Originally published on Swizzle-Stick.com
I’ve been on the Tooth & Nail mailing list for a few years now and every once in awhile I’ll get some CDs in the mail. Such was the case a few years back when a Pedro the Lion EP was mysteriously mailed to me. The CD was the only thing in the package – no standard bio sheet, no information about the band, nothing. The EP, called Whole, was incredible, an indie-rock, lo-fi masterpiece. And, as quickly as the band appeared, it disappeared. It’s now a few years later and Pedro the Lion has resurfaced, with singer/guitarist David Bazan being the sole survivor from the EP. The new CD is called It’s Hard to Find a Friend and was recently released on the Made in Mexico label. It’s different than the EP, but incredible all the same. I recently spoke with David as he prepared to embark on a six-week tour with Damian Jurado.
I’m a big fan of the new CD. I liked the EP and then it seemed like Pedro the Lion disappeared for a while.
D: We didn’t really tour at all until last spring. The EP is probably the only thing people heard of us. The members of the band weren’t able to tour, and then they all quit. We started touring because we got members that were able to tour.
Had you played with the guys that are on the EP for a while?
D: Yeah. We were Pedro the Lion for about a year, maybe a year and a half. Things started to happen more and more and I was like “This is sort of where my goals are for the next year or so,” and they were like “Well, we can’t really take time off work to record or tour.” So, I was like “We need to make a decision about this.” They decided they were going to take care of their responsibilities and not be in the band and let me go on and do what I really wanted to do.
Was there ever any thought to ditching the band name and going on as either a solo artist or with a new name?
D: No. For a while there we were going to change the band name, but it wasn’t because the members were leaving. Up until that point, around here, once we got the new members, it was kind of Pedro the Lion as usual. Up until now, Pedro the Lion has probably had more to do with the songs and that end of things than it did with particular players. None of us were real extraordinary players, like Roadside Monument. When Johnathan quit Roadside Monument, they were over because a lot was built on Johnathan’s bass style. At that point for us, it hadn’t really become that, so we were able to keep the name with no problem. The old members thought I should just keep on as Pedro the Lion.
So who is in Pedro the Lion now?
D: My friend Ben Brubaker, who played at Cornerstone, is the drummer and our friend Josh Golden, who plays bass now.
When you started recording the CD, did you think it was going to come out on Tooth & Nail?
D: We never had really been on Tooth & Nail. The EP was a one off. There was some confusion because basically it was a seven-inch deal. There are certain bands that have put out seven-inches on Tooth & Nail that aren’t actually on the label. That’s what Brandon was pushing at first. I thought it would be really cool to put out a ten-inch. There would be an accompanying CD even if it ended up being a seven-inch. So he agreed that if we put “Lullaby” on there that we could do a ten-inch and an EP rather than a seven-inch single. We were never under any contractual obligation to them. There was a time that we had talked about signing with them but we decided against it. There was never any time, besides those talks, maybe a month at the most where we were sort of thinking of maybe signing with them, that I was under the impression that we would do anything with Tooth & Nail.
So how did you end up putting a CD out on Made in Mexico? Was it because of your association with James (Morelos, former Tooth & Nail publicist)?
D: I met him because of that, but he lived in the same house as a couple of the guys in this other band that I was in called Coolidge. I knew him from there and we hung out, he just also worked at Tooth & Nail. We’ll make records with him as long as it works out for the both of us to do it. There is no three record deal or anything like that. He puts up the money for each individual record and it goes from there. It’s pretty laid back.
What kind of clubs are you playing?
D: We play just about everything — church shows, all ages shows, bars, and everything in between. The reason we play such varied places is there are different audiences at each place. There is a different crowd that comes to secular, all ages venues. There are different kids that come to churches. There are different people that come to bars because it is 21 and over. A lot of times those people won’t go to all ages venues because they don’t want to see a show with a bunch of dumb kids. For each venue, the draw is pretty equal. Not as many people come to clubs in general as come to all ages shows. I think according to each venue, according to what is normal, it’s pretty similar. We get a pretty good turnout for a club at any given club. We get a pretty good turnout for all ages shows at any given all ages shows.
What type of shows do you prefer playing?
D: I really enjoy all of it. I like playing bars, I like playing all ages venues, and I like playing churches. They all have something positive and negative about them. There’s a drawback, pretty big drawback, to playing in bars sometimes. I think all ages shows, normal all ages venues, have the least amount of drawbacks. Playing churches can have a lot of drawbacks. I probably like all ages shows the most, but it just barely peaks over the top of the other two.
Do you find church shows have a built in audience?
D: That’s a perk, for sure, about church shows. Pretty much, because it is Christian music kids will come watch it there is not a lot of discernment going on as far as “Is it good music or is it bad music?” It’s just “Is it Christian? Is it cool? I’ll go watch it,” which is also sort of a big negative because a lot of times kids don’t get it really. A lot of times kids are just there to talk, which is fine I guess, but it’s just not as fun to play a show to people that aren’t interested in it. And then also there are far more misunderstanding as far as the purpose of Christians playing music. Although it’s not that painful, a lot of times we’ll have to deal with situations where we are being judged, falsely, I think, where that doesn’t come up in bars or other places. Well, it kind of does. Everybody knows we’re Christians and what we sing about, but most people don’t have that big of a problem with it for some reason in bars and in all ages venues.
When I talked to Mike Lewis from Puller (Tooth & Nail band), he said that they were playing in front of a lot more people than when he was in a band (For Love Not Lisa) on a major label.
D: If a band is on Tooth & Nail, kids are going to come and watch. That’s a good thing as far as getting paid on tour. But, I’m such a huge advocate for thinking for yourself and being discerning. Going along with the crowd is one of the most repulsive things I can think of. It’s sort of unfortunate at the same time because kids literally don’t care what it is, if it’s on a certain label or if it has a certain pretense attached to it, then they will listen to it regardless of it’s quality. And whether or not that really hurts us on the road or not is not so much the issue as it’s devastating to the culture of Christians as far as a thinking bunch of people. And it is definitely devastating to the quality of music that is able to be produced because it lowers the standard across the board. So certain bands that are super poor songwriters and super poor communicators of any real truth or not truth are able to make records where as in the general market, although there is the lowest common denominator of the pop listener, in indie rock it’s harder to make it because the standard is higher. And what it does is raises the quality of the craft in general which I think is important. In plumbing you don’t want a bunch of idiot plumbers running around and screwing up stuff. In music it’s the same way. It sounds a little elitist but it’s not. I work really hard at doing the craft well and a lot of Christian people don’t and it’s really frustrating.
Within the Christian musical scene, I know that there are a lot of imitators of secular Top 40 music. You hear a lot of rip-offs. Do you try to distance yourself from those bands?
D: What I try to do and what I think is a good balance and a good way to focus your creativity in a way where it won’t really come up is that I write songs that I like and try to pay little attention to what is cool or what is popular. It’s hard to avoid because you see it all the time but I have certain musical things that I appreciate and I try to do that in my songs. At the same time, I just try to write what comes out. And I’ll write something and I just have to look at it carefully and say “Do I honestly like this? If I were somebody else with my same likings and I heard me play this, would I think it’s a cool song? Or do I not like it, is it just cheesy or dumb?” That’s sort of the way I judge what comes out and what doesn’t. Ultimately, some stuff may resemble other things or it may not, but I’m not really worried about it either way because I’ve never tried to emulate other writers in my own writing.
I don’t want to ask who your influences are, but I am curious as to who you think should check out Pedro the Lion? What bands are those people fans of?
D: I’m not against talking about my influences. I don’t even have a problem turning that into the influence thing. Bedhead, I like a lot. I like what he does a lot. Ultimately, what it boils down to, is he has a certain personality and that personality comes out clearly in his music. And I love that. And that makes the music what it is. I could not rip-off the genuine bands that I like because it’s their personality on the recording and that’s what is so great. There is a Tom Petty record called Wildflowers that I really like. Fugazi are totally brilliant lyrically and in most cases musically. Those are sort of the three biggies. At the same time, I don’t listen to a lot of stuff. I don’t really own more than 2 or 3 records I don’t think. Bedhead is definitely up there. I like some Palace, Cat Power, the Breeders, Pavement. There is some pop stuff that I really like too. I mean there are some Sheryl Crow songs that I think are great pop songs though she is kind of cheesy. Every now and then I’ll hear an aspect of a band that I wouldn’t really whole-heartedly accept the band but there is an aspect to what they do that is really attractive to me.
I hope I don’t offend you when I say this, but I hear a bit of Evan Dando in your songs?
D: Oh yeah, yeah. There’s a Lemonheads record that I really, really like, it’s Come On Feel the Lemonheads. It’s sort of embarrassing but I really like that record. Lyrically I don’t really care for him all that much but his melodies and his pop arrangements are brilliant. He writes great songs, on that record especially some of his songs, like “Big Gay Heart,” that is a fantastic pop song. There are probably only four songs on that whole record that I wouldn’t say “This is a good pop song.” That is a band that is a perfect example of a band that made a record that I really like although it’s sort of embarrassing because he is so shallow as a lyric writer, or that’s my perception anyway. As far as a pop songwriter, he is totally brilliant.
Another band that I hear a bit of in your music is the Pernice Brothers.
D: Yeah. I’m not that into the Pernice Brothers but I really liked the Scud Mountain Boys record Massachusetts a lot. There is about a half dozen songs on that record that I think are brilliant. Some of the other stuff I don’t care for so much. Those half dozen songs that I like on the Scud Mountain Boys record are some of my favorite pop/country songs. The first song on that record is amazing, it’s so good.
Switching gears here … how do you guys pass the time in the van while you’re on the road?
D: This last time, we were driving in a Volvo, we listened to a little bit of music. We generally argue a bit about whatever – religion, etiquette, or whatever. Definitely there is a good measure of sleeping going on. A lot of times I’ll write down a Bible verse each day, or every couple of days, for us to be thinking about and talking about a little bit. We definitely engage in a little bit of that. We all have reading interests that come into it. I generally am writing lyrics or something to songs that are in the works.
I figure you are probably on a pretty limited budget for this tour – sleep on a lot of floors and eat a lot of truck stop food.
D: Yeah. We’re definite fans of grocery stores on the road. If you’re smart you can eat cheaper and better at grocery stores than at fast food restaurants between kippered herring and cheese and yogurt and bread. You can get good, filling, tasty stuff for a fraction of the cost of fast food. Josh is sort of tight wad. And Ben is too. But Josh is adamantly against us staying in hotels. There are one or two shows on the tour that our booking agent got us a hotel room as part of the guarantee. But those will be the only hotels we stay in. If we don’t have a place to stay on someone’s floor, then we’ll just sleep in the van. That won’t be that big of a deal. It will be a little chilly, but I’m sure it will be fine.
With all those seemingly negative things about touring, what makes it fun?
D: Oh, man, getting to set up and play every night that’s what the whole thing is about. Just getting to set up and play and afterwards talk to people, being on the road is fine. We enjoy ourselves totally. The conflict that arises because we are all totally opposite personalities is, in the end, is just a blast once we work through everything. The only real negative thing is we’re going to be away from our girlfriends and wives for six weeks.
That’s one thing I noticed on your tour schedule. You don’t have very many nights off.
D: No, we’ve got 3 nights off the whole six weeks.
I have one last question, and it’s the bad one: Where did the name Pedro the Lion come from?
D: That’s not too bad. Originally it was my idea to include in the liner notes a children’s type story, sort of a metaphor for another issue or whatever, and the main character in the story that I first began writing was Pedro the Lion. I just sort of kept the name because it was charming to me. It doesn’t have any really have any Peter in the Bible connotations or anything like that.
I was wondering about the initials.
D: Oh yeah, PTL – Praise the Lord. That was also something we found in hindsight. A lot of people think all of those things. And that’s fine if people think that but it’s not based in reality.