Interview: Pedro The Lion

interview by tom maxwell

Looking for a quintessential rocker sure to challenge your moral and ethical ideas about life? Try out the works of David Bazan, known to most people as simply Pedro The Lion. His songwriting and storytelling abilities have been likened to such names as Fugazi, Lou Barlow, Sebadoh (come on, their best work), The Beatles and a whole host of other names. I personally think Pedro is hard to characterize, but there’s one thing for sure PTL sounds beautiful and riddled with emotional lyrics about life, liberty, and the pursuit of God. Bazan recently shocked the indie world with his epic new record “Control.” The new record is along the same lines as “Winners Never Quit,” but is a more raw and unabashed emo record musically. I caught up with brutally nice Bazan at the Casbah while he wasn’t playing the drums for fellow tour mates T.W. Walsh and Damien Jurado (both worthy bands) or singing and playing guitar as Pedro The Lion. For a guy who just got done playing two full sets on drums and about to go on stage as Pedro The Lion, David had a lot of spectacular things to say. While the planes nearly touched the buildings overhead we discussed the new record, the future, and life’s toils.

Tom: From beginning to end your new record seems to have an underlying theme. It seems to deal with the inner struggle of life and learning to love someone. How would you describe this record and where does it fit in with your other records from Pedro The Lion?
David: Well I think this record is the darkest Pedro The Lion record and it’s also the most musically aggressive. It started as basically a political rant, but then I realized it was coming out kind of forced so I kind of backed off from having a message and just tried to write songs. The political rant definitely came out, but it started focusing more on relationships just like Pedro always has.

Tom: So do you think it’s a process of the relationship between a husband and a wife and the things that can happen such as deception or one of the frailties of life?
David: Right yeah. It definitely is a look at how things can kind of disintegrate without a lot of effort.

Tom: You seem to put ideas about the belief in a higher power in a situation of struggle like no other artist and at times it seems you are frustrated with God’s nature and the cruelties of the world. Can you explain this sentiment of hopelessness and indifference of God?
David: Well, from my perspective, most of the things I get really bummed out on aren’t really God himself, but the way that Christianity has worked itself over the last couple thousand years or so. But a lot of the characters in the songs end up having some pretty big problems with God. Usually, because they’ve interacted with people that believe in God that a greedy, vindictive, judgmental or really self-righteous and whatnot. So a lot of the characters end up having issues with that.

Tom: Do you think that the characters reflect any of your own personal thoughts or struggles that go on in your life?
David: It’s a big mix. Usually, lately, I’ll envision a character or a scenario and where those come from it’s hard to say, but a lot of them are inspired by something that I’m feeling or it will sort of encapsulate an idea that I have that says that in a way that really works out well. So it is all fiction and different songs intersect with my life more directly and sometimes they don’t. There’s no formula to it. I’ll just get an idea and it’s based on the merit of the idea. If there is any direct correlation with my life usually I mess with the facts of the story enough so that it doesn’t resemble my thing at all.

Tom: Can we expect new albums in the future?
David: Yes, we’re working on a new one right now or I am. Actually, I’m working on the lyrics with that guy Tim Walsh. He’s a really good lyricist and there’s a story at this point that I’m working on that he’s helping me put into the record. Yeah, so at least one more record and there could be more.

Tom: Is Casey Foubert a permanent Member of Pedro The Lion?
David: No, at this point it is pretty defined that Pedro The Lion is just me and I get guys to play.

Tom: Yeah, I saw you on your last tour too and it seemed like you just hired guys to play with you in Pedro and you played with the guys you hired in their bands. Is that kind of the deal now?
David: Yeah. It works out really well like that. I don’t imagine it is always going to get to work like that.

Tom: Casey did write some of the parts though on the new album right?
David: We wrote the ending riff of “Second Best” together. Then we wrote the verse progression of “Penetration” before the guitar kicks in. Tim, T.W. Walsh, actually wrote the opening riff to “Options,” but other than that I’ve written pretty much everything.

Tom: People who have listened to you think you an absolutely amazing songwriter, but it seems like in the past you haven’t really gotten a lot of the recognition you deserve. Since you moved over to Jade Tree it seems like you’ve captured more of an audience. How does that make you feel to know that people are really starting to get into your music and to understand you?
David: Well, that’s really nice on a certain level. That’s acceptance in a way that we all kind of enjoy it when it happens.

Tom: What role do you think music plays in society?
David: I think the art in general have a profound affect on society. It bolsters our conscience and makes us aware of humanness I think and helps us to learn empathy and breaking down prejudice. You know, seeing a painting, watching a movie, or reading a novel; they’re just triumphs of humanity that are sort of a part of all of those different mediums that really help us to understand who we are and where we come from. So I think it’s pretty integral. I think there is a direct correlation with how arts flourish and how highly culture functions and how much intellectualism there is and just critical analysis in general is really encouraged when the arts are at the forefront of society.

Tom: How has music affected your life directly? Without music where do you think you’d be?
David: It would be a really horrible thing for me if music didn’t exist, but it’s hard to quantify something like that. The fact is that music does exist and I’m really glad I’m getting to be a part of it and to make music.

Tom: Is your relationship with your wife the same as on the record?
David: Oh no, it’s all fiction. I actually get along real well with my wife.

Tom: What does she say though about these songs where a marriage is constantly under fire?
David: There’s a couple of things she doesn’t like, but mostly she’s worried about people’s thought and perceptions about us. She realizes that that’s not the most important thing. We interact during the process of writing songs in a way that’s pretty helpful like when I was writing “Options.”

Tom: The tour, how much longer is it going to be? I think on the last tour you said you only tour for a certain amount of time a year?
David: I tour 90 days a year. So this show is 31 days.

Tom: 31 days. So are you counting it down, do you like touring?
David: I like touring a lot.