David Bazan: Fighting His Conscience

Originally published on May 24, 2011 6:19 pm

In a 15-passenger Chevy van equipped with a makeshift bed and pantry, David Bazan's GPS system has him arriving right on time at his show in Omaha. At this point, he's one week into a tour, and he has been driving all day from Colorado Springs.

"[Touring] is how I'm able to make ends meet," Bazan says, "because band touring costs so much money to bring a bunch of guys out."

Bazan released his solo debut in 2009. Many music critics called Curse Your Branches Bazan's breakup letter to God.

"I think that's why it was such a struggle to write the record, because my subconscious maybe knew all along that this is the kind of statement I needed to make," Bazan says. "But my conscious mind was fighting making any statement about religion at all. I would rather be in Spoon than be writing about religion."

Bazan grew up in an evangelical church, his father a music pastor. But the questioning of God isn't new for him; it dates back to early Pedro the Lion records.

It took Bazan four years after Pedro the Lion broke up to write his first solo record. In that time, it seems he was overwhelmed by his breakup with God. He says he started drinking heavily.

"When the band sort of broke up and simultaneously the big questions of faith came up to the surface, and I had to start admitting to myself what the state of my faith was, actually — that drinking habit was there in place, and started serving as a coping mechanism," Bazan says. "I don't know the psychology, and I liked getting as drunk as possible and losing time — trying to get blacked out."

Bazan stopped drinking with the help of his wife and kids. And, he says, coming to terms with his spirituality actually makes it easier now to write and tour. Entering the house show with his Martin acoustic guitar, Bazan wades through 40 fans and sets up in front of the fireplace. He opens with a new song.

A Religious Experience

This show is catered to his die-hard fans, so everybody has an opinion. Matt Orand is a practicing Christian who says he doesn't agree with what Bazan is singing.

"For me, it's kind of hard to see a lot of stuff I disagree with. But it's interesting to me to hear him be so honest about it and his journey," says Orand, who still buys Bazan's new records in spite of the messages they contain. "I kind of have weird feelings about it, because part of it, I feel like he's kind of preaching against what I believe. But he's doing it from a place of honesty that is really compelling."

For her part, Brittney Mertz calls the first time she saw Bazan her first real religious experience. She says that, though his songs are significantly different now, she still feels much the same.

"There's just a connection with his music that he has, his voice, and there's a purity to it," Mertz says. "I still find it beautiful today."

As he does at every concert, Bazan periodically asks members of the audience if they have questions. One fan asks what to expect from the new record.

"I'm still kind of discovering things about it," Bazan says. "But I definitely write about the connection between Christianity and politics with a furrowed brow."

The house shows are a prelude to a full-band tour to promote his new record. He says the lag between his last two records was absurd, and that it's time to release an album every 18 months. And Bazan expresses hope that people who buy it will respond to his honesty regardless of what he might believe.

"This record is me going with my gut and expressing that bitterness," Bazan says, "but it's expressing all the reasons I want to dismiss the people I'm talking about on the record. In the end, I don't feel right about doing that; that's not the way forward."

Whatever that way might be, Bazan says he feels confident in the musician he is now — and his relationship to his fans.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Clay Masters, from member station NET Radio, caught up with Bazan on the road in Nebraska.

CLAY MASTERS: In a 15-passenger Chevy van equipped with a makeshift bed and pantry, David Bazan's GPS system has him arriving right on time at his show in Omaha. At this point, he's one week into the tour and has been driving all day from Colorado Springs.

DAVID BAZAN: This is how I'm able to make ends meet because the band touring just takes up, you know, it just costs so much money to bring a bunch of guys out because I want to pay them a good wage.

MASTERS: Bazan released his solo debut in 2009.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARD TO BE")

BAZAN: (Singing) You've heard the story. You know how it goes. Once upon a garden, we were lovers with no clothes. Fresh from the soil, we were beautiful and true, in control of our emotions till we ate the poison fruit. And now it's hard to be...

MASTERS: Many music critics called "Curse Your Branches" Bazan's breakup with God.

BAZAN: And I think that was why it was such a struggle to write the record, because my subconscious maybe knew all along that this is the kind of statement that I needed to make. But, I mean, my conscious mind was fighting making any statement about religion at all. I wanted - I would rather be in Spoon or something, you know, than be writing songs about religion and the like.

MASTERS: Bazan grew up in the evangelical church; his father, a music pastor. But the questioning of God isn't something new for him; it dates back to early Pedro the Lion records.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SECRET OF THE EASY YOKE")

BAZAN: (Singing) Could someone please tell me the story of sinners ransomed from the fall? I still have never seen you, and some days I don't love you at all.

MASTERS: But it took Bazan four years after Pedro the Lion broke up to write his first solo record. In that time, it seems he was overwhelmed by his breakup with God, and he started drinking heavily.

BAZAN: When the band sort of broke up and simultaneously the big questions of faith really came right up to the surface, and I had to start admitting to myself what the state of my faith was, actually - that drinking habit was there in place and just started to serve as a coping mechanism or something. I don't really know the psychology of it necessarily, but after all that happened, I really liked just getting as drunk as possible and what I call lose time. I just was trying to get blacked out.

MASTERS: Entering the house show with his Martin acoustic guitar, Bazan wades through 40 fans and sets up in front of the fireplace.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGE NEGOTIATIONS")

MASTERS: He opens with a new song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGE NEGOTIATIONS")

BAZAN: (Singing) You blew all your inheritance, and now you're trying to pin the blame on me. And I could write you off so easily, except a hundred million other people agree.

MASTERS: This show is catered to his die-hard fans, so everybody has an opinion.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

MASTERS: Matt Orand is a practicing Christian who admits he doesn't agree with what Bazan is singing.

MATT ORAND: Yeah. I kind of have weird feelings about it. You know, it's like, you know, part of it, I feel like he's kind of preaching against what I believe. But he's doing it from a place of, you know, kind of honesty and personal experience that is just really compelling.

MASTERS: For her part, Brittney Mertz calls the first time she saw Bazan her first real religious experience. She says although his songs are significantly different now, she still feels almost the same.

BRITTNEY MERTZ: There's just a connection with his music that he has, his voice, and just there's a purity to it. It's just - I don't know. It's beautiful. I still find it beautiful today.

BAZAN: Well, thank you, guys, so much for coming to this show and for sitting through the parts that you didn't like...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BAZAN: ...for the parts that you did hopefully, and...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BAZAN: ...I'm going to close with a song I often do close with.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN STITCHES")

BAZAN: (Singing) My body bangs and twitches. Some brown liquor whets my tongue. My fingers find the stitches. Firmly back and forth they run.

MASTERS: For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PEOPLE")

BAZAN: (Singing) Then your eyes turned green and you broke the machine that when handed to you was still kind of functioning. And I know that it's dangerous to judge. But, man, you've got to find the truth, and when you find that truth, don't budge until the truth you found... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.