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Setting Dogma Aside

Pedro the Lion draws on Christian faith, but rejects easy answers.

November 02, 2000|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Do the right thing. Follow the path. Do unto others. David Bazan knows the daily struggle, the unanswerable questions. And his band Pedro the Lion has become an unexpected indie-rock venue to explore the big themes, finding rock 'n' roll not a means to escape, but an opportunity to probe within.

This is a longtime fascination for Bazan, a Seattle-based rocker who also happens to be the son of a pastor. Not because he doubts his own faith, but because he questions the way faith is often used to judge others. It is what led to Pedro the Lion's second full-length album, "Winners Never Quit" (on Jade Tree Records), an often understated study of morality, isolation and ruthlessness.

The record is constructed along a narrative story line, following the journey of a politician en route to self-destruction. And along the way, "Winners Never Quit" reveals scenes of unchecked ambition and violence. On the song "Never Leave a Job Half Done," Bazan sings: "Lies can be the perfect things/ if they never show."

"There's two ways of going about songwriting: There's propaganda and there's attempting a more artistic approach," says Bazan, who brings Pedro the Lion to Fais Do-Do on Saturday. "Asking questions and leaving things open-ended is a far better way to get at truth than just sticking to some party line."

Bazan, 24, is the sole creative force in Pedro the Lion, which will perform as a trio on Saturday. The new album was recorded in his basement, with Bazan acting largely as a one-man band, playing each of the instruments himself for a sound that could be disarmingly spare, considering the sometimes grim subject matter.

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As a songwriter, Bazan found the album's theme unavoidable, if also creatively confining. He doesn't plan to attempt another concept album any time soon.

"The lyrical and emotional content of the songs were always slaves to the greater purpose of the record," he says. "Sometimes that's really satisfying to me, but others obviously came out of the pretense of the story and I don't feel a great connection to it, although the themes are still real to me."

Those themes emerged as he grew up in Seattle as part of a family of "born again" Christians. It was later, while studying at a Bible college, that he first began to question how religion could be wielded in a sometimes destructive, self-righteous manner.

"There is a lot that the church does that is really frustrating and depressing," says Bazan, who still attends a Christian church with his wife in Seattle. "But then there's certain aspects that are shades of what's real. It's really complicated and is an issue that will haunt me for the rest of my life--as well as everybody who is trying to do what's right who is born again and being honest with themselves about who they are and where they're going."

All of which doesn't exactly make Pedro the Lion a Christian rock band. He says his audience is a mix of traditional indie-rock fans and religious youths searching for something more challenging than a simple declaration of faith.

Bazan was initially drawn to rock via the hard-edged likes of Fugazi and Nirvana. And whereas the sound of Pedro the Lion is typically understated, closer to Sebadoh in texture, the new album does rock out convincingly on "A Mind of Her Own," which balances urgent electric guitar crashes with melancholy vocal passages. "I wanted to play heavier music, but it just wasn't what was coming out," Bazan explains. "When I sat down to try to write something heavier, I never liked it. I enjoyed heavy music, but I was just never able to do it in a way that I enjoyed."

The result is that fans of the band have come to expect a night of moodier sounds at Pedro the Lion shows. "I wouldn't say that we're necessarily melancholy or moody people," Bazan says of the band. "It's sometimes a bit serious. It's hard for me to artistically represent the happy-go-lucky aspects of rock without feeling really cheesy. It's a lot easier to be depressed in art."

BE THERE

Pedro the Lion, with Death Cab for Cutie and Starflyer 59, Saturday at Cafe Club Fais Do-Do, 5257 W. Adams Blvd., 9 p.m. $10. (323) 932-9034.

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