If you know his heavily publicized story—and his fans certainly do—you wouldn’t expect David Bazan to do a lot of backward-glancing. Over the past decade, the indie-rock mainstay (and former Christian-rock outcast, as leader of Pedro the Lion) has undergone a major personal and creative shift, abandoning his religious roots and suffering through a debilitating battle with alcoholism, all before re-approaching his art through a secular lens and releasing two wonderful solo albums (2009’s Curse Your Branches and 2011’s Strange Negotiations) under his own name.
This part of the David Bazan Saga is difficult not to write about, since its impact has informed all of his subsequent projects; his two solo albums have been dark and soul-baring, as Bazan lost his faith and questioned his place in the world. But in 2012, he’s in a more comfortable place as an artist and a human being—one that allows him to revisit his past in a new, more optimistic light.
Bazan and his band are currently in the midst of a tour, but it’s not a traditional solo excursion. In honor of the 10th anniversary of Pedro the Lion’s Control (and the newly remastered Pedro the Lion catalog), Bazan and company are playing that album—by far the group’s most acclaimed—in its entirety. Unlike most Pedro the Lion albums, Control wasn’t directly inspired by Bazan’s evangelical upbringing or his battles to balance faith and the rock lifestyle; instead, it’s a concept album about corporate greed, lust, and murder.
“While my beliefs have shifted since then, none of the songs deal with themes that I’ve shifted my thinking on,” Bazan says. “It’s not a very religious record. It has way more to do with politics and marriage and infidelity. My views on all that stuff have stayed pretty much the same over the past 10 years, so that hasn’t been awkward at all. More than anything, I’ve found just how much I love the songs and the tracklist, the way the songs flow into each other. I was worried that I would dislike playing one or two of the songs, but I really enjoy it.”
Bazan’s played most of the songs in some configuration during his previous solo tours, mixed in with his solo material and tunes from 2005’s synth-y collaborative project, Headphones. But playing the album front-to-back has been an eye-opener, he says.
“We played seven of the 10 of them over the past two years at certain times, so only three of the songs were ones we had to learn from scratch,” Bazan says. “And all of the songs are more enjoyable in the context of the entire album—we played ‘Indian Summer’ a while back, and I just wasn’t feeling it, but now I’m really enjoying it in the context of the record. We’re a better band now, too.”
While Control is often regarded as his masterstroke, Bazan’s not sure he agrees. “I think Control is up there—it’s either Control or It’s Hard to Find a Friend. And there are four or five songs on Achilles’ Heel that are some of the best songs I ever wrote with Pedro the Lion.”
For this vinyl reissue project, Bazan remastered the albums himself along with his Pedro collaborator TW Walsh. But the main point of the project—and, by extension, the Control tour—has been about exposing this music to a new audience.
“The vinyl of those albums has been out of print for at least a couple years, two or three years, and with some, maybe more,” Bazan says. “So people who wanted to get those records, the only option that they had was to go on eBay, so we’d get word from people that they were having to spend $150 to get Control on vinyl, and that’s just ridiculous. And that’s where the idea came from—let’s get them back out on vinyl and get them remastered so it’s exactly what we want in terms of the sonic quality. ... Each album was a little different—some were analog two-track tape, and some were digital files. So we went through and tried to make them sound how we wanted. Overall, it was just making the best versions of each album that was humanly possible.”
Bazan hasn’t been totally wrapped up in the past—he’s currently at work on a collaborative project called Overseas (featuring the New Year’s Matt Kadane and Centro-Matic’s Will Johnson), along with a new solo album he hopes will see the light of day in 2013. But for the time being, it’s been nothing but blissful reminiscing:
“We start the show right off with ‘Options,’ and the excitement is really palpable,” he says.