By Tom Lynch
Earlier this year, Seattle musician David Bazan, the Pacific Northwest’s king of indie gloom, announced he was calling it quits with Pedro the Lion and going solo. An interesting surprise indeed, given that he primarily was Pedro the Lion, the chief songwriter, working with a revolving cast of backup players to round out the band on each tour. This year’s “Fewer Moving Parts” EP, Bazan’s first attempt at his newfound solo career, finds him continuing in the realm of Pedro the Lion-like melody and sticking with Jade Tree Records, however a bit more angry these days, as he lyrically takes swipes at everyone from “rednecks” to record reviewers. He performs everything himself—and to good effect, as these songs truly do feel like “solo” songs, insulated inside the mind of one man.
“I had been doing the band, using hired guns for basically a couple of years, and those guys are all my buddies and they’re great, but I really felt like I was doing karaoke,” Bazan says of his decision to retire the Pedro moniker. “No one was really in the band enough, or invested enough to make the songs their own… I needed a fundamental change, and ditching the name felt like the right thing at that point.”
Bazan says his methods of writing and recording didn’t change after he moved on from the band. “The writing [for “Fewer Moving Parts”] was probably eighty-percent done when the band broke up. I didn’t really have a chance to think about it differently. When I went to record, it was a lot freer, with what instruments I can use, how many I can use. With Pedro I knew that odds were I was gonna go out on the road and represent the songs as a three-piece, and with this I had no plans to go out on the road and pull these songs off, so there’s more depth in the arrangements than on a Pedro thing.”
Through most of his career, Bazan’s songwriting has leaned on the side of fiction, telling tails of regret and failure, infidelity and strained, personal relationships with religion. (He’s been labeled Christian-rock in the past, an assumption that is entirely unfair and lazy. “Sometimes I take it pretty hard,” he says of being labeled, “because every day it gets further and further from the truth. But sometimes I take it with a grain of salt and keep my head down, knowing that being understood is not possible.”) He says he doesn’t think his songwriting process will change. “It’s sort of weird—to some degree it’s a nonfiction and fiction mix. A lot of fiction is autobiographical, but certainly working from odd, contradictory viewpoints that the writer puts into the character and the character responses, which are based on the writer’s impulses. I’ll keep doing it that way. The imagination is really the only limit…a person is more than the sum of historical experiences. There is so much more going on in there than what you’ve been allowed to express because of circumstances of life. The subconscious is the keeper of that information. You’ll discover a little bit about you that isn’t out in the world, not something you’ll bring out when you’re hanging with your buddies, or fighting with your wife. Sometimes it comes out in dreams. When songwriting goes really well, it comes out in songs.”
Because there are so many layers and levels to a Bazan song, it easily leads to multiple interpretations from listeners. “Eight years ago I was pretty protective of my songs—I was disappointed when people misunderstood a song. My thinking was ‘this is what I meant and hope to convey, and people don’t get that, and that’s somehow a failure.’ I stopped doing that in an attempt to take myself less seriously. Once the song’s done I just let it go, and try to be excited when people connect with it, come up with interpretations that are different. If everything was super-clear all the time, it would basically be kind of boring.”
Bazan’s currently touring and playing by himself, something he says he enjoys, playing mostly Pedro the Lion material, but also some songs from Headphones, his other project and, of course, his solo material (he expects a full-length to be out by next summer). “I’m still feeling it out,” he says, “still getting a sense of what it is. You gotta get up there and play every night—there’s nothing to fall back on. Nobody to really inspire you at that point. You gotta figure out how to make it work. The more I do it, the more I feel comfortable and excited.”
David Bazan plays September 23 at Schubas, 3159 North Southport, (773)525-2508, at 7:30pm. $12-$14.