Nada Mucho

Interview: David Bazan and the Transformative Nature of Music

Posted by May 12th, 2015 No Comments »

By Marz Elisa
Lead image by JUCO Photo

In the late 90s I went to high school in Puyallup, Wash., a little farm town 40 minutes south of Seattle without much going on. During “Activities” class one of my duties was to watch over a little nook in the cafeteria where I could play music during lunch. I would borrow my sister’s CDs; her skater boyfriend was taking her to shows and buying music. They turned me onto the underground music scene coming out of Seattle.

I would go to shows alone and just check out whatever I could find, and, although I was getting tuned in to hardcore and mathrock, I was also drawn to a style called “emotional music.” It was new to me and very different than what eventually evolved into the pop-punk mainstream version of the “emo” genre. I really gravitated to bands like 764-HERO, Quasi, Modest Mouse and Sunny Day Real Estate live, but my favorite was Pedro the Lion. Front man Dave Bazan had a very calming and open-hearted affect on my ears and mind, and what I observed of those in the audience. That spirit really helped bring me out of my shyness. This sense of a community connected through music is still around today – it’s just in little hole-in-the-wall spaces, basements and living rooms.

Thanks, in part to Bazan’s music, I still feel at home going to see live bands and meeting new people while exploring new sounds.  So I was thrilled to see he is on the Timberfest lineup this year. I remembered that he had responded to my fan mail years ago, so I dropped him another line and he agreed to chat by phone about what he’s been up to.

NadaMucho.com:  Why did you want to play Timberfest?

David Bazan: There are always a lot of opportunities to play shows so each one isn’t particularly newsworthy on its own, but I had played Doe Bay before and I thought they were loosely affiliated, so I thought it would be really cool. I don’t get offered a lot of festivals and this just seemed like something I wanted to do.

NM: What do you love about playing in front of people you don’t know?

DB: It’s an interesting question because I don’t feel that I have the same connection with performing that I perceive to be “the norm.” There’s usually sort of an attitude and a posture to it. When it’s extreme it’s like the guitar player and the bass player are backing up to each other just kind of jamming and having a good time. I don’t feel that way. I started playing music at a time when there were shoegazer bands like Low. There was sort of an anti-social aspect to the live performance and the kind of bands I responded to that spoke to me. I really like the feeling in the room when there is a real kind of a neat “musical moment.” I watch a lot of live music too, so I know that those moments can kind of project in the audience when something true and neat happens.

I am still kind of insecure about performing live, but I do like it. There is some sort of a human connection element that I am able to reach in spite of the fact that there are a lot of uncomfortable feelings. I leave the stage or the show with an endorphin release somehow.

David Bazan on Nada MuchoNM: What has changed about playing live compared to back when you were starting out in Pedro the Lion (1998) in the Northwest music community?

DB: I was a lot younger and there was newness and excitement to it. One of the big features of Seattle was that the Teen Dance Ordinance was in place so you couldn’t do all ages shows at rock clubs or anywhere with alcohol.  I went to a lot of shows at the Velvet Elvis and played a lot of shows there. That place had a kind of a spirit that it brought to the music scene that I really liked. At the time, there were other Christian bands that I grew up playing with and the scene was a lot more marbled. Roadside Monument was on a Christian label that I really liked. There was an interesting camaraderie across a few different scenes that participated in the underground or punk scene. We had a lot of house shows up at a house I lived in with local bands like Mars Accelerator on RX Remedy, a band from around here that I really love. In ’98 I met Death Cab, and started playing with John Roderick’s band Western State Hurricanes.

NM: What are some fun or interesting things that have happened at your living room shows?

DB: They actually have the feeling of those early days. They are so unofficial. The normal experience is that you go to this very nice person’s house, we load in right away I play music for 70 minutes, and usually have a lot of conversations about how much people enjoyed the show. Then we stand in their kitchen and drink beer and then I go to my hotel and go to bed. One time in Brooklyn, two of my pretty good friends were at the show, but had not met each other yet. They were both pretty drunk. One of my friends, Lou, was very, very drunk. During the Q & A he asked who do you like better, “Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen?” I said well I guess I like Tom Petty a little better. Then he said, “That’s right because Bruce Springsteen fucking sucks!”  Then, at that moment, my other friend who did not know Lou, who was also drunk said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” So my two friends Lou and Shane who did not know each other picked a fight with each other and started yelling, screaming, and swearing at each other. Luckily, there was a bunch of people in the way and they were on opposite sides of the room. Things like this tend to happen too with not only my friends, but with ornery folks…now they are actually pretty good buddies.

NM: Why or how did you start writing songs and playing music?

DB: I was a drummer first. I grew up going to church and my Dad was a pastor. I played drums in high school and coincidentally right now I am driving right by my old high school. In 8th grade English class it was just fun for me to mess around with words. By the 10th grade I got interested in the guitar so I got an acoustic. People showed me some cords so I learned Beatles songs, church songs and started writing my own songs. I was always able to express myself somewhat effectively if I was writing a poem or something. So those two things; music and words married up at that moment.

NM: What drives you to invest so much time to play music?

DB: Well, it’s my job and it’s how I provide for my family. So that’s a pretty big motivator. That gets me through moments when I’m on tour and it feels like it’s what I “have to do.” I really enjoy music as a consumer as well, and that moves me to try to express music in ways that I haven’t yet. I hear a song or a musical moment that flips my lid and I want to make a lid-flipping moment myself, ya know?

NM: How do you perceive your involvement in the DIY underground music movement?

DB: I am very much inspired by that idea. Bands like Fugazi are very important to me. In my formative years they were just a huge deal because I didn’t just love their records, I loved their ethics and mode of operation. I loved all of it. A big reason people do things DIY is the inhumane logjam that arises when you work with anything in the music industry. It’s just carnage all the time. It’s just like well you can’t do this because of that. It just becomes a point where it just like I want to write these songs, I want to put them out, and I want to play shows for people. I don’t want to have to be on the phone three hours a day talking to this promoter or that thing or that other thing to make that happen or go into a studio and have the studio guy say, ”I don’t think that’s going to work.” You just get sick of fickle people who don’t love their jobs cock-blocking you at every turn when you are just trying to make something that you like.

NM:  What other creative activities are you involved in?

DB: Well, we made two kids and that’s going okay.  I make stuff with wood. I had a tour van for a while that I built out. I even built a bunk in there with pantry and a mini-kitchen.

Bazan Monthly on Nada Mucho

NM: What’s going on for you musically in the near future that’s exciting for you?

DB: We just finished putting out a thing called Bazan Monthly. I was putting out two songs on the first of every month for basically the last eleven months but we skipped a month in December, so the last installment just came out and it’s been really exciting.  Now we will start to play those songs live a bunch. This band that I made, Headphones, turns ten this month. So I am getting ready to go out on tour and play that record. And I have to finish a record by the first of October so it’s a lot of music playing and writing.

NM: Drake, my best friend, wants to know when The Guilty is reuniting.

DB: I would bet that Coolidge would get together before The Guilty would. Well, I don’t know. Maybe Brian would want to do it. But we don’t have any plans to do it.

In addition to contributing to NadaMucho.com, Marz Elisa is a booking agent, stylist and contributor to Back Beat Seattle and Seattle Peach. 

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