David Bazan has been writing and releasing emotionally evocative, beautifully crafted songs since the mid 90s, when he formed the influential indie band Pedro the Lion (who were active for ten years). His unique ability to tell rich, detail-laden stories – often intricately weaving a comprehensive narrative into the brief span of a three minute pop song – has earned David comparisons to such great American songwriters as Neil Young and Elliott Smith. Having spent the last few years playing house shows (intimate gatherings in fan’s homes in which he performs acoustically) and touring in support of his last full-length release, Strange Negotiations (Barsuk), David made the move to re-master and re-issue the entire Pedro the Lion back catalog earlier this year. We’re grateful he took the time to chat with Listgeeks’ Derick Rhodes about those re-issues and his current tour, in which his band, David Bazan Band, performs Pedro the Lion’s influential Control album in its entirety.
Derick Rhodes/Listgeeks: You recently reissued all of the Pedro the Lion vinyl. How did that come about?
David Bazan: Vinyl has begun to start selling a lot better – we’re selling way more vinyl than we did five years ago. And that’s exciting, for me – I like listening to records on vinyl. It’s a more committed monster – and since albums are kind of going the way of the dodo, I think it’s an interesting trend that makes someone like me pretty happy. So we started hearing from people that they wanted to get the Pedro the Lion records on vinyl, and the only way they could do that was to spend $150 per title on eBay, and we thought, well that’s not cool – let’s see if we can’t reissue those.
LG: Why did you decide to play Control, rather than one of the other records?
DB: It’s a little bit of a financial risk to press all this vinyl, and we realized we’d need to promote the re-releases somehow. It was suggested that we tour with the name Pedro the Lion, and I said no to that.
LG: Why was that?
DB: Well, I stopped using the name for several reasons. The “band” Pedro the Lion wasn’t really the issue, because that was me and, like, 25 other guys – a rotating cast of characters. I’ve spent a lot of time since quitting using the name trying to develop – we’ll talk about it in the crass term “brand names” (which to some degree, it is). . . and it’s a tough thing to do – to develop brand recognition or name recognition, however you want to talk about it. So touring like this, playing the album Control under the name David Bazan Band plays. . . should help to connect the dots. If we just toured as Pedro the Lion people would think, “Oh, well I’m just gonna wait till they come back as Pedro the Lion again,” rather than realizing what the tour is about. Also just using the name Pedro the Lion feels like a cash grab to me in a way that I don’t really like.
LG: The themes you wrote about on Control still seem very apt, in terms of American politics at the moment.
DB: Yeah, unfortunately it’s not an outdated bunch of tunes, in terms of theme. I think the political and cultural tension which 9/11 – and the official response to 9/11 highlighted – the fire that stoked is still burning pretty strong, and that’s deeply troubling. Unfortunately a lot of the themes on the record are still pretty fresh. In that sense I suppose cynics will always be better predictors of the future than other folks. To finish the answer to the question “Why Control?” – it’s the only record from all the Pedro records that I can play every single song from…that I enjoy every single song from. So if we were gonna play a record all the way through, this would have to be the one, and as it turns out it’s also the most popular Pedro record, and it’s also 10 years old this year.
LG: How did the idea to do the recent living room tours come about?
DB: The idea came up in late 2008, knowing that Branches was going to come out in September 2009. The record label, Barsuk, they wanted me to kinda lay low in preparation for the album release, so that we didn’t use up all the tour press capital in the months before the record came out. We wanted to honor their approach, so when we were looking at the year financially – and realized there was no way I could stay off the road that long – we tried to come up with a way of touring that still honored the agreement that we had to lay low. So we came up with this idea to do house shows, which weren’t listed in press/weekly papers or featured on blogs…so I did probably 75 of those shows in 2009, and again in 2010 & 2011. I like it so much as a way of touring that I just keep doing it.
LG: Does touring like that give you a different sense of your fans?
DB: I’m pretty aware that my perception of people who come to my shows or listen to my music is imprecise. I’d have interactions back in the day at a rock club with probably 5 or 10% of the people in a personal way, and even then you can’t really tell what people are like in any meaningful way. That said, I have a lot more individual interactions of the living room tours, and the thing I come away with is how honored I am to have such normal, cool people be into my music. I couldn’t say for sure, but I think people get a way better sense of who I am because of the access they have at those shows. It’s easier to take the temperature of the room at those shows – you can feel the texture of a person a lot better in that situation.