David Bazan on Pedro the Lion's Control
In this week's issue, we dig in with David Bazan, the songwriter behind Pedro the Lion, who's touring in support of the 10-year anniversary of that band's landmark record, Control. We ended up with more material than we could fit, so please enjoy another installment of Outtakes, where we sweep up all sorts of good stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor.
With its crunchy guitars and booming drums, Pedro the Lion's Control serves as scathing indictment American right-wing politics, a bitter dispatch from the Bush era that presciently gazed at the looming financial crisis. Bazan has been performing solo since 2006, but he's out on the road with his band, performing the entirety of Control (plus more) in celebration of the record's 10th anniversary.
Up on the Sun: I imagine these shows have been very interesting. You guys recently remastered the Pedro the Lion catalog. How long had it been since you've gone back and re-listened to these records?
David Bazan: I've been touring with the band since 2009, and we've played seven of 10 songs from Control at different points, on different tours. We definitely played a lot from Achilles Heel, and It's Hard to Find a Friend, and some songs from Winners Never Quit. So it's not that much of a departure, but to have to play in every song in order, every night, that's something I've never done, to be sort of contractually obligated to play certain songs. But it's worked out fine.
Is it possible for you to pick a favorite Pedro record, or one that feels like you accomplished as much as you felt out to?
Well, every record is made up of so many different components, and so many different parts of the process you can judge separately. I think my favorite songwriting is on Achilles Heel, even though there are definitely songs [on that record] I despise. But I think Control, comes in a close second to It's Hard to Find a Friend in terms of "album making." Those two records, each in their own way, achieved what I was going for. As it turns out I just think that I prefer the sensibility of It's Hard to Find a Friend a little bit more. But I'm really proud of Control. At the time, I pretty much nailed what I was trying to achieve with making that record.
Pedro the Lion had rock songs before Control, but it was really a shift in the dynamic sensibility of the band. You were really cranking it up.
Do you remember that shift occurring? Was part of the violent sound of Control a thematic decision, or an element of you being sick of being pegged as a quiet singer/songwriter-type?
It's way more the former than the latter. There was a certain feeling that I got playing a couple of the rock songs on Winners Never Quit, and how the set we had played up until then was just sort of down tempo, and I thought it would really be fun to have a lot more rock songs to play. I think that was part of it. I really loved the record Pinkerton, by Weezer, a lot, and the bombast of that record I thought I could really dig into that, in my own way of a similar level of bombast.
After Control, you and T.W. Walsh really solidified Pedro the Lion as a duo. But you made Control with Casey Foubert (Crystal Skulls, Sufjan Stevens), correct?
Casey Foubert helped me make the record; it was just he and I. But I should say that Trey Many, who's my booking agent now, and he had a band called Velour 100. He played with me two years leading up to the recording of Control. So we fleshed out those songs with him as the drummer...I certainly got perspective on that record over time with Trey.
Pedro the Lion was essentially the same thing as "The David Bazan Band." Why not tour as Pedro the Lion?
If I can help it, I won't ever use that name again. There are a lot of reasons why. I'm pretty invested in using my name as the brand name for what I do. After finishing Pedro the Lion, we saw firsthand how important brand recognition is in terms of getting all of the people who are actually interested in the music to buy the record and come to the shows.
Even at this late date, it's kind of hard to believe [but] there are people at the shows obviously every night that just didn't know that there was a life after Pedro in terms of my songwriting. They never connected the dots. That's one of the things I hope to correct with this tour, to be like, "Hey everybody, if you liked Pedro, you should check out [my solo records], because you probably would dig it as much.
That's one reason. I don't like the name. I think it's a dumb band name. That's another reason. I've just moved on. They only reason I would call it Pedro the Lion is to try and make more money. And that doesn't seem like a great reason, especially considering the reasons why I wouldn't do it.
I was surprised when I saw that you'd be doing a Control tour.
It's not totally like me, I don't think.
I wasn't bummed out. I don't like the idea of nostalgia tours, but then a record I really loved turned 10...
It was a tough decision when it came up. It just kind of smacked off all that cashing in, nostalgia stuff. But we were looking for a way to promote the re-releases as effectively as possible. Honestly, without the re-releases, I would never commemorate the 10th anniversary by playing it from end-to-end. It just seemed like the most effective way...we could have said, "The David Bazan Band plays Pedro the Lion songs, and other songs," but we always do that anyway.
But it's working out okay, I take it?
We're halfway through the trip, and I realize I really do like the back half of the record better. I think that the texture at the back half is just more interesting, to me personally. But that said, I love "Options," I love "Progress," and the three rock songs in the middle of side A, they're fun. We can dig in and get really hard, and that feels good.
The David Bazan Band is scheduled to perform Wednesday, December 5, at the Rhythm Room.
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