Smile Politely

David Bazan Plays Courtyard Saturday Night With Starflyer 59, Casados

David Bazan is from the Pacific Northwest, so the little winter squall that delayed his flight’s arrival into Champaign Wednesday night didn’t faze him. Bazan, who will be back in town Saturday night for a live show at Courtyard Café (more on that in a second), came to C-U first to visit his friend and manager, Bob Andrews of Undertow, before heading to Chicago for a show at Schuba’s last night.

Value-oriented concertgoers should be aware that admission to the show at Courtyard, beginning at 9 p.m., is only $5 for the general public and $3 for students. Local group Casados, which we interviewed yesterday, and national shoegazer-esque band Starflyer 59 open.

Bazan is probably best-known as the driving force behind — and only permanent member of — Pedro the Lion, the venerated Seattle indie rock band that officially broke up in 2005. Bazan recently put out a DVD of some interviews, solo performances and other ephemera called Alone at the Microphone, and is finishing up a new solo album to be released in 2009. After the jump, Bazan generously covers those topics in great depth, as well as his childhood spent listening to only Christian music and the “more ornate” sound on his new solo album.

Smile Politely: So, you were mixing your new album in Boston? How’s that going?

David Bazan: Yeah, we were doing some mixing, and we’ve got a couple of odds and ends left to record, and then I’ll send those tracks back out to [T.W.] Walsh and he’ll put them in there. We’re just getting it going. Me and Bob [Andrews] are going to listen to the record here in a minute, and I think it’s turning out really good. I’m really happy with it.

SP: Is there a title for the new album yet?

DB: Yeah the title is tentatively called Curse Your Branches.

SP: Care to go into the significance of that?

DB: It’s named after a tune. It fit the record. I don’t think I want to start explaining all the tunes ‘til the record comes out, but there’s definitely a theme of how a lot of decisions of who we’re going to be culturally are made for us because of where we’re born. And there are even deeper themes where if you’re born into a particular religion, you don’t have a choice until you’re much older. That’s kind of what it’s a reference to.

SP: So, these are themes that you’ve touched on in the past, or do you feel like this is a whole new avenue, lyrically?

DB: It’s not new. It’s probably a new expression of similar themes, I would say. It’s definitely unique among the other albums, although I have kind of hinted at some of this before.

SP: Would you say that most of the lyrics are inspired by personal experience or stuff that’s happening in culture at large?

DB: This record is a little more personal experience; it’s a little more autobiographical so that’s been interesting for me. The other songs are interesting to me, too, but I’ve noticed a deeper connection to the [new] songs because I feel they’re so personal.

SP: Do you play most of the instruments yourself on the record, or do you involve a lot of other people in the recording process?

DB: Traditionally, I have recorded most of the music myself, although there have been some exceptions. On this record, though, I probably recorded about 70 percent of the music and then I had some people come in and play bass and guitar and sing harmony, play percussion — so it was pretty fun. A lot more guys played on this record than any other record I’ve made.

SP: How does a David Bazan solo record differ from a Pedro the Lion record?

DB: Pedro the Lion’s music is pretty simple, and it’s sort of transmission. I’d write songs the same way, but the way that I’d transmit the songs, the arrangements and instruments that I’d use, are stripped way down to the bare essentials. This record is a little bit more ornate, I would say. … I didn’t keep the palette quite so tiny on this one. It isn’t Pet Sounds or anything, but it has more going on that my normal records do.

SP: You just put out a DVD as well. What inspired you to work in a more visual medium, or what was the impetus behind the DVD?

DB: Well, a couple of reasons why we did it. I’ve been doing this solo thing for about three years, playing solo acoustic and solo electric. Bob, my manager, noticed that I was getting better at it, really trying hard to get better at being a more telling performer of my own music. So, he wanted to document the result of that progression. …

SP: I’ve just seen the clips that are online. Who’s actually interviewing you on the interview portions?

DB: That’s my friend Maryanne. She’s just somebody that I’ve known for a really long time, been a really good friend to my wife and I. … She’s really talkative and she’s really impulsive in conversation. She ends up pulling really cool things out in conversation, so we thought we’d have her do it. I thought it turned out pretty good. Even though you can’t see her, I think she’s kind of magnetic.

SP: It wasn’t just easy questions. The clip about love songs, I thought that was a pretty cool back-and-forth.

DB: Basically, her and her husband come over to our house every Wednesday night, and we’d just sit — after our daughters had gone to bed — and just talk for hours. We’d have these really sprawling, heated discussions, and so I thought if could get any percentage of what we do every week on video it would be a pretty cool thing.

SP: You grew up in the Seattle area, is that correct?

DB: Well, I grew up in Phoenix, and I moved around a little bit from [ages] 11 to 14, but from 14 on I lived in Seattle. I went to high school there, or most of it, and it pretty much is my home.

SP: So, you still live in the Seattle area now?

DB: Yeah.

SP: What kind of music did you listen to growing up, and how do you think that influenced your style to this day?

DB: Well, before I was about 12, I listened to Christian music. I listened to Carman, Petra, Russ Taff, just whatever. My mom was into Sandi Patti, so we listened to that, too. A lot of what I grew up with [musically] was in church; my dad was a music pastor, so we sang a lot of the church songs. … And then, I basically discovered the Beatles when I was, like, 12 and that was that. They’re still easily my favorite band. The White Album is probably my favorite record. Then, after that, there was Fugazi, and The Cure and U2, Violent Femmes and Depeche Mode. …

SP: Probably Sandi Patti still, too, though, right?

DB: No, no. I wasn’t allowed to listen to music that wasn’t Christian up to a certain point, but then when that ban was lifted, I never really went back. Although, at that time, the Tooth and Nail label was just starting and actually had some super-legit bands on it. The first time I ever heard Starflyer 59 was 1982 1992, and their Silver record totally floored me. In fact, they’re playing the Champaign show. So, years later, I became friends with that guy. So, there were bands that were in the category of being “Christian bands” — I put up air quotes when I said that — that were great, but I chose music independently of whether it was Christian or not. Whereas when I was 12, I could only listen to music that was Christian.

SP: When is your record scheduled to be released?

DB: I’m not sure at this point. The label’s still trying to figure that out. I’ve got to turn it in by the first of January or thereabouts.

SP: Got anything you want to add for the Smile Politely audience?

DB: No not really, just keep going to the internet.

SP: Yep, we’re counting on that, too.

Photo by Rachel Hubbard

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