David Bazan with Headlights
9 p.m. Friday
113 N. Crawford, Norman
$10 advance, $12 door
$12 advance, $14 door under 21
A basic tenet of politeness that states one should never talk about sex, politics or religion. There’s another canon, slightly less specific, that implies rock musicians are exempt from the above. David Bazan, for most of his career, has been seemingly oblivious to both.
As the founder and main creative force behind pioneering emo outfit Pedro the Lion, Bazan was one of the first Christian indie-rock artists to cross over into the relative mainstream.
Historically, his projects ” the nowdefunct Pedro, as well as his follow-up act, Headphones ” were characterized by an open and often harsh dialogue heavily colored by his evangelical Christian childhood.
It seems many of Bazan’s early supporters took his music at less than its apparent face value. That is to say, when he caustically sang about the dangers of religious haughtiness, many people chose to hear only that he was singing about Jesus.
“Early on, I definitely saw the role of music ” maybe before I made ‘It’s Hard to Find a Friend’ ” as being a means to the end of communicating something about my faith to the world,” Bazan said, “but by the time I made that album, I really stopped thinking in those terms. I had already sort of abandoned this notion of personal evangelism that I’d grown up with. I wanted to have honest conversations with people who didn’t have ulterior motives.”
Bazan has always been unregulated in what he shares with fans. He is known for stopping to answer questions from audience members during his shows ” something he did with frequency during a tour of unpublicized house shows he played prior to the release of his newest album. Despite this openness, many listeners did not catch on to his cynicism until the release of Pedro’s 2002 release, “Control,” which was perhaps a slightly more obvious manifestation of his beliefs. This was the result of two important factors: Bazan’s rapidly waning security in his faith and his inability to sequester that for the sake of his somewhat specialized audience.
“My problem is that I don’t really think ahead that much. I was shocked when I started playing ‘Control’ for people, and they were like, ‘Whoa, this is pretty out there. People are going to really be pissed off about this,'” he said.
His struggle with faith escalated, not entirely separately from his increasing propensity for heavy boozing while on the road. This spiral culminated publicly in 2005, when Bazan was kicked out of the immense Christian ” and dry ” Cornerstone music festival for being visibly drunk, a milk jug of vodka in tow.
Although Pedro the Lion, which disbanded in 2006, was driven by Bazan’s songwriting, his latest album, 2009’s “Curse Your Branches,” is the first full-length to bear his name alone. Fittingly, it’s a painful documentation of his conversion from band leader to solo artist, alcoholism to sobriety, and, most prominently, Christian to bewildered agnostic.
Despite its weighty subject matter and unavoidable attribution, he said he’s comfortable performing it.
“I’m growing into a songwriter I like more as the years go on,” he said.
“Curse Your Branches” is Bazan’s open letter to God, written from the perspective of someone deeply and personally hurt by the moral complications imposed by the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, the apparent imbalance of that small act juxtaposed against the faults and suffering of humanity. The track isn’t an outright denial of God; it’s a list of hard questions and a portrayal of the turmoil caused by the absence of any clear answers.
Bazan, whose parents and wife are still practicing Christians, sings frequently to his daughter. “Bless This Mess” has him lamenting his daughter recognizing the smell of alcohol on his breath.
“When I take more things into account, including suffering on the historical and global scale, it’s tough for me to know what (God) could be up to or why it would matter that he existed at all,” he said, “but at the same time, I’m drawn to try to interact with that on some level, which assumes all sorts of things I don’t hold to be true.”
Bazan knows that his long-term state of flux is frustrating to fans on both sides of the fence.
“I’m trying to not betray anything deep down that I feel or think. Also, I’m trying to be aware,” he said. “Some people read what I’m saying about this now and say, ‘What a fucking wanker. Just do something, man.’ And I feel that. All this navel-gazing seems really self-absorbed. I don’t live that way; I’m just trying to figure out what could possibly be true.” “Becky Carman | photo lyle owerko