For those that have followed David Bazan’s career, this next turn will be a shock. The Pedro the Lion frontman and longtime touchstone of the “indie Christian rock” movement comes clean—and shockingly introspective—on his first solo release, Curse Your Branches, and the result is nothing short of awe inspiring. From the album’s dirge-like intro, one can guess that Bazan’s mood has changed. In the place of Pedro’s personal-yet-meditative lyrics about God, life, and love, we get an achingly manicured—and precisely produced—retelling of Adam and Eve’s story from the eyes of a nonbeliever. The tale that follows is beyond personal. It’s the story of Bazan’s falling out with his faith.
In its 10 stripped down, folk-minded tracks, Branches swings the doors wide open on Bazan’s rethinking of his conservative Christian upbringing. Still, in the onset of the writing process, the outpouring of emotion came as a shock to even its writer.
“I got about halfway through the songwriting when I realized that it was pretty much all autobiographical,” Bazan recalled. “And it looked like it was going to continue to go in that direction, and I really panicked. … Every time I make a record, it’s sort of another chance to reinvent myself. There’s something so plain and conventional about the music that I’ve made over the years, and I suppose that could be part of its charm, but I always wanted to make much sexier music, or much more sophisticated music, or music that was cooler than the music that I had made. … When I realized that [this album] was all autobiographical songs about God and drinking it was just like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me! This is not cool. This is not cool at all.’”
The resulting record is one that resonates strongly with a number of reformed Christians and has publicly burned longtime Bazan followers, including, to a small degree, the songwriter’s own conservative family.
“Some of the regret that I feel about what happened—not that it was even necessarily my choice at every turn—is their regret and their sadness,” Bazan said of his family’s response to Branches. “My mom said something to me after the record had been out for awhile. She said, ‘The only reason why I taught you to follow your heart is because I thought that Jesus lived in your heart.’ It’s still the hardest thing for her in the world. Her goal as a human being was to raise kids who believed the quote-unquote truth about Jesus and the Bible and all that stuff, so it’s their sadness, too, that I’m empathizing with.”
Today, though, the record is serving as a means of catharsis for both Bazan and his immediate family. “To me, what your family and the people that are closest to you say and think about you really has a lot more to do with who you are than what a bunch of complete strangers who only get a manufactured version of you think,” Bazan said. “For my parents, this may be their favorite record of mine, as tough of a pill as it is for them to swallow on a lot of levels. We’ve had a lot of really great conversations about it, and I know that they really like it.”
On “In Stitches,” the singer’s own father contributes piano, as well as the record’s closing vocals. Bazan says, “You can hear him exhale at the end of the performance, when there’s just the dead air in the room, and there’s something so much heavier about it. In a sense it’s my sadness, but it’s also his sadness at the end of the record, too, which is poignant.”
“I really did think when I wrote this record that it was going to marginalize me even more because the subject matter was so specific,” he explained. “It’s been a really nice surprise to see that there are so many people who are straddling a very similar line. I do run into a lot of people who are in various stages of this same sort of uncertainty, trying to see their way clear, either to stay in a faith they grew up with, or figure out how to exit it gracefully.”
“People always say, ‘Well, what about faith?’” Bazan continued. “I say I am a person of faith. I see evidence that leads me to believe that Hell doesn’t exist, but I don’t know that Hell doesn’t exist, so I bridge that gap between what seems apparent and my beliefs by faith. … I’m developing a new system of belief, I guess, and it’s issue-by-issue, thought-by-thought. It’s two steps forward, two steps back. The one thing that this process has really helped me to do is admit that is who I am, where I come from, and just to be comfortable with that.”
David Bazan plays SOhO this Sunday, March 7, at 9 p.m. with openers Headlights. For tickets and info, call 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com.