On the way back home
Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan gears up for epic five-album project
David Bazan is the brains behind Pedro the Lion, an indie-rock band band formed in 1995 that’s best known for its downtempo, sad-bastard songs and concept albums such as Winners Never Quit (2000) and Control (2002). Those records tackled macro-issues like American consumerism and religion, and more personal stuff like modern marriage.
The band split amicably in 2006 and went their separate ways. Bazan had been playing mostly as a solo musician since, though he occasionally assembled session players to fill out the live sound.
Last year, he decided he'd had enough of gigging alone and reformed Pedro the Lion to tour extensively, including a May 11 set at Harlow's Restaurant & Nightclub.
Lately, he's been holed up in his studio outside of Seattle, writing and recording the band's much-anticipated new album, the tentatively titled Phoenix. During a recent interview, Bazan told SN&R that Phoenix will be the first of an epic, five-album series paying homage to each of the five cities he's lived in—including Paradise, a town nestled in the foothills of Butte County.
In fact, Bazan's musical journey began when he started playing drums in a worship band during his freshman year at Paradise High School. His youth pastor/bandleader taught him how to play a couple of simple guitar chords on a whim, and around the same time, his sister brought home a book of easy-to-play piano songs, and he learned the Beatles' “All You Need Is Love.” And so, during his brief time in Northern California, he discovered the power of the 3-to-5-minute pop song.
But Bazan had formative experiences in all five places—Phoenix, Lake Havasu City, Arizona, Scotts Valley, Paradise and Seattle. He plans on using his ruminations as the source material for five albums to be released in one-year increments starting next spring. He's pondered this compulsion to revisit familiar places, he said, and, “the phrase ‘midlife crisis' has occurred to me. This is my Corvette.”
“I had a rough couple of years, personally,'' he elaborated. “In the midst of it, I was staying with my grandparents in Phoenix on tour. That tour was full of surprising and weirdly negative experiences, and I was feeling so low. I decided to swing by the house I grew up in, and as I was driving over there I asked myself, ‘Why do I feel so much longing in these places? What is that about?'”
He realized he's got unfinished business basically everywhere he's been. His family moved frequently and he didn't keep up with the people with whom he'd established relationships. “There was a lot of unresolved feelings in general with all of these places,” he said. “I was like ‘OK, let's do a little creative project about it.' I thought it might be writing, but then I realized, ‘You make records, dude. That's your medium for dealing with this shit.'”
Bazan is still working on the narrative arc that will tie everything together, but he knows it will expand beyond his own walk down memory lane; the story will reference his personal experiences only as a jumping off point. And he won't get too specific, because he recognizes that nostalgia for childhood—and hometowns left behind—is universal. “We all have so many of our experiences in common,” he said. “A lot of people feel the same way about moving.”
He acknowledges that the five-album series is an enormously ambitious project, and he's fearful of “promising the moon and delivering a block of cheese.” But it's happening, Bazan said: “Plans have solidified and I'm really leaning into it.”