Interviewing David Bazan is a bit of a pointless venture. It’s not that he’s tight-lipped or uninteresting (far from it), it’s that anyone reading this article can buy a ticket to his show and ask him whatever question he or she wants—during the show. The former Pedro The Lion frontman has made the Q&A session a staple of his set, weaving lively discourse with the audience between his soulful, narrative-based indie rock. The bastard has cut out the middle man (us). Nevertheless, The A.V. Club thought it prudent to check in with Bazan for a one-on-one chat before his show at the Turf Club on Wednesday, to talk about his new record, his house show tour, and what the deal is with his Q&As.
The A.V. Club: Have you always taken questions during shows, or was there a conscious point when that started happening?
David Bazan: In 2000 I was on tour with TW Walsh. We were playing at the Knitting Factory in New York and he did it during his set. During an awkward moment, he just said, “Any questions?” And it was so arresting to me. I asked him, “What is that?” I figured it was just him being witty and deadpan. But he said, “Well, it’s kind of this thing that Shellac does.” Their thing is more of a challenge for them to stump them, because they have encyclopedic knowledge of all things, between Bob [Weston] and Steve [Albini]. I started doing it after that, 'cause it is funny on one level, but it also occasionally fosters some pretty entertaining interaction with people.
AVC: Any particularly memorable exchanges?
DB: There are ones that could be characterized as actual intelligent conversations that would be difficult to even remember accurately. The ones that stick out are like, somebody in Fort Worth, Texas asked how often I masturbate. That was pretty entertaining. It was back when I use to drink before I would play, so I was pretty drunk and said some inappropriate things. It hasn’t come back to bite me in any Michael Richards kind of way, so all is well.
AVC: Are your audiences the type that wants to dissect your songs ad nauseam?
DB: Close. Not quite ad nauseam. [Laughs.] There is some actual criticism that goes on during the Q&As occasionally, which sometimes I find pretty insightful, and certainly flattering that people would think about the lyrics of a tune to that degree, and sometimes there’s some pretty interesting perspectives that make the songs seem cooler than I thought they were. So that’s pretty awesome, but that only happens only about 10 percent of the time.
AVC: You’ve said your new album, Curse Your Branches, is an autobiographical confessional record about struggling with drinking and your faith. How hard is it to release an album that reveals those things?
DB: Any pause that I had didn’t come from how revealing it was, just how uncool it seemed to make a rock 'n' roll record about those things. And that only flashed in my brain for a couple of moments here and there. It’s pretty directly about those topics; it’s not obscured or hidden in some way. And so part of me feels it’s not very artfully done, because it’s intelligible. It just came down to the fact that I really got off playing these songs. They made me feel alive or I just connected with them. For better or worse, that’s my barometer, and so once I came to terms with how I felt about playing those songs then it was just easy.
AVC: There’s a lot of criticism in your music about dishonesty and infidelity within marriages and relationships. How did your family handle those songs, particularly your wife?
DB: Well, the Pedro catalogue is primarily fiction, and my wife is able to differentiate which is fiction and which is not. Like the song “Options,” it doesn’t detail infidelity, but it details regret about being married in general, and so I had conversations with her when I wrote that song. I basically said, “Hey, I’m writing this song about these feelings that I perceive as universal. Do you agree that this feeling is universal?” And she kind of coyly answered, “Yes, I think it’s universal. I may also have had these feelings.” And it was more checking in and making sure that she realized that I’m writing from the perspective of a character that, while I might share these basic feelings, I’m dealing with them in different ways, even if just expressing them in this tune.
AVC: You’ve been doing a lot of house shows lately.
DB: Yeah, 71 since February.
AVC: Were there any logistical problems, like, "Dude, can you move your Xbox?”
DB: No, man. It worked out so well. The hosts, we didn’t pay them any money, they just donated their living room. The people that came to the shows were super cool. Guys would sit there and polish off a six-pack of beer during the show, but there wasn’t one drop of beer on the floor; nobody’s house got damaged. People were very respectful. In 71 shows, there were no crashers, or if there were, they just blended in such a way that it didn’t matter.
AVC: How was the hospitality? Were cookies made?
DB: We decided that we didn’t want to ask people for anything, because they were already providing their house. Some people had hors d’oeuvres for the folks. I usually showed up about 7, hung out for an hour, played for an hour, hung out for another hour, and then I was gone. The hospitality was available, and people were super sweet and giving, but we didn’t ask anything for two reasons: They were already giving up so much, and also, sometimes that can be rad, but it can also be pretty awkward to sit and have dinner with complete strangers. It was already pretty social anyway. There was no green room, you’re just hanging out with a room full of strangers who came to hear you play.