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June 23, 2004

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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.

Cleveland Free Times

Chris Rager