Pedro the Lion frontman embraces his old moniker and tours behind new synth-based solo album, 'Care'
In 2006, David Bazan stopped performing as Pedro the Lion, the Bedhead-indebted band that launched his career and managed to draw fans from Christian-music and indie-rock circles (while also alienating segments of each).
Bazan moved forward under his own name, releasing the Fewer Moving Parts EP in 2006 and, in 2009, Curse Your Branches, an album now known by shorthand as his “breakup record with God.” More solo studio releases followed in 2011, 2016 and this year's Care, a synth-based record in the vein of Bazan's 2005 Headphones project that chronicles the incisive songwriter's grief in the wake of 2016's political upheaval.
Bazan is currently on tour in support of Care as a three-piece band (Bazan on bass, Erik Walters on guitar, Sean Lane on drums), which will make a stop at Rumba Cafe on Sunday, Nov. 19. But for most of his solo career, Bazan has favored intimate living room shows.
“For a while I wondered if I could keep doing this, and the house show was the thing that said, ‘Yes, you can,'” Bazan said by phone from the road. “I thought I could scratch the creative and performance itch that way. It scratches most of it, but I wanna be in a band.”
Bazan had an epiphany recently that would make playing in a band full time financially and creatively viable: He could resurrect Pedro the Lion. “For some reason, whenever we call it Pedro the Lion, even if it's playing exactly what we wanna play, people come out in a different way,” he said. “I've only recently succumbed to this notion that I can do whatever I want more if I call it Pedro, which is funny because usually it's the opposite. You call yourself your old band name, and you're kind of hemmed into this thing.”
Previously, Bazan was perpetually frustrated with his creative process in Pedro. Typically, he would multi-track demos of songs and then bring them to the band, who would then use the demos as a jumping-off point for their own parts. It's not an unusual process, but for Bazan, it didn't live up to the notion of a fully collaborative band he had in his head.
“At the time, a ‘regular band' meant people who are collaborating on that basic level — on the part-writing level — with me. That's what I was aiming for. I kept trying to turn [Pedro] into this Fugazi-like, collaborative band,” Bazan said. “It seemed like the ideal I longed to be a part of.”
“I finally realized this summer,” he continued, “that even though it's not my ideal way to make music, the only way I've ever been successful personally and creatively, on a consistent basis, is to do my process the way it comes naturally, which is to demo everything myself, and then at a certain point in that process, bring it to the people I'm with. I just have to find people who are comfortable with that process. I never had the clarity to do that before. There was a bunch of bad beliefs and a bunch of self-loathing and other things that caused me to never really see that, even though it's been sitting there the whole time.”
Eventually, Bazan not only made peace with that creative process. He fully embraced it, and the Pedro the Lion moniker he'd discarded. “At a certain point you realize, hey, this isn't just OK. This is totally great. With the right folks, it's the ideal setup,” he said. “Once you bring demos to people you trust to interpret it with you, it can go a lot of crazy places. And it does.”
Plus, Bazan also realized that other bands he played in — particularly Overseas, which features Bubba and Matt Kadane of Bedhead and Will Johnson of Centro-Matic/South San Gabriel, and also Lo Tom, featuring Pedro's TW Walsh and members of Starflyer 59 — already operated in that idealized Fugazi mode and offered opportunities to play in fully collaborative bands.
Bazan's experience seeing Tom Petty and U2 in concert recently also planted the full-band seed in a big way. “To have those big booms in your shows — that's fun,” he said. “That volume and catharsis is partially there solo, and I've tried to squeeze that as much as I can and really found some moments, but even then it's just so much work to get these little moments that, in a band, happen so easily and naturally. You point in the same direction and go, and you build and release tension, and it feels insane.”