FOREWORD: Since Pedro The Lion mainstay, David Bazan, was unavailable for comment in ‘04, I picked on new band mate, TW Walsh, for some info. Although Bazan’s band has always been a revolving door, Walsh, an experienced studio hand and goodly lo-fi recorder, was given the chance to affect Pedro The Lion’s minimalist folk sound. But I’m still waiting for their next move as of ’09. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
It’s been said Seattle-based Pedro The Lion adeptly funnel the idyllic springtime tranquility of Thomas Kinkade’s illuminating paintings and the detailed variations of novelists J.D. Salinger and Flannery O’Connor through their wounded songs. Brainchild of venerable singer-songwriter, David Bazan, a born again Christian with a litany of languid dirges and frustrated undulations, Pedro The Lion has grown to include its first truly permanent member, multi-instrumentalist/ recording engineer TW Walsh.
A former Bostonian, Walsh lingered in obscurity, but through mailed tape exchanges he befriended Bazan and began touring as his bassist-guitarist in 2000. The two hit it off well since Walsh’s Irish Catholic background complemented Bazan’s corresponding spirituality.
As a child, Walsh recollects hearing Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, and the Rolling Stones through his father, who’d go on to learn guitar as a fully matured adult. Perhaps this spurned his rock-based muse.
“My first band made our own recordings,” Walsh says. “I ended up being more interested in it than the others. I had a better job than my band mates so I accumulated microphones and stuff like that. I was a computer programmer, got laid off, but had money saved up. A friend of mine had a studio so I began trying to do recording as a living, but I didn’t make it financially. Not a lot of the bands I worked with are on record labels. There’s only a small budget.”
However, Walsh managed to record highly regarded Willard Grant Conspiracy’s country-tinged Regard The End, though he’s not convinced it turned out quite right. Recently, he worked with Emergency Music, whom he calls “a pretty good retro-pop band influenced by Belle & Sebastian, Velvet Underground, and the Beatles.”
Walsh admits, “I got interested in Pedro The Lion by reading a review of It’s Hard To Find A Friend in underground zine, Tape Op. Then, I bought the Seizure EP. For awhile, they had no specific lineup. It was difficult to keep up because there was no money. Dave kept doing it as a solo act. It just so happened our friendship developed over the years until we began composing together a bit.”
Backtracking, ‘98s intimately charming lo-fi debut, It’s Hard To Find A Friend, set the depression-bound tone Pedro The Lion’s future excursions would thrive upon.
On 2000’s spare Winners Never Quit, Bazan’s beautifully rueful pop constructions rendered appealingly melancholic restraint, but each plainly majestic arrangement holds weight under scrutiny. Bazan’s moody endeavors refuse the urgency to meander aimlessly despite elongated song lengths, securing similar crestfallen minimalism as quiet-core brethren Red House Painters, American Music Club, and Smog. For a changeup, the shimmering “A Mind Of Her Own” bursts wide open with a petulant spangled guitar angularity nearly matched in immediacy and pizzazz by “Never Leave A Job Half Done.” Ticking 6-string dangles above melodic bass murmurs on “Simple Economics,” which confronts electioneering sabotage. And the briskly strummed “Bad Things Happen To Such Good People” proffers folk-Blues repent.
The epic heartbreaking grandeur of ‘02s gloomier Control deals directly with mental anguish, divorce, adultery, and the afterlife. Perilous marital friction consumes the concerned “Option.” Roiled redemption “Rapture” finds the Lord’s presence during an intimate affair, counterweighing pious conscientiousness with lustful compulsion. Siren “Penetration” digs peevishly into cracked fault lines: ‘It’s priceless when you say you have to work late when we both know you’re at a motel.’
Compared to the thematically traumatizing Control, ‘04s more subdued Achilles Heel offers a finer varied sonic palate, leveraging its predecessors loud distorted bombast and conceptual prose for compelling somnolence. Moving farther away from its acoustic base, the expressive allegorical metaphors remit pathos and disillusionment through broader luxuriant contour.
Walsh contends. “They both have good songs, but Achilles Heel isn’t unified by a particular sound. It reflects David’s taste in music more accurately. Control’s only a snapshot.”
Achilles murder ballad, “”Discretion,” despite its morbid sadness, receives a profoundly unlikely upbeat treatment. The equally grievous “The Fleecing,” a “defense of faith against hipster detractors,” finds Bazan’s flinty monotone mope soaring opposite rubbery bass and elastic guitar.
“David’s faithful Christian fans have attacked him because he curses on (the piss-y complaint) “Foregone Conclusions.” He’s under scrutiny for songs he writes. These people try to control and criticize actions of others. They don’t understand the dynamic and try to back him into a corner,” Walsh ascertains.
Sometimes it seems Bazan’s pointed lyrics endorse an empathetic liberal perspective.
“He leans to the left of me. He believes in political and social justice. I’m a little more scatterbrained, not as informed,” Walsh chuckles, then discusses the national election for a sec. “I lived in Massachusetts and doubt Bush will win there. I voted for Nader in 2000, but now I’m in the swing state, Washington.”
Bazan proves capable of dealing with subject matter previously untouched. The sarcastic “Bands With Managers,” with its wiry guitar, sinewy groove, and funereal beat, mocks a particular band his friend once booked. Building upon its highly emotional gravity, Bazan hits some amazing falsetto squeals singing ‘bout a local group courted by major labels.
Though Walsh won’t be specific about which band the tune condemns, he cautions, “They broke ties with the people they worked with, became total opportunists, and tried to be the exception to the rule in terms of not getting lost in the shuffle.”
Retaining steadfast resolve in lieu of commercial concessions, Pedro The Lion continue to gain support amongst indie folk connoisseurs and perhaps, undeclared sanctified mortals.
“It’s easier for us to make it work on an interpersonal level now. We squeak by making a living. And there’s luckily a lower cost of living in the Seattle area. Plus, there are some local friends I’ve obtained who want me to help out doing mixing and mastering. I did the Crystal Skulls, but that’s not really a money gig. I just help when I can.” But, he adds, “If the bands aren’t friends, I have to justify it to my wife by charging them.”
While Pedro The Lion will be put on temporary hold for an offshoot project Bazan and Walsh have set up, the latter will also be busy pursuing solo interests.
“Right now, we’re working on a record for (boutique label) Suicide Squeeze under another name not yet decided on. I actually have three records out under my own name. My voice comes from a different place than David’s, but the songs come from the same influences. It’s pop music with dark lyrics and a classic rock sound. Next year I’m gonna tour as Pedro The Lion, on my own, and for the unnamed band.”