David Bazan: Beauty loves company

by Kristen Stanovich

photo by Ivan Agerton

When you hear stories of David Bazan, you don’t typically hear about nightclubs packed wall to wall by audiences standing shoulder to shoulder, or how hard it was to get close to the stage, or even how loudly the band played. Most scenes that feature David at the center take place in a cousin’s living room, surrounded by people sitting cross-legged on hardwood floors or lining the staircase to a friend of a friend’s two-bedroom house. Bazan is best recognized for the book-it-yourself living room tour model stemming from his Pedro the Lion era, which granted the band widespread affection and respect by those who just wanted to be close to the musicians they admired. 

“It was a huge experiment. In hindsight it’s easy to forget, but we had no idea if it was gonna work,” Bazan said. “We thought it would, we got through everything pretty thoroughly, but we got back from the first 40-some shows of a big tour around the country and that was when we knew, yeah that works. And it’s so fun.”

Now, with the release of his new album Blanco, Bazan is back to club touring in promotion of the 11-track LP – his first since 2011. Preceding Blanco was Bazan’s Monthly Series, an experimental project featuring five 7-inch per series with two original songs released on the first of each month. 

After releasing the first two songs for the series, Bazan hit a wall just before the second deadline. 

“That was the scariest month of my life because I didn’t have anything in the can, or if I did it was garbage. And it would just be some song fragments that I has laying around that I was struggling to finish for years, but there wasn’t even that many of those,” he said. 

The momentary panic shortly after brought 18 more songs released over those 10 months – a feat that Bazan says changed his whole songwriting process. For the three years prior, songwriting was something with which he’d been struggling. 

“The difference was that I had these very public deadlines that I had set up for myself. It just showed me that I could actually finish songs that I liked a lot, but that currently the way to achieve that with any regularity is to give myself a deadline that everybody else kind of knows about. Then I will be too embarrassed to not fulfill my obligations,” Bazan said with a chuckle.

The monthlys turned a new page for Bazan, though they didn’t receive the following he’d anticipated. Given that the process was so different from the way he released any of his previous projects, Bazan said the approach didn’t garner the traction that the new album has. Blanco has already sold more in the last month than the monthly series ever did. But the monthly series, Bazan says, yielded some of the best music he’s ever made. Ten of those tracks would make up Blanco.

Bazan had already shifted gears after the release of the monthly series, writing new songs meant for a new record, but something never quite felt right. If he was going to invest money into a publicist, radio promotions, etc., he wanted it to be for these songs.

“It just bummed me out to think that these ones weren’t going to get that, because I just loved them,” he said. “The Bazan Monthly stuff needed to have a bigger life in whatever way we could figure out.”

The songs pulled to compile album certainly have a life of their own. Featuring synthy, ethereal melodies over Bazan’s signature melancholic lyrics, tracks like “Both Hands” and “Oblivion” muse over the anxieties, but with a sense of acceptance and even release: “Even as what weighs on me is bubbling over/ I understand I can’t sweat what mystery hides.” The thematic correlation between tracks on the album seem purposefully interwoven, but Bazan claims that he “had no fucking idea he was going to do this.” The process consisted of him flailing and basically going with his gut when it went against everything he previously knew about the editing process.

“I really believe that your subconscious is making moves in the background. That your subconscious mind is planning shit that your conscious mind can’t know about. So I just went with my feeling about it, and didn’t zoom in too close, [and hoped] that something more sophisticated would emerge than I could have consciously planned.”

With this tour, Bazan is confronting several new changes. Previously known to be one of the most frequently touring artists around, it was important for Bazan to scale back his time on the road while anticipating another type of tour environment veering from his singer/songwriter aesthetic.

Along with this trend of changes, Bazan recently made his solo albums available on Spotify and has even shared in a recent Spotify interview his insights on streaming services, which some consider to be the downfall of monetizing their art. Previously Bazan had not signed a deal with the service, specifically because he did not want to do business with corporations. That was the reason he said he got into music in the first place.

“I started subscribing to Spotify, because I thought, ‘you talk all this shit about Spotify and you’ve never even used the service, you don’t even know what it’s like.’ Then I found that I bought twice as many records or more than I had then before,” he said. 

While he admits that he still feels a certain aversion for streaming services he can only hope listeners use streaming as another means to support artists by buying their records.

“I wanna continue to spread the word that A. artists do care if you buy their records or not, the ones that say they don’t are fucking lying. And B. the average music consumer will care in 30 years if people just don’t support the cost of production of recorded music,” he said. “Recorded music is gonna change into something that is cheaper and less good. For me being off Spotify was a way to talk about it. And now being on Spotify is a way to talk about it.”

But change has seldom been something Bazan is reluctant to accept after experimenting with a new sound, new recording process and new touring structure.

“I have been kind of nervous about it but I just recently turned a corner in a lot of ways where I’m like, you know there’s no question that what I want has happened – the thing I am trying to do in front of people, the words that I’m singing, my intention as a performer and a creative person. It’s right and it’s beautiful,” he said. “There is a cynicism about music business shit that creeps in and drives me nuts, and I just kind of realized… fuck all that. What I am trying to do is the purist thing I’ve ever tried to do.”

LIVE SHOW: Catch David Bazan at the Wild Buffalo June 9 with Laura Gibson. For more about him, see  davidbazan.com and follow his Facebook page for updates. 

Published in the June 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine