The Comfort of Truth
Will Wagler chats with Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan
For a rock musician, David Bazan – who is Pedro the Lion – seems to lead an ordinary life. Weeknights he usually stays at home with his wife. They sit inside and read. Or they go for walks around the lake in his neighborhood. Bazan watches a lot of movies and enjoys Public Radio, especially This American Life. On the sunny day that I spoke with him, he seemed very content.
Which all seems to be in direct contrast to the weight of the latest Pedro the Lion record, Control. Unlike some of Bazan’s early releases, there aren’t any soft, folky acoustic guitar tunes this time around – it’s pretty much big dirty guitars and old soul keyboard tones getting bullied around by catastrophic drums. This sonic intensity is matched (and at time surpassed) by the stark, gritty, real-life themes of the songs. The melodies are incredibly catchy. The music is immediately enjoyable. It’s when you start digesting what Bazan’s actually saying that you might start to feel a little uncomfortable – some people might even feel a bit nauseous. Still others may be aroused.
The loose story running through the 10 songs on Control is one of a marriage gone bad. Rotten children, lifeless jobs, keeping up with the neighbors, confused spirituality, adultery, and a murder are all described in an intimate and sexually graphic manner. One of the album’s most stunning tracks, “Rapture,” comes across as the musical representation of the primal sexual intensity of adultery.
“While I was writing this song, I started to realize ‘oh, my God, this IS sex,'” Bazan exclaims, astonished at his creation. “The chorus has definitely got to be the orgasm.” He stepped back and feared the song was in poor taste. His solution was to have the orgasmic chorus be a “sacrilegious expletive.” The words of the climaxing, cheating husband are making mention of Christ’s second coming, The Rapture. “It had to be the dirtiest thing I could think of,” he says referring to his strong Christian beliefs.
“Penetration” is more or less about the nasty business of selling your soul to your job: “If it isn’t making dollars, then it isn’t making sense / if you aren’t moving units, then you’re not worth the expense / if you really want to make it, you had best remember this / it isn’t penetration, then it isn’t worth the kiss.”
“Indian Summer” deals with the ideology of bringing up future successful citizens, and like most of the songs on Control, it deals with it in a way that’s so deeply honest it sounds almost distasteful. “The children… start them young / that way they’ll love the taste of corporate cum.”
The album’s final track repeats its namesake, “Rejoice” several times before a huge guitar sound takes over then proceeds to lead the listener through what sounds like a funeral dirge; certainly not your typical Sunday school fare. Then again, David Bazan is not your typical singer/songwriter.
Perhaps due to his tendency to challenge his religious beliefs through song, it hasn’t been entirely easy for Bazan to hold on to his unique artistic vision. He’s received some grief from some people that are close to him. For example, I got the distinct impression that his wife really didn’t care for the adultery song that much. (Imagine that). His parents, music pastors for The Assemblies of God Church, think every record he’s written has been ‘pretty dark.’ “They were especially concerned about this latest album,” he says.
None of this surprises Bazan, though. He’s well aware that he doesn’t write sunshine songs about light issues. And he has a pretty solid philosophy behind it all: “I’ve always felt more comfortable when I was looking at the stripped down version of the truth – nothing glossed over or flowery.
“There’s something comforting in just knowing what the truth is rather than knowing some other version of things that is more pleasing. Knowing the truth about something is always better, even if it’s bad, which I usually think it is.”