meet…
12. Underoath – Reinventing Your Exit
13. Haste – Stutter
14. Shadows Fall – The Power Of I And I
15. Mastodon – March of the Fire Ants
16. Terror – Keep Your Mouth Shut
17. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Panasonic Youth
18. New Mexican Disaster Squad – You’re Incorrect
19. A Wilhelm Scream – Famous Friends And Fashion Drunks
20. V.P.R. – Our Day In the Sun
21. The Briggs – All On Me
22. Go Betty Go – C’mon

Disc Two
1. Coheed and Cambria – The Crowing
2. Taking Back Sunday – Bonus Mosh Pt. II
3. Rufio – Don’t Hate Me
4. Brandtson – Little Birds and Sparrows
5. Roses are Red – White and Gold
6. The Early November – Ever So Sweet
7. Mae – Embers and Envelopes
8. Hidden In Plain View – Bleed For You
9. Brazil – And So It Goes
10. Kaddisfly – Midnight in Shanghai
11. Ted Leo/The Pharmacists – Six Months In A Leaky Boat
12. Pedro the Lion – Discretion
13. Now It’s Overheard – Wait In A Line
14. Melee – The War
15. ROY – Wipe that Brow
16. Detachment Kit – The Race
17. Despistado – A Stirsticks Prediction
18. The Lot Six – Autobrats
19. Communique – Perfect Weapon

WHAT’S BETTER THAN 39 PEDRO THE LION DOWNLOADS?

How about 21 more? Beginning today at noon the boys in PEDRO THE LION will be offering 21 live mp3 downloads via their . Seven new downloads will be offered each week for the next three weeks from the band’s recent performance in Omaha, NE. Simply login to the download page with your Achilles Heel username and password (found in the thank you section of the liner notes) to get the free downloads. Come back each week to get the whole show. The initial 39 tracks offered during the most recent coast-to-coast tour with John Vanderslice garnered an amazing 150,000 downloads in 40 days.

More tour dates are in the works for November and December, but in the meantime stop by the band’s site and check out this amazing performance with a set list that spans the entire PEDRO THE LION catalog.


PEDRO THE LION ROARS THROUGH TOWN

PEDRO THE LION, still hot on the heels of the stellar Achilles Heel, are currently on the road finishing up a batch of dates with Omaha cuties and The Western States. The band returns home to Seattle on August 12th and after a few weeks of rest, will be dusting off their amps in order to play this years with Soft Boys frontman Robyn Hitchcock.


Please consult the Pedro the Lion for current dates.

Pedro the Lion

In the past, Pedro The Lion frontman David Bazan knew exactly how a song would start and end.

But in sitting down to write songs for his new album, "Achilles Heel," he let the songs take their own direction.

"I used to sort of decide what a song was going to be about as I started to write it," Bazan said. "I am really trying not to do that any more. It was just so enjoyable to write these open-ended songs that I’m still learning about now. People ask me what a certain song means and I won’t know. And then I will think about it and sort of see things in it that I never could have intended, but are certainly there."

Pedro The Lion will perform Monday and Tuesday at The Abbey, 3420 W. Grace St., Chicago.

John Vanderslice also is on the bill. The shows start at 8 p.m. each night. Tickets are $12 in advance, and $14 at the door. They are available by calling (866) 468-3401.

"Achilles Heel" is finding critical and commercial success. The album jumped to No. 24 on the Billboard independent label chart and No. 8 on the CMJ Top 200 chart during its first week of sales in May.

That surprised Bazan.

"We didn’t know what to expect really," Bazan said. "We just made it and liked it, and thought we would tour and promote it."

Bazan enjoyed the open-ended approach he took in making "Achilles Heel."

"It made the process so much more about discovery than it ever had been," Bazan said. "And that was really enjoyable. I loved it."

Bazan believes "Achilles Heel" is his best album to date.

"But I don’t think of it as a definitive, ‘Finally, I’ve made the record I’ve been wanting to make kind of thing,’" Bazan said. "It’s more that I feel it’s a really great step in the right direction."

Bazan has developed a reputation of making thought-provoking music. But he tries not to think of his audience when he sits down to write a song.

"I think it’s more just trying to make something that I like, that I am satisfied with and that I think is compelling," Bazan said. "Whatever happens from there is fine."

His music has become popular with Christian music fans. But Bazan does not consider himself a Christian artist.

"It’s difficult to even say whether I consider myself a Christian, so I certainly wouldn’t say I am a Christian artist," Bazan said. "That has a lot of implications that I just don’t feel are true about Pedro The Lion. The implications that come along with that just don’t apply."

Pedro the Lion [I]Achilles Heel[/I] Review

David Bazan has made an impressive album in Achilles Heel. I can’t help but think of two other artists, one being Evan Dando and the other being Mark Eitzel. With these comparisons out in the open, let me clarify that it is just David’s vocals that remind me of these two singer/songwriters. David’s music tends to be a lot more diverse than either Evan’s or Mark’s. It’s been a while since I’ve checked in with Pedro the Lion, around Winners Never Quit stages. The album starts out with the lilting "Bands With Managers", one that sounds like Mark’s American Music Club. It’s "Forgone Conclusions" where David starts resembling the Lemonheads a little. It’s a great song that is a little more inspiring. This is one of those albums that makes me want to pick up the guitar and learn a few songs again. Call them modern day torch songs but they would go great with just an acoustic guitar and vocals. One of the more aggressive songs on Achilles Heel is the chunky "Keep Swinging", it’s bright and catchy. Another one along this line is "A Simple Plan". I have to say that Achilles Heel is miles above Winners Never Quit. The songs seem so much more invigorating and inspiring. Bazan’s vocals are bright while coming across completely modest. I recommend Achilles Heel.

Hallelujah Palooza Faith and Rock Mosh Together At Christian Music Festival

The 3,000 people crammed into this tent are tingling with trepidation and illicit thrills: Will David Bazan . . . swear out loud tonight?

If this were one of the punk clubs that Bazan’s band, Pedro the Lion, usually finds itself in, the bearded 28-year-old singer would have to do a lot more than cuss to raise even a single pierced eyebrow. But as a performer at the Cornerstone Festival, an annual Christian-rock expo in western Illinois that took place over the weekend, Bazan is expected to follow the same rules as the attendees — no drugs or alcohol, and while profanity isn’t specifically banned, it’s certainly not encouraged. Bazan has already blown through a gallon jug of water mixed with vodka, so what’s one more shattered taboo?

"You were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord," he sings, "to hear the voice of the Spirit begging you to shut the [expletive] up."

A slight squeal goes up, and then some objects fly at the stage.

They’re a few pairs of ladies’ underwear.

It probably goes without saying that not many of the festival’s 25,000 attendees expected such a scene when they paid their $110 admission (which includes camping, showers and all the music they can handle), and it’s an anomaly even for Cornerstone, despite its reputation as a relatively liberal Christian event.

This is the 21st year that the Jesus People USA, a Christian commune and ministry in Chicago, has presented the event. Music is central to the Jesus People’s practices; Cornerstone’s director, John Herrin, played drums for a pioneering Christian rock group called the Resurrection Band.

For anyone used to the minimum-security-prison ambiance of most rock festivals, it’s a surprise to see stocked merchandise tables left unattended at night. But if you take away the safe environment, the reasonably priced food and the sober teenage virgins, Cornerstone is a lot like Ozzfest.

The pathways between the seven main stages are, depending on the weather, sources of unbearable dust clouds or shoe-stealing mud. The toilets are a challenge to city-softened sensibilities. And most of the attendees are white middle-class kids in their late teens or early twenties — many sporting mohawks and henna tattoos that one suspects will not be making the trip back home — who are here to see rock bands and meet people their own age.

Cornerstone is unique among Christian festivals, though, in that it focuses not on the adult-contemporary light pop most people associate with Christian music — Amy Grant, say, or the Elms — but alternative bands with names like Demon Hunter and Torn in Two.

The musicians in these bands mix freely with attendees — indeed, generator-powered temporary stages dot the festival grounds; bands not on the official schedule can perform on them on a first-come, first-served basis — forgoing a rare opportunity to be seen as stars.

"This is a different scene," says Jonathan Foreman, singer for the modern-rock group Switchfoot, which started on a Christian record label and has since achieved secular success with its Top 40 single "Meant to Live."

"By contrast," he says, "we just did a festival with Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd in Alabama, and it got very violent, a lot of fights and things."

This is Switchfoot’s third year at Cornerstone, the only Christian festival the band chooses to play. Sitting backstage and enjoying some pre-show pizza, Foreman is palpably wary of identifying himself with the genre.

"If we’re gonna stay out of the box," he says of the Christian-rock tag, "we have to be very conscientious of what everything we do is saying. But now we’re fortunate enough to pick the shots, and this is one of those festivals where it’s a lot of people that are, you know, searching spiritually. They want to see the world change for the better. That’s important to me."

Labels, Unwanted vs. Major

Brandon Ebel understands Foreman’s reluctance to associate himself with any sort of boxing-up. "Christian music was invented for more of a lifestyle," he says, noting that there’s no one "sound" to Christian rock. "It’s more of a shared belief system."

Ebel founded Tooth and Nail Records 11 years ago in Seattle. Since then the label has spawned two sublabels: Solid State, which specializes in Christian metal and punk, and BEC Recordings, which offers mainstream Christian pop in the mold of such big Nashville-based labels as Sparrow and INO, home to MercyMe and Newsboys, respectively.

Christian music is still known mostly for nonthreatening acts such as Third Day and Steven Curtis Chapman, which mostly stay within the confines of the evangelical community, playing at large churches and events like the Creation Festival. But in the past few years a number of Christian rock bands, or at least rock bands made of people who’ve grown up in evangelical culture (many of them with parents who were born again in the Jesus Movement), have led successful assaults on mainstream charts. Since P.O.D. hit big in 2001 with the singles "Alive" and "Youth of the Nation," the record industry has begun eyeing many Christian bands’ crossover potential.

Jars of Clay, Sixpence None the Richer, Staci Orrico, MercyMe and Chevelle all had success in the secular market (and that’s not counting Creed and Evanescence, both of whose members have been downright prickly about their religious affiliations). Tooth and Nail, like other large Christian indies (Forefront, Gotee), has major-label distribution. And while a few older fans bemoan the loss of bands to the "dying world," most younger ones are delighted to find out that there’s no conflict between their beliefs and what’s hot.

On modern-rock radio, for example, the Switchfoot chorus "We were meant to live for so much more" is an appropriate drive-time sentiment for anyone with a lousy job. At the end of the band’s show at Cornerstone, though, it’s hard to miss what the sentiment meant to the mostly teenage crowd singing along with Jonathan Foreman at the top of their lungs.

Even though Ebel met BEC’s most popular artist, Jeremy Camp, at Cornerstone, and squeaky-clean bands like Relient K are represented, the festival’s audience is much more interested in the kinds of groups Tooth and Nail puts out, and the label’s stall in the exhibition tent is mobbed at all hours.

Ebel says his goal in starting Tooth and Nail was creating a label that is "totally relevant and totally musically right in there with everybody else. But still promoting a clean lifestyle." He sees validation in the fact that the band Underoath recently sold 10,000 copies of its debut album for Solid State the week it was released.

"Ninety percent of the sales were general market," meaning not at Christian bookstores, Ebel says. "So obviously, lots of kids that aren’t Christians don’t care" about Underoath’s spiritual orientation. Still, it’s easier for the proverbial camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a song with overtly Christian content to get on MTV, so the route to stardom for Christian bands often entails swallowing hard and getting on the mainstream circuit; Underoath will play on the Warped Tour all summer.

Several Tooth and Nail groups have tested their mettle by leaving the Christian market behind. The pop punk band MxPx jumped ship to the mainstream pop label A&M in 1998, and had a gold record in 2000 (the group has since been dropped but is still popular enough to headline Cornerstone’s second night). Nu-metalers Project 86 left for Atlantic Records in 2000 but returned to Ebel’s fold this year. Most recently, Squad Five-O left Tooth and Nail for Capitol Records.

With his shirt on, Squad Five-O’s singer Jeff Fortson could pass for an anorexic version of Dewey Finn, Jack Black’s character in "School of Rock." On Cornerstone’s main stage, he exhibits similar joie-de-rock — somersaulting into the crowd, holding his microphone so crowd surfers can sing along as they pass by. When he is bare-chested, though, Fortson’s tattoos indicate he has a god other than Mick Jagger — his right arm sports a stylized alpha and omega and a kicky fish symbol.

"The bottom line is, it’s Christian and everyone knows it," Ebel says of his label. "But we don’t want to market our faith; we just want to put out great records."

Cornerstone is not without moments that reflect evangelical Christianity’s sometimes awkward cohabitation with rock music. Before one group plays at the Tooth and Nail showcase (the only label to get its "own" day at the fest), a representative of World Vision takes the stage to encourage kids at the festival to sponsor its AIDS outreach in Africa.

"Does anybody here watch the news?" he asks, and quiet rapidly descends. World Vision provides food and medicine, he explains, but the most important thing it provides is God, so AIDS sufferers "have somewhere to go when they die."

Silence.

"And now let’s welcome Ace Troubleshooter!"

Hard Music

Doug Van Pelt’s emcee skills are a bit less shaky. Like the bluesman Robert Johnson in reverse, Van Pelt found Jesus at a crossroads — actually, where several freeways come together in Dallas. It was there, at a free concert called Explo ’72, which starred Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash, that the 9-year-old Van Pelt first became a Christian. The concert marked the ascendancy of the "Jesus Movement" of the 1970s, when many disillusioned hippies came to the church. Van Pelt’s early conversion didn’t take, but when he converted to Christianity for good 10 years later, he already knew he didn’t have to give up his love of pop music.

Yes, the Ted Nugent and Black Sabbath records had to go. That’s a common experience for rock fans who are born again, Van Pelt says between introducing the bands playing on the HM magazine stage on the festival’s second night. Van Pelt is the editor of HM and remembers feeling like he was "sitting down with the guidance of the Holy Spirit saying, ‘What albums should I get rid of?’ "

Van Pelt eventually went back to many of his old favorite albums, and he keeps up with secular music. One of HM’s most popular features is called "So and So Says," in which a writer sits down with a secular band to find out what its members think about Jesus. (Cannibal Corpse’s George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher on the Good Book: "I don’t know what the exact words are, but the Bible says, uh, that no one is fit to . . . you know, I don’t know what the exact words are . . . who the hell are you to sit here and judge me?")

Van Pelt’s bread and butter is Christian "hard music," which is what HM has stood for since he ditched the magazine’s original title, Heaven’s Metal, in 1995 on its 10th anniversary. It’s hard to believe he’s been chronicling the harder side of Christian music for nearly two decades; his writing swings between enthusiasm and disillusionment so rapidly you’d swear he was a 23-year-old kid with a stack of fanzines and bootleg CDs in his backpack.

Last year HM ran an essay called "The Ugly Truth Behind Christian Rock," in which Van Pelt railed against the mediocre standards of Christian radio and the dodgy deals signed by many Christian bands. He wondered aloud what makes an artist "Christian" — personal beliefs? the "Jesus Per Minute" factor of the songs? — and called for competition with secular bands, and for fans to support such endeavors.

"That was 19 years of frustration coming out in one article," Van Pelt says. Thing is, he loves the stuff. There are plenty of strengths to Christian music, he says, chief among them what he calls its "pastoral" role in reinforcing faith.

Many of the bands HM covers sound like popular secular bands. That bothers Van Pelt, who wishes Christian groups would take more chances artistically, though he cites Christian groups such as King’s X and Zao as real innovators.

And then there’s the music’s undeniable gift of coolness for kids who come to evangelical Christianity through parents who won’t let them listen to secular music.

"If the kid gets approval from Mom and Dad," he says, "they can go to a concert, jump around in a mosh pit, and just go crazy. It’s not super-spiritual, necessarily, but I think that serves a great purpose."

Tees of Many Slogans

It’s not just Christian rock that’s a lot cooler these days. The tables in Cornerstone’s exhibition tents promote outfits with names like onetruth.com, Something Sacred and Teen Mania. Black T-shirts ring the tents at eye level, boasting slogans with plenty of attitude: "Moshing for Jesus," "Reject Religion. Embrace Jesus" and "Body Piercing Saved My Life" (the back of which shows two hands with holes in the palms).

Antiabortion shirts abound. A group called Rock for Life appears to be doing a brisk business selling tees that warn an undefined "you" to "Stop Killing My Generation." Its booth is staffed by a guy who wouldn’t have looked out of place on Carnaby Street in 1977, sporting a ceiling-scraper mohawk and a leather jacket festooned with patches from punk bands who’d probably have coronaries if they saw where he was working.

There’s also a table selling "The Word on the Street," a hip retelling of the Bible by Rob Lacey, a Welsh performance artist. Lacey himself takes the stage between main-stage bands to share some of his material: a three-minute version of the entire Bible as well as an update of the story of the Prodigal Son, in which "Sam Aritan" stops to help an injured stranger.

Lacey then starts shouting "Rewind!" and casts several others in the role of the Good Samaritan: an illegal immigrant, a Welshman, a homosexual (who minces and lisps and calls the man’s wounds "just beastly") and, to loud boos, a Frenchman. ("Boot ah em a pacifeest!" he protests.)

Not all Christian artists are comfortable with the assumption that they’re politically conservative. James McAllister of the Oklahoma indie group Ester Drang says that while his band plays the festival every year, none of its members is particularly jazzed by some of the sentiments expressed there.

"You can’t really walk around the merchandise tent without seeing things that are offensive to some people," he says. "The truth of this festival is that it’s basically money-oriented. There’s a lot of good aspects of it, but at the end of the day, people are trying to turn a profit."

Tooth and Nail’s Ebel isn’t flustered by such criticisms. "I don’t say we’re a ministry," he says of his label. "We want our bands to make money, we want to make money, we want to pay our rent."

The Doubting Believer

Pedro the Lion’s Bazan hasn’t seen "Saved!" yet, but it’s likely he’d agree with the central thesis of the film, which manages to poke fun at evangelical culture without demeaning it: At the end of the movie, Jena Malone’s character asks why God would make everyone so different if He wanted them to all act the same.

Seated in an artist hospitality area before his concert, his jug of happy juice half full, Bazan and drummer Tim Walsh (wearing a T-shirt with a picture of George W. Bush and the legend "One-Term President") hope to present a different view of evangelical Christianity.

Bazan grew up the son of a Pentecostal minister and listened exclusively to Christian music until he discovered D.C. punk pioneers Fugazi in his late teens. He’s probably the only indie-rocker who can talk without irony about loving Amy Grant.

Still, he hates that his faith has become so politicized, and he despises the Christian music industry. And he plays Cornerstone every year.

"They have bands that have no voice in the context of greater Christianity," he says of the festival’s organizers, the Jesus People USA commune and ministry in Chicago. "All the rest of the festivals are very commercial. That’s why I personally come back."

For the past couple of years, Pedro the Lion has played the main stage, but this year Bazan requested a smaller berth — one where he could, say, curse without worrying about offending the parents of young children.

Bazan’s own faith is clearly a work in progress. He feels Pedro the Lion is "representing a minority of people who deserve somebody to stand up and say, ‘I believe in the deity of Christ, and yet I can’t honestly call myself a Christian.’ " On Pedro’s new record, Bazan offers to buy anyone interested a drink and "tell you why I doubt it and why I still believe."

And on this night, as he stares out at thousands of faces aglow with three days of fellowship and fun, Bazan lifts up one of those dissenting voices he thinks is missing. After warning the crowd he’d have to tell his wife about the airborne underwear, he tells the crowd that their vision of Jesus as a "rugged individualist" is a 20th-century conception unique to America and inexorably shaped by television.

"You may think your church is descended from the Church of Acts," he tells them, invoking the voguish idea that today’s evangelical church hews closer to the original Christian community described in the New Testament book of the same name than any of its contemporaries. "But you don’t know what it’s like to live in ancient times. I don’t mean to be condescending; it’s just something I thought of."

And then he plays a song that contains no swear words whatsoever.

Show Review – Pedro the Lion – Bushnell, IL

As I sloshed through the fresh mud of the festival grounds trying to locate the tent titled “Encore One”, I tried to anticipate what to expect out of ol’ Dave Bazan tonight. It seems that with each time I have seen him he has grown progressively colder and bitterer, and I wondered if tonight would be any exception. I managed to find a spot center of stage right behind a group of scene-sters who were arguing about what genre they would classify Pedro the Lion under, I laughed when one of them suggested the title “Snore-Core” (because it puts him to sleep). Finally, after several more minutes of waiting, Bazan took the stage wearing his trademark black t-shirt and jeans (when asked about his attire later in the show he stated that it was a product of his obsession with the idea of a uniform.)

After a long and tedious sound check, the band opened up with “Indian Summer” and the crowd’s energy immediately picked up. After playing a few more songs off <em>Control,</em> Bazan immediately opened up the forum for his patented mid-show question and answer period. In the past during these sessions either: a) people ask ridiculous questions and he gets upset or b) He ignores all questions and uses the time to share his current ideologies regarding politics, religion, etc. Strangely, this evening Bazan appeared to be in a relatively chipper mood, and when he was asked a handful of decent questions, he enthusiastically entertained them. In fact, he was so pleased with the first question and answer period that he proceeded to have about five more before the end of the set.

After question time he began to play some of the older songs that the crowd had been requesting. During this portion of the set he played “Slow and Steady Wins the Race”, “Winners Never Quit”, and my personal favorite “Big Trucks” off the record <em>It’s Hard to Find a Friend.</em> Bazan concluded each section of songs with more questions, and assurance that he would be playing “a bunch more songs” (which he definitely did, the total set time was nearly two hours).

As the show came to a close most of the songs being played were from the <em>Achilles Heel</em> album, and the new tracks sounded great live. At one point during the closing minutes of the show Bazan was showered with variety of women’s panties that were thrown from the crowd. He was wildly amused by the incident, and openly admitted that it was definitely the first time that it had happened. It was a unique night in many ways: a happy Bazan, a long set, excellent audience involvement, and yes of course, the panties.

9.0/10

Sharing the Lion’s Den - With T.W. Walsh, Pedro the Lion is no longer one-man show

Pedro the Lion is Seattle-based singer-songwriter David Bazan. Or at least it used to only be him.

Now T.W. Walsh has become a permanent member of Pedro the Lion, sharing not only the stage but also the writing chores on the band’s recent Jade Tree release, Achilles Heel.

Is he the first real, permanent member of Pedro the Lion beyond Bazan? Well, sort of, Walsh said via cell phone from the back of a Los Angeles movie theater showing Super Size Me (We can only hope for the audience’s sake that he got up and left for the interview.) The band was in Los Angeles for a second night at The Troubadour, a venue that Walsh said looks like “an Elk’s Lodge with a cool vibe.”

He recapped the band’s history, starting in 1994 when Bazan was touring and recording Pedro the Lion as a five-piece. Throughout the next five years, Bazan would work with a rotating cast of musicians, never quite finding the right combination.

In ’98, Walsh discovered Pedro the Lion’s music through a review of It’s Hard To Find a Friend in Tape Op magazine, and quickly became a fan. He was living in Boston as a struggling singer-songwriter, sending out demo tapes in hopes of landing a record deal. Among those labels was Made in Mexico Records, a tiny label that had just released Pedro the Lion’s The Only Reason I Feel Secure EP.

As the story goes, label owner James Morelos was fed up with all the horrible demo tapes he’d been receiving in the mail. “Apparently he was making his point to someone and grabbed the first demo off the stack to prove how bad they could be,” Walsh said. “He ended up liking it. It was my demo. That got me signed to Made in Mexico.”

He traveled to the label’s home in Seattle, where he met Bazan and the two hit it off. Walsh would tour with Pedro the Lion playing bass and guitar in support of the 2000 breakthrough album Winners Never Quit and 2002’s Control.

“Afterward I got laid off of a couple jobs in a row and was trying to run a recording studio in Boston, which wasn’t working out,” Walsh said. “When I told Dave I wanted to move to Seattle, he asked me to join the band officially. I moved out there last August.”

Walsh said that the duo approaches the band as a 9-to-5 job. “Every day I wake up, get the kids breakfast and then drive to Dave’s house 10 miles away where we record and practice until 5 p.m.,” Walsh said.

Writing songs with Bazan is a process that involves suggestion, encouragement and approval.

“There’s a lot of history there, and I try to be respectful of that,” Walsh said. “I understand the kind of ideas that Dave wants to get across.”

Those ideas are centered in Bazan’s deep-rooted faith and distinctly dark view of everyday life. It doesn’t get much darker than Achilles Heel. On the song “Transcontinental,” for example, Bazan cheerfully tells the story of a man whose lower legs have been severed by a train: Lying back on shoulder blades / Cargo rushing past / Missing limbs beneath the cars / Twitching on the tracks. While slowly bleeding to death, the accident victim recalls the story of a lumberjack who chopped his own legs off above the knee to free himself from a fallen evergreen and realizes that he doesn’t have the strength to pull off similar heroics even though he’s been given: the luxury of having been spared the hard part.

On “Keep Swinging” we meet a man who, after a night of heavy consumption, wakes up in hotel bed in a stew of his own body fluids. He feels guilty about leaving such a mess but in the end concludes: She’s a maid, I guess that’s what she gets paid for.

Bazan and Walsh hold nothing back with their bleak vision of everyday life filled with disappointment and disillusionment. Whether it’s a downtrodden gambler leaving his wife (“Start Without Me”) or a factory worker on the verge of committing suicide (“A Simple Plan”), their characters struggle to do the right thing, but more often then not — don’t. Despite the gloom, these modern-day fables sung in Bazan’s drowsy, sad-sack voice are hidden beneath a layer of irresistible, upbeat, hook-filled guitar rock. But don’t be fooled.

Certainly Walsh isn’t. Though he said he doesn’t share Bazan’s faith, he has been inspired by it.

“The only thing Dave tries to do is get people to think, as opposed to ingesting propaganda,” Walsh said. “We’re firm believers in giving people something to think about so they can come to their own conclusions. I can confirm that Dave doesn’t consider Pedro the Lion to be a Christian band.”

The songs’ heavy messages don’t bring Walsh down, despite that fact that there was a time in his life when he struggled with depression.

“Art can’t be blamed for anybody’s misery,” he said. “I think there was a point where it would have been a bit depressing to play these songs every night. I’m much healthier mentally and prepared to think about these things without them dragging me down. It’s helping me develop as a person.”

Walsh said he and Bazan’s partnership will continue to strengthen as the two form a second band that will focus more on songs he’s written.

“We’ll enter the studio after the Pedro tour in October and will release the debut next spring on Suicide Squeeze Records,” Walsh said. “The new band will tour late next spring and early summer between Pedro tours.”

Pedro the Lion Roars, but Quietly

When Pedro the Lion comes to Omaha Monday, the Seattle band is more likely to purr than roar.

The group – led by singer/songwriter David Bazan – is on a U.S. tour to promote its fourth full-length album, "Achilles Heel," released in May on Jade Tree Records.

Alternative Press called it "a heartbreakingly brilliant album that unravels itself slowly if you just stop and listen."

The mellow, minimalist album is typical Pedro the Lion fare.

"A lot of the songs tend to be sort of sad," Bazan said. "People are generally pretty into it. What is good about this album is slightly below the surface."

Indeed, after a few listens, the beauty of the band’s thought-provoking songs laced with lyrical narratives becomes evident.

In the song "The Fleecing," Bazan sings: "Deep green hills whose shoulders fade into thick grey/ tall wet grass whose flesh makes fools of grazing sheep/ whose fleecing makes a fool of me/ who shall I blame for this sweet and heavy trouble/ for every stupid struggle I don’t know."

Accompanying Bazan, who also plays guitar, is bass player Ken Maiuri and drummer TW Walsh. When their tour ends July 10, Bazan looks forward to seeing his wife, who is expecting their first child in October. It won’t be a long homecoming, because the band starts touring again in August.

Opening Monday’s concert at Sokol Underground is San Francisco singer-songwriter John Vanderslice.

Pedro The Lion Puts Best Foot Forward…

Destined to be one of the year’s best releases, Pedro The Lion’s Achilles Heel is a thoughtful, slow-burning album that is full of the concrete and the abstract – both lyrically and instrumentally. And, while it’s not, however, quite the album that traditional Pedro fans were looking for (the artist promised some sort of resolution to his previous two concept albums released back to back), it is something to look forward to.

Combining tongue-in-cheek wit with a sobering look at humanity’s place in the grand scheme of things, lead singer and songwriter David Bazan crafts an album that is filled with ambiguous, yet thought-provoking, subtleties. Achilles Heel asks more questions than it answers, but the fun is in the journey offered up by those ponderings. And, though the album is a smidgeon over 30 minutes, it’s the taut lyrical landscapes that unravel slowly that gives this album a depth and breadth that surpasses many releases twice its size.

From the album’s joshing poke at the music industry, "Band With Managers," to the lovelorn "Foregone Conclusions," and the Elbow-ish "The Fleecing" the eleven tracks on Achilles Heel are an amalgamation of excellence in creativity and intelligence – and those are just the first three tunes. "Transcontinental" and "I Do" are also top shelf selections, as is "A Simple Plan." It’s not easy to make an album that is so chock-full of goodness, but somehow Pedro The Lion has done it, and with ease.

Make no mistake, in 2004, Pedro The Lion is the king of the Indie Rock/Folk jungle – despite his deftness at defying simple descriptions and easy categorizations. If bands with managers are truly going places, as Pedro espouses on the opening track, then let’s hope Pedro’s got a great one, because it would be a shame for an album this magnificent to fall into obscurity.

PEDRO THE LION POUND THE PAVEMENT

PEDRO THE LION are out right now, touring the country in support of the recently released Achilles’ Heel (JT1095). The record has been blowing up the spot since it’s May release, garnering a considerable 5 out of 5 from Alternative Press Magazine in a review that embraced Achilles Heel as, “heartbreakingly brilliant…”

A second batch of late summer tour dates have just been added, where PEDRO THE LION will join up with Omaha cuties and The Western States.


Please consult the Pedro The Lion for updates.

The Lion In Summer

When singer/songwriter David Bazan needed a name to encapsulate his gloomy, emotionally battle-stricken rock songs, he went with a literary reference – not Bukowski or Kafka, mind you, but a fairytale character of his own creaton. The Seattle native had plans of writing a children’s book called “Pedro The Lion,” but instead it became the moniker for his much darker musical side. It has seemed like a huge oxymoron ever since, but when listening to Pedro The Lion’s sixth album, Achilles’ Heel, the name starts to make sense.

“It’s always been a huge goal of mine to make a twisted sort of fairytale,” ponders Bazan in an interview with Artvoice. “But I wasn’t necessarily trying for any kind of concept on Achilles’ Heel. We went into the studio with one pretense: having fun. I really think that comes through on the recording.”

From the opening chords of Achilles’ Heel’s first track, “Bands With Managers,” the group’s intentions are clear. A slice of clever, lo-fi pop, the song is highlighted by Bazan’s sweet, yearning falsetto – a ray of sunlight that his earlier albums desperately needed. There’s less claustrophobia than Pedro The Lion’s previous effort, Control. The 2002 release is one of the most pessimistic of recent years, casting stones at everything from married couples to multinational corporations. While Heel’s lyrical topics remain somber and serious, the brooding sound of Control has been ditched, in favor of softer, more lilting harmonies and a slyer sense of humor.

“I was aware that Control did have a cynical relentlessness to it; there were a lot of changes I wanted to make this time around,” admits Bazan. “I certainly didn’t want to make that record again.”

What Bazan has made is an exercise in an age-old dichotomy – lyrics about life’s struggles and doubts, wrapped in crisp harmonies and pretty chords. The same formula has been put to good use on Frank J. Wilson’s “Last Kiss” and the Velvet Underground’s “Who Loves The Sun.” It’s also prevalent in classic children’s literature, notably C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, a collection that rings true with Pedro The Lion in many ways.

“There’s something about that style of writing that always draws me in,” Bazan explains. “For this album, I abandoned the idea of having a set concept for a song. I let the connections be more random in my brain. It’s a part of the greater philosophy of the whole record.”

The connections to Lewis are too numerous to be coincidental. His story of an enchanted land and the group of children that see it from creation to destruction is heavily Biblical and ultimately depressing. Bazan is a devout Christian who openly struggles with his faith on Achilles’ Heel. As a result, his album is full of focused sadness and a calmer sense of beauty.

Also, the only constant of Lewis’ books is the character of Aslan, a thinly veiled Christ figure that just happens to be a lion. It’s obvious that Bazan’s art is much closer to the world of Puddleglum and Prince Caspian than the glossy, commercialized Christian rock that rminds us secular folks of good old-fashioned brainwashing.

“I certainly don’t like it,” Bazan responds when asked about the rampant popularity of so-called “worship music.” “It’s the antithesis of Christ and his teachings; it just seems really sad and out of place. The music takes more cues from the moronic aspects of pop culture than anywhere else. The absence of the influence of the Bible is really noticeable.”

Music fans that typically shy from anything labeled “Christian” needn’t worry in this case. On Achilles’ Heel, Pedro The Lion has achieved its most effective balance of songwriting and soapbox standing, relying more on broader ideas and gorgeous bursts of harmony. “Keep Swinging” is a light, bouncing song about being drunk and miserable. “Foregone Conclusions” mourns a failing relationship over a punchy, country-rock groove. “The Poison” could be a sweet, acoustic love song, if the lyrics weren’t about medicating pain with alcohol.

When Bazan does get religious, it’s an expression of the guilt and self-loathing that have kept people going to church for centuries. On “The Fleecing,” Bazan bemoans the many pitfalls of blind faith with masochistic glee: “And who shall I blame for this sweet and heavy trouble/For every stupid struggle/I don’t know/I could buy you a drink/I could tell you all about it/I could tell you why I doubt it, and why I still believe.”

C.S. Lewis talks about the exact same kind of religious stubbornness throughout the Narnia books, especially in this passage from The Silver Chair: “I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” Achilles’ Heel is the first album of David Bazan’s career that comes close to reaching his stated goal, because it has the necessary components of a twisted fairytale: generous helpings of stark reality, and several ways to escape from it.

Before even listening to Achilles’ Heel, it was clearly a step forward for Pedro The Lion, because its album covers have always reflected the mood of the disc inside. This cover is in stark contrast to the rest of the band’s catalog – it’s a vivid illustration of a roaring, yet somehow friendly lion. In fact, it wouldn’t be out of place as the cover of a children’s book. I can see it sitting on the shelves now, the title scripted in white over a blue background: Pedro The Lion Comes Into His Own.

Preview : Private Matters : Pedro the Lion returns to form on its new album

While speaking via cell phone, Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan stops talking to me and says to his bandmates, “Uh-oh, here we go, guys. Fuck. Aw, man.” The tone in his voice sounds as if they are about to drive through a tornado. It’s far worse: the spillage of thousands of Bonnaroo festival-goers who have emptied out onto an underdeveloped southern highway.

The Pedro the Lion entourage was warned before leaving Nashville that on the way to Atlanta there would be complete traffic gridlock due to this festival letting out.

“It’s going to make a four-hour drive into about nine hours,” Bazan informs me as he trails off to his companions, “Well, shit, man you can see down the… that’s fucking crazy.”

Anyhow, before the slight panic to find an alternate route, Bazan was about to discuss the new Pedro the Lion album, Achilles Heel . Released this past May on Jade Tree Records, some are saying it’s Pedro’s best album yet. Bazan seems to agree. Pedro’s previous album Control, while far from shabby, was a bit of a departure from the earlier, more subdued material. Bazan even admits Control was a bittersweet and unsatisfying album.

“I think the difference between the two is that Control comes out of the gates wearing whatever is good about it right on the top,” Bazan says. “It’s really aggressive — not to say that it’s totally a shallow record, but I think that it’s just a little bit cartoon-y sometimes. I think the lyrics are good but they’re all sort of obvious.”

Pedro the Lion’s earlier albums definitely require more patience: you have to sit down and give the music some quality time. It’s what every idealistic musician wants — to not have to be completely obvious for the sake of people “getting it.”

“I felt like on Control I was playing to the nosebleed section a little bit — trying to sell it to the cheap seats,” says Bazan. “I just want to stop doing that; it’s not important. If you listen to a band like Low, or like Will Oldham, or Bedhead, or Silver Jews, they could give a fuck — it’s private fucking matter. They know that certain people are not going to have time for it.”

However, if you do have time for Pedro the Lion, then you may uncover startling complexities and thoughtfulness throughout Bazan’s lyrics. While Bazan excels at forging connections between vulgarity, morality and spirituality, he doesn’t stand on a soapbox. Regardless, the fact that he’s an outspoken Christian still gets him written off as a Jesus freak by indie enthusiasts hellbent for an unconventional-or-bust underground scene.

In reality, though, Banzan’s more into C.S. Lewis than the Bible. And while Bazan once wrote at length about his beliefs in an issue of the alt-rock magazine Magnet, the song “The Fleecing” perhaps says it best. “But I can’t say it like I sing it, and I can’t sing it like I think it, and I can’t think it like I feel it,” Bazan sings in the effort to put the emphasis on his songs rather than his personal life.

As our conversation winds down, Bazan says to the driver, “We might need an alternate for the alternate.”

“An alternate for the alternate.” Now, that could be a description of Pedro the Lion’s place in the rock world.

Strange bedfellows – Pedro the Lion’s Unlikely Mix of Religion and Indie-Rock

During his six years as the frontman and sole songwriter in Pedro the Lion, David Bazan filled five albums and two EPs with morality tales of salvation and damnation. By his own admission, it’s an outgrowth of his upbringing in a strict Evangelical Christian household.

"Achilles Heel," which came out in May, marks a departure for Bazan. While his sparsely arranged songs are still sung with a plaintive voice, Bazan is moving away from music with a message.

"Music and art have a lot of inherent value, but the Evangelical Christian culture believes they only have value when they serve the greater purpose of trying to convince other people to believe what they believe," he says. "I thought it was an invalid way of looking at art and the world, so I’ve been slowly moving away from that kind of thinking."

"Bands with Managers," a send-up of manufactured rebellion, kicks off the album.

Will the day ever come when you hire a manger?

In fact, we have a manger now. After I wrote that song we started talking to this guy that our booking agent recommended. And our booking agent HATES band managers. So when he said this manager is actually all right, we took his advice. Though the thought did cross our mind, "Should we put this song on the record?" And I thought, "Yeah, of course." Because the song isn’t an indictment of bands with managers, but bands who do unscrupulous things to get a leg up in the music industry.

Still, you probably need to do some explaining.

Yeah, he needed a bit of clarification. I made sure that he knew that I wrote it long before we hired him. He understood. He knows that he’s kind of the anti-manager.

What’s your Achilles heel?

I’m realizing that alcohol could potentially be a downfall. I guess a big theme on the record is that when someone meets their end–the end of the career, marriage or life–it’s not planned and usually it sneaks up on them. It’s usually a lot of small decisions. I’ve been trying to become aware of what’s going to be my undoing. Not that people don’t live peacefully into old age, but I think most people reach old age with a barrelful of regret. And I’d like to minimize that in my own life.

Man, your songs are dark. Ever think about writing something a little more upbeat?

I attempted to do that a couple times because people would always ask me, "Why does your music always have to be so sad?" Early on I wrote a few up-tempo songs, but more of them were satirical, not very upbeat in their outlook. I really enjoy my life and I look forward to just about everything that I’m getting to do. And it’s always been that way. But for me, I don’t feel like any sort of upbeat expressions would be honest.

Pedro the Lion: A Different Brand of God-Rock

In person, David Bazan looks like he should be resolutely hauling crates of clams on a fishing dock out in New England with a bright yellow rain slicker and trusty pipe. Bearded, slightly paunchy and fitted with the mouth of a hearty sailor, Bazan hardly fits the part of the lead singer of the most controversial band in modern Christian rock, Pedro The Lion.

Having publicly stated a strong sense of empathy for Ted Kaczynski, Bazan, 28, is also a vocal proponent of the anti-globalization books of Noam Chomsky and Michael Parenti, the kind of leftist stances that haven’t exactly endeared him to the born-again set.

At the same time, secular rock critics often have trouble seeing past Bazan’s fervent Christianity, dismissing his cathartic body of work as that of an overly earnest, sickly-sweet naïve innocent.

In truth, Bazan’s philosophical mission lies in the gray middle of purgatory, somewhere between Dante’s Inferno and Nirvana. After all, if Jesus himself hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors and alcoholics, then why can’t we sing songs about the sinners, too?

Pedro The Lion’s music feels like incredibly slowed down hardcore, what would happen if a Fugazi 7” got stuck on the wrong turntable setting. The guitars are predominantly spare and borderline hypnotic. Bazan’s heart-breakingly rueful voice belies the graceful poetry of his lyrics. Beneath the plodding drum dirge and dollops of feedback, his gem of a voice remains hopeful, proudly wearing his sin on his sleeves.

Born the rebellious son of a religiously/politically conservative professional musician father, Bazan moved to Seattle in 1991. Bazan attended high school with Damien Jurado; the two becoming fast friends by bonding over a mutual love of Christian metal band The Crucified.

After fizzling out in a series of short-lived hardcore bands, Bazan formed Pedro The Lion in 1995. Eventually Bazan’s musical forays were conflicting with his religious philosophy studies and, at the begrudging advice of his father, Bazan dropped out of Northwest College, a small liberal Pentecostal university in Seattle, his sophomore year and concentrated on songwriting full time.

Early reviews oftentimes compared Pedro the Lion to a WWJD? version of Sebadoh. In 2000 Bazan began feverishly penning Winner’s Never Quit, a pessimistic and earthy allegorical parable about commitment, dogma and capitalism. The album told the story of two prodigal brothers destroyed by their own ambition with Bazan’s somber, poignant voice serving as a sort of all-seeing, all-knowing Steadycam.

2002′s Control was a pulpy matinee morality play comparing corporate America to a failed marriage with four distinct acts. A divorce is contemplated, an affair is started, anger is misplaced, and eventually the wife just ends up stabbing her husband in his sleep. Jesus’ name was only employed in a profane moment of adulterous bliss. In Bazan’s melancholic creative universe, Christ may eventually come back but it isn’t happening nearly as fast as it ought to. Bittersweet lines like "If it isn’t penetration/then it isn’t worth the kiss" virtually guaranteed he’d never get invited onto the 700 Club.

Having for the time exhausted the possibilities inherent in concept album form, Bazan’s latest, Achilles Heel (recorded with current collaborators TW Walsh and Ken Maiuri), finds him returning to a more song-based cycle and personal-as-political songwriting approach.

Reached via cell-phone while in the back of the PTL van en route to a gig in Dallas, a humble and soft-spoken Bazan said the move away from linear storytelling was his way of dealing with what he termed a "musical identity crisis."

"Even if you think you’re going to write a song about how much you love flowers, at one moment during the recording process you realize that you fucking hate flowers,” explains Bazan. “Now you can’t write that unless you abandon the concept. Creativity should be about discovery, rather than some sort of an exposition about something you’ve already decided. If you get an idea that’s really good and you feel strongly about, there should be no framework set up that would prevent you from using that idea, you know? Basically, it just ties your hands."

Bazan, still sad and simmering with a slow-burning righteous fury (and with his creative hands free once again) makes every single note on Achilles Heel count. Imagine an intimate audio counterpart to films like "American Beauty" or "The Safety Of Objects."

It’s clear that Bazan isn’t planning on letting his faith coerce his art into avoiding taking on difficult issues anytime soon—and doesn’t see any conflict between his dual identities as musician and Christian. "Most times if people ask if I’m a Christian, I say no," admits Bazan. "I say that to be clear because what’s associated with Christianity [currently] are certain ideas about politics and abortion and questions of whether I would potentially be a supporter of George W. Bush. I say that I believe in the Apostles Creed and I can further clarify that if people want, but I certainly wouldn’t vote pro-life—the culture war issues are of no consequence to me. I think it’s all just window dressing, politically I’m very much a leftist. Very much left of the Democratic Party left."

Be that as it may, Pedro The Lion do still venture full on into the world of God-rock once a year, at the Christian-designated Cornerstone summer music festival in Bushnell, Ill. It’s a tradition Bazan feels the band has to remain a part of.

"I just wish the Christian culture would just disappear completely, so in that way I’m a little conflicted about it but at the same time [playing the Cornerstone festival is] a chance for us to be missionaries to the Christian community each year," explains Bazan. "There’s a lot of people like me who haven’t totally forsaken their faith but are just really perplexed at the way it’s being practiced. We feel alienated and feel outraged about it and beaten down when we have to be around other people who supposedly believe what we believe. And so for those people we go back as sort of a solace for them."

In the opening shot of Fellini’s 1960 film "La Dolce Vita," playboy photojournalist Marcello Rubini hitches a ride on a 900-foot tall Jesus statue being flown into Rome. Italian models sunning themselves on their roof, assuming End Times are in full swing, begin to genuflect in earnest but are horrified when Rubini pops up from behind the statue to ask for their phone numbers. Much like Rubini, Bazan’s hands are digging in the dirt somewhere between the sacred and the profane. Amen to that.

Sing When You’re Winning

It’s no accident that so many of our favorite musical artist’s live desperate existences built around pain. They wear the blues on their sleeves, or in the case of a singer like Billie Holiday, a highball glass and a hypodermic needle. It’s not that music fans want to see their beloved artists suffer. It’s just that the torment is often what makes a song great. Because there’s nothing more beautiful than carefully distilled pain wrung out by a musician that knows what they’re doing. But while money and fame aren’t cure-all prescriptions for happiness, they go a long way towards sweeping away despair. Perhaps this is why so many of our darling artists fall off after finding success. It’s not easy to convince an audience that life is suffering when you have homes on five continents and your children have their own personal assistants. Others lose their despondent edge when they find lasting love, clean up a chemical dependency, or discover the services of a good therapist. This is what makes the sophomore slump so difficult to overcome, and often why we don’t want to see our favorite indie bands break through to the pop charts. It is the truly great songwriter (John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Thom Yorke come to mind) that incorporate any circumstance or success into continued quality material.

David Bazan, the driving force behind Pedro the Lion, hasn’t reached Jay-Z’s level of material success, and even fans of Pedro the Lion’s work might not recognize Bazan’s name outside of the context of his band. But the group saw moderate victory with its last album, 2002′s Control. Somehow a band that existed in a foundation of Christian indie rock found an audience with songs that dredge the banks of the river misery. Would the achievement destroy the very fabric that made Pedro the Lion great: poignant, somber songs about Bazan’s moral struggle with faith, marital fidelity, and the reason to keep going in this life? The answer may be in the album’s title, Achilles Heel. Perhaps Bazan recognized what a danger success was to his continued ability to appeal to fans. It sounds as though he used this dilemma to fuel material for the new record, and in pointing out the potential weakness, he overcame it.

Achilles Heel is filled with a few deviations from Pedro the Lion’s previous style. For example, long-term fans will wonder at the higher falsetto with which Bazan sings, and speculate if he is attempting to emulate the success that groups like Coldplay have found recently. But for the most part, Pedro the Lion continue to mine the rich vein of material they’ve been concentrating on from the beginning. Much of Achilles Heel focuses on Bazan’s attempt to hold his relationships together no matter the cost. His relationship with God, his wife and himself all bend under the strain, but he’ll break his bones holding them together. Ultimately, Bazan continues to sound more like a distillation of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and The Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz than the latest flavor of pop star.

Recorded in his home studio near Seattle, Achilles Heel enlists previous collaborator TW Walsh, along with fellow Jade Tree label mates James McAlister and Ester Drang. The album jumps off with "Bands With Managers", a catchy, ironic song reminiscent of a slowed down Grandaddy ditty that seems inspired by a run-in Bazan had with an arrogant lead singer or actual manager. Bazan uses the context to separate himself from other groups that are so obviously "going places", using the occasion to posture that his relationship with longtime contributor T. William Walsh is far more important than getting to open for U2 on their next stadium tour. Lyrics like "But I trust T. William Walsh and I’m not afraid to die" are a testament to friendship and loyalty that Bazan takes more seriously than the trajectory of his career.

Unfortunately, Bazan cannot apply this same level of fidelity to the relationship he maintains with his wife. In the past Bazan has spent much lyrical time pondering his tendency towards adultery and his ability to be faithful. Achilles Heel features songs like "I Do", presenting Bazan’s thoughts as his wife gives birth to their child. As the miraculous labor comes to pass, Bazan wonders which he would take back first: the child he and his wife have, or the ring he gave her. The choice, he sings, is obvious, reflected in both the song’s title and refrain.

Even in metaphor, Bazan can’t help but to tumble through his indecision about relationships. "Arizona" tells the story of the title state’s traitorous romantic relationship with California, much to the chagrin of New Mexico. Strange geographic personification aside, the catchy tune is a perfect allegory for the way Bazan clearly sees every facet of the world.

The cycle, at least on this album, is completed with the last song, "The Poison". Here is Bazan drinking his misery away and dealing with the aftermath of his actions. Annihilating his innards just seems to make previous mistakes more obvious. At the end of the song he reveals his father’s relationship with women, swearing he would never have a flame, and would instead sit there and watch over and over as true love stumbled away. The last lines of the song, and the album, are: "My old man always swore that hell would have no flame/ Just a front row seat/ To watch your true love pack her things and drive away." This is Bazan explaining what love is: something you let go of. Something one watches walk away.

If these dysfunctional musings on relationships are indicative of how Bazan relates to others, "The Fleecing" reveals much of how Bazan feels about himself. The music is adequate, but nothing here is going to distract the listener from lyrical beauty that Bazan injects into each stanza. "Deep green hills whose shoulders fade/ Into the gray tall wet grass/ Whose flesh makes fools of grazing sheep/ Whose fleecing makes a fool of me" read as stand alone poetry. But the true heart of "The Fleecing" comes towards the end, when Bazan admits that he "I can’t say it like I sing it/ And I can’t sing it like I think it/ And I can’t think it like I feel it/ And I don’t feel a thing/ Oh no — I don’t feel a thing." In his seeming loneliness, Bazan reveals every human’s terror that they can never truly communicate what is in their heart: that no form of expression is adequate. If this is the case then maybe it doesn’t matter how happy you are, so long as you’re misunderstood.

Pedro the Lion [I]Achille’s Heel[/I] Review

David Bazan has returned with Achilles Heel, his fifth CD as Pedro the Lion, and it’s another intimate troubadour album. It’s a little less intense than his last effort, Control, but perhaps his best release to date. Bazan and his Pedro the Lion moniker have carved out a following in the indie rock singer/songwriter section using confessional lyrics and a folk rock feel, and Achilles Heel is more of the same, but better.

There are 11 tracks about life and death, and love and loss built upon gentle guitar strumming, and Bazan’s vocal straining. Achilles Heel opens with the song “Bands with Managers” bringing brooding keyboards, modest guitars and rock solid drumming. Bazan sings in his rather uninterested tones: “Bands with managers are going places… vans with 15 passengers are rolling over.” “Bands with Managers” is a somber track about coming to your final destination, and that low-key mood continues throughout the album, with a few well-placed sparks of aggression and fits of frustration thrown in.

The second track, “Forgone Conclusions,” starts up a little bit peppier, with a nice thrust from the full compliment of jangly guitars, bass and drums popping right up. The lyrics touch on the religious a bit – which Pedro the Lion is loved and lamented for at this point – but the songs on this album do not seem focused on a particular religious subject or any concept, for that matter. The songs stay broad enough to touch on many nerves, which is the strength of Achilles Heel. It touches on the giddy and the hopeless without falling too deep into either, and comes out as Pedro the Lion’s most even-keel and successful album to date.

Songs vary from a slightly funky ‘60s feel, like “Keep Swinging,” to an uptempo electronic-based dancer, like “A Simple Plan," to a nice alt-country slow-rocker like “The Poison.” Subjects range from horrible to exultant, and the stutter stops in between are what makes them worthwhile. Bazan knows that the horrible and exultant work perfectly well together, and have for centuries, so he doesn’t try to separate them, just harness the good and evil in every situation.

Although Bazan’s voice strains, the songs on Achilles Heel always seem in the right place, shifting perfectly to let his stories work up their steam and then play themselves out in a soft, or abrupt, denouement. Bazan’s lyrics, like “I can’t sing it like I think it, and I can’t think it like I feel it… who shall I blame for this sweet and heavy trouble,” and so many more, are bittersweet and off-centerly appropriate, as usual.

With backing from TW Walsh and James McAlister of Ester Drang, Bazan has made a wonderfully accessible, but still introverted in a Pedro style, album that moves both the synapses and the hips.

PUNKCAST#477 – Pedro The Lion – Knitting Factory NYC

Midsummer’s eve 2004 and the Knitting Factory is packed. It’s not only Pedro The Lion’s first NYC show in sometime, and particularly since the release of the successful ‘Achilles Heel’ album, but also the kickoff event for ‘Involver’ – an activist alliance for the purpose of raising political consciousness via music. So the show followed a press conference to introduce that idea. Pedro The Lion is mainly David Bazan, singing introspective songs, in a husky tenor, backed by a sensitive rhythm section. Occasionally veering into politics, David conducts a show like a seminar, pausing occasionally to take questions, some quite serious, from the audience.

Arriving four songs late, ironically during the song ‘Start Without Me’, I gave up all thought of making it to the front, and shot handheld from the balcony. Hence plenty of wobble. Then they went on so long I ran out of tape before the last song. Whats left is 18 songs, of which the clip here, one of the more political numbers, came in the middle..