Pedro the Lion Frontman Talks About Revisiting the Indie Band’s Early Albums

Group performs on May 21 at the Grog Shop

click to enlarge David Bazan. - Courtesy of Riot Act Media
Courtesy of Riot Act Media
David Bazan.
Originally, Pedro the Lion singer-songwriter David Bazan began writing the songs for the band’s latest album, last year's Havasu, on a simple synthesizer and drum machine. He then turned to a more elaborate assortment of analog electronic equipment for the actual recording of the album, the second in a series of LPs that centers on cities where Bazan has lived.

Pedro live drummer Sean T. Lane adds sonic texture to Havasu. He appears on every track with a self-constructed noisemaking instrument called “the bike.” It features various metal objects and strings mounted on a bicycle frame, rigged with contact mics and run through a drone-accentuating pedalboard. It's another stellar effort from Bazan, who formed the band in Seattle in 1995.

For the current tour that brings Pedro the Lion to the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights on Sunday, May 21, Pedro the Lion will revisit early albums It’s Hard to Find a Friend and Control. In a phone interview from a Florida tour stop, Bazan speaks about revisiting those albums.

What’s it been like revisiting It’s Hard To Find a Friend and Control?

We’re playing every song from them, and it’s an occasion to really spend time with the mindset of my 22- and 26-year-old selves, which has been therapeutic. And those records kind of rock. We’re even playing the It’s Hard to Find a Friend songs in a heavier way than on the record. It’s been good. The main trick to figuring out how to play each record was that we needed to jumble the songs up a little bit. It took us a little to crack the code on that, but it’s been really good, and the energy feels really good.

Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Yeah. I couldn’t play it probably, but I could dick around and find pieces of it. I wrote it in tenth grade. By that time, I had lived in one, two, three, four, five different towns and said goodbye to five different groups of friends as an adolescent. The first song I wrote was about missing a friend from three towns ago. They were always sad, grieving songs. That’s the first thing that came out, and they just stayed that way.

Did you always have a narrative style?
Somewhat. Writing lyrics is so hard — what to write and what perspective to have and how to keep writing songs. I found a mode that worked and then some of the time, I try to not be in that mode or work in a different mode. It solidified around little fictional narratives. I tended to write in that way. Later, I did write a little more autobiographical. Now, I’m in an in-between mode. When I was younger, I would bristle when someone says “storyteller” though I now am even if I would want to do something edgier.

Phoenix was the first in a planned series of five records chronicling your past homes. What inspired the concept?
I think it came from a pretty personal place where I was struggling to make sense of why all these towns that I lived in felt the way they did when I would go back and why they would trigger all this longing. My life was going really poorly in some ways. I was scanning around to see what I needed to do to help myself out of this situation. An idea came up for going through the memories of each of these places and process them. At first, it would be an elaborate journaling project and then I realized that I could do it in this context. I was in Phoenix at the time, and I thought it would just be Phoenix that I would do it about. Then, I realized it was all the towns. Suddenly, I was looking at a five-record thing.

Talk about going back to Havasu City four times over several years, driving past your junior high campus, a skating rink and other nostalgic locations to trigger song lyrics and ideas.
I went there and Phoenix too. My goal was to make a record that evoked the place in question to me in as much detail as I could figure out. It’s such a subjective matter. I wanted to soak in the feeling of each place with the hope that it would translate to the final records or songs. Going to the places is pretty important. I will go to Santa Cruz this summer to work on that record, which is the next one.

Sean T. Lane makes appearances on every track, but on a self-constructed noisemaking instrument called “the bike.” What does he bring to the songs?
He has this instrument he built on a kid’s bike frame, and he arranged these metal bits and a cello string over a pickup and they go into a couple of pedal boards and they loop. If you listen to Havasu, you can hear all these atmospheric sounds. That’s all Sean. He did one day in the studio where he just came down with the bike and laid down two or three layers of bike down on every song. The weird percussion that sounds electronic but also acoustic is the bike too. It’s an extremely versatile instrument. He uses it for soundscapes, horror movies and percussion. He’s a really gifted, intuitive dude. It’s a couple of pedal boards. If you’re flying it, it’d be a pain in the butt. I should mention that he’s not drumming in the band live at this point.

You’ve somehow kept Pedro the Lion going for almost 30 years now. Did you imagine it would last that long when you started?
It’s what I always wanted to do. I couldn’t have imagined 25 years, but I really hoped that I could be allowed to keep doing it and keep making records and playing shows. It is pretty surreal to do that for this long and then to play these records now. I self-connect with them in a different way now, and audience members are having their experiences with them.

Do you have fond memories of playing the Grog Shop?
Hell yeah, the old one too. The first time I played there was in 2000 when it was down the street on the other side. That was the dirtiest rock club I had ever been in at that time. It was so filthy. It felt like a biohazard to use the bathroom. It was amazing. The new one has a nice patina on it now, but it’s still pretty clean by comparison.

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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