ACL Interviews: David Bazan

I first discovered David Bazan and his work in Pedro the Lion when I was just a young lad in my early high school years. I was always drawn to Bazan’s early post-emo work and have continued to follow his career for the last 10 years or so. Being such a big fan of his work in Pedro, Headphones, and now solo, I was pretty excited to land an interview with Bazan to preview his spot on the ACL festival roster this weekend. Sometimes this job has it’s perks. Follow the jump to read more from the conversation between David and I.

ATH: Many people have asked you recently about your loss of Christian beliefs and belief in God over the last couple years. One interview in particular went really in-depth into this subject. Is “Curse Your Branches” meant as your proclamation to the world that you no longer believe in God since you’ve stated that it’s your most autobiographical album?

DB: Well it wasn’t really meant as anything specifically. When I sat down to write, that’s just the record that came out. Whatever people perceive or get from the record is just what happens. Having been in a band for years and having done publicity for years; I’m pretty well aware of the fact that if you have a back story you’re going to get more coverage. So I think that made Curse Your Branches a lot easier to write about and I think that angle got a lot of play. A buddy of mine, who’s a singer too, gets on me to not let people spin it that way since it’s not just a record about that. I really just let it be whatever people think.

ATH: Also, do you feel like you’ve lost some of those youth group kids now that you’re dis-belief in God is out of the closet? Is that even important to you?

DB: Well with that too, I don’t really have any sort of agenda for what I hope happens. I do hope I’m able to do this in a sustainable way financially. That said, there was a pretty strong reaction both for and against the record in the Christian circles. There definitely were some Christians hanging around that felt like it was too far. I’ve been pretty bold on some previous records and other folks stayed around through that, but when I expressed very direct feelings of dis-belief, I do think that some people just said “nope” and “I’m not down anymore”. I obviously don’t know how many or how to accurately gauge something like that. We obviously don’t have like statistics or anything on it…

ATH: Yeah you aren’t exactly going around playing churches anymore.

DB: Yeah I haven’t done anything like that since the late 90s.

ATH: I’ve seen you probably 10+ times over the years as Pedro the Lion. You used to always pause for questions from the audience. You still do that now as a solo artist? What’s the thinking behind that?

DB: I do still do that. It’s really just an interesting way to interact with the audience ya know? The interactions that one might have with an audience aside from that are really vague and you just have the loud mouths and the hecklers who have their say. So it was a good way to interact. It’s also a way for people to throw me softballs so I can be witty occasionally. So it just helps with positive crowd interaction and banter. I’ve found it useful more than not, so I keep doing it.

ATH: Speaking of the questions during a show… You’ve always seemed to be this really open guy with the media and your fans. Do you ever regret being that kind of person? Opening yourself up like that to so many people has sometimes got to hurt 🙁

DB: Every now and again it’s a little uncomfortable, but for the most part it’s turned out positive for me. It’s really just a philosophy of being that I prefer in general. I think that you gain the possibility of peace within yourself and with other people with that mind set. It’s how I conduct myself in my personal relationships and I don’t see a really great reason to interact with strangers any differently. I am sort of turned on by the mystery that some artists create, but ultimately I would be pretty ineffective at doing that.

ATH: Okay so back track many many years here… My first exposure to your songwriting was way back on Winners Never Quit and it’s still a personal favorite. I’ve always had my theories about what that album is about and it’s obviously a dark story. I’ve always wanted to set it straight and ask you what it’s really about?

DB: Well it’s pretty basic, but I’ve always sort of wondered how well that came through. The setting is basically that you have two brothers. One brother is kind of successful and thought of as the good son while the other one is kind of the fuck up and depressive. The whole thing is sort of a reverse morality thing. The good son became a successful politician and ultimately is a corrupt politician and a cheat. In the big pre-scandal crisis, he ends up killing his wife and killing himself. Simultaneously the younger/fucked up brother is just going through his normal thing and getting DUIs and shit. He then gets out of jail to go to his one brother’s funeral. Track 7 is the younger/fucked up brother getting the last word in the story. Of course the narrator then sort of gets the last last word with track 8 “Winners Never Quit”.

ATH: Looking back over your career, we’ve been with you the whole way, and we have our personal favorites, of course. Is there a particular album, or a particular time period during your musical career that you are most proud of as a musician, or a person, more so than other times? Where should someone start with your catalog?

DB: Well none of the records as of yet are bringing everything I like about what I do together on one release. I certainly think that Curse Your Branches is a collection of the best songs that I’ve written. As a stylist though, it’s not really my favorite work. As a stylist of music, I feel like maybe the Few Moving Parts EP… But honestly at this point I have a Live at Electrical Audio thing that I made last year that I really dig. I think that sonically, the parts that are included in each song, the treatment and arrangements, and the collection of songs makes that a good place for people to start. It is live and the vocals do feel that way. It’s tough and I still feel like the work that I like the best is still ahead of me. Or I hope it is anyway.

ATH: It seems that you’ve been in a band or playing on your own since you were a teenager. Did you ever have any other aspirations outside of music? Have you been successful in those endeavors, or do you have plans to pursue any alternative career path when you’ve put the guitar aside?

DB: I haven’t had any other aspirations besides music. If I had to do something else, it would take me a few years to get through the schooling required. I think I could be pretty content being a teacher since it’s a pretty valid vocation. I wouldn’t mind writing books or something either. I’m not sure I have the skill set to do that though and I don’t really have the leisure to try that out. I work really hard at this so I hope I don’t have to do anything else.

ATH: Your music is always so personal, especially for those that have been following you for some time now. How does the intimate setting of a small venue translate to an open-air venue like ACL for you and your music?

DB: I’ve never really liked playing outdoors so I don’t feel like it translates that well. It especially doesn’t translate well during the day time which is I’m sure when we are playing.

ATH: You guys are sort of around when it starts getting dark I think.

DB: If it were dark, that would make me feel a lot better. That said, I think that what we bring with this tour is the best suited to play outdoor festivals than anything I’ve ever done. Live it’s pretty much just us playing rock n roll with a fair amount of energy compared to my other outings. I look forward to it from that angle and feel better prepared for something like ACL than I would have on a previous solo tour. If I was playing by myself at a festival like that, I’d spend the better part of 45 minutes just absolutely loathing myself

ATH: Now I know you’ve been to Austin many many times (I’ve seen you on many occassions). What do you look forward to in our little town?

DB: Mexican food, good BBQ and it’s always a party. Even when I’m laying low and not drinking a lot in Austin, we always get involved in some sort of blowout. It’s just always fun. I also have some really good friends there and I look forward to seeing buddies.

Thanks again for being a good sport David. We’ll be front and center to see you Saturday at 6:40pm on the BMI stage.

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