This interview was conducted by Nolan Shigley and Tricia Krull.
I recently had the privilege of talking for about an hour with David Bazan (aka Pedro the Lion) and my good friend Nolan Shigley. What follows is only part of that conversation, due to the fact that my tape recorder was not behaving very nicely.
Nolan had pointed out that a lot of Bazan’s songs seem to be taken after Jesus’ model of parables. Thoughts brought down to every day language, yet still retaining some mystery. Still refusing to be completely understood by those who do not chose to listen, and forcing those that are eager to hear, to think on a higher plane. David nodded in agreement then added his thoughts on the matter.
David: Well, like with Winners Never Quit, especially that was definitely intentional where, I didn’t want to make a record that Pedro fans could just, you know “get” and put it in their CD players and be like “Aw, I love Pedro.” You know? I wanted them to be offended at some of it, to where it’s like “This isn’t what I’m used to”. Yet I tried to make it engaging enough to where they’d be compelled to dig into it and be forced to think about it.
I really think that too many things that consumers in general are exposed to (and especially Christian consumers) are designed to let people off the hook as far as critical thinking is concerned. It’s boiled down to it’s very core. It’s boiled down to a slogan. To make it so that people can make their decision largely on whether to buy this thing or not. I was hoping that this would compel people to think in a way that I think It’s Hard To Find A Friend probably did. However, if I made another It’s Hard To Find A Friend, people would just take it and be like “Oh…” you know “sigh” and things like that and maybe feel a valid range of emotions but not be forced to think.
(Winner’s Never Quit is) a record that still, even after people have had it for months, they still don’t get, and for those people I’d just encourage them, if you care about it, to just dig in. If you didn’t figure it out like I did and you don’t think about it the same way that I think about it, at LEAST you still are exercising your critical analysis skills, which need honing for sure because everybody’s does.
Tricia: Good Lord yes! You know you can lose brain cells? At the age of 10, if you’re not like memorizing things every day and keeping them in your mind you actually DO lose brain cells.
Nolan: Hey, she’s a teacher…
Tricia: Yeah, I’m a teacher I know. (Tricia winks and all chuckle…)
David: See, that’s where the education system and parents can really help… As people who believe the Gospel, rather than imparting my religious beliefs to my children I hope to impart to them the critical analysis skills so that when it’s time for them to make their own decisions, they’ll have enough information, me being their dad. I mean, they’ll know me, they’ll know what my deal is. Just because we talk about the stuff you know?
But I want them to have the tools to make their own decisions. Because, when I made my own decision about Christ, that’s when it mattered, and that’s when it took effect and not before then. He was faithful to me and that’s what it’s all about anyways, but it wasn’t real until I almost threw the whole thing away and then He said “I am real and it doesn’t have to be like it is now.” And that’s when I turned this over.
See, that’s the main fault of consumerism, is that it works against that, because if you really get to the bottom of what’s going on in consumerism, and if you build the bridges and things like that and if you think about it, it’s bad. It’s real bad. I mean, they’d do really bad things to you to get your money. Not that if I was in their position I wouldn’t be doing the same thing…
Tricia: Right. It’s not that “they’re” all just big multi-millionaire kahunas that really just want to go to Maui or anything. It’s like they’re feeding their people and stuff.
David: Totally. But it’s our sinful nature you know? It takes us and it drives us and it corrupts us and it’s lust you know? It’s unquenchable in our hearts until we can get an understanding of God’s love.
Nolan: You’re so humble… and your shows are just so humbling. I’d even say I have to reflect on my own life in listening to your lyrics just because, there’s just the feeling that God’s there and just bringing everything into perspective. You’re doing something like we we’re talking about with the parables, with a lot of the symbolism. Take for instance the opening track about your brother and you walking to grandma’s house (“Slow and Steady Wins the Race”) and there’s a snake there and there’s two different paths to chose…
David: Well totally. The record is definitely meant to be counterintuitive. I mean I think the gospel itself is counterintuitive. It’s like, as Christians, we still function within the economy of “Well, if I’m good and if I can perform well, there are rewards for me”. I think the missing key is that it’s not possible for us to be good or to perform well as far as God is concerned. Everything we do, all our righteousness is as filthy rags, whatever it may be. I mean, that’s what Paul said and his track record was probably as clean as it could be. I mean, the Pharisees probably kept cleaner than a lot of us ever could and it wasn’t enough.
So, it’s counterintuitive the way that God has set it up, that we let go of those things. You know? Any striving for righteousness in His sight is flawed and pointless except for what He’s done for us. Except for His promises to us that if we have faith in the promises that He sees us perfect and stuff, it’s counterintuitive to live it that way. To give mental consent to that is one thing but to live that way, to function in a way that is indicative of that, is counterintuitive. So that’s what I wanted the record to be, I wanted it to be like the opening song for people to be like “Ah, this is so good!” but then to realize “Hey, wait a second. This guy is jacked”, you know?
I mean, he is judgmental and not compassionate. He’s arrogant. He thinks he’s going to heaven because he’s a good person which is the antithesis of the Gospel. I wanted it to be unnerving. And there are people that hear it that are anti-religion and it boils their blood… the arrogance of the character. I think that by and large people realize that I’m not trying to validate what that character is saying, I’m merely trying to present it. But then again, I knew that there would be a lot of Christians… just because Christianity is so unthorough even in the application of it’s own tenets. You see, here’s this song and it has all the trappings and the ingredients of the basic way of thinking… “Stay on the straight and narrow path. You’ll go to heaven and that’s the way it is.” So, people kind of nod their heads in agreement and pretty soon this guy is killing his wife and he’s totally blaspheming God and he’s killing himself and people are going “Who, what is trying to be said here?”
That’s another thing I was trying to do. I was trying to mask my own opinion to where noone could just do the work to find out what my opinion was. I wanted them to figure out for themselves. That’s what my professor in college was like. He said “You don’t know what I think. And if you did, it would be easier for you. Because if you did, you look up to me to some level and chances are good that you would take what I thought as truth before you did the hard work of critical analysis to get there on your own.” And that’s what I tried to do. I tried to present these conflicting ideas in ways that almost come across as me, without giving my side of the story, because then that ultimately forces people to think. My side of the story is worth very little really when the Holy Spirit is truly changing people’s hearts.
Tricia: That’s awesome. So you’ve had some college training then?
David: Yeah, I went to college for 2 years. I was a religion and philosophy major. My idea was that I would go to college and get a 4 year degree just for the sake of being a better songwriter, and then when I was nearly flunking out of school by my 4th semester and wasting thousands and thousands of dollars… but I feel like I learned enough in 2 years of college to whet my appetite for learning for the rest of my life.
Really, school is a good place to be in a lot of ways, but it’s not necessarily the best place to be if you want to learn. If you want to succeed at school you have to put away learning for jumping through hoops at some level. I mean you walk away from class and you have the head knowledge, but you have this sense that “I wish I could’ve put a lot more effort into that class because I missed so much of it.”
I could have a little surface conversation about Plato and Aristotle, but I couldn’t really get into the fine points of it. Because the point of it is getting credits so you get a piece of paper that says you can get a better job, but in my situation it’s not going to get me anywhere to have a degree because I’m going to be a songwriter, you know?
Tricia: Yeah. Right. But it’s going to get YOU educated. It’s for you.
David: Yes! Totally! That’s what it was for and I think it accomplished that. I definitely felt like I learned more in 2 years than most of my buddies that were in there for 4 years and we’d be in the same classes together but we couldn’t carry on a conversation about what was going on in class.
Tricia: So are you saying they were in it for the degree?
David: No, it just wasn’t possible to catch everything. I mean, with the way the system works, it’s just difficult. So for me, it did what I set out to do and it did it in less time.
Tricia: That’s awesome. That sounds exactly like what I would do. I’m a Montessori teacher and really what that means is we’re whetting the kids appetites for learning, so that they can decide for themselves what they’re going to do and present them with the choices.
David: Yeah! See kids need some guidelines… like I’m not going to tell my kid he can brush his teeth or not brush his teeth, whether or not he wants to do that. But in general, there are some times that kids are capable of making critical decisions about things if they’re given the tools. As long as they have the safety of their knowledge and knowing how to apply it.
Tricia: Okay, could you tell us a little bit about what it’s like being on the road, and trying to stay close to God… what is that like?
David: Well, I guess it’s like before. I mean, my view of God and Christianity and Faith has changed so much in the past few years. I was so concerned that I maintain my faith and commitment to God. It was like, I was committed to God to do my part, my best, and I wanted to maintain that. It was like I had chosen to follow God and it was up to me to keep up that connection. That failed miserably. In the end I was a real mess and it was really painful. I felt awful for a long time just because I would try to pray and read my Bible, but I would just forget, and I’d get so sidetracked with just being alive and then I’d come back and I’d feel like just such a failure that I’d forgotten to pray, you know? To make myself closer with God.
And I needed a form, so I’d pattern my prayers after the Lord’s Prayer and begin with “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” and just begin with praising God and then no sooner would the words come out of my mouth, “I love you God” than I’d be overwhelmed with the insincerity and hypocrisy of those words and just this nagging sensation that if you did love God, your life would be different and I didn’t know what to do about that.
There is that song “The Secret Of The Easy Yoke” and I was reading that passage (Matthew 11:28-30) and it was a sick joke. It was ridiculous because noone I knew had the secret and the peace of an easy yoke. Everyone else I knew was in the same boat, striving to maintain their commitment to God, and when I wrote that song, I was feeling that. Since I’ve written that song, and sang it every night, I’ve really gotten to know what I was feeling and what I was looking for and I’ve really developed an acute sense of what I know would ultimately satisfy me. Now I believe that I’ve found that, but it was literally just a cry.
It was like “Hey, if this is what Christianity is folks, I don’t want to have any part of it.” It was just sick. But since then, I’ve realized that through God’s grace and God’s commitment to me, that’s exactly what it’s about. It’s about His commitment to me. I mean, Christianity in general is so “us” focused. It’s so focused on [what we can do for God]. As if that amounted to anything at all! It’s ridiculous. It’s what He does for us. I mean, that’s the grease that keeps the wheels rolling. That’s the power that keeps the wheels rolling. That’s the whole ball of wax. It’s realizing, as I’m able to admit my fallenness and the context of my fallenness, what God has done for me. I mean, it’s amazing. It’s what keeps us rolling.
Before I thought the concept of “dry times” was so weird that it would work like that. Now I’ve realized why, it’s because “dry times” are based on our commitment to God, which waxes and wanes with the wind of our desires, of our lust, or whatever. But His commitment is never ending, it’s always there and it never fails us. Just a simple focus on His commitment. In the beginning of this realization, weeks would go by and I would not think of Him. Then I’d think of Him again because He was pursuing me. Then I’d feel guilty, and I’d run. And what the Gospel says, when you feel guilty and [you’re] pursued by him, the best thing to do is just stop, and just accept the fact that it is Him pursuing [you].
Then it becomes this beautiful thing when He’s constantly pursuing us and we just respond in faith. It’s like, “I feel bad. And it’s hard to believe that You’re not holding any of this against me. But I’m just going to take it in faith and I’m going to give myself up to You and make myself vulnerable to You, knowing that I deserve to be chastised and that I deserve to feel guilty.” And that’s the process of what it will be and on the road, my connection with God is assured as His connection with me is assured. And it’s a good deal. It’s a really good deal.
I sense that He pursues me and I know that He desires to reach out to me and to show His love to me and now it’s more individual than it was. It’s less counterintuitive. It’s slowly and maturely believing His promises in a way that was counterintuitive before but now it’s less because my life is now defined by His promises rather than my own performance. So He pursues us always. Always He does.
So I’m laying in the van in just thankfulness to God and I think, “I’m doing pretty good! I thought of God!” you know? That’s great! But then He’s like “Really? What just happened? I pursued you and because of my grace, you responded in the appropriate way. You responded to the thing you needed most and the thing that your heart longed for and you responded positively because that’s the way things work”, you know?
And so all that to say that on the road is really no different than being at home, or than being at church. It’s just another time that He is reinforcing in my heart that He is pursuing me and that He loves me and that He is ultimately for maintaining the connection that is between us. Because, being born again, he hasn’t given us the ability to maintain that relationship. He just offered himself to us and promised to take care of us.
It’s like, in the Old Testament He made a covenant with Abraham (Abram at that time). He did this thing where like the big king made a covenant with the little king and the big king came to the little king and said, “Okay, I’m going to make this covenant with you”, and that’s basically Him saying “I am your God, and you’re going to cut up all these animals and put them on either side of the road and then we’ll get to the next part after that.” And Abram knew what that meant. It meant that God was saying “I’m going to make a covenant with you” and what the little king (Abram) was doing is, as he would walk through those animals, he was taking an oath saying, “If I don’t keep my end of this covenant as the little king, then let it be unto me as it is unto these animals”, and so Abram got these animals together and he was petrified.
The Bible says that he was overcome with a deep sense of horror because He was making a covenant with his Creator that he knew he couldn’t keep. And so as they get to the moment, God Himself walks through and says “If you don’t keep your end of the covenant, then let it be unto ME as it is unto these animals.” (Note: This occurs in Genesis 15.) And that’s exactly what happened. He punished Himself because we broke the covenant. And so now it’s this beautiful thing, whereas before it was only agony and pain and just utter nonsense really. Just this arrogant way of viewing things. This egocentric idea that I was the impetus behind my faith in God and it just changed totally. It’s real.