He does not preach but instead grapples with his own questions, and in doing so lets us in on some of the most beautiful material being produced today in the music industry.
With a new album out this month and a tour launched alongside Death Cab for Cutie and Ben Kweller, Pedro the Lion has its plate full. The new album Achilles’ Heel, marking their fourth full-length release and due out on May 25, is just as tragically gorgeous as its predecessors and shows continued movement in the right direction. And the tour, with its dynamite coupling of Pedro the Lion with Death Cab and Ben Kweller, promises to be a gem of a live show, delivering three stellar performances for the price of one.
Much in the same way that Iron and Wine is really just a one-man show composed of singer/songwriter Sam Beam, Pedro the Lion is the pseudonym of David Bazan, the humble force behind the stage name. Deeply religious yet resistant to the pigeonhole of Christian rock, Bazan is a rare anomaly in the music world. He draws upon his spirituality in the writing of his songs, but you might never even notice it if you didn’t listen to the lyrics. The music is both spiritual and secular, his faith not necessarily the focal point of his work but certainly a part of it, as an extension of Bazan himself. For Bazan, there is no such thing as Christian rock; there is only music. He does not preach but instead grapples with his own questions, and in doing so lets us in on some of the most beautiful material being produced today in the music industry.
Because the media at times focuses too much on prying into Bazan’s religious convictions, the real issue at hand is overlooked. What is most important about Pedro the Lion is the amazing songwriting and composition talent, and the subtle ways in which the music makes you want to cry every time you hear it. Here, Bazan talks about these things and more, no religion allowed.
What new challenges did you face in producing the new album, Achilles’ Heel?
Well, I was looking to have a little bit more fun on this one. I was also aiming to achieve a new guitar sound, something a little different than before.
What is involved in the songwriting process for you, or what inspirations foster your talent?
Everybody has different outlets for what inspires them. I guess I started writing songs a long time ago and it just sort of made sense to do that. I just really liked writing down the stories. When I get ideas for something, the words just kind of come. Now, that’s what I do—I write songs; it’s just kind of automatic. Probably every other day, I just sit down and think up something, some of which is never going to go anywhere.
So I guess you just have a natural talent for writing really beautiful music.
I don’t know. I’ve heard somebody say that it’s 90 percent hard work and 10 percent talent, and I think that’s great. But sometimes I don’t really feel that way. I’ve had a lot of friends who had just a lot of bubbling-over natural ability and I always wanted to be like them. But I always had to work really hard while I was writing songs. I kept thinking, “Okay, how do I get better at this?” It’s great when you start coming up with stuff that you like, but it’s really unfortunate when you start wondering if other people will like it. You have to pull back at some point and say, “Hey wait a minute, I’m the one—I have to like this.” What other people want doesn’t really matter.
I guess there would be some tension between what fans want to hear and what you yourself want to write, just by being in an industry where it is a job based on money.
There can be, but I think it’s my responsibility to be proactive in fighting against that. I think it’s a disservice to fans and to the people who are going to sell your record to write a bunch of stuff just because you think people are going to like it.
Is songwriting something you always knew that you wanted to do, or when you were younger, was there something else that you thought you’d do?
Well, in fourth grade I wanted to be an astronaut. By sixth grade, my grades were already going downhill and that’s because…well, I discovered girls. I started playing drums in seventh grade and decided I wanted to be a drummer. I thought I’d be a drummer for a living, but then I started writing songs and that took over.
Did you have a favorite class or subject in high school?
One of my favorite classes was creative writing during my senior year. Jazz band was really great, and marching band was a lot of fun—you had drumline class. I really liked that, too.
What kind of music did you listen to when you were younger that maybe influences you now?
Well, I grew up in the church so I listened to a lot of church music, like old hymns, and I know that comes into it now a little bit. But also, in high school, I listened to The Cure, Fugazi, and the Beatles. And then there was…oh what are they called? “Beds Are Burning”— Oh yeah, Midnight Oil. I had a couple of records of theirs that I was really into.
Any all-time favorite songs?
No. It changes so much. I don’t know; there are records that I become obsessed with for periods of time, and for different things. Some songs I like because they’re really rockin’, and some songs I like because the writing is so beautiful.
Have you been to any really great, memorable shows?
I’ve seen Fugazi a couple of times and those were amazing shows. Radiohead was really good. Actually, I saw Low play at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle and that was one of the best shows I’ve seen. I saw Grandaddy in this coffee shop in 1994, and that was really one of the best, too.
How is the current tour going with Death Cab for Cutie and Ben Kweller?
We haven’t met up with Ben Kweller yet, but Death Cab are old friends of ours and we played our first show with them last night, and it’s absolutely wonderful.
Unfortunately, we won’t get both of you together here in St. Louis, but you’re coming alone at the end of April. Playback definitely plans to be there.
Great. Come up and say hi.