Branching Out

In his 11 years as the creative force behind pensively slowcore indie-rock group Pedro the Lion, Seattle-based songwriter David Bazan produced four thoughtful, theologically themed albums, incidentally carving himself as a sort of anomaly within Christian-based music. If Pedro fans didn't delve deep into Bazan's lyrics, often reflective of his Evangelical upbringing, they may not have even realized he was singing about God.

After Pedro's 2006 split, Bazan embarked on a solo career. His 2006 EP Fewer Moving Parts flew relatively under the radar, but 2009's full-length solo debut, Curse Your Branches, did not. After 15 years as a songwriter whose songs were deeply rooted in faith, Branches' lyrics quickly informed listeners that Bazan no longer considered himself a Christian.

Recorded in the thick of philosophical upheaval and ideological skepticism, the album depicted Bazan's Christian schism and search for meaning in life's other realms. This year's sophomore Strange Negotiations, builds upon that quest, communicating what Bazan now believes — or, more significantly, what he doesn't believe. Predictably, his newfound agnosticism unnerved some longtime fans.

"There was a point of difficulty I felt around the release of Branches," Bazan recalled during a recent phone interview. "I'd given a series of interviews that all came out within a ten-day span. It felt wrong, shooting my mouth off like that all at once."

But Bazan fearlessly faces fans and critics on Negotiations. The shift can be felt within the record's first minute; opening track "Wolves at the Door" is shaped around a repeated chorus of "You're a goddamn fool." Even the artwork appears to second-guess God, though Bazan insists the photo of a Ouija board with its pointer centered on the letter "G" is coincidental.

"Someone pointed that out and we all got a big kick out of it," he says.

Bazan is aware of fans' varied reactions to his new ideological stance. "I've found most dialogue on the Internet, even from the most knee-jerk, uninformed people, to be kind of sweet," he says. "Some people think, 'Yay! Finally, he's pulled his head out of his ass and stopped believing that hogwash,' and others are truly sad and praying for me.

"It's fascinating to see the whole spectrum represented."

Known for holding Q&A sessions at his shows, Bazan still welcomes fans' questions. "Having open conversation with people is how I'm wired. I see that transparency and genuineness as a helpful thing," he says.

Naturally, not everyone will necessarily support Bazan's new outlook, as illustrated during a recent show in Portland, Oregon: "Someone (there) asked me, 'Are you a Christian?' and I replied, 'No.' They said, 'That's okay, we like you, and we're praying for you.'"

Despite the fan's verbal support, Bazan was convinced it was delivered with disdain. "The way they said it was really condescending. I began a song, but it started steaming inside me, and I thought, 'You know what? Fuck those people,'" he recalls.

"After the song, I said, 'I'm not, like, trying to be a dick, but fuck you guys for assuming that you're right and I'm wrong and that I'm the one who needs to change my thinking.' I realize that's part of the program, but it's shitty to say aloud."

Though he may be "wired" for provocative dialogue and theological melees, Bazan otherwise seems like a regular, happy guy, unwinding with hobbies and simple pleasures. "I like to hang out and drink with my buddies," he says casually. A self-admitted podcast junkie, he lists NPR programs This American Life and Fresh Air among his favorites.

Bazan is also a family man who relishes raising his and his wife's two children. "Before my wife and I had kids, we liked going to the movies a lot," he says.

"I wouldn't mind staying home with our kids," he muses, when asked what he'd be doing for a living if not music. "But I don't think my wife would want to give that job up; she likes it," he laughs.

"I do have a strong desire to research," Bazan adds. "There are things I'm curious about that I feel require a more academic looking-into than just surfing the Internet before bed."

For now, movies and research papers lie on his back burner. Bazan and his three-piece band are on the road all summer.

"Tour has been good," he says. "Our amps keep breaking and stupid bullshit like that, but in spite of those things, it's been invigorating. We've figured out how to make a sound that we like, and with just the three of us. It feels personal."

Bazan says he's looking ­forward to returning to Houston when he ­headlines Fitzgerald's Saturday.

"Houston has a one-sided rep that it's a shitty town to play music in, but I disagree. Our first few experiences there were at this great, dirty rock club called Mary Jane's Fat Cat," Bazan vividly recalls. "We had the rowdiest, most enthusiastic audiences there.

"At first we thought they were mad at us, then we realized they were just really aggressively requesting songs! We had great, drunken blowouts at Mary Jane's, and Walter's, too. Since they closed, it's been tougher; some momentum was lost."

Any lost momentum will likely be made up. Bazan's plan for the evening is simple: "We're just going to show up and play rock and roll."

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Neph Basedow
Contact: Neph Basedow