Pedro the Lion interview
By: Tom - Decapolis Senior Music Correspondant and Scott Hatch - Burnt Toast Vinyl/Tidal Wave Magazine. Scott Hatch will have a feature story on Pedro the Lion in the new issue of Tidal Wave magazine, based on this interview.
Get that camera away from me!
Scott: My first question is, how has the critical acclaim affected you as a band? Like getting written up in Spin and you had interviews in Muddle, one of the cool underground magazines, and Hit It or Quit It among others...
David Bazan: I really was hoping that people would think that it [It's hard to find a friend] was really good. When we got the response that we did, all of a sudden I felt confident walking into rooms where I would not before, and I felt validated a lot by it. When it came time to be writing other stuff, my thoughts were "How would the press respond to it" or this and that and the other thing. It just really freaked me out, and it sort of infuriated me at the same time. Not that they did anything wrong, but that I always knew that I depended on what other people thought. It just bugged me that I would just kind of be smacked around by it in that way. So it's definitely been an interesting process trying to just find the creative impulse that wasn't dependent on peoples' reactions and then just try to seek that out and hone in on it and focus on it, rather than other people.
Scott: Touring with Jets to Brazil...how did that go? Was that another time when you felt a little nervous playing in front of all those people?
David: Well, not really. It was fun. Mostly, we just got to know those guys and really, really liked them a lot. I think that we all really developed a mutual respect for one another and enjoyed one another¹s' company. We liked doing similar things. Sometimes you go out with a band and all they like to do is drink. And that's fine if that's what they want to do, but it's just hard to be, or harder to be, with guys that have such dissimilar tastes as far as what they want to do with their free time. So it worked out really well. It definitely was great to play to the bigger crowds. But basically like 1/3 or a little less of the people that would come to any show knew about us and were there to see us as well as them. And then 1/3 of the people would have never heard of us, but really like it. And then 1/3 of the people never heard of us, and really hated it or be really disinterested in it and be talking and things like that. But it was fun. It was a great tour.
Tom: What's the indie rock scene like in Seattle? How are you guys accepted there? And do you guys get to play out much in Seattle?
David: Yeah, I mean as far as playing out, we play out a little too much lately. With shows, we can kind of take our pick or whatever, and now we just realized we have to play a little less around town. The indie rock scene, I don't really know...There are no all-ages clubs anymore. Well, there is one left in Seattle. But the one that was going on for a long time, the Velvet Elvis, just shut down in August. So "indie rock" definitely feels more like, well whatever that is, it feels more like "indie rock" in an all ages venue. But at the same time, I don't know it's weird, it's enjoyable, there are plenty of venues for us to play at and there are several good bands to play with...so it's fine. I don't really know what to compare it to because that's the only place I really played.
Scott: I guess going back to the playing in front of a lot of people...How do you feel to be somewhat embraced by a scene that seems biased towards Christians normally? Have you found any confrontations based on people knowing that you're Christians or has that ever been an aspect?
David: No one's really bugged us personally about it. There were two instances; well one of them definitely touched us personally. The label [Secretly Canadian] that distributes Made In Mexico distributes some records through K records. One of the guys in Behead the Prophet works at K records. When he found out that we were on the label that they distributed, he called up Ben [Swanson] and just ripped him a new one for an hour. He was just like...I can't believe you have this F-ing Christian band on your thing and he just went off on him [on Ben]. But that kind of thing...I just think those people are prejudiced and ignorant and I'm not really playing to them anyway. I think that art is best realized when it's consumed by thinking people and not by prejudiced people, although we are all prejudiced, but when the prejudice doesn't come in as heavily in a negative sense to appreciating the art.
The second instance was more based on issues surrounding Christianity then it was on faith itself. There is this band, Sleater Kinney, and one of the members of that band is in another band called Cadallaca. In Portland, there is this venue called Spin Cycle and all the Portland scene people are really into Rock For Life. Actually there are a lot of Christians that I know that are really into it. There was an article in a Portland paper about Spin Cycle and their affiliation with Rock For Life and it mentioned that we played at the club several times. It sort of indirectly affiliated us with Rock For Life in a way that, just because of personal convictions that I have that do not really fit with that whole thing. So we had three shows booked with Cadallaca and they canceled all but one of them because of various reasons, they said.
But I found out at the one show that we played with them, the one girl in Cadallaca said I knew we had these shows with you and then I read that article in the paper and I was kind of bummed, like if you guys were a pro-life band or whatever, or that was a platform that you guys were about, then we weren't going to play shows with you. I told her it's not to say that I don't probably have some views that would be offensive to you, but that's not one of them. I don't know if you want to talk about other things and be offended and then not play shows with us that's fine, but the pro-choice, pro-life thing, my views are probably not offensive the way that you're thinking. So that even got around all over the place, so we were pegged a pro-life band in a way that is not actually quite the truth. That's the only time it's really ever been a problem--when people have associated us with things that are not true, that are baggage that go along with Christianity. I'm not ashamed of Jesus in that way, but I am ashamed of Christianity sometimes and Christians. So that's the only time that it ever really comes up.
Tom: Sort of along the same lines. What are your feelings on the current state of Christianity in American?
David: I could really go off on this. I don't really know about a lot of people. It seems from what my understandings were growing up, that a lot of people are missing the gospel. And it's having an effect on things in a negative way. The gospel not being: if you ask Jesus into your heart then you're going to heaven, but God's plan of redemption being what the whole Bible is about from cover to cover. When Adam and Eve sinned, He began putting the plan into motion, He knew what He was going to do, it was the longing of His heart from the beginning to send His son back for us and what that means after the Gospels themselves and Paul's writings and in John's writings and so on and so forth is. I mean that's the gospel that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. It's real simple, I mean a lot of people would assent to it, but then they live their lives differently. That's the only thing that I would really be able to say for sure...is that I think a lot of people are missing the Gospel. I grew up having missed the Gospel and it caused some, not any like permanent problems, but it took me a while of digging on my own. I didn't hear about it in church the first time. I heard about it through God's word, reading it, and through some books I found in a bookstore. It was funny I didn't actually hear it in church after either, so I went to a different church. I have not been to very many churches around the US, but from what I see and what I read and what I hear the state of Christian culture at large, it seems like a lot of people are missing the Gospel.
Scott: You're getting married, right?
David: Yeah, yes I am.
Scott: Are you excited?
David: I am, it's really stressful and it's not without its questions. It's a very complicated matter. Getting married and spending the rest of your life with someone. So there is great excitement and there is anxiety.
Scott: Do you think that is going to filter into Pedro the Lion, in some of the songs you write?
David: Well, I don't know. Everything sort of does. If I feel like a song is too much non-fiction or if it's too much going that way, I try to screw up the facts pretty good so that it becomes fiction. You can write better songs if you're not bound to the facts, because the facts aren't necessarily that interesting all the time. And they don't communicate that impulse the way that just being able to say whatever you want can. So in that way, I probably won't be writing a lot of songs about personal struggle through marriage or anything like that, but I'm sure it will come into play. Everything does kind of come into the songs.
Tom: On your latest EP you seem to touch on technology, especially in "Letter From a Concerned Follower". What are your feelings on technology and the way the human race has become so dependent on new technologies?
David: It's definitely a double-edged sword. Ever since the agricultural revolution, I think there were numbers for time. Things have gotten better and worse kind of all in the same time. I guess supposedly we used to be hunters and gatherers and I assume that it has something to do with the flood or the fall and just in that period. But when the agricultural revolution started, the people started staying in one place and congregating around cities, disease and everything just started going out of proportion and we have just been trying to keep up ever since with medicine. So it's really convenient--E-mail and cell phones and all that stuff. But sociologically, I know that it has good effects and bad effects at the same time. I use technology a lot, we have a cell phone and e-mail. It really helps out with tours, that's for sure. E-mailing everyone that wants to be on our e-mail list makes advertising a snap.
Tom: What's the song "Suspect Fled the Scene" about?
David: It is a fictional story, but it actually was kind of about this guy that I know, but I didn't realize it when I was writing it. Basically, this guy, when he was a lot younger before he was saved, he had molested his niece on one occasion and it was sort of a skeleton in his closet. He would go to a church and he loved working with kids, and it wasn't because he a child molester, he just really loved kids a lot. People would find out about it, and bring it up and he would just freak out and move to a different town. He moved to this town where my parents live. He was at their church and the kids all loved him and he hadn't struggled with it for years. It was like two isolated occasions like 9 or 10 years ago and it came out somehow and all these rumors started flying about it. All these really damning rumors started flying from these church people and they were like, well I'm not going to bring my kids here, all this stuff. My dad had to beg him not to leave. The story actually was more fictional about a guy who just ended up leaving because of some skeleton in his closet that came out. It's about skeletons and people that are extremely judgmental that are Christian people that don't give grace and forgive the way that they have been given grace and have been forgiven. Actually it's pretty clear in the Bible that those sort of people, which we are all susceptible to, but those people will spend eternity in hell, contrary to what they think, so that's what its about.
Scott: Just seeing you guys a week ago at Cornerstone your set list changed drastically, do you change it a lot on the road? Kind of get bored with certain songs? Or just feel like you need to play a certain song?
David: Well, we are not super prolific. I don't write just a ton of songs. Our next record that is going to come out in March is coming together really slowly and I think the second record is going to be the hardest one to write. So it's come together really slowly. So because of that we don't have a lot of new songs. We literally have two new songs for this tour and we have been playing these songs for a long time, so there is this sense of like, not being bored with a song, but it's sort of losing its punch on us, but also just at different shows we like to mix it up differently. We knew a lot of people were going to be here tonight that were at Cornerstone, or several people. Like if everybody is sitting down and it's like a theater setting or something we will play a lot of slow ones. Tonight we played all fast songs except for like two or three. We just try to mix it up as much as possible and not play the same songs. There are like 25 or 26 songs to choose from.
Scott: Is Josh involved more in the songwriting now? Also where is Ben?
David: Oh, he quit about a month ago. There was just a lot of stuff that he wanted to be involved in on his own that the band didn't allow him time to do. When he started to realize that that was the cycle and that was what was happening it was kind of hard for him, but he had to make a decision. I mean he didn't have to because we were telling him that he had to, but he had to because there was just this tension about wanting to do this stuff and not being able to. So he made the decision to not be in the band and pursue that other stuff. For a couple of weeks, it was a little shaky but I think after a couple weeks went by he felt really good about it, or so he said and that was what we heard from a lot of people not just from him, was that it was the right decision for him.
Scott: So had he and Josh been involved more in writing the songs, or are they still pretty much your songs?
David: The writing process changed a bit for the EP, where I still wrote the songs, but I was trying to think of it as more of a collaborative effort. But I've always been hindered that by willfully choosing people who hadn't had a lot of experience and know-how built up but were a little more green. So what happened I had thought of it as more of a collaborative process, but it really wasn't able to be that at that point. So I really started getting frustrated with my own ability to come up with stuff, because I was confusing that with our ability to come up with stuff. So on this tour actually, Josh and I decided that this next record I'm just going to kind of hole up with the four track and just sit and write the whole thing from start to finish. During that whole time Josh is going to be taking piano lessons and theory lessons, just like a really intensive music study situation so that he can understand music better and we can be on the same page. It had turned into a little bit more of a collaborative process, although it never really did and then I just realized I had to wait longer. For it to become a collaborative process, I really like that idea a lot.
Tom: So do you or do you not like women with hairy legs?
David: Oh, I don't mind them in the least bit. The song sort of was inspired by some antidotes surrounding the fact that my girlfriend, my fiancée now, when we started dating she hadn't shaved her legs in six months and for the first three and a half years of our relationship she didn't shave them at all. So I had been use to that, other girlfriends of mine hadn't shaved their legs. Really the song is about being yourself. God definitely made them that way, its culture and society that has kind of changed that.
Scott: A friend of mine commented that most of your songs are fairly somber or sad or maybe sarcastic. Do you have that secret pop song that you're waiting to pull out, or is that just not the point of what you're trying to do?
David: My personality is definitely bent toward the darker things. Part of it is...there has been this drive all along that I have felt to get to the bottom of things. At the bottom of things there is not a lot of syrup, there is just a lot of issues that are complicated and sort of heavy. I've just always sorted that stuff out really naturally, so it naturally goes into my songwriting. Even the pop songs are sarcastic or dark. The lyrics I have been writing for this next record...it's even gonna get a little bit worse or better depending on how you look at it. I just really think a part of what art should do is cause people to think and be moved and to be put in a place of tension. I think the art that I appreciate the best is the art that just kind of makes me squirm a little bit. And I'll be like, I don't know about that, I don't know if it's true or if it's not, it exposes a lot in me. I think the songs are definitely moving more that way. That's been part of the deal too, everyone has been like, your songs are so refreshing, or this or that or the other thing and I'm like, well what I'm writing now I don't think you're gonna say is refreshing. So I think we might lose some people with this next record. I think I'm OK with that, we'll see.
Tom: When you guys are not on tour do you have any day jobs or any other hobbies that take up a lot of your time?
David: We don't. That was one of the things with Ben that was hard. The requirement for people to be in the band is that they don't take a day job. We work Tuesday through Friday 9 to 5 on band stuff. Business in the morning for as short of time as we can get away with and music the rest of the day. Lately, for the last year or so, we have had probably at least four shows a month, so we get our fifth day. We are not quite eight hours away from being men. We definitely work good forty-hour weeks. So that's the deal. I had to put some boundaries on it like that because it was just a full time thing and it would just take over everything. Even Christine, my fiancée, felt like she was playing second fiddle so we kind of marked out some boundaries. You know four days a week, 9 to 5. Now we're not going to be playing as many shows and touring just two months a year, no more, no less.
Scott: So have you been able to survive as like an indie band without a job?
David: Yeah, I have been doing it for like two years now where I haven't had a job except for the band. I have been working really hard and then in August, Ben and Josh came on and we have been able to support everybody, kind of meagerly, definitely, but we scrape by. But lately, we have sold quite a few copies of, "Its Hard to Find a Friend", and we are just starting to see some money from that and on this level, the deal is just so much better. There is a lot less overhead, it's just a lot better of a deal, so we get a lot more money per record than we would ever see at a bigger record company. Also, because distribution is a little hit or miss, a lot of people buy them from us. So we sell a lot of merchandise. Not like Supertones a lot, but for us we come away from shows like I can't believe that many people bought our record this time. This tour has been great. We have made really good money. So yeah its looking good, we'll just see how long we can hold off.
Scott: So are you glad you made the choice to go to Made In Mexico, instead of sticking around with the other label?
David: Well, it's odd. We actually weren't really on the other label. We did a one off with them and weren't bound to any more records from that contract. There were a couple times when we thought about doing a deal with them, but we just kind of both mutually decided that it wasn't the right time or best idea. We were just without a label. Really we didn't have a label until Made In Mexico. Tooth and Nail, like I said, was just a very brief relationship. Basically, when we walked out of the studio, we were out of the contract. We couldn't have started this way. Likewise, James [Morelos] (Made In Mexico) couldn't have started the way he did either. I think we happened to one another at the right time.
Scott: Do you ever see yourself going bigger with the band? Like if some big corporate rock label wanted you.
David: We would consider it, but only after we had made two more records on an indie label and have toured for 2 or 3 more years and developed a fan base that we earned and that was legitimately interested in our band and sold some more of those records would we be willing to talk to anybody. Not until then would we really have any leverage at all. If you sign before that with any major label, they steal your creative control, and they basically expect you to put out records that sell wildly and that have radio hits and stuff like that. I mean if that happens naturally, that's fine. I mean I don't want anyone telling me what to do like that. There are plenty examples of bands that have put out two or three records on indies and then went to majors and had all the creative control retained and didn't sell a lot of records and they didn't drop them. Like Built to Spill and Elliot Smith. If somebody came along after that, then we would consider it. Before that, we are not interested at all. We don't want anybody sending our records to major labels. You just look kind of hard up to them, and we are not. We don't want that now. The thinking being in two or three years, if we're really legitimate then they will come to us. If we are not, then they won't.
Scott: I got a couple more about the tour. Is there anything you brought along on the road with you? Like any certain kinds of music, books, anything that might be influencing you at all on the road? Or is it just pretty much you talking in the van the whole way?
David: Everything influences my thoughts and me all the time. It's hard to pin any one thing down. I have learned so much already on this tour. I just started writing in a journal. I have always wanted to but I have never been able to. It has really helped me. I talk way too much, I was dependent upon vocalizing my thoughts to work through, and now I'm able to work through them a little bit better on paper to find out if they are BS or not. So that's helped me tremendously. There is just a lot of stuff. We brought a lot of records and a couple of books. Flannery O'Connor and Adam Voith.
Scott: Oh yeah, I know Adam. I was in San Francisco and I saw Hovercraft play and this guy [Adam Voith] walked up to me at the bar and knew me through some mutual friends, and it was weird. He is a really good guy. [Adam Voith c/o Chappelle TNI, www.chappelle-tni.com]
David: Yeah really good guy, he is really cool.
Scott: Are there any weird quirks about anybody on the road? If the rest of the guys were here I would ask them what you do.
David: Yeah we all have our quirks like crazy. This is the first time I have ever been on the road with our new drummer. He has been a good friend of mine for years. He has been in the band actually before. He was the guitar player on the first EP and actually the first three-piece after the five-piece was Nick on guitar, me on bass, and Blake Wescott on drums. Yeah, so our idiosyncrasies are opposite completely.
Scott: So what are they?
David: Its maddening.
Scott: Spit it out.
David: Oh man.
Scott: If you don't want to talk about it, I understand.
David: No, we all have a pretty good handle on it. We get pissed at one another sometimes but we are OK. I don't really know. I mean I could think of a few. Needless to say there are plenty of them. All of the tours that we have ever been on have been, relationship-wise nearly endless grief. I have this really bad habit, that I don't communicate negative things very well. I always have a hard time being honest about the negative things in people. So when things get really out of control, I just want to remove myself from situations and find people who are a little less high maintenance, as far as being able to tell them negative things all the time. Josh and me have definitely had some really rough times because of it. But now I'm quite a bit better at enjoying him a lot. I didn't totally use to; he didn't totally enjoy me. I guess it's not what some people might expect from Pedro the Lion. There is a lot of conflict, but it's good. It means we are growing up. Yeah it¹s good.
Tom: With being on the road, do you come across a lot of smaller or indie bands that have really stuck out to you, or that have open up for you or that you have just come in contact with? Anyone that we should watch out for?
David: Scientific. They are good, man. They are a Chicago band. I'm trying to think. We have played with some good bands. Every now and then we run into someone that really kind of blows us away. There is this band called, Orchids of something [the roots of orchis, an instrumental band(scott's guess)]In Santa Cruz. We played with this band called Love Sick in Detroit, they were great. The guys had another band called Flash Paper. There is this band called the Mariannes, in Detroit who were really good.
Tom: All right thanks a lot
Scott: Thank you
David: You're welcome