November 5, 2009

David Bazan: Living Out Loud


The David Bazan Band ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth

[In August,  Abbey of Sound on the Sound sat with David Bazan for four hours for a feature story on Bazan and his new album 'Curse Your Branches' for Sound Magazine. Because four hours worth of interview cannot be contained in a 2,000 word feature, we're sharing some of the previously unused material here on Sound on the Sound; not only to preview Bazan's homecoming show this Saturday at Neumos, but to provide insight into the events that spawned Curse Your Branches.]

David Bazan is a man who’s been defined by his faith for as long as he can remember. As Pedro the Lion, he sang openly of the trials of reconciling faith with doubt and sin, equally contemplating one’s present and future existence through the lens of an utter believer or one who is struggling with the consequences of that belief. Bazan’s decade long journey with Pedro the Lion ended in 2004, at a point when Bazan’s faith in God seemed irretrievably crippled by doubt. He could no longer be Pedro the Lion, standard-bearer of Christian indie rock to the masses. As the weight of his doubt grew, he escaped into alcohol and the rock n’ roll lifestyle, while the depth of his internal turmoil became a palpable reality to those around him.

His belief, and therefore the band, had never existed in a vacuum. His wife and family were devout Christians, as were his devoted fanbase and friends. In 2003, just about a year before Pedro the Lion ended, his best friend TW Walsh joined the band as it’s drummer. It was then that  things were coming to a crashing head.  Bazan’s telling of the events that became the song ”Please Baby Please” from his long-awaited solo debut album Curse Your Branches, provides a window into that difficult moment and what it took to right himself:

[My wife] Anne started to get really worried, and Walsh, and a bunch of other people did. I mean there were promoters who would call my booking agent and ask, “Is Dave Okay? Because he’s been coming through here for years and we’ve never really seen him like this.” So there was definitely an intervention on the table. That didn’t happen, but they were pretty worried.

And at that point I was like, okay, okay. I’ll stop drinking for a month. So I stopped drinking for like a month, and then when I started again, it was just back to the same thing. At that point it was pretty functional, where it was maybe twice a month I would basically go on a bender. And it was when most of the time when I had a ride home. Some of the time it wasn’t and I’d have to get a ride home and pick up the car later.

And there was one bender in particular, the song “Please Baby Please”  basically makes a reference to. TW Walsh dropped me off at home, in the downstairs bedroom because he didn’t feel like carrying me up the stairs after he’d already cleaned puke up out of his car and changed my shirt because I’d thrown up all over myself. And he called Anne and woke her up and said, “Dave’s downstairs, you might want to keep an eye on him.” So she brought me upstairs and almost lost me over the banister because I was in and out of consciousness. And she was up with me all night, in her mind, convinced that I wasn’t going to make it. And I really don’t know what the reality of that is, she thankfully isn’t experienced with alcohol poisoning. Just when I woke up the next morning, which actually I think is the lyric of the song, and she was sitting on the bed and just was like “That’s it. You’re done. There’s no way for this to move forward if you don’t do something different.”

And two days later I went on tour, and I agreed not to drink on tour, which as the time line indicates was the first basically sober shows I’d played in several years. And it was in that time period where I kind of decided okay, you DO perceive that God exists. You’d like to be able to suspend that assumption, but it’s not an assumption at this point. You perceive that he does, for better or worse. And you have to admit that to yourself or there’s going to be some pretty big problems you don’t know how to control. So I was able to admit that to myself and for me that was a really good step in the right direction. I don’t know what the outcome of that will be, but ultimately in the mean time it was good practice at being honest with myself. I couldn’t adopt any arbitrary posture, I had deep convictions one way or the other, I had to be true to those even if there was a lot of contradiction. And after that, that compulsion to get blacked out just was gone.

Though he did eventually come to a place of personal peace,  his friendship with TW Walsh was probably the gravest casualty of the dissolution of Pedro The Lion. Though Walsh (who now lives in Boston) and Bazan are again close friends  (TW’s band The Soft Drugs opened for Bazan on an East Coast date this fall), in retrospect how Pedro the Lion ended still troubles Bazan.

I had genuinely wounded him. But then it got so fucked up and complicated, because I didn’t mean to do anything. There was nothing overt where I made deliberate decisions to fuck him over. It was all a wake of destruction that I was unaware of, or that I wasn’t doing intentionally.

We had such an intense relationship and the success of that relationship was based on the functionality of my business. And I fucked all that up. And it’s still… it may be the biggest regret of my life. I’m finally getting my shit together and putting in the appropriate amount of time for the band to work. And the hardest part of all of that, is why couldn’t i have done that when Walsh was living here? And why couldn’t I have done that when he had the opportunity to be in the band? It kills me that that opportunity is for all intents and purposes, just over.

It really kills me. But at the same time, we’re both really glad at this place now that we’re in. And on the record, on the credits I was so proud to write: Recorded by Bazan in his basement. Mixed by Walsh in his basement. Because that is the essence of what we were trying to do for the whole time [with Pedro the Lion] and we just couldn’t do it, because by the time he came on full time the writing was already on the wall and nobody saw it. But it was my doing. [His participation] is a really sweet aspect of [Curse Your Branches].

While Bazan’s position on God remains uncertain from day to day, where he used to be paralyzed by contemplating that fact, he now accepts that his view may always be evolving.

You know, I’ve been doing the religion thing and thinking about it hard for a lot of years. And I also know a lot of really smart guys that challenge my thinking. So I guess that now that I’ve played the [Curse Your Branches] songs forever, and have gotten really comfortable with them, and then further that they’re out in the world and I’m starting to get feedback on them. I do feel like at the very least, they hold up on some basic level. I think that the problems with the story of Christianity that are implied in the tunes might have answers to them that I just don’t know, but they are genuinely big question marks for me, they’re not just surface issues. I feel like they are fundamental flaws that I’m curious that if someone has the answers. I’d love them to email me.

Curse Your Branches artfully document’s those questions about faith through Bazan’s own eyes and his own history. Make no mistake, his songs are deeply autobiographical, yet he frames his struggles in such a way as to be accessible to the religious, the former-religious, and the simply “spiritual” alike. The hopes and fears of parenthood and providing for a better more harmonious future for one’s children transcend denominational and cultural lines. He’s expressing the universal human need for safety and righteousness of purpose here, and what purpose could be more righteous than fighting for the safety of one’s own child. I can identify deeply with the compassionate criticism he’s expressing about topics that popular music rarely dares to dabble in, and even as a staunch and long time Pedro fan, I’ve got to say these are the most impactful songs about religion and life Bazan has written yet.

David Bazan and his new band wrap up their nationwide tour at Neumos this Saturday November 7th. Say Hi and the Sea Navy are opening. Find tickets online via TicketsWest.