Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan

FROM THE ARCHIVE: It makes a lot of practical sense to use that voice that people have from stage to encourage dialogue. Which, I think, is the real goal. I do want George W. Bush out of office, very badly. David Bazan is the heart, soul, and voice behind indie rock band Pedro the Lion. Through five albums and two EPs, Bazan has let his strong Christian faith guide his songwriting, creating images and landscapes that are more storytelling than preaching. He’s also a strident believer in espousing his political views from stage and in interviews—and they’re not what you might think. Bazan is one of the more open-minded, honest individuals with whom you will ever speak.

In light of our cover story on music and politics, PlaybackSTL spoke to Bazan by telephone about his faith, and how it intersects with and affects his political beliefs.

There seems to be a bit of a disconnect between your being a strong Christian and also a liberal political voice.

I was born at a time when it was more natural for me to question things that my parents just socially weren’t as ready to question. People are a lot less willing to accept something on the basis of a person’s authority and they want to get down to the bottom of it themselves. I think that has defined my interaction with faith and politics. My analysis of Christianity has been extremely disconcerting because I think that Christianity, in most cases, the way that it’s practiced today, is the antithesis of Christ’s teaching and the virtues that he stood for or championed.

You’re about to go on tour. On the road, do you speak your mind from the stage, hand out literature, register voters?
This last tour, we registered voters with Music for America. Basically, I had a bit of a political awakening in the midst of being in this band; I think it was in about 2000. I still don’t know so much, but I was very unaware then. When Bush took office, I was a little more antagonistic. Then after 9/11, I was just so dismayed by America’s perception of that event and our response to it that I think just out of frustration I started—I don’t think I could call it anything else but shooting my mouth off from stage.
It’s really easy to get up on stage and spew a bunch of anti-Bush rhetoric; there’s just so much, and it’s so valid. But what I would like to have happen is for people who come to see Pedro the Lion to be challenged to think for themselves about politics, to be analytical and to commit to reading about politics, and just trying to discover as much as they can. I just wasn’t sure if those anti-Bush statements were the best way to do that, or if it would just be a big rah-rah George W. sort of moment.

Are you a Kerry supporter?
The more I’ve been hearing about John Kerry, the more I’m pissed that people feel like they have to vote for that guy because he’s barely the lesser of two evils. I think we’re over a barrel, as we often are, in the two-party system. It’s just that it’s a unique one this time.

Are any of the songs on Achilles Heel, your new album, political?
I think, on the face of it, they’re more ethical and storytelling. I decided a long time ago that I thought dealing directly with religion and making direct statements about it was a bad idea, and I kind of realized the same thing about politics, to a certain degree. The art role is just a little bit more complex in making statements about those things. The last record had a lot more statements about it; this record has some implications but not a lot of really direct statements.

Do you think musicians have an ethical obligation to speak up on political issues?
I’m not sure. I do think that we have a responsibility, not as musicians but as citizens of a democracy, or a democratic republic. The majority of what a democratic republic consists of is that public dialogue, and so because we musicians are [speaking out], it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that we are musicians or that we are standing in front of people, but that we are members of a democratic republic and that we all should be doing this all the time. The fact that it has become so—not that it’s rare, but it’s just less common to engage with each other. It makes a lot of practical sense to use that voice that people have from stage to encourage dialogue. Which, I think, is the real goal. I do want George W. Bush out of office, very badly. But the more long-term goal is we just need to create a more open dialogue, and for people to be more open to information and not be so freaked out. We have a lot of preconceived ideas about the messages people are trying to give us. Talking from stage, that’s our responsibility as citizens: to engage with people, and to challenge people to engage with one another.

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