Interview with David Bazan

I recently sat down with musical artist David Bazan

and picked his brain on as many topics as I could.

Ladies and gentlemen: David Bazan.

Photo By: Joshua David Watson

 

Joshua Watson:

How did Strange Negotiations (the upcoming album) get its name?

David Bazan:

It’s a phrase that had been kind of rolling around in my head for the past year, or so, I guess. It just popped in and it seemed to describe the feeling I had about certain cultural things… For instance, sometimes something will get expressed within culture that is just super asinine but because enough people agree about it then you have to take it seriously so then you’re kind of negotiating with these people about this thing that you shouldn’t have to negotiate at all. So I started thinking of those aspects as like, this is a strange negotiation we are involved in.

The example that I had in mind was that Obama wasn’t born here… “Where’s the birth certificate?” Because enough people believe that, then you have to take it seriously. That’s strange. It seems inappropriate. You should just be able to dismiss stupidity as such, but nonetheless, here we are.

Watson:

What direction are you going to take Strange Negotiations musically? When does it come out?

Bazan:

It comes out [May 2011]… Musically, it is a rock-n-roll record. Much more than [Curse Your Branches] was. Only two songs have bridges, which is kind of a nerdy, technical thing to highlight but for me, it’s a pretty big deal. The drums are delightfully blown up, the way that some of the drums are on “Control.” It’s a different record… I’m excited.

Watson:

Is there a general theme of thought in the record?

Bazan:

It has a theme that weaves through most of the tunes in it. It has to do with the title. In the wake of the decisions about my life and my belief system that caused me to write Curse Your Branches, there is the uncomfortable remainder of seeing your family all the time and they believe and you don’t…and that’s somewhat common, I’m finding. But maybe more common is the political dissonance that happens between generations. The political dissonance, in general, that you have to co-exist with people who are vehemently opposed on a political level and how you go about that. It’s a record where I, in a vague sense, voice philosophies and ideas that pertain [to politics] and make accusations.

But then, it’s also a record about how you interact with people who think so differently from you in a fundamental way. Do you dismiss them? Do you pretend like you don’t disagree? Do you try not to talk about it? Do you engage respectfully? Do you let your own ideas become watered-down in the process? So the record is asking questions, but it’s not quite so grand as [Curse Your Branches.] The scale that Branches was on for me was personally pretty massive.

Watson:

What do you mean by that?

Bazan:

I wouldn’t make another record like Branches, so I had to get it right [the first time.] So there is a lot less riding on Strange Negotiations. It’s just me shooting my mouth off.

Watson:

It seems like music is a site for you to wrestle with personal doubts, fears, regrets, and struggles. How do you think about the relationship between the private aspect of writing your music and the public aspect of performing/recording it?

Bazan:

The music that I’ve written in the past couple of years has been more personal than any music that I’ve ever written… The songs that are more personal, I find that I have a stronger connection with. I can sing them more often, with more conviction. As they have become more personal, they have become more compelling to me. That’s the way I think of the private vs. the public. Having to go up in public and make such a big hullaballoo and say, “Everybody look at me! I’m going to sing some words and strum on this guitar!” It seems much more valid to be doing that when I have a much more personal connection to the songs. Sometimes, exposing oneself is a little odd. But in the end, I’m not hung up on that.

Watson:

Who do you think makes the most compelling argument for the Christian faith?

Bazan:

There are Christians that I know that I find compelling as people. But I haven’t run into any Christian apologist that has really addressed my specific set of concerns. My buddies, who I respect who are Christians, I don’t think they are trying to [do that] in their work. I’m mostly interested in finding out what’s true and what holds up. My buddy, Eric Balmer, has been reading this Joel Green book [and it seems] interesting to me because it seems to be about things I’m currently reserving judgment about that I’m curious to understand and know about.

I don’t [know of any compelling apologetic cases for Christianity] and it’s an interesting question. Evangelical Christianity, as I grew up with it and as it seems to exist currently, seems preoccupied with the confession of Christianity. That one would confess the right things, and that seems to be one of the main points of it. I find that so unsatisfying. To me, the best cases for Christianity are when people actually bear the fruit that they say they are going to bear. To me, that is the most compelling reason to think anything or do anything or to respect a confession. A confession of belief on it’s own is just the most flaccid thing. In that sense, an academic book, self-help book, or just a Christian apologetic book means so much less.

[They would say] “So this is what I think…” [I would respond,] “So you’re divorced three times, you’re estranged from you’re kids… who cares what you think about the universe? I want to be at peace. This peace that passes all understanding that you’re talking about, you don’t have it. You treat people badly; you misunderstand fundamental ideas of the world at large.” These [bearing fruits] are far more compelling to me than, “You have to get the confession right or you’ll burn for eternity.” And I just think: “Yeah, that’s becoming less compelling by the minute too because everything else you say doesn’t seem to match up with reality, so why would I assume that would?”

When it comes to the evaluation of the ideas of Christianity, I find all sorts of guys compelling. Most of that has to do with the study of the Bible. Marcus Borg is a fascinating guy. Peter Enns wrote an interesting book called Inspiration and Incarnation. I like Bart Ehrman a lot. I think his story is compelling. He comes across as pretty cynical. I don’t share all of [his conclusions.] His scholarship seems good in the subject matter of the books and how earnestly he deals with the problem of suffering and things like this are unique and compelling. I think he is paving the way for other people to bring scholarly, biblical criticism to the masses in a way that hasn’t been. I think that’s a good thing. When inerrancy finally stops being insisted upon by the majority of evangelicals, the movement will be much better off.

Watson:

Do you miss God? (Or your previous perception of him) Do you miss your naiveté? Would you go back and live in that if you could? Do you ever get tired of wrestling?

Bazan:

I do miss my previous conception of God. But I don’t miss the naivety. People have complained about me in the past. [They say,] “How arrogant, he is the ultimate arbiter of what he finds, true or not true.” In reality, we just are. Sometimes some people are able to exist in the same community for their entire lives, but most people go around from community to community, for whatever reason, and where you land community-wise is your choice. What resonates to you about what they believe is true, is your choice; Ultimately we are the ones that have to be responsible for what we believe and for ourselves. And if we lived in the early 1700’s in the South of the United States and our community believed that slavery was right on and we knew deep down that it wasn’t, it’s up to us to stand up and say, “You know, that just doesn’t sound right to me.” Because I am the one that’s responsible for where I end up philosophically, it’s really nice to be able to evaluate ideas honestly and call a spade, a spade. Now that I’m out of the movement, without the threat of being kicked out of the movement, it seems like a basic pleasure, or right, to be able to think freely about ideas. That is worth even major discomfort. To be allowed to be wrong and come back to that later and say, “You know, I was wrong about that and not have all this heavy stuff hanging over your head about it is better than the discomfort that comes along with the grief of losing one’s faith.” Which I did…it was something that needed to be grieved, maybe even more profoundly than the death of someone that I knew. It was a bummer. It was a really big bummer. But who’s to say what is lost and how long it’s lost for. I have impulses to express gratitude toward the unknown, to what is. I’ve read that people say, “Well that is so encouraging; it’s just evidence that God is still at work in the hard heart. Blah Blah Blah. It is what it is. Maybe there is something, maybe there is nothing. But what I’ve fought for and what I’m happy to have, is the right to go with my gut. I’m going to do that as humbly and as earnestly as I know how. That’s the way I’ve gone about it up till now too.

Watson:

Could you see yourself coming back to the biblical account of God while rejecting the “personal Christianity” (modern-day American evangelicalism) that you seem to be so angry with?

Bazan:

I’ve always had concern and conflicts with evangelical Christianity. Since I was fourteen, I’ve had major issues with the American Evangelical expression, but from fourteen to twenty-four [years old], that was never a deal breaker, and in the end it wasn’t the American Evangelical expression that was the deal breaker. It was what I perceived to be logical gaps in the biblical narrative in the [foundation.] Starting with the fall, the character of God throughout the Old Testament. Jesus is interesting. But without the fall and without the required reconciliation, the atonement is not the answer to any question. There is still a lot of study that I have to do but as I go over it and over it and over it again… I couldn’t make sense of it.

And so that was the thing more than anything. It was specifically the biblical account of God that was the deal breaker. What’s nice now is that I still have a lot of gripes with collective action of American Evangelicals. I don’t [need] to have any angst about any of the ones that I know and love. People say and do shitty things, no matter what “stripe they are”. I can think of plenty of evangelicals, I can think of plenty Democratic politicians. It’s everybody.

Watson:

(The following are lyrics from Bazan’s song, Curse Your Branches) “Red and orange, or red and yellow in which of these do you believe if you’re not sure right now, please take a moment, cause I need your signature before you leave?”

Bazan:

It’s a pretty flaccid attempt to make a metaphor of having to make a choice between relatively similar systems of belief when so much is at stake. I was not given the opportunity to evaluate the system that [I was] about to sign onto. There are a lot of emotional pleas, “Do you feel empty inside?” “Yeah, absolutely.” So you sign on the dotted line and along with it comes this pork barrel of other things. It’s a reference to (Snaps fingers) “Everything is at stake. You need to make a decision, if you die tonight…”

Watson:

That was my guess actually.

Bazan:

(Laughs) You win.

Watson:

“If no heavy breath blew up these lungs while dirt and wet spit hung a ghost in the air, well we’re still here?”

Bazan:

I grew up hearing the narrative of: Adam formed from the dust of the earth. If that part didn’t happen, then what do we do then? I’m still here. There must be some other explanation. I’m here right now. Being is the thing that this all hangs on. The rest of it is speculation.

Watson:

On a lighter note, what’s the best question you have ever been asked in a Q and A time?

Bazan:

Just a month ago, someone asked what I was more disappointed by: Star wars movies that followed [Return of the Jedi] or the Weezer records that followed Pinkerton. I thought that was great.

Watson:

What was your answer?

Bazan:

I said the Star Wars movies that followed “Jedi” because… they’re terrible. But Pinkerton doesn’t depend on the story telling later on in their catalogue. It’s just a great record. But the whole of Star Wars [original trilogy] depends on Darth Vader’s turn to the dark side. Those three movies are predicated on a believable turn to this dark side. With all that money, that’s literally all they had to do. The turmoil that Luke is so clearly enduring in “Jedi” is crippling. You see the tension. It’s masterfully done. If they even came close to that feeling in Hayden Christensen’s character, that would be fine. But his turn to the dark side was inexplicable. It’s just a failure; it’s such an enormous failure. My daughter has seen [the original trilogy] a few times. They are so great. Each time, with a little bit of skepticism, I’m trying to watch them with new eyes. Thinking, “Is it just nostalgia? Is it just cause I was a little kid?” And they are corny in their ways, but they are much different movies than those other ones. I like them far, far better. What is wrong with George Lucas?

Watson:

What are you listening to now?

Bazan:

The Gillian Welch record Time (The Revelator) I’ve loved that record for years. It’s so good. The new Land of Talk record is great. That’ll do.

Watson:

That’ll Do.

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5 Responses to Interview with David Bazan

  1. To Each Her Own says:

    Excellent interview. I love the concept behind his new album, definitely balances Bazan’s respected hypotheses with relatable current themes.

  2. Jeff says:

    This is a fantastic interview. While a lot of these questions have been asked of Bazan in interviews over the past couple of years, it seems (at least in my opinion) that you were able to get answers that were more revealing and insightful than the others I have read. So, tipping my cap to you. Well done.

    • jwatson9754 says:

      Thanks Jeff,

      I tried my best to research every interview of Bazan’s in the past few years and ask questions that used previous questions as sort of a springboard. My questions were variations and expansions on the questions he has been asked before seeing as what most people are interested in is his thoughts and reasoning for renouncing the Christian world-view. I appreciate the feedback!

  3. Avery says:

    Very good interview. Thanks.

  4. Pingback: Family Dissonance « The Revealer

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