Pedro the Lion’s music is a thorn in our sides, pestering us with the topics of futility, regret, failure, and humility, all of the glossed over nuances that construct our existence. Dave Bazan is the creative mind behind Pedro the Lion. Bazan’s simple, blunt lyrics yank truth out of the carefully scrutinized, seemingly contrary bits of fickle human behavior. Bazan is committed to creating art that is complete and honest and looks dubiously upon music that is damnably frivolous or commercially pedestrian. Dallas Music Guide interviewed Dave Bazan to explore his inspiration and discuss his craft. Pedro the Lion will be playing at the Ridglea Theater in Ft. Worth on March 17 and will release their newest album, Achilles Heel on May 25.
Dallas Music Guide: In an odd way, I found your last album, Control, very inspiring, because, though it was often pegged as a depressing album, I thought its conclusion in "Rejoice" was comforting. In that vein, what are some of the things that inspire you?
Dave Bazan: I think when things are complicated and apparently contradictory, there’s a lot usual going on there, so that’s inspiring to me: that sort of thing. I think in general, I’m just more inspired by movies and books and records, I suppose. More recently, that movie Punchdrunk Love has been kind of rocking me. Also, The Big Lebowski continually is one of my favorites. I’ve been reading a book that’s really inspiring called The Idiot by Dostoevsky. All kinds of rock and roll from time to time: The Beatles are constantly inspiring, different Motown albums, and I’m really inspired by the band Spoon recently.
DMG: That’s really interesting, because I was listening to your lyrics and thinking, "I bet this guy reads a lot of Dostoevsky."
DB: Actually, this is the first one, but I really like it.
DMG: The song "Options," off of your last record, scared the shit out of me. It played on my biggest fears about marriage. What inspired that particular vignette?
DB: I think just those thoughts and feelings–and I didn’t deal with them in the same way that the guy in the story did–but I think those are common feelings, like unfaithfulness, but it’s just a matter of how you process them and what you do with them.
DMG: And that’s funny, because some people think Pedro the Lion’s music is offensive, but it’s really the least offensive because you’re so unflinchingly earnest.
DB: That’s funny. Most people that I know aren’t totally honest with me about any negative feelings about the band, so I don’t get to hear a lot that way, so that’s cool.
DMG: You do a lot of Q & A from the stage. What motivated you to start doing that?
DB: The initial idea came from a guy who’s now a regular part of the band. He had seen [another band] do it, but theirs was a little different. It was almost like a challenge to stump them, to the audience. They would ask questions like "who invented the pencil." They were just really knowledgeable on a lot of different topics. I don’t know. There was just something that worked, particularly when we first started doing it, because the shows were a bit smaller. It just caused this really personal interaction with the crowd; although, you’re not interacting with everybody, there’s this feeling there that you kind of are and I really enjoyed that.
DMG: There were two things I noticed about Control. First, that you were playing the drums and the drum work was really good.
DB: Oh, thanks a lot.
DMG: Also, I noticed in the lyrical structure–and I really enjoyed this–that you don’t often repeat yourself. Was that a conscious decision?
DB: There started to be, after Winners Never Quit, too much repetitive stuff on there, so on Control I just tried to make it better. It’s something that, in general, I call the "second-verse blues," which is when you settle down into the second verse and you just get this real stagnant and boring feeling, because it’s the same as the first one. There’s a lot of bands that get away with that and that’s really great, but for some reason, Pedro the Lion, given the way that I write, a lot of the songs I had written in the middle period between those albums had the second-verse blues pretty bad. It was really just an effort to try and get away from that more than anything and the first time that really came up was on Control, so it has a lot more variation halfway through the jam.
DMG: In an interview a while back, you were implying that the next album would be a sequel to Control. Did you follow through with that idea or did you end up doing something completely different on Achilles Heel?
DB: I ended up doing something different. When I was writing, I really avoiding having any set idea of what it was going to be about. As I was writing the words and the songs themselves, moment to moment what was coming out determined what the thing was going to be about. I decided to do it that way in advance. I go through pretty intense periods of self-doubt and being really unsure to what degree I really like what I’ve done previously and getting sidetracked, trying to do things that friends of mine did that I really liked, trying coming to the realization of what I should be doing. By the time I started making Achilles Heel, I had already sort of had a bit of an identity crisis, musically, so I just had to get back to the simplest form, like, "I don’t do a bunch of shit. I just write songs and that’s what I need to do right now." That’s what I tried to do and that’s how the record came about and I think that the record’s much better for it. I enjoy it. I think that there’s a lot more depth to it than if I would have tried to do a sequel to Control.
DMG: You were also saying in the same interview that the next album was going to play on some more redemptive themes. Did that hold true or was that another concept that fell by the wayside when writing Achilles Heel?
DB: Those themes are occasionally are on the album, on one song in particular, but it’s more complex than that. It’s not really any one thing. It’s not really as dark as Control; although, there are some dark elements. In general, though, it’s peppered with a lot of humor and a lot more light-hearted sentiments. Also, there are spiritual references throughout and some of them are a bit more redemptive, but it’s not really very overt as far as stating some theme or resolution to Control. It’s just sort of its own thing.
DMG: Is there anything that fans can expect from this new record: some overarching theme or something new that you’re trying out?
DB: Well, we did a lot more of the record live. It was a collaboration between me and my friend, Tim Walsh. And we had help from some other dudes too.
DB: For me, that was the first time…We have a song on there that he wrote, that I didn’t write at all, and we started doing a lot more of that thing: that collaboration. I don’t know how obvious it is in the way that it works itself out on the album. He played drums on about half the songs and there are two songs that another guy plays drums on. We just mixed it up a lot more. Usually, I micromanage the process pretty intensely, but I deliberately stayed away from doing any of that this time.
DMG: Do you still have a really strict work and touring schedule?
DB: With the set work schedule, definitely. We work, basically, Monday through Friday, when we’re not playing shows. Other than that, we’ve just been trying to play as many shows as possible.
DMG: How have the newer shows gone?
DB: Really well. In major markets, they’ve gone amazingly. In a couple of secondary markets, the turnouts were cool, but not overwhelming. But it was really good in San Francisco and Portland.
DMG: You’re from Seattle and I wanted to ask you about some of these Seattle stations that are going to a strictly grunge era format. Are Seattle residents simply trying to relive the early 90′s? What is the musical climate in Seattle like these days?
DB: Um, I don’t know about the radio stations. There’s only one station that I think anybody in the so-called "scene" would listen to and that’s a college radio station called KEXP. They just play college rock and eclectic world and alt. country and all that kind of stuff. As far as the radio stations, they are mostly just professionals that don’t care about indie rock and are like in their 30′s and 40′s that don’t take any sort of cues as far as culture. Right now, there are just a lot of cool bands. I think that the Northwest, in a much more subtle way, is really impacting indie rock. With major labels and everything really these days, I really doubt that there’s going to be something that comes along like it did in the early 90′s. Nirvana was just a really unique band: so incredibly and so authentic yet so totally accessible. But there are a lot of cool bands around the city that are starting to get things going.
DMG: I did read of one really interesting encounter you had had with Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney and Cadallaca. Since then, have you ever played with Sleater-Kinney or had any other contact?
DB: No, not at all. That was the only contact we ever had.
DMG: You’re coming to Dallas on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.
DB: Oh, no shit? That’s awesome.
DMG: Have you played DFW before?
DB: Yeah, this will be our fourth time in Ft. Worth. We played in Dallas, I think, only twice. And we played a bunch of shows in Denton.
DMG: The whole swearing thing comes up a lot in interviews and I loved your reply of "I just like the way the words sound in sentences" and about how they punctuate humor. Yet, still the subject comes up continually. Do you sometimes feel like you’re speaking martian to people?
DB: No, not really. The press thing is just different than real conversations, because there’s a purpose behind them, so I don’t have a lot of expectations from them and just enjoy doing them. But I don’t have the same criteria that I do meeting with a friend I haven’t seen in a long time. I don’t have any negative feelings about interviews or that I feel like I’m throwing pearls before swine or talking martian to people. Usually, the only complaints that I have about it is myself. I have really difficult time censoring myself and having boundaries for what sort of things I should be mysterious about and what things I should be real explicit about. So I don’t feel like, in general, being misunderstood. You do have to say a lot of things over and over again, but that’s just the nature of it.
DMG: Your music really resonated with a lot of disenfranchised people at my school because, like you, we were in a college surrounded by people who seemed like they had it together.
DB: Yeah, I did that to.
DMG: Of course, they really don’t. I don’t think.
DB: No, I didn’t buy it for a second. Particularly in that context of so-called "christianity." If somebody is putting that sort of thing off. A) They misunderstand the Bible and the Gospel, totally and completely and B) I don’t prefer to be around that sort of bravado and insecure arrogance. In the Christian context, it just seems like the majority of people really are really difficult. I don’t know who to blame, but church is an extremely confusing place to be. But people don’t understand and live by the Gospel, humility, and compassion: things that are automatic products of interaction with God. They just aren’t there. It’s just all this competitive righteousness bullshit. I don’t know. It’s just real weird.
DMG: I’m really looking forward to the new record. It comes out in May, right?
DB: It does. May 25.