For 20 years, nothing has shaken David Bazan’s power as a songwriter and performer. Not his rise to Christian indie rock cult status as frontman of Pedro the Lion. Not his well-documented and intricately examined loss of faith. Not even his most recent album Blanco, which leaves behind the weight of big questions and universal crises for a more nuanced look at life, love, work and family. Perhaps it was the format — Blanco was compiled from his two-songs-at-a-time Bazan Monthly series — or the sonic palette, which skewed far more electronic than anything in his illustrious discography. But for Bazan, even the gentle experimentalism of Blanco is of a piece with his constant need to process life in song. “It still feels right to me to test things like faith, religion and belief,” he tells Folio Weekly Magazine. “To put my weight on them and see if they’re going to hold. Am I expressing the right idea? Or is the hurt I’m feeling simply because I’ve been thinking about all of this shit too much?”
Folio Weekly Magazine: Your last album, Blanco, was more personal, more everyday, but also more electronic than past work. Is that reflected in the live shows you’ve been performing?
David Bazan: I’ve tried a bunch of different things; since the record is somewhat of a departure, I thought maybe the live show was going to be, too. But I realized that was a misuse of energy. The songs, the tones, the lyrics, the chords and the melodies work in a way that’s fundamentally different and really refreshing to me, even if I’m just playing guitar and singing. I have been playing electric guitar recently, and people have commented on the differences they hear, which has changed the way that I play and the way the shows feel.
In what way?
I had a couple of the best shows of my career in July, where I felt this transcendent feeling with the audience. And that was after I realized that instead of changing it up, I could do even more with the expertise I already have. Those are all things I’m going over in my head as I’m making these choices and trying to stay true to what is going on inside my body every night of the trip.
As someone who’s been writing music for 25 years, do you think the Bazan Monthly production schedule affected the creativity or artistry of the songs?
It was really neat to find out that I could write 20 songs I liked in 10 months. The two tunes that started the process were older, but the other 18 were written in real time. What allowed me to do that? I don’t know for sure, but my hunch is: deadlines. And the fact that each deadline was so bite-sized. The freedom of writing that way played a big part in me liking the songs so much. But that didn’t really work commercially, because an album represents the way to get people to pay attention. So the plan is, every year on my birthday for the next eight to 10 years, I’m going to put out a Bazan record. The main thing is to make more music more frequently. I have to be freer about the way that I make shit, because the monthly production schedule worked well for my tastes. Now let’s see if I can put my money where my mouth is.
You’ve been talking about your life as a Christian and your evolution into a non-believer for a decade now. Does it still feel pertinent in 2016?
It does. So much of what’s going wrong in American society is a failure of Christianity to be Christian. A lot of the hurt in our culture is because Christians are being actively anti-Christian in their politics and the way they treat their neighbors. Marginalized people? That’s who Jesus ostensibly came to serve and love, and I feel like the conversation needs to move in that direction. That’s why I’m happy to be more active challenging people to discuss these things in a sane way. I mean, Christians are just flat fucking up right now, worse than ever. If Donald Trump has any chance at all, it’s because evangelicals might vote for him. That’s a disgrace for the Christian tradition — a despicable distortion that started with Reagan.
Does your own struggle with Christianity still directly inform your songwriting?
Indirectly, I guess. A lot of the things I wrote about on Curse Your Branches and Strange Negotiations batted around these big, lofty ideas about being decent to one another — about what being a responsible adult looks like. Having laid that groundwork philosophically, I felt I could be more personal on Blanco. But I should note that all this thematic stuff happens in hindsight. I have no idea what’s going on when I’m writing — I try to leave the specifics to my subconscious. Blanco is not a political or religious record in an overarching way; it’s a record about family, work and love. Those are the tenets of faith I’ve put forth. Now, all of that is to say, I have no idea what’s going to come next.
We hope that, when you come to Florida, it’s another one of those best shows of your career.
I aim for that to be the case, absolutely.