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Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011

David Bazan Owns His Thoughts

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David Bazan likes thinking things through. His songs have always maintained intimate connections with his deeply personal and ever-changing thoughts, opinions that routinely turn away his most passionate fans. The former Pedro the Lion frontman—he disbanded the Christian rock act six years ago—notably sang about his newly expressed agnosticism on his first solo record, 2009's Curse Your Branches. That record wasn't so much a “breakup record about God,” as former publicist Jessica Hopper famously dubbed it, as a question of whether the relationship ever existed.

Opener “Hard to Be,” a downtrodden, spacious but pulsing track, compared his realization to an academic graduation: “I swung my tassel to the left side of the cap.” And on “When We Fell” Bazan ruminated about whether “what he's discovered” will push him away from his mother. For all the speculation on the record, however, one thing's certain: Bazan can't absolutely know there's a God, and he's given up trying.

“I'm not really interested in knowing about things that are impossible to know,” Bazan says over the phone. “I want to understand the world better, and have whatever my hypotheses are to be more firmly sounded.”

That ideology has caused a rift in many of Bazan's God-believing followers. Some reject him outright for basically singing blasphemy; others value the perspective but can't agree with his conclusions. Perhaps the most painful reaction to his agnosticism, though, stemmed from the disappointment of his parents, who raised him with their set of evangelical beliefs, a collection of biblical narratives that Bazan would eventually reject.

“There was a moment before Branches came out that my mom was starting to deal with the fact that I wasn't a believer anymore,” he says. “She was concerned I was leading people through my music. She said, 'If you just wrote about girls, that'd be one thing, but you're writing about the very things you're thinking, and you're moving away from God when doing so. I'm concerned you're going to hell.'”

That's quite a condemnation. Bazan emphasizes that his parents aren't as close-minded as his mom's initial reaction makes them appear and they still support him wholeheartedly. Bazan's newest record still focuses on his fall from the church, but Strange Negotiations also touches on more secular issues like government and corporate greed. The message he truly hammers home, though, is that humans need to develop their own ideas, and not rely on a set guide that's already established.

“What I want more than anything is the ability to own my thoughts about something," Bazan says. "I don't always know what the answer is. When I don't, I can say I don't know. And that's way better than having to throw party lines about something you have no idea about.”

Coincidentally, Strange Negotiations, which came out this May, sounds like something Occupy Wall Street protesters might be spinning. Take the title track's first stanza: “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.” A rage simmers throughout the record. Strange Negotiations is more fuzzed out and aggressive than Bazan's previous work, but, more importantly, Bazan isn't preachy; he's just one guy saying what's on his mind.

There aren't many artists as down-to-earth as him, either. When not touring with a full band to support his albums, Bazan hauls his van around the country, playing tiny, 40-person shows in fans' houses. Strapped with an acoustic guitar, Bazan uses the gigs to make a little cash and connect with his base. He invites questions at these sessions. He says he tries not to shield himself from his fans; he wants to provide authentic and, of course, thought-out responses.

“Being transparent and genuine with people I find helpful,” he says, “and I have positive feedback from my own mind and body when I engage in genuine transparency with other people.”

David Bazan plays with his backing band at the Cactus Club on Wednesday, Nov. 9, with Worrier. Doors open at 9 p.m.
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