Tuesday, August 16, 2011
When I wrote about the still-hard-to-believe-it-actually-happened acoustic set that David Bazan played in my Allston livingroom back in April, I promised that, with his blessing, I'd eventually share up that spellbinding performance here on the 'Nac. Well, eventually equals now.
I held off for awhile because this particular house show tour took place a month before the release of the former Pedro The Lion frontman's top-notch new long-player, "Strange Negotations", and he blessed us with a few solo versions of tracks from the album (kicking off with the stunning title number). Rather than spoil the album's impact with early versions, I waited, and during one of the between-song Q&As below, we talk about the certain magic of hearing a new LP all at once instead of bit-by-bit. You can either listen to that discussion by downloading, or read it below, as I took some extra time to transcribe the audience questions and Dave's always-forthcoming responses. Well worth checking out his thoughts on the "Burn To Shine" series, the creation of the new album, the genius of Gillian Welch (after playing a truly moving cover), LCD Soundsystem, the pointlessness of certain promotion, the Grammys, and more.
Read my original write-up of that extra-special evening here, scroll on down for the Q&A text and some excellent Bazan-centric links, and be sure to order up a copy of "Strange Negotations". If you haven't heard it yet, you should probably be saving a spot in your year-end favorites list...
Sunday, April 3rd, 2011
in my livingroom
[Download all 18 tracks in one 145 MB .zip file]
01. Strange Negotiations (the new album's title track)
02. Transcontinental (from PtL's "Achilles Heel")
03. Won't Let Go (from "Strange Negotiations")
04. Cold Beer and Cigarettes (from DB's "Fewer Moving Parts")
05. [Crowd Q&A #1]
06. Priests and Paramedics (from PtL's "Control")
07. How I Remember (from "Fewer Moving Parts")
08. [Crowd Q&A #2]
09. Hard To Be (from DB's "Curse Your Branches")
10. April 14th, Part I (Gillian Welch cover)
11. [Crowd Q&A #3]
12. Virginia (from "Strange Negotiations")
13. [Crowd Q&A #4]
14. Selling Advertising (from "Fewer Moving Parts")
15. [Crowd Q&A #5]
16. Please Baby Please (from "Curse Your Branches")
17. Crowd Q&A #6
18. Bearing Witness (from "Curse Your Branches")
Some recent Bazan-related links...
Here's the transcription of the Q&A segments between Dave & the friends, fans, and strangers who filled up my livingroom that night. I've made some comments in brackets, and cleaned up some of the better-said-than-read "um, uh, like" parts (yes, including ones in my own question). Read on...
David Bazan's Allston audience interaction, 4/3/2011
Crowd Q&A #1...
Audience: Hey Dave, I have one actually, related to that song ["Cold Beer & Cigarettes"]. It was your performance in the "Burn To Shine" series that got me into your music, so I'd love to hear any of your memories from that day. It seems like a really interesting experience for a musician...
David Bazan: It was amazing. I mean, first and foremost, that "Burn To Shine" thing is run by two dudes, one of which is the drummer of Fugazi [Brendan Canty] - who probably is the musician that I obsessed over more than any other in my life - so getting to meet him and him sort of fussing over making sure that things were good for me and other people playing... it was just amazing. 'Cuz, I mean, I don't know... I was pretty starstruck, actually. So that was neat, to find out that he was just a really amazing, committed dude.
Aud: Seemed like a pretty good group of musicians, too, from that series...
DB: It was amazing, the feeling of camaraderie. Y'know, [Ben] Gibbard [of Death Cab For Cutie] kind of curated that, so he chose all the people...
Aud: His song is amazing on that one, too...
DB: Yeah, "Broken Yoke Over A Western Sky". So, it ["Burn To Shine"] definitely enhanced an already very connected feeling I have about being in Seattle, just being a bunch of good people who are trying to make music that is interesting.
I also got to meet Eddie Vedder that day, which was pretty interesting. You're only supposed to perform the tunes 2 times, but I peaked the mics the 2nd time, so they gave me a 3rd time to do it, and the 3rd time I walked into the staging area... and Eddie Vedder, who I had just met before – he came in and said "Hey, what's up man?" and I said "I gotta go do this thing..." – so I came back and he put his arm out and pulled his shirt up and he was like "Gooseflesh." And I said "What?", and he said "You just gave me gooseflesh, man". "You, too, man..." Freaked me out. [crowd laughter]
It was an interesting day. But I had to leave early because I had to play a show that night, so I missed some of the late acts when it was clearly nighttime outside... like the Long Winters... but yeah, it was amazing. It's a really interesting series if you guys are interested in it, it's called "Burn To Shine". I'm sure you're aware of it to some degree. Has the Louisville, Kentucky one come out...?
Aud: There was a long lag, I think they had some funding issues, but Louisville's coming out, and then Atlanta is the 6th one, I think.
DB: Ok, so there's four that are currently...
Aud: ... available, and then two more coming out.
DB: DC, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland?
Aud: Yeah, Portland was before Seattle.
Crowd Q&A #2...
Aud: Your new album ["Strange Negotiations"] is coming out – would you say there's a theme to that album, or what's been on your heart and mind as you made the album?
DB: I think there is a theme, although it's not quite as focused as "Curse Your Branches" was. And I think that maybe I'm writing about the themes on the record in a slightly more vague way, it would seem, but... um...
Aud: Or do you prefer to leave it to us to figure out the themes..?
DB: I mean, that's one way, I guess... I think that there's a lot of tension that surrounds, for me, dealing with people who believe really insane things about, um... not invisible things like religion, or things like that, but about economics or politics – things that are pretty demonstrable, like the citizenship of our president, or things like this. It just seems weird that you have to engage with people and take them seriously when they're just batshit crazy.
It's pretty horrible but I feel like everywhere I go there's a bumper sticker or a hillbilly or something insane... y'know, they have Fox news everywhere, and Rush Limbaugh is broadcast in every single market, many times over in some cases. So [the album's themes] sort of stem from those sorts of frustrations, but also beyond the frustration, feeling like "Is it cool to just air those frustrations and demonize those people?" or is there some other way forward. And I do think that it starts with trying to state reality, and understand that my perception of things can be distorted as well. There comes a certain point where I'm not going to say that I'm just as likely to be wrong as someone who believes that our president wasn't born in this country. Or, like, I do bad things in my life, but I'm not as bad of a person as W. It's just futile to think that... I grew up thinking that "Well, everybody's just as bad as the other person...", and it's just not the case. He's responsible for hundreds of thousands of innocent people dying, and I'm simply not... directly responsible for that many people dying. That's just a fact.
That's what I think was going on in my mind when I made the record. That said, as weird as it seems to say, especially with a record like [Curse Your] "Branches", I don't really mean to write about anything. I just start filling in a notepad with what comes out and sort it out and edit what is there, to try and make it into something that I like. And with "Branches", that just turned out to be a very focused record, about religion and other things. So, like I said, this one is a little less focused, I think that people could make it into being about all kind of things, whereas "Branches" was a little tougher to do that with – can't really be about too many things.
Crowd Q&A #3 [after playing the Gillian Welch cover]...
DB: Just in case – I wish that were a new song that I wrote, but that's a Gillian Welch song from "Time (The Revelator)" – if you're not familiar with that record, I would recommend buying it, ‘cuz it's pretty fucking unstoppable all the way through. Any other questions or concerns at this point in the show?
Aud: You just covered what I think is her best song, and I heard you did a Vic Chesnutt song last year [at another house show] in Beverly, and I've heard you do two Radiohead ones... I'm just curious who you respect most as writers of music, or writers of music as well. Or, I guess, to make it simpler... who do you like to cover the most.
DB: Well, that record of hers [Gillian Welch] is such an astonishing bit of songwriting, I feel like I'll be trying to wrap my head around it for a long time. It's such a simple record, but it's really beyond my ability to really understand what's going on in some cases. I do think that lyrically I feel the same way about Vic [Chesnutt]. I like his tunes and his melodies, too, but it's really the range of emotional experience and the range of the human experience that he is able to evoke and cover with his lyrics. I don't know of anybody else... I mean, it just can be like, stab you over-and-over again with a knife kind of poignant, and then really absurd and funny and wistful, kind of on a dime. And I don't know anybody that does that to me the way that Vic did. Rest in peace...
Then there's the Beatles, y'know, from a craft perspective – I'm still trying to digest that stuff. Current bands I think, like songwriting craft and composition, the band Deerhoof still really kind of freaks me out. They're kind of a mix between, like, the Beatles and Fugazi to me, in the way that they construct their tunes. It's definitely got the post-rock kind of angular, real cathartic element to it, but compositionally no one's dealing with melody and theme and harmony the way that those guys do – I don't know of any other band currently that can really touch them.
Aud: You do that last song justice.
DB: Oh, thanks a lot. I'm going to reserve judgment about that from my perspective [crowd laughs], but I really appreciate yours. With a tune like that, I get so much pleasure from playing it that that's enough for now.
Aud: Can you talk about your songwriting process a little bit?
DB: Sure. In the beginning I had to get like, 3 to 10 seconds, 1 line all at once – the lyrics, the melody, and the chords – and it could be a line in a chorus or the first line of the verse or something like that. That's the only way that most of those tunes that I wrote came about – and then, in that little bit, there would be the DNA for the rest of the song implied. So then you spend a little bit of time kind of discovering that. Now, y'know, there are all kinds of amazing resources available – the book "Songwriters on Songwriting", there's blogs online, peoples' interviews... any way that I've ever heard of anybody writing a song now, I just try it out at some point. Music first, lyrics first, melody without any music first, then do the music later, because the melody kind of implies the harmony. Sometimes I'll just listen to bands – like LCD Soundsystem is a good example – those records, it evokes "He must have gone about it this way, he must have started with the drum machine first." Even if that's not true at all, then I'll sort of make a recipe based on what it feels like to me, and then I'll try that. Sometimes I'll cast a really wide net because I'm just stuck, and lost, so I'll just try a bunch of different ways. But if stuff is coming pretty good, then I'll just stick to one thing. For me, it's just all about trying. Try, try, try, try... just always have to put a little deposit in the bank of songwriting every day, or as often as I can, and then, y'know, expect some small return on the amount of work that I do.
Crowd Q&A #4...
DB: It's tough for me - I've been thinking a lot about... there's this particular singer that I was reminded of after saying that thing about W, who suggests in a song that he might be as bad of a person as John Wayne Gacy. That sentiment always drives me crazy – growing up Christian, that's a pretty popular idea, and it's just the least useful thing that I can think of. As though it's not that different imagining killing a bunch of people and killing a bunch of people. Any other concerns at this point in the show?
Me: It feels like the wait for the new album is a lot shorter than for "Branches"... is there a reason that it came about easier than that one? Maybe it's because the Electrical Audio [live in-studio album release in 2010] thing made it seem shorter...
DB: It was quite a bit shorter. Between the time the EP first came out and "Branches" was 3 years, and this is about half the time – it's going to be about 18 months. I do think that having made "Branches"... it was just a big relief and I felt free to kind of tackle anything at that point – that "Branches" was a record that apparently, I didn't really realize it, but I needed to make a record that kind of addressed that issue that had sort of defined me as a person and how people perceived the music that I made for a lot of years. So, having done that, it's just a lot easier to make up songs, and I don't feel like as much is riding on each song, for some reason – I'm not quite as precious about it now. And, also, it's been really helpful to have a band again. When I was making "Branches" and the EP, I wasn't playing with guys live, it was just solo, so I was doing all the multitracking myself. This time I was able to utilize the bass player and drummer that y'all might have seen at TTs a few times. So that was really helpful, too. It was a little bit of everything. Also, I just thought, I can't... I'm trying to keep this thing afloat now so I can't really just wait another 3 years. It's time to make a record. And I had done that before to good effect, and so I thought, it's not really a compromise creatively to just, like, hurry up and make a record... that in some cases, different, maybe cooler stuff can come out when I'm deliberately not being so precious about every little thing. And in the end, a buddy, my friend Yuuki [Matthews] was around and helped kind of co-produce the record, which was a big help, so I was able to stay zoomed-in the entire time, because he was zoomed-out, like playing Angry Birds on his phone, and he'd kind of pop his head up and be like "Y'know, I don't really think that that's really what you should do there...", "Oh, cool...", and then I'd stay zoomed-in the entire time... so it was a much quicker process.
Me: It also feels like the announcement of the album coming and the release is super-short... why is that, and are you purposefully not doing the whole pre-release preview song and that whole deal?
DB: Well, we're trying to shorten the gap between "Hey, the record's coming out..." and the record being out to the Radiohead model of just, like, "A new record... tomorrow!", or like "A new record on Saturday and...psych! We're going to do it tomorrow instead..." because I just want fans of the records and not professional music journalists to get the... I want everybody to get the record at the same time. Especially with this record. A lot of you all pitched in and helped us fund the record, and there are people that didn't do that have the record first and that bothers me... but that's part of the old kind of model. So we begged the label... last time they wanted six months so that they could really set it up, and get all the press in order that they wanted to. And this time we said "Sorry, like, you have three months and that's how it's gonna be..." They could have fought us on it, but they didn't. So, we're just trying to shrink it every time, to where at a certain point it'll just be like "Here you go... the record's done... and now it's out." How have you liked seeing that? Is that exciting or is that troubling..?
Me: I actually like the experience of hearing an album all at once instead of getting one or two songs... even though I'm sort of guilty of sharing things before they come out... that's sort of what I do... [crowd laughs]... not without permission, of course... but I really like listening through a whole album and not saying "Oh, there's that song I've heard a million times already... and here comes the next one four songs later...". I'm really psyched to experience all as one thing. Hearing some of them now [performed solo acoustic], not to say that it takes away from it, but it's such a different experience from the way they will sound that it still feels like it doesn't take away from it...
DB: That was something we wondered... y'know, because we really also made an effort to not... the band hasn't played any of the tunes on any tours, I've played 3 or 4 of them solo, we've tried to keep them off the internet, so you can't overplay ‘em. You get that one time... I mean, if you record it, you could listen to it however much you want I guess... but we've really tried to make it to where when people get the record they're hearing everything for the first time...
Me [sheepishly]: Yeah, I won't be sharing the recording [before the album comes out].. just so you know...
DB: Oh, yeah, sure, whatever... it's the way that things go, often. You eventually should definitely feel that you could... that'll be funny, very meta, if people listen to this on your recording of it.
So, yeah, I think that things are changing in some ways, and in some ways it's scaring a lot of people. We certainly have to be more careful about things in some ways, but our priority the whole time is being vindicated more and more – where it's just about you guys and interacting with fans. Like, we've stopped going to South by Southwest... if a music journalist has their regular-person-fan-hat on then I'm happy to interact with them, because that's the thing that I care about, but the clout that supposedly music journalists have, or the traction with people from labels - I just care less and less about that, because I feel like the real meaningful connection that we've made with people over the years has been just like people telling other people, peer-to-peer, just everybody saying "Hey, check out this band" or "Come to the show with me", those are kind of the lasting connections. The connections that we've made from people seeing our name in a magazine or something else, maybe aren't as meaningful or don't last as long. So I'm not interested in chasing any of that stuff, and haven't been for awhile. But I feel like I'm more and more allowed to think that way and not feel rebellious or irresponsible somehow.
Me: Does the label feel... are they resistant to you not doing that kind of stuff?
DB: Yeah, they really believe in the splash, still, when the record comes out, and the amount of impressions that you're trying to stack up with publicity and stuff like that. I'm not going to say that that doesn't do anything, but... I mean, it's difficult to crunch those numbers, but... I feel like I got waaay more famous when "Branches" came out for roughly the same amount of people buying the record that would have bought the record if I hadn't gotten any more famous. And that's not that cool to me. I'd rather 90% of the people who listen to my records actually know my name or ponder me as a person, that it's just about the music and the records, rather than, like, name recognition going way up. And I know that's part of having a career and being big, or whatever, but I don't know... I just would rather... yeah. So, yeah, that's a value of theirs, and because they're making the investment, we honor their ideas about it, to a certain degree. But then when they say, "Well, we want to do this endcap at Best Buy", you just say "Fuck you, like, no. We're not going to pay $9,000 to have 50 endcaps at Best Buy." Like, I don't care about that store, I hope that store burns. I think that they've helped destroy so many things that I care about. That model, that business model, that way of thinking, so... yeah, so we have conflict about it. The thing is that... we're in such a good position because we're just really content, Bob [Andrews, Dave's manager at Undertow] and I. We're content with what my prospects are, like, if I go out and play music then I can make a living do that, and that's great. And the label, usually the carrots they have to dangle are like "If you jump through these hoops then you can be really super-famous and get on TV...", and blah blah blah, and it's like "Well... nah. We're going to go do this other thing... I'm going to go on tour for six weeks instead and just kind of gut it out.", y'know? So that's an ongoing thing, a conflict we have going on over there. But they're reasonable people, and they understand. They get a lot less complaints from us than they do from other bands who are like "Why aren't more people into our band and why aren't we getting paid more?" and like blahblahblahblahblah. "Because not as many people care about your music than you think should?"... I don't know. You're probably better suited to answer that question.
Crowd Q&A #5...
DB: So that was a pretty long rant... those are things I think about a lot. You ever read that Lefsetz guy? Pretty fascinating character. Sometimes it feels like theory that doesn't meet up with our everyday... there's a guy named Bob Lefsetz who's kind of like an industry insider, in the major label world for awhile, and then he quit all that and... he just skis and... I don't know what he does, he lives in Vale or something? He writes pretty scathing, sort of, little blog rants about the music industry that are pretty interesting. He seems on point most of the time... Did LCD Soundsystem just play their Madison Square Garden show?
Aud: Yeah, last night...
DB: Are there reports of what it looked like in there...
Aud: Pitchfork had it live to webstream. It was awesome...
DB: The question that I was wondering is because the way that scalping and all that stuff works, which kind of came out when the tickets sales were... was it like full of people that were fans of the band? Or was that possible to see? Was there any reporting on that?
Aud: It was hard to tell from the video... but I was actually surprised by how good the quality was, and there were actually cameras on stage, so you could see a lot of the band as opposed to the audience members. But it seemed like everyone in the audience was loving it.
DB: Oh yeah. Well they're an unbelievable band. That's great. I'm glad that that thing went down how it did, because I think that James Murphy is a pretty credible dude, and for him to get caught with his pants down with the ticketing thing, I think that he clearly was able to weather that and still bring attention to the super-crazy way that it still works, as far as all that stuff goes. So many aspects of American culture, even, and especially, rock and roll culture, is so pretend. There's just so much pretend things that are happening, it's pretty hilarious...
Crowd Q&A #6...
Aud: While we're on some music industry questions, I don't know if you had any reflections on Arcade Fire winning a Grammy, in terms of a pop-culture event?
DB: Well, you can imagine what I think of the Grammys... [crowd laughs]... I think that those little bits and pieces are hopeful. I think that if people who aren't necessarily paying attention in general pick up an Arcade Fire record that that's a potentially really good thing, because their records are pretty complex compared to other music that people might be buying. So that's hopeful. I mean, the Grammys, like so many other institutions inside and outside the music industry, I think we'd just be better off without... all those awards shows, particularly in regards to music. It's really off to the side of anything that's really actually going on, I think. Sometimes with exceptions... I mean, even then, though, if the first Arcade Fire record would have won a Grammy, I think that would have been more appropriate. I think they still had all their teeth at that point. I think that they're still really trying to make important records, but... they're trying to make important records also now, too. And it can get kind of weird... when you know you're a big deal, it's harder to hear what's really going on, I think.
Aud: What do you think about Kory Kruckenberg winning a Grammy?
DB: Yeah! So our friend Kory won a Grammy for engineering... what was it... classical music?
DB: Just when I feel the most negative about some of those things, a friend of mine will win it and you don't want to take it away from them - it's a cool distinction – because Kory's a great engineer, really quiet guy, just keeps his head down and does good work in town, and so when people like that get recognized for anything it's pretty interesting. And those things are probably more valid than the big sort of showy album-of-the-year kind of things, because it really is just craftspeople being rewarded by their peers in sort of a more quiet way... I mean, it could be at the convention center at the Hyatt, on that level. I think that those things are actually handed out at a convention center at the Hyatt rather than on TV.
live in cambridge, ma
on november 14th, 2008
previously: joy formidable - boston 2011
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