It’s a tough job; Bazan is a complicated man with complex problems. That much was evident almost from Pedro the Lion’s first roar, the 1997 EP Whole. Released on Seattle Christian rock label Tooth & Nail (MxPx, Damien Jurado, defunct locals Furthermore), it and its 1998 follow-up LP It’s Hard to Find A Friend (Made in Mexico/Jade Tree) were as rebellious as they were pious, striving to know Jesus even as the mustard seed of doubt started to metastasize within Bazan. Christian fans ate it up, as did a respectable contingent of ostensibly faithless indie rockers who were drawn to Bazan’s plaintive, poignant, sometimes scathing songs.
Through five more albums in six more years, Pedro the Lion’s profile grew, and Bazan increasingly expressed concerns about his character, his faith, and the world in general with unflagging honesty. In doing so, he pissed people off, and a volley of waste was catapulted in his direction. He was derided in secular circles for trying to maintain religious fidelity, and in Christian cliques for questioning why he tried. Some celebrated his candor, others said he was trying to serve two masters and accused him of waffling.
Still Pedro fans were largely loyal. Most grew to accept and even adore Bazan’s idiosyncrasies. Some doubting Thomases at least cared enough to keep listening and take advantage of the Q&A sessions that the bad boy of Christian rock would hold at Pedro shows, recognizing his effort to keep an open dialogue with his fans while he searched for truth. But with 2004’s Achilles Heel (Jade Tree), the tide turned.
In the Achilles track “Foregone Conclusions,” Bazan appears to finally be fed up with the rampant hypocrisy among the flock, how they’d prattle on with their talking points and Bible verses, wearing their faith outwardly as an affectation, not realizing that their own house wasn’t necessarily in order. It was the line heard ‘round the Pedro world: “You were too busy steering/the conversation toward the Lord/to hear the voice of the spirit/telling you to shut the f—k up.” Two years later, he put the band to rest.
The breakup wasn’t all about religion and faith. Even when Pedro was five members strong, it was about Bazan. He was the power, the source, the everlasting force. “Really what happened was it wasn’t a band proper for years and years,” he says, alluding to his role as creator-in-chief/all-time quarterback. He hoped that would change when his friend Tim “T.W.” Walsh joined the band full-time. “I really thought of him as a long-term member and it didn’t work out; it was a complicated breakup. In the wake of that, I just didn’t want to continue on with the band name or the whole method of writing music, recording it, and then hiring guys to stand onstage so I could say, ‘Hey, we’re Pedro the Lion.’”
Also it was a way for Bazan to put his own name on these increasingly confrontational songs. Bazan was a man against the world, taking on the post-9/11 neocons, shortsighted Bible-thumping rednecks, the staff of the elite indie-rock Website Pitchfork.com, or himself—for his self-perceived shortcomings as a father and human being. Putting his own name on his self-released debut solo EP Fewer Moving Parts seemed appropriate since he demanded honesty and accountability from all sides.
In the Bazan canon, Fewer Moving Parts is the most provocative, honest, and—if you’re affiliated with any of his targets—offensive collection to date. In “Backwoods Nation,” Bazan slays the yellow, jingoistic, blue-collar mentality: “Calling all rednecks to put down their Sluggers/ and turn their attention from beating the buggers/ to pick up machine guns and kill camelfuckers.” Addressing Pitchfork’s thoughtless review of Pedro the Lion’s 2003 album Winners Never Quit (it attacked Bazan for being Christian and having a neckbeard, and said 30 minutes was too short for a “concept album”) in “Selling Advertising,” he rhetorically spanks Pitchfork founder Ryan Schrieber: “You’re so creative with your reviews … / I know it’s hard to be original/ in fact, nothing scares me more/ because Jesus only lets me do/ what has been done before.” And, in an open letter to Pedro ex-members, Bazan says, “I still run the show/ don’t you forget it/ so I had to let some go/ because I do and I don’t/ think I’m better off alone.”
He is improved, though—that much has become abundantly clear as he’s purged at least some of his burden, and in the process, identified what it’s all for, what he wants out of the deal. Post-Pedro, as it was when the “band” was still together, Bazan is still about being the best he can be. He has incredibly high expectations for himself and expects to excel not only as a musician, but as a friend, husband and father. “I still wanna do good, be a good ‘man,’ he says, almost mocking himself. “If that’s a possibility.”
DAVID BAZAN @ In the Venue, 579 W. 200 South, Tuesday Dec. 4, 7 p.m. 24Tix.com