For more than 20 years, Seattle-based singer-songwriter David Bazan has been wrestling with his demons in public, both as a solo artist and with his near-mythical band Pedro the Lion, which will be playing its first shows since 2005 later this year. Bazan’s tuneful songs – alternately punchy and dirge-like – drip with spiritual and personal angst, qualities accented when he eschews rock clubs for nontraditional, intimate spaces like Springfield’s Radon Lounge – the basement of a residential home – where he will perform this Friday. His most recent album, Care, boasts an uncharacteristically buoyant, synthesizer-drenched sound, but there is no mistaking the vision and voice at the helm of instantly memorable songs like “Disappearing Ink” (“Do I enjoy the drugs I take? / My Lord, I hope I do”) and the nostalgic but rueful “Up All Night” (“Man, these kids are doomed”).
“House shows like this one find me just on acoustic guitar – sometimes electric,” said Bazan during a recent phone interview, when asked how (or if) the album’s more electronics-based arrangements will be replicated live. “I have versions of the new songs that I’ve arranged for a basic singer-songwriter format. The way they translate to the solo acoustic thing is really satisfying to me.”
Bazan, who was raised Pentecostal, formed Pedro the Lion in 1995 and that band’s searching, Christian-centered lyrics earned a largely religious fan base which was challenged, to say the least, when he publicly declared a newfound agnosticism in 2005, at which point he put an end to the Pedro name and began a solo career. “I’ve spent the last 11 or 12 years just trying to figure out how to continue to play and what I wanted that to look like,” he said, mentioning that he has performed around 700 concerts in people’s homes or other alternative, non-venue spaces since 2009. “I learned how to do something that I really love and that has been foundational for me,” he said. “When you play stripped-down, intimate shows, all the nonsense is removed, it’s just people and songs.”
It’s tempting to interpret the new sonic approach evident on Care, along with the upcoming reboot of Pedro the Lion, as a new beginning for the sometimes-tortured Bazan. “It’s been pointed out to me over the years that I don’t really write happy songs. Or that my songs are kind of a bummer. Or extremely a bummer,” he laughed. “When I finished Care, I thought, ‘Oh! I made a happier record for the first time!’” He describes the album as facing some difficult emotions, but with a newfound, hard-won sense of resolution, optimism and growth. “For me it felt like there was a relief of tension in there.” He paused. “I mean, it’s still a pretty rough ride for some people,” he added with a chuckle.
For tickets and directions to Radon Lounge visit https://undertowshows.com/collections/david-bazan/products/springfield-il-october-13
Scott Faingold can be reached at email@example.com.