By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Two years ago, Seattle singer-songwriter David Bazan retired the Pedro the Lion moniker and embarked on a solo career under his own name. Practically speaking, the switch wasn't that significant. For a decade, he was Pedro the Lion, writing all the indie-rock outfit's material, recording and touring with an ever-mutating lineup that only included, toward the end, one other "official" member: multi-instrumentalist T.W. Walsh. But symbolically and emotionally speaking, the change was monumental.
"In a way," says Bazan, "quitting the band name was just me saying to myself, 'Hey, something's wrong with the way that you do things. It's time to gather perspective.' It was time to take ownership of what I do and take responsibility for it. I'm just trying to learn from past failures and successes and figuring out what I do, what I want to do and who I am."
The end of Pedro, says Bazan, was an entirely necessary, hardly happy event. On "Bands With Managers," from 2004's excellent Achilles Heel — which turned out to be the band's swan song — he sang: "Vans with fifteen passengers are rolling over/But I trust T. William Walsh, and I'm not afraid to die." And yet his working relationship with Walsh, who'd joined up in 2003, steadily deteriorated until Walsh finally quit.
"When he came on board, it was already starting to crash and burn," Bazan explains, adding that he and Walsh remain friends in the wake of the disintegration. "Not even the band, but the whole project, which basically consisted of a tight schedule, and it all depended on what kind of money was coming in and what kind of routine we were trying to keep up. And in that routine, all of my accumulated habits made for a pretty dysfunctional thing. Two years into the discovery process, I'm just starting to see what that is. I'm evaluating how I've tried to do music as a career, while at the same time, I'm still attempting to do it, and being disciplined enough to make changes."
Following a one-off electro-pop album under the moniker Headphones in late 2005, Bazan returned to his guitar-centric roots, self-releasing an EP in 2006 titled Fewer Moving Parts that was re-released by Barsuk Records earlier this year after Bazan signed to the venerable Pacific Northwest indie label (formerly home to Death Cab for Cutie, and currently home to John Vanderslice, Menomena and Rocky Votolato, among others). Consisting of ten tracks — five songs delivered with full band instrumentation (with Bazan playing most everything himself), then repeated in solo acoustic format — the disc comprises revamped Pedro b-sides and material originally intended for the next Pedro album. Simultaneously noisy and melodic in a Flaming Lips kind of way, lead tune "Selling Advertising" is particularly caustic, taking lyrical swipes at online music site Pitchfork: "You're so creative with your reviews/Of what other people do/How satisfying that must be for you.... So if it starts to get you down/Just pretend that you don't make your living/From selling advertising."
Although still touring behind that and the rest of Fewer Moving Parts, Bazan's been performing a new batch of songs in his current live set, armed with only an electric guitar, a husky, compelling voice that's simultaneously sweet and gravelly, and a fervent power reminiscent of Bob Mould's solo performances. The new tracks are slated to appear on Bazan's forthcoming full-length, which he's currently tracking at Seattle's Two Sticks Audio, owned by longtime pal and Death Cab drummer Jason McGerr.
"After Winners Never Quit," he explains, referring to Pedro's 2000 album, "I started to abandon the whole 'I'm gonna conceptualize this thing and then write songs to fit' thing for the approach of letting my subconscious connect the dots, and when I zoom out later, I'll be able to see what I have. With this record, what I have so far, which is nine songs or so, there's three main thematic things that all point to this overarching theme. What I see now — I don't know what might emerge later, but as it stands now — it's about my wife and daughter, it's about drinking, and it's about does God exist? And the umbrella I think those are all under is a funny concept nowadays, but [it's] manhood, and, basically, am I a good man? — and what that means, and how do you measure that?"
Those three themes come clearly into focus as he plays. "By my baby's yellow bed I kissed her forehead and rubbed her little tummy/Wondered if she'd soon despise the smell of the booze on my breath like her mom/Through a darkened mirror I have seen my own reflection, and it makes me want to be a better man...after another drink," he sings in the particularly moving "Weeds in the Wheat." In "Please Baby Please" he intones, "Those two pairs of big blue eyes stare me down, watching me fall/What makes a man realize he's about to lose it all?" During "Curse Your Branches" he sings, "Even as the threat of Hell is disappearing/The threat of losing you is blowing up." Bazan pushes that sentiment in another direction in an as-yet-untitled piece in which he sings, "You used to feel like a prophet, and everyone wanted to know/How you could tell the truth without losing that soft glow/But now you feel like a preacher evoking the flames of hell/Some drunk fisherman chasing after the white whale."