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Bearing Witness: The Ongoing Legacy of David Bazan

On November 24, 2015

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I’ve spoken to a lot of twenty- and thirty-somethings who have stories of a significant experience with the music of David Bazan. Whether it be his countercultural worldview in the days of Pedro the Lion, shocking and befuddling listeners that a “Christian” artist (at the time) was singing bold, controversial lyrics, or the heartbreaking and uncomfortable nature of the stories he tells, Bazan has been presenting brutally honest truths about humanity and himself throughout each of his musical iterations. We could scarcely forget lyrics like “...the voice of The Spirit begging you to shut the fuck up,” and “...that way they’ll naturally love the taste of corporate cum.” And from what other artist do we hear such unsettling stories as a woman murdering her adulterous husband, a young boy falling into brush in the woods and being bitten by a snake, and a man being tied up and burned alive by a psychotic friend?

Perhaps part of what is so mesmerizing about Bazan’s work is that it forces listeners to consider bleak realities up close and in vivid detail, and whether you become uncomfortable at first listen and abandon his work forever or revisit it over and over for examination and consideration, chances are that you’ll be left with a nugget of an idea that is not easily forgotten. That said, is Bazan preachy in his lyrics and ideas? I think not. Rather, I tend to believe we as listeners are simply getting a tiny glimpse into the heart and mind of the man David Bazan. His lyrics are merely the spilling out of things that he wrestles with on a daily and constant basis, and he, like so many of us, seems to be just trying to figure his shit out.

Anyone who has attended one of his shows will be familiar with the question segment, in which he asks the audience (no matter the size of the crowd), “Does anyone have any questions at this point in the show?” And from personal experience, having attended nearly a dozen full band and solo house shows, Bazan is an open book. I’ve not yet seen him posed with a question, no matter how personal or direct, that he wasn’t willing to answer with honesty and authenticity. I believe it is this sort of openness that draws people to Bazan’s music in the first place, and seeing him live feels like a very natural continuation of the persona we’ve interacted with on records like Control, Achilles Heel, and the Bazan solo record.

And yes, those records are wonderful, but it breaks my heart when I run into people who are under the impression that Bazan’s work ended when Pedro the Lion did. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, he is more productive than ever, still touring very regularly and producing heartfelt and soul-searching records that are every bit as strong as--if not better than--the Pedro albums.

For example, in October 2014 he partnered with the Passenger String Quartet for a tour and an album featuring songs from the Pedro the Lion, Headphones, and Bazan catalog, rearranged and reimagined. Bazan on acoustic playing his hits with a four-piece string quartet backing him up? The only question is: Why don’t you own this already? I had the privilege of seeing this tour when it came through Denver last winter, and the results were beautiful. The richness of Bazan’s throaty voice paired with the resonance of symphonic string instruments is a coupling that should have happened years ago. And the best part? The album was titled Bazan + Passenger String Quartet: Vol. I, so chances are we’ll be seeing another collaboration between these two before long.

Most recently, Bazan has released Bazan Monthly Volume I and Volume II. Not only are these exceptional albums featuring explorations into new musical territory for him, but they also make for an interesting experiment in distribution direct to fans. The way this worked (and continues to work) was that every month for five months, David would record two new songs that arrived digitally to his email subscribers. Listeners had the option of purchasing tracks individually or buying the whole album up front for a reduced price (2 songs per month x 5 months = 10 new songs, i.e. a full-length album). Each of the two-song sets were also pressed to colored limited-run 7” vinyl, each with its own original cover art. These tracks are not on Spotify, nor are they available on iTunes or Amazon, so essentially the only legal way to get them is direct from Bazan (which is GENIUS). Using this model, fans are supporting David directly, not paying some third-party distributor that’s going to bite off a giant chunk of the profit before paying the artist. And as far as we know, Volume III will be forthcoming after David finishes this round of touring.

To hardcore fans of Bazan, obviously I am preaching to the choir; you guys are way ahead of me and have known about these things for months. But I have run into enough people in the past months who loved the Pedro catalog and know nothing of Bazan’s current work to realize that there was a small epidemic going on that needed to be addressed.

So, if you’ve ever walked along the freezing beach at 3 a.m., drunk and angry about a recent breakup and Control was precisely the right album to be listening to at that moment, or if you listened to the first Bazan solo record in college and it made you question every single thing you grew up believing from your parents’ faith, then let me tell you: those sort of experiences of awakening and change can be had again, and David Bazan is your soundtrack to the contemplation and the hurt. I say that slightly tongue-in-cheek, as not all of what he is putting out these days is downer-material, but it is all as thoughtful as ever, and poses questions about life, faith, weakness, and truth that we could all benefit from taking pause to consider.


Doctor Gaines is an author and editor living in Denver, CO with his wife and daughter. His debut novel, THE SHOT, was published in October 2015 by Muzzleland Press. He tweets useless but occasionally entertaining things at @DoctorGaines.

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