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Pedro The Lion talks about his 'Quietest Friend' and forgiving your younger self

You might know him from Headphones, Lo Tom (with TW Walsh and members of Starflyer 59), as Pedro The Lion or simply, as David Bazan.

"I've made music under many brand names. It was a dumb idea," Bazan joked during his recent NPR Tiny Desk performance.

But after more than a decade, he is back as Pedro with a new album, "Phoenix." From it, we've been playing "Yellow Bike" on 88Nine.

I had a chat with him about the new record and much like "Yellow Bike," he tells me that it's about the freedom of things like childhood bike rides and the age of innocence. Read our interview below.

Some websites would have you believe that you are from Seattle...

Well yeah, I am originally from Phoenix. I was born there and I lived there till I was 12.

After that, my family and I moved to a few different towns and eventually we landed in Seattle by 1991 and I've lived here more or less ever since.

So you’ve lived in Phoenix until you’re 12 and I feel like that makes sense for this album that is about Phoenix. To me listening to the album is the kind of thing where you had to leave. If you would of stayed there your whole life, you wouldn’t have this album.

Yeah I wouldn’t have the same longing. I wouldn’t have the same kind of interrupted feeling. Yeah that’s true, that’s really true.

This whole record takes place during an age of innocence or remembers back to that age specifically, that era of my life and then sort of reconciles it a bit with this moment now. It is a very innocent version of myself, who’s driving a lot of the feeling of this record.

Why did you want to reconcile that with now? Why that age?

Well, it just was a coincidence. I wanted to reconcile with that place and I guess I understood that to mean, as I got further into the process, was there were various experiences and states of being that were, that caused some pain or for me to sort of tell a negative story to myself about some experiences.

I needed to go back in, just kind of talk to that little dude and be the comfort and the perspective that I really needed back then, but I didn’t have access to. With all well-meaning,  generous and loving people in your life, there are still ways we all get disconnected and misunderstand. So, it’s kind of going back and reconnecting with myself.

Like in "Quietest Friend" ,the moment that for years when I would think about it, it would come up in my head, I felt so much shame. So to go back to that little dude and be like “Hey man, what you did, this was a mistake, but you don’t have to feel shame about it. You can learn from it” and understanding and admitting to myself what caused me to be in that position to begin with.  That has proven to be truly effective for me at my attempt to reconnect.

We get disconnected from ourselves and one of the ways that came to me to try and reconnect was to go back to different phases of my life and connect with that part, with myself during that time.

I was going to talk about "Quietest Friend" because when I started listening to the album, I got through to that song and then I couldn’t get through the rest of the album because I listened to it a whole bunch of times.

You were mean to one of your friends, to somebody you loved?

Yeah and he rightly didn’t trust me after that. That’s part of the thing too, learning to trust yourself and to be trustworthy—not selling yourself out to fit in. If you sell yourself out to fit in, you’re going to sell other people out to fit in. That was a hard realization to come to, but it was also really important because I don’t want to sell anybody out.

We all have those moments as kids. You know that you shouldn’t do this to your friend, but you did it anyway and then for that to keep you up at night, as an adult, is hard.

It’s a powerful little chemical that just floating in your head there. That little wisp of jelly, protein whatever that is, yeah it will haunt you.

You just sit and feel it for a while knowing that is a finite resource, that pain. By sitting and feeling it, you’re processing it and being with yourself, just sitting with yourself and mourning that thing and that is hard to do, but it’s pretty helpful to have that as one of the options of processing. You know, painful experiences or painful feelings. This record is that way.

That's great, you know, because we spend so much of our lives and our time trying not to do that...

Your quietest friend, have you reached out to him? Has he heard the song?

No, it was a friendship that once I moved away, most of the friends that I had down there, I didn’t really see again. Once we started moving and kept moving, it was not within the scope of things where I can look back and to try and stay connected.

So no, I haven’t had any contact with that friend and in fact I don’t really think our relationship went back together after that sadly. I am not really on Facebook in that sort of way where people have reconnected. Partly there’s just so many different groups of people to connect with and from all the different towns. I haven’t really been there in my life quite yet, where I am ready to do that.

Do you want him to listen to it?

Well, I do. That’s complex because I had to write the song for me and I was worried about exploiting an experience by putting it into a song. So there’s a degree of trueness it needed to feel, but my hope is that somehow that wasn’t a traumatic memory for him as it was for me. Although, I am afraid that it was. So I wouldn’t want to bring up anything for somebody that caused them pain. I feel like it would be selfish of me to want to expose him to this or to want him to have a response from him somehow.

But at the same time, if he were to come across it, I would hope he understood it was a mistake, it was a betrayal that I wish I could take back pretty powerfully ever since then. 

That story and that experience and that betrayal was sort of the fuel for a lot of me leaning into self improvement or trying to understand how to be a better person. It was just such a really brutal fumble. It’s complex because my song is my experience of this thing, I understand what I perceive to be happening with him, but we weren’t able to debrief about it after that so I am not sure.

There’s mourning and there’s also kindness toward myself. That’s required for us as people to sit with those hard feelings. We have to deliberately reach for kindness for ourselves.

I value this as a human being. It makes me want to reflect on myself, which overall is a very positive thing, you know?

That’s great, I am so glad it's that way. To reflect on those things is difficult because it requires kindness. It requires that you have an enormous amount of kindness for yourself and that’s hard to come by for a lot of us. Somehow the world beats that out of us, so whether or not that is a super obvious feature of the song, it’s a feature of my process and I think it is in the song. There’s mourning and there’s also kindness toward myself. That’s required for us as people to sit with those hard feelings. We have to deliberately reach for kindness for ourselves.

Tell me about the sound of the album. Speaking of, "Quietest Friend." It has great drums on the song, those symbols just come through, it’s just so seriously well done.

Andy Park is the name of the one who produced it with me and he engineered and mixed the record. We mixed it twice, because the first time we hadn’t gotten it quite right. 

Did you have the band going in?

Yeah, we had done about nine weeks of touring maybe eight weeks of touring together by then and the decision was made. This is the first one of the new Pedro records so there was some question as to what it would be. Did it need to be this exact format of guitar, base and drums? What was going to happen?

On some old Pedro records I played everything, so that was a possibility. But in the end we settled on the model of me writing and demoing all the songs—drum parts, guitar parts and base parts and flushing them out—then the band learning the stuff and going to the studio and working it out together. And that's what we did. It's the process that we will stick with because the first go around with it just felt right.

Alright, David thank you. You’ve been so generous with your time.

I remember getting your first solo album on CD when I was in high school. There was this one long country road I was walking my dog out on and just listening to it over and over. Every time I hear you I think of the specific day.

I love that about music. For me it connects when I hear a song, especially if I haven’t heard in a minute, it will take me right back to the place where I was when I first bloomed for me.

Music is just freaking magic. The way that it works with our brain and emotions and memories and chemistry is just literally a beautiful gift that humans have access to. And maybe dogs and cats too, I don’t know .

Think of all the people that are going to have those moments with your album. That’s crazy, you know? You’re giving those.

Thank you. Thank you for asking me to think about that because now I will. People will hear these songs and if they're tuned in or interested in what I am doing, they could get something from it.

Thank you for doing that for the world, for me, for my friends.

Heck yeah. Thank you so much.
Continued: Hear the part of our interview where David Bazan tells me about a song he  can't stop listening to.