For a guy who writes lyrics like "lately I have been wondering why / we go to so much trouble / to postpone the unavoidable / and prolong the pain / of being alive," David Bazan is a remarkably easygoing dude.
"Generally I’m pretty optimistic," Bazan said via phone from his home just outside of Seattle. "I don’t let shit get me down. I wouldn’t characterize my life as a bummer at all."
You might not know it from listening to his music. Bazan, who until recently was the leader of indie-rock favorites Pedro the Lion, has always written songs chock-full of melancholy, if not outright depravity. From the self-doubt of his early, confessional work to concept albums about adultery and murder, his band’s output skewed toward the darker side.
Pedro the Lion disbanded earlier this year, and although the band was essentially a cast of revolving characters (most recently T.W. Walsh, who was Pedro’s only other member for the last few years), Bazan expresses some regret about going solo.
"I really came to depend on [Walsh] and to think of Pedro the Lion as him and I," Bazan said.
When Walsh decided he’d no longer be able to devote his time to the band, Bazan, who was burned out himself, pulled the plug. "I didn’t want to move forward as if everything was fine," Bazan said. "I felt like I was doing karaoke."
But jettisoning the Pedro tag seems to have reenergized Bazan. His first solo release, Fewer Moving Parts, is riskier and more varied than the last Pedro the Lion album, Achilles Heel. The new EP finds the songwriter–who played all the instruments– fleshing out his bittersweet pop songs with vocal harmonies, multitracked drums and synthesizers. There are 10 tracks on the record, but only five songs; each one presented in both a full band and acoustic version. It sounds like a cop-out, filler–until you hear the stark disparity between the different takes.
"I wanted everybody who hears the full-band version to be able to hear the acoustic version," he said. "It reveals something about the [songwriting] process, and I like that."
Although he was making a "full band" recording, Bazan fell in love with the acoustic version of "Cold Beer and Cigarettes" and decided he wanted it on the album, eventually deciding to do the same with each of the tracks.
Lyrically, Fewer Moving Parts is as dark and acerbic as ever: Bazan baits critics on the upbeat "Selling Advertising," which taunts music writers (the Internet is abuzz with the news that the track is directed at the editor of indie-snob Web site Pitchfork Media) and mocks "how satisfying it must be" to review other people’s work. Elsewhere, the EP touches on equally contentious issues like the singer’s faith–"Am I a Christian?" he sings, leaving the answer up to fans and critics who have chided Bazan for his apparent religiosity or lack thereof.
The final track, a chugging rocker called "Backwoods Nation," is a brutally ironic call to arms, asking frat boys "to trade in their hazing / their keggers and cocaine / and casual date-raping / for cabinet appointments / and rose-garden tapings."
Bazan calls himself "pretty leftist," and though he wrote the song (which also takes a jab at the current administration) soon after 9/11, he has not released it on an album until now.
"It was suggested to me by my manager," Bazan said. "He was furious about some shit Cheney had said, and he was like, ‘You gotta put that fucking song on the record.’"
Bazan does seem angry and morose when you see his lyrics on paper, but the inventive (and even catchy) pop music he marries them to can only be the work of an optimist–a cautious optimist.
"I love being alive and I love people," he admits. "But my analysis of human history, of the arc of it–it’s bad."