Pedro the Lion
Pedro the Lion
Pedro the Lion is the name of a character from a children's book that has yet to be written. Pedro the Lion is also the name of the band that David Bazan formed out of his dissatisfaction with the hardcore alternative music scene in Seattle, Washington. Considering the content of many of Bazan's songs—death, doubt, regret, loss, violence, betrayal—Bazan may be a long way off from writing a children's book.
In 1991 Bazan, who had been toying with music to the detriment of his studies, finally made a choice between pursuing a degree at Northwest College (now Northwest University) and pursuing music. He chose music, and subsequently moved to Seattle. It wasn't necessarily a hard move for him, since his longtime high school friend Damien Jurado was already eking out an existence as a folk singer in a city taken over by grunge.
A few years in the alternative music scene left Bazan looking for an outlet for his music. He formed Pedro the Lion in 1995. For most of the band's existence, Bazan has been Pedro the Lion, with various musicians contributing on recordings or on tours. In 2004 Bazan, who had always written all the songs for Pedro the Lion, added T.W. Walsh, a lyricist and guitarist, as the second permanent member. The band brought on James McAllister to play drums for their 2004 album, Pedro the Lion's Achilles Heel.
Pedro the Lion's albums, including Winners Never Quit, Control, and Pedro the Lion's Achilles Heel, all deal with the darker side of life. Each of the albums is filled with characters and situations that would test any optimist's mettle. Bazan described the theme for Winners Never Quit to Tim McMahan of Lazy-i.com: "The record is a complete, connected narrative from the first to last song…. I wanted to communicate: Damnation for the arrogant, judgment for the judgmental." The album follows the lives of two brothers as they face spiritual and ethical challenges. One believes his religion will save him no matter what he chooses to do. The other leads a life that seems open to the judgment of all, including the legal system.
Bazan continued to explore life's darker side with the album that followed, the 2002 Jade Tree release Control. One of Bazan's greatest skills has been his ability as a storyteller. Jason Killingsworth wrote in his review of Control for PasteMusic.com, "Bazan has a way of wading into the human condition and shining a ten-thousand-watt bulb around. It's frightening what he draws out and it's frightening how well he does it." While this album abandons the complete storyline that connected the songs in Winners Never Quit, it does manage to successfully tie together themes of adultery, murder, arrogance, and death. Killingsworth described it as "a series of vignettes—seemingly unrelated, entirely and inextricably related upon closer examination."
Following Control, Bazan hinted that Pedro the Lion's next album would complete a trilogy, and he considered Winners Never Quit to be the first installment. While he worked on Achilles Heel he hoped and tried for something uplifting. It just never happened. He explained his thoughts to David Drury of Paste: "I thought … there's got to be an up that follows it." When he finally started writing for the new album, the same darkness came through and he made a decision to follow that path, since it was where the songs were going. He told Drury, "I basically realized that whatever positive messages I have to communicate, it will all come out when it's supposed to come out…. Redemption is too profound a thing to make a fake of."
Unfortunately, fans of Pedro the Lion wanted that redemption so much that their disappointment in Pedro the Lion's Achilles Heel led to protests. The night the album was released, fans stood on Bazan's lawn displaying homemade signs with phrases like "Pedro the Liar" and "Golly Gee, No Part III." They had wanted closure and instead were offered up more of the same introspection and open-ended questioning.
The other side of Bazan's storytelling ability is his delivery of the songs in performance. Brenden Kelley of the Phoenix, Arizona, New Times described Pedro the Lion's style as "soft, intense, mostly acoustic music that is at times troubling, inspiring, and provocative, often because of the religious tint of Bazan's subject matter." Bazan's lyrics and style have been influenced strongly by his belief that creativity is a way to worship God. He discussed his approach to music and creativity with Kelley: "Art and rock 'n' roll are at their best when people are just allowed to express themselves in whatever way they feel necessary to do."
Bazan is a Christian, but he's also a provocateur. His approach to Christianity exposes the seedy undercurrents of hypocrisy and faith. Even though Pedro the Lion has performed yearly for the Cornerstone Festival, a concert series that brings out the stars of Christian rock, Bazan is openly critical of most Christian rock bands and a lot of what contemporary Christianity represents as its truth. He explained to Nathan Hall on the Pulse of the Twin Cities website why he continues to participate in the Cornerstone Festival. "There's a lot of people like me who haven't totally forsaken their faith but are just really perplexed…. We feel alienated and … outraged about it and beaten down when we have to be around other people who supposedly believe what we believe. And so for those people we go back as a sort of solace for them."
Bazan's politics are decidedly liberal, in contrast to the much more conservative leanings of many American Christians. He explained his feelings about his beliefs to Laura Hamlett of PlaybackSTL.com. "My analysis of Christianity has been extremely disconcerting because I think that Christianity, in most cases, the way it's practiced today, is the antithesis of Christ's teaching and the virtues that he stood for or championed." While touring in 2004, he urged people attending his shows to vote. He also used the stage as a soapbox for his political views, but not without some concern that his message might get lost.
From all appearances, Pedro the Lion has continued to challenge audiences that have varying Christian beliefs. Not a group to be pigeonholed, Pedro the Lion manages to stick to its creative guns while winning over fans from a broad spectrum of beliefs. The strong lyrics and honest musicianship are what keep people coming back for more.
Whole (10″ EP), Tooth and Nail, 1997.
It's Hard to Find a Friend, Jade Tree, 1998.
The Only Reason I Feel Secure (12″ EP), Jade Tree, 1999.
Winners Never Quit, Jade Tree, 2000.
Progress EP (7″ EP), Suicide Squeeze, 2000.
Control, Jade Tree, 2002.
Pedro the Lion's Achilles Heel, Jade Tree, 2004.
Tour EP 2004, self released, 2004.
Stations EP (download only), iTunes, 2004.
For the Record …
Members include David Bazan, vocals, guitar; James McAlister, drums; T.W. Walsh, bass, guitar.
Group formed in Seattle, WA, 1995; released EP Whole, 1997; released debut album, It's Hard to Find a Friend, 1998; released Winners Never Quit, 2000; released Control, 2002; released Pedro the Lion's Achilles Heel, 2004; disbanded, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Jade Tree, 2310 Kennwynn Rd., Wilmington, DE 19810, fax: (302) 661-1848. Website—Pedro the Lion Official Website: http://www. pedrothelion.com.
Paste, June/July 2004, pp. 44-45.
"Control: Pedro the Lion," PasteMusic.com, http://www.pastemusic.com/product/324 (August 25, 2005).
"David in the Lion's Den," New Times (Phoenix, AZ), http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/issues/2000-04-20/music/music.html (August 27, 2005).
"David the Lion," Lazy-i.com, http://www.timmcmahan.com/pedrothelion.htm (August 25, 2005).
"Five Quick Questions with Pedro the Lion's David Bazan," PlaybackSTL.com, http://www.playbackstl.com/Current/Archive/take5bazan.htm (August 27, 2005).
"Pedro the Lion: A different brand of God-rock," Pulse of the Twin Cities, http://www.pulsetc.com/article.php?op=Print&sid=1154 (August 27, 2005).
"The Sound of the City: Iron & Wine at Bowery Ballroom; Pedro the Lion at Northsix," Village Voice, http://www.villagevoice.com/music/index.php?issue=0426&page=sotc&id=54691 (August 27, 2005).
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