David Bazan is quite the anomaly. From his music to his live performance, he personifies and embraces the self-depreciating tortured artist caricature all the way down to his diverted gaze, stumbled-over-words and plain black t-shirt and jeans. But when you get him on the phone and begin prodding about his latest work, Mr. Bazan becomes an open resource with very few areas off limits.
To catch you up to speed, Pedro the Lion was Bazan’s much acclaimed slowcore, narrative, social commentary and religious musing darling band of over a decade. Early in 2006, PTL, composed of Tim W. Walsh and Bazan, split ways and each continued making music under respectable solo careers; Bazan under his own name and Walsh as the Soft Drugs. Upon first listen, it is difficult to interpret these new songs outside the filter of the break up.
On his new EP Fewer Moving Parts, Bazan, historically preferring the narrative vehicle as his weapon of choice when attacking subjects like family, religion, politics and love, has crafted several songs with pointed and specific statements that tempt listeners to attempt back story interpretations on these slightly encrypted songs.
Bazan recently offered some context and insight for Fewer Moving Parts, the break up of Pedro the Lion, his song writing and his future pursuits.
Although its only five proper songs, you are really making a lot of statements on Fewer Moving Parts. Tell me a little about the themes in this EP.
I guess I’m still unpacking some of them myself. Some of them are pretty straightforward. “Fewer Broken Pieces” is clearly making some reference to the end of the band, but more specifically, I guess I just always kind of saw it as an indictment of me, and without getting too specific, some of the habit patterns that ultimately lead to the end of Pedro the Lion.[In] “Selling Advertising,” “Fewer Broken Pieces” and “Backwoods Nation” there’s certainly room for interpretation in all of those songs as far as the finer points of them, but they’re driven, you know, by a pretty solid idea. I mean, they’re pretty focused in their theme I suppose.
You want me to talk anymore about those? The other two are a little more random, I think a little less pointed and I, I don’t know. Those I’m still kind of unpacking slowly. Which is how I tend to treat a lot of the songs I’ve written most recently; and I rather enjoy that.
It’s tough to, with most songs, especially ones that are pointed like the first, third and fifth; I kind of refrain from saying anymore about them cause they explain something that’s tough to really explain in a paragraph or anything like that; and that’s kind of the point of getting them out like that. So I kind of think that sort of sums it up with all those.
Is it safe to say this is your “Dear John” EP in many respects?
Yeah, I suppose it could be interpreted that way. I didn’t deliberately set out to do that necessarily. In fact most of the songs were written before I knew that the band was over; including most of “Fewer Broken Pieces,” which is kind of funny. I wrote that while we were touring as Pedro the Lion and while we were still talking about making a new record. And I think that song looms pretty large in the feeling of the record; in the feeling of the EP, given too that it’s called Fewer Moving Parts. So I didn’t necessarily set out to do that, but the way that everything kind of came together (that its called Fewer Moving Parts and that is a reference to the second verse of “Fewer Broken Pieces,” that I really didn’t write until after the band broke up, but the rest of the song I had already written) I guess it does. It feels very much like a statement of new beginning or closure on the old thing.
All the official statements of your and Walsh’s split makes it sound mutual and amiable, but after listening to both yours and his (The Soft Drugs) first solo EPs, it sounds like there are some bitter emotions involved. Can you tell me about the reasons behind the breakup and your relationship with him now?
Um, well no. First off Tim and I are pretty tight, and we’re still playing. I’m the drummer in the Soft Drugs, just not on the album. We just played a show like last weekend, and he played drums at a Headphones show last weekend, and I just went over to his house last night to watch a Richard Pryor stand up DVD. And so it’s definitely been, like anything like that, it has been hard and there’s been a lot of complicated emotions to sort through. But we’re really close, you know, and so it isn’t like we don’t see each other or hang out or play music.
It’s just that Pedro the Lion wouldn’t work anymore in that way. Something we realized after the Soft Drugs came out … was that there’s a song on there called “Brand New Name” which we both realized people might interpret it is being about me and the break up of the band, and it isn’t at all actually. It’s about someone completely different and a very specific individual, but not me as it turns out. And then we realized that we thought it was kind of funny, and it seemed like it could drum a little bit more attention for the EP. But in the end it’s just kind of a coincidence.
The other songs that are a little bit pointed too are about just other people, I’m trying to think, “Don’t Sweat It.” I always thought that “Defending the Paint” was about me, but that song is years old. In fact that song “Don’t Sweat It,” that song’s probably three or four years old and is about a buddy of Tim’s kind of. It started out that way, but just like anything else, it kind of just becomes its own thing. But yeah, so the apparent references on the Soft Drugs EP to the break up just aren’t at all. All those songs are pretty old, except for “Brand New Name,” and like I said, it’s about somebody else.
But the specifics, I won’t go too far into the specifics of the break up, but it really has been difficult. It’s really a sad thing. Something that made us both feel real bad. Also definitely put a strain on the relationship where we would have to sit down and really sort s*** out every few weeks cause feelings would just get really hurt. So it was definitely a rough period, but a period where we … as we talked about it both of us are pretty well over … the strangeness regarding the break up of the band. But there’s always lingering things for both of us. It’s just one of those things that takes time. But we hang out, you know, two or three times a week. It makes it a lot better. In fact I think I might see that Ricky Bobby movie with Tim tonight. That thing’s funny man. Have you seen it? Talladega Nights.
Yeah I’ve seen it. I liked Anchor Man a little bit better. But that’s just me.
Yeah. That was a good one too.
In the past you have said most of your songs are fictional, experimental narratives into your creative unconsciousness and rarely autobiographical in nature. In light of your present circumstances and obvious clues on the EP, is it safe to say you did not take this approach on Fewer Moving Parts?
Uh, let me think, “Selling Advertising” is (pause) … I don’t know, really what you’d call that, because it’s really more declarative statements or something. I guess it is a little autobiographical.
“Fewer Broken Pieces” certainly is one of the most autobiographical songs I’ve written in a long time, but I’d like to define autobiographical for a second too. I think a lot of times, certainly when you think of autobiographical, you think of a person writing about things that happened to them. But at the same time I think autobiographical conjures up the idea that the most personal way of writing is autobiographical. And I don’t really think that that’s the case. I think that you, if you’re loaded to write about things that actually happen to you, there’s a whole scope of your personal thoughts and ideas and feelings that just aren’t able to be represented, because you didn’t really choose the things that happened to you, and your responses to those things are relatively limited by the events themselves. So actually I don’t know what you call that exactly. But a lot of times writing fiction, the songs and the way that they come out are a lot more personal cause your imagination isn’t limited by the actual events that happened and your imagination, and your subconscious holds the most personal tidbits about you. You know your taste and your sort of fantasies, and all that.
So I do think “Fewer Broken Pieces” itself is pretty squared and autobiographical in that it’s telling … it’s making reference to events in my life and things. Although no one ever said “Jesus dude, what are we going to do with you?” That’s just made up. It’s representative of my feelings- my sense of the situation, and I certainly never said to anyone “I still run the show. Don’t you forget it.”
But it is representationaly autobiographical I suppose. The other songs, I don’t know the definition of that word well enough to know if “Backwoods Nation” or “Selling Advertising” totally fit, but two and four, “That’s How I Remember” and “Cold Beer and Cigarettes” are definitely not autobiographical as far as them representing actual events in my life. But as I play the songs more and more, I started to see a lot more connections between those songs and my own personal (unintelligible) or whatever. But I think that they might be a little bit more personal than the actual autobiographical song, but just in a more back door kind of manner, if that makes any sense.
Tell me, do you see yourself moving away from writing more of the narrative type songs. You have the three that are more statements or autobiographical and only two that are you’re regular creative narrative. Do you think you’re going to move away form that, or is still going to be a strong staple of your song writing?
I don’t know. I guess it just depends on what happens when I sit down to write. It won’t necessarily be one way or the other. I didn’t always do this, but probably since most of the way through Control, I really just sit down and let it happen and make very few decisions going into it about what I’m even aiming for or anything like that; I honestly have no idea. And I’m kind of excited to see what does happen. ‘Cause it could go anyway I guess.
Next week: Part two of our conversation with David Bazan.