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.”