By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
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David Bazan is not Pedro the Lion. The Seattle songsmith initially made waves as the figurehead of the influential Christian indie-rock group, but his career is unexpectedly complicated, littered with a spiritual crisis and secular reincarnation. Now, Bazan is reveling in the glory of Strange Negotiations, the second album released under his Christian name. David Bazan took a break from rehearsing for his upcoming tour to speak about spirituality, sing the praises of his souped-up van and drop a few F-bombs.
B-Sides: Strange Negotiations is the second record in this phase of your career. Is it a different dynamic, having your debut out of the way?
David Bazan: There was an uncertainty about whether or not the first record would work at all, if people would embrace me rebranding myself as David Bazan from being Pedro the Lion for so long. When we were making that record, I worried about what that would that look like to people. Would they be like, "That ain't Pedro, so go fuck yourself." But it went OK, and it was a relief, so now there's some momentum behind us and there's less uncertainty on a day-to-day level.
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In the last several years, it seems the divide between secular and spiritual music is not as wide as it used to be.
I think what is different now is that labels aren't so much of gatekeepers for the production and release of music. There aren't studio owners and engineers acting as kind of cock blockers for bands to make records anymore, so I think there's a more nuanced variety of what people actually want to write about. People can just kind of write about more varieties of things than before, and there are more middle perspectives. I think secular artists have always been able to write with Christian imagery in a more interesting way than Christian artists who had to write about it. Overall, more things being talked about in the public sphere is a good thing.
How has the shift from Pedro the Lion to David Bazan affected your touring?
My touring is a mix of two very different things. In 2009 I started doing solo house shows, playing in people's living rooms. That same year I was also playing rock clubs with a band for the first time in four or five years. In a sense, touring with a band is very much the same as when I was in Pedro the Lion: three guys onstage, two crew guys, all in a van. Now I alternate between rock-show tours and house-show tours. When I stopped using the Pedro name, I went from 5 to 700 people a night and it dropped to 50 or so.
Do you still tour in a van when you do the solo house-show tours?
I do because I camp in the van, too. I built a nice bed in my van, and I have a nice pantry in the back. I just do rest areas and Walmart parking lots and city streets. I spoke at a conference at a four-star hotel a little bit ago and got a free hotel room. The first night I stayed in their bed most of the night, but I wound up sleeping in the van in the morning when I went out to feed the meter. The next night it was like, "Fuck it, I don't even want to sleep in that bed." The consistency of sleeping in the same bed every night on tour is pretty wild after years of staying in people's houses and hotels. It's a fucking upgrade to me, and I probably saved four grand last year by not staying in hotels.
I imagine you get a lot of invites to stay at the houses you play on those solo tours. Some of those houses are probably pretty gross, too.
You'd think that, but there are a lot of people who are my age who kind of grew up with me and have houses. I try to play those when I can. In the beginning, I told my booking agent and manager that I'll play anywhere. I'll play in the dirtiest fucking punk-rock group house. They appreciated my willingness to do that, but they also thought as grownups, they wanted to try to find places where adults would be comfortable also. And even in a really nice house, I still stay in my van. I feel bad, really. It's like, I appreciate the offer, but it really is better for me to stay in my van.