Busted: David Bazan

The former Pedro the Lion leader talks about reactions to recent work and his current take on faith and his role as an artist


BH: Do you think there are some people who don’t fully understand what you’re writing about, like maybe think that you’re making a confession or are making a caricature of doubt or something?

DB: Apparently there are. I don’t know to what degree that’s representative, but I haven’t really come into contact with it personally. Although, I do have plenty of interactions, and at Cornerstone there were a few before and after the show and they say, “Hey, I’ve followed your music for a really long time, and my favorite song in ‘Lullaby’,” which is a very early Pedro song that is quite Christian in its lyrical content. So part of me wonders if they are around enough just to say, “Hey, I like your old stuff. Your new stuff is shooing me out the door.” I don’t have a lot of direct contact, but I see that there are people who are trying to justify the things that I’m saying as being a caricature of doubt, exposing it like I might have been doing in Pedro songs about murder or adultery or something.

BH: Was it difficult when a lot of the original Pedro fans left the fold after Control and albums like that?

DB: No… it was… I wouldn’t say that it was extremely difficult. It definitely was a little bit of a drag, because sometimes people would come up after a show, and I would think that, fairly or not, those interactions represented the vocal element of that constituency. And they still represent the people who are mad about those records. But there was maybe a third of the folks who were mad as hell and weren’t anywhere near being able to agree to disagree. They would just leave in a huff. So that was a drag, but at the same time, I couldn’t worry about it that much. I didn’t know those people. Maybe they were schizophrenic or something. I had no idea.

Once you get a letter from a 15-year-old girl who says that you’re demon-possessed because you’re writing about hell on your record, it’s kind of like, “Oh well, people are intense, and in some cases totally delusional.” But that doesn’t mean that Christianity is false, necessarily. [Laughs.]

BH: Did that experience make you feel differently about your Christian faith?

DB: No. Growing up as a son of church leadership, there were always complainers and cranks. But when I put out the Whole EP on the Tooth & Nail label, as early as 1997, I got letters from people saying that I was demon-possessed. So it wasn’t that shocking. Once you get a letter from a 15-year-old girl who says that you’re demon-possessed because you’re writing about hell on your record, it’s kind of like, “Oh well, people are intense, and in some cases totally delusional.” But that doesn’t mean that Christianity is false, necessarily. [Laughs.]

BH: So as a songwriter do you see think you’ll continue to explore these themes or do you think this album will bring to a close this phase of your career?

DB: I don’t know, man! I’m kind of scared to find out. As frustrating as it is on some level, I’m still really interested in these themes. I can say that I’m really glad that I wrote this record and think that I’ll be able to move on from some of this, so I hope to expand into various themes and different areas. But my viewpoint, especially after making this record, is that I’m just going to just write what comes out. Certainly, I’ll edit myself so that I at least like the work, but I’m not going to limit the scope of the subject matter to this subject or to exclude this subject unnaturally. I’m really anxious to see what does come next. Probably in November, I’ll start to sit down and actually write again. I’m excited. I love that process. It’s really frustrating but also really satisfying.

BH: Yeah, well I can’t imagine these themes ever not being relevant. I imagine it’s something like finding out your adopted when you’re in your thirties or something.

David Bazan performs the 2005 song “I Never
Wanted You” from side project Headphones.

DB: Yeah. I imagine that it’s quite similar to that, actually. Maybe a little less profound or something. In that sense, I’ll be unpacking this stuff and trying to make sense of my own identity in regards to these things for a really long time, maybe my whole life. I don’t know. I was listening to something on the radio, and someone was talking about some Japanese instrument that I don’t know how to pronounce, and she was talking about how her upbringing and her ancestry and her socialization process still informs her work today. And I thought, Oh, brother, does this mean that I’m doomed to do this sort of thing, because it was the focal point of my life all growing up? On some level, I think, well, that would be fine. It’s not glamorous and cool the way that I’m lured into thinking that writing music for a living can be. But it’s a valid function to serve. This is who I was and who I’ve always been, and this is what I’m offering to the cultural dialogue — some pretty committed examinations of these ideas, no matter where I fall in relation to them. More and more, I feel like I would consider myself doomed to that, which is such a negative thing. And in other ways, it feels like, well, that’s who I am. You don’t want to be in a rut, of course, but you want to be free to express different aspects of these ideas.

BH: Yeah, I was thinking about the history of pop music, and it’s hard to think of too many people who have wrestled with these ideas so blatantly. You have people like Johnny Cash, but they always come back to where they start. You’re not, really.

DB: Yeah, that’s true. Nick Cave is interesting. Vic Chesnutt is one who I keep coming back to, who grew up Christian and who is now apparently fully atheist. But he writes about the Bible constantly, and I know from personal history that he loves reading the Bible and is really fascinated by it. [Note: Chesnutt tragically died by suicide on December 25, 2009.] If I could count myself among that tradition in the way that Nick Cave and Vic are, I would be happy to. But, to me, a key element of the journey is that I’m really honest with myself. To be an outlaw in the way that I sort of am is an identity that is a little bit sexier than the other thing, so it’s really important to me that if I am turned on by some ideas again that are Christian, that I have to admit that to myself and be able to express that. Intellectual honesty in this process is really important to me. I just have no idea where this thing is going to land, but I do think that’s the right way. If you do think you know where it’s going to land, maybe you’re a little bit full of it.

BH: As a listener, it’s really interesting to watch an artist when you don’t know what he’ll be from record to record.

DB: Well, it’s interesting to be that kind of person, too. It’s exciting. It does feel like there’s an element of adventure to that, since you can feel pretty weary about it. I mentioned lying in bed last night, and every now and again, I’ll revisit them again as I’m dozing off, like, “I have no idea what to do with these notions.” Sometimes I just want to curl up, and I describe it like laying down in the river, just letting go and being submissive to the notion of a God or something, as I was accustomed to doing growing up. And then there’s part of my chemistry which really revolts against that at the same time. And who wins? I just don’t know.