Former Pedro the Lion Frontman David Bazan's Solo Works Move Beyond Christian Indie Rock
After he released Curse Your Branches in 2009, an album frequently called his "breakup letter with Christianity," you'd think that former Pedro the Lion frontman David Bazan would be done answering questions about his faith. But, inevitably, his wrestling match with Christianity still comes up in nearly every interview with him. With his second full-length solo album, Strange Negotiations, now available, the struggles with faith are still there, but drawing a theological line in the sand has allowed Bazan to expand the scope of his introspection to the world outside Christianity.
David Bazan occupies a very strange place in the indie-rock landscape. Though he has the respect and support of some secular indie-rock fans because of his skill as a songwriter, he still is mostly beloved by fans who knew him during his time working in Christian music. Certainly, Curse Your Branches allowed Bazan to move away from writing about faith exclusively — he says the album "cleared the air to be able to write about whatever" — but it's not like the religious stuff is going away. The Christians in his fan base exist in various levels of estrangement from their faith, and he still does interviews with ostensibly Christian magazines such as Relevant (where, predictably, nearly the entire interview was about Christianity). It's sort of a shame, because Curse Your Branches wasn't just a treatise on agnosticism, but also his best work to that point. It was where the quality of his music caught up to the strength of his lyrics.
In the meantime, Bazan has become a model of how to survive in the post-major label era of the music industry. Though his stop at The Sail Inn will feature a full band, Bazan often hits the road as a solo act, playing house shows for audiences of 30 or so. Odds are the hosts of most of these shows are fans with some connection to Christianity. When he wanted to take time off from the road to record the new album, he set up an online donation box that quickly funded the recording of the album. "The pie-in-the-sky hope of a major label deal has been removed, waiting for someone to knock on the door," Bazan said about the new economics of his career. "It feels more blue collar . . . I do the work, write songs, and make a living. I'm really content with how things are."
Bazan has always been, as he describes it, "more lyrically driven than most musical artists," and though he's probably wise to avoid reading online readers' comments about him, he says that he feels "flattered that people take the time to try to understand what I've written." It's almost hard to believe that, considering nearly every line Bazan's written since Pedro the Lion's debut EP (the scandal at the time was whether a Christian album could contain a description of heroin use) has been analyzed to determine his Christian-ness. But Bazan holds up, freed at this point by his burying the controversy altogether, even if critics and fans haven't.
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