Pedro the Lion: David Bazan

Pedro the LionPedro the Lion was a name of a character songwriter David Bazan lifted from his own rough copy of a children’s book he had set out to write prior to playing music. Pedro the Lion is a band that has chameleon like qualities, changing sonic colors from a simple folksy introductory EP called, Whole, in 1997 to a full fledged rock opus in their latest release, Achilles Heel. The band is made up by auteur David Bazan, whose thoughtful narrative and conceptualizations have made a cross over from typical Christian rock to a well-respected independent act that is proudly housed by Jade Tree Records. Both David and longtime collaborator, TW Walsh have made a clear line of trajectory from the early days of David alone in a room with an acoustic guitar to a full band, touring nationally and receiving critical acclaim from every respected musical outpost.

David comes from a musical background and his life has always had music in it in some shape or form. “My dad is a musician. He was a church music minister and he gave music lessons to supplement our income as we were growing up and he gave my sister and I lessons and my sister continued on with the piano but I stopped taking it in 6th grade. I played clarinet in fourth and fifth grade and started playing drums in school band in 7th grade. I continued to play for the next 6 years or so throughout junior high and high school. Except for a year we lived in Santa Cruz, CA and the junior high didn’t have a school music program. But I tried to play with people that I knew and stuff. By tenth grade I had started playing in rock bands and by the end of tenth grade I had started playing guitar. I guess for about a year I had been playing drums in bands and stuff. That was about 92’ and by 95’ I had started Pedro the Lion. I played in various bands for about three or four years but I was always writing my own songs.”

Some of the benefits of school music David took with him are, “you become familiar with it and you understand the discipline of it. Being in real life music situations on a regular basis really helps you and helps you to become a better musician. What I’ve found that I’m good at is a rhythm because I don’t have a really keen sense of melody. I have to know what I’m doing to do it. I’m not one of these guys that can just pick up a guitar and just make crazy music with it that I have no idea of what I’m doing. School music gave me a good foundation for rhythm that has helped me.”

PTL’s first few records, Winners Never Quit, Progress and 2002’s Control are conceptualized albums about morality, faith, redemption and life all told in a beautiful laconic voice with simple and cohesive instrumentation. However, Achilles Heel is a rock record and according to David, he purposely, “decided not to do that (concept album) after the release of Winners but happened upon it while doing Control. It was sort of just in the heat of the moment that it went that way. I’m just sort of learning about making art and how to do it and I’m slowly learning inspiration and discipline. Trying on hats I suppose and trying to figure out all the different ways it could go. You know because its songwriting based and not sound or band based. This one came about the way that it did mainly because there is a band in place and it wasn’t just me. The songs being the biggest part of it but the sound being important as well.

Like many singer songwriters, there is a fine line between the heavy-handed and the ambiguous, for Pedro The Lion each song and subsequent album can have different meanings to different people. As a songwriter, David knows what he is talking about; his thoughts and lyrics come from a personal place and he leaves it up to his fans to decide what they take from his songs, hopefully to make their own conclusions about what the songs may mean. “There’s value in ambiguity. It’s inevitable that some ambiguity will come from the songs. You can make it as clear as you can possibly make it and people are going to interpret it differently. I have an interpretation of my own and I know what I meant to say and it boils down to my interpretation verses what other people interpret as it is.”

Like most artists, David is in a constant state of evolution with the way he writes, “Usually, or at least in the past it starts with me sitting down with a guitar. You sit down and start playing and that’s kind of how it begins. Sometimes I’ll sit down with a notebook and do some free writing. Usually that way a few lyrics will come out intact or a few jumping off points. I used to come at from a more conceptual angel where I would have an idea about a song and I would try and write around that. I would sort of see the beginning and the end, or the bait and the switch, its not that formulaic but a song usually has an arc to it as far as how much information you give right off the bat. The idea or the character develops from there. I used to start with a concept and then write it. But I have enjoyed, on this album, not doing that as much just letting the song take whatever shape its going to. Usually your subconscious knows the formula and knows what works and what doesn’t. So it does what sounds good at that moment.”

Composing songs is no easy feat, composing good songs is even harder. Luckily, David isn’t short on intrinsic talent, his years spent learning music and his musical background and strong understanding of rhythm make it easier for him but it’s not a cakewalk either. On the length of time it takes David to write a song, he says, “I think the shortest is two or three hours. I don’t know exactly if the song took 11 hours or something. I don’t really keep track of how long the process takes.”

It is a bit of a process and everyone who takes part in making music has a their own personalized way of approaching it. For some, inspiration comes from news, personal life or an over active imagination, for David its not so much a ritual as it is an approach. Like landing an aircraft or putting a puzzle together, it takes a considerable amount of skill to compose a cohesive and engaging song, David manages to do this consistently through hard work and diligence. “Sometimes you just have to sit with a song for a long period of time for it to start to make sense. You can work on it for like an hour a day and then come back to it after a couple weeks and you have a better perspective of it.”

Being part of a functioning and working band takes practice. Since Control, with its full backing of musicians, the transition from single musician to a member of a band was easier for David. The reason of course was his time spent in school band where he learned key aspects like, “Listening is a big one. Being able to do what you’re doing and listen carefully to what everyone else is doing. In jazz band and drum line or any kind of ensemble situation at school or in drum lessons, they always emphasized the importance of having big ears. You’re trying to blend. That was a really big lesson. Trying to be good at what you are doing and also understanding that you are part of unit and knowing that unit is important is also a big part of playing with others.”

Being part of a band and touring can have it’s strain on anyone but for David being away on tour means being away from the one he loves, his wife. Some people have the luxury of taking their spouses with them, staying in nice hotels, site seeing during the day before a show, basically a working vacation. Unfortunately for an independent musician, a tour budget is minimal, yet David has managed to attain a semblance of personal balance. While on tour and away from his wife, David says, “There’s definitely a low level anxiety that comes from being apart. We end up talking a lot when I’m on the road. Since there’s no closeness to be had, no body language, we end up exchanging a lot more information verbally then we might and I enjoy that.”

Speaking of touring David and Pedro the Lion are gearing up for a spring tour in support of the release of Achilles Heel, is seeing is believing then you won’t want to pass this opportunity up!

Please visit for info on tour dates.

David Ford: An Interview

david ford

David Ford is a singer songwriter who honors the tradition of the punk and DIY attitude of Joe Strummer, infused with off kilter, often dark, lyrical content. Songs for the Road, which was warmly praised by the folks at the New York Times and a dozen other reputable rags has become a frequently listened album on my iTunes library, fitting nicely between Glen Hansard solo/Frames stuff and Ray Lamontagne.  Ford’s use of looping technology and the one shot/one take video intrigued me initially, doing all that filming and performing live takes some serious coordination. I recently sent a handful of questions to Ford which he graciously answered, albeit in a quicker manner than I have posted this. Enjoy.

[Some other singer/songwriters I highly recommend are Steve Poltz, Liam Finn and Tim Barry.]

1. What is the biggest difference, creatively or conceptually between Songs for the Road and I Sincerely?

I think all the clichés about the difficult second album are true. It’s easy to create something honest when nobody cares what you are doing and that was certainly the case when I recorded my first record with no thought given to its place in the competitive music market. Trying to maintain a spirit of independence was difficult when it came to making a follow-up. Where the first record was given space to develop an identity, the second had to fight like hell for its own. I definitely wanted to make a bigger record, to put more into arrangements whether they are sounding like a band or an orchestra. I like to think the songs are in charge of the record and as a performer or producer, I just want to do right by them.


2. Did you find yourself utilizing any new or different techniques to compose the songs?

No, I have my way of writing, which I have found to work best for me. Essentially, I ignore the process of songwriting and allow it to happen accidentally. So I never try to write, never set aside time to write, never co-write. Instead, I trust that I will be inspired and that ideas will arrive and take musical form. It’s a pretty reckless foundation upon which to build and it means I am less than prolific but it also means I do not doubt the sincerity of my songs because songwriting has never felt like it is a job.


3. How do the songs begin, melody, idea, lyric and where do they go from there, melody then lyric, chorus then concept? (I’m interested in the process and realize there may not be just one way you compose the pieces.)

Mostly I start with a tiny piece of the song, a line of melody with a lyric. Often it will be a line of verse, which feels to me like it perfectly captures a mood or sums up an idea. I then use this as a foundation from which to build the song developing the ideas and characters but hopefully staying true to the spirit and essence of that first idea.


4. Both vids I’ve seen for “Go To Hell” give the impression that they are ‘One Shot, One Take’ compositions, how much ‘editing’ goes into post production of these videos?

I have always liked making one-shot videos. I like the realness and honesty of it and also the challenge of keeping a film interesting without relying on clever editing. So the aim is to use no edits at all. There is one cut in the go to hell “buried alive” video, which is used only to avoid me actually being killed-although we were considering risking it anyway.


5. How the hell are you doing all that looping in “Go To Hell”? How much of this technique do you think will eventually develop into your own composing style?

There are a number of different methods and machines I use for looping. At shows I use the electro-harmonix 2880 and boss RC-20 loop stations. In the studio environment, the looping is done by the pro-tools recording software. Essentially it’s like any normal recording session; everything gets mic’d up/plugged in and recorded, the only difference is that each instrument track repeats every 4 bars and i have to get it right the first time, every time. For me this is only a performance technique and forms no part of composition. Writing songs should be all about art, inspiration, romance not technical dexterity.


6. Is looping a product, style or tool?

I think part style/part tool. You can use looping as a tool for enhancing the live arrangement of a song, for adding texture, harmony and rhythm. Alternatively it can be part of the fundamental fabric of a song. When I play “State of the Union” live, the loop station contributes as much to the intensity of the song as the lyric or melody. Mostly, I see the loop machine as a toy and a friend.


7. Who shoots the vids?

My best friend (who goes by the name ‘Cock’) and I have always made videos together. He points a camera better than most and it’s always easier to work with friends. Since I have been spending all my time in America, we weren’t able to work together on the last shoot. A guy called Wes shot the “Go to Hell” live film.


8. What do you use to put everything together once the shot is complete?

The beauty of the one-shot video is the lack of editing involved after filming. Setting up and planning the shot can be time consuming and often we end up shooting the same thing several times before getting it right, but all that we do, post shoot, is to line up the audio and apply any treatment to the video; often black and white, high contrast with added film grain for a little grit and grime. Mostly I use Final Cut Pro software but for the more straightforward films iMovie is so easy to use and gets the job done.


9. The song “Go To Hell” is great but how all those elements come together, visually, make the song more intriguing, do you feel that the visual medium combined with the music/performance aspect of things adds or detracts from the standard listening experience?

I think “Go to Hell” the song and “Go to Hell” the live video exist as 2 pretty different things. I don’t think the film casts any particular light on the meaning of the song and as such could be seen as inappropriate. It was more an exercise to see how far we could take the live loop technique and the spectacle of that rather than enhancing the emotive nuance of the song…but we have another film to do that. This is all part of the creative liberation that comes from not being tied to the one-size-fits-all marketing machine of a major label. I get to make videos as an extension of the creative process rather than as a desperate sales tool.


I prefer this one shot/one take version of “Go to Hell” even though the other is captivating.


Here is the artsy version of the video for “Go to Hell”