David Bazan is one of those artists whose career has been so winding and prolific; the story is almost as interesting as the music. Bazan began his career in the band Pedro the Lion in the mid-90s, and then went on to form Headphones with a motley crew of other Seattle-based musicians in 2005. This marked a change in Bazan’s sound, from strictly guitar-based rock, to more of a synth-inclusive one. After the short-lived Headphones came Bazan’s first solo performances in 2006. His solo career got off to a slow start, but he eventually released his first solo album, Curse Your Branches, in 2009. Bazan’s gone on to release three solo albums and one collaboration with Passenger String Quartet.
2016 was a big year for David Bazan. He released two albums; Blanco came out in May, and Dark Sacred Night, a holiday album, came out in November. Also in November, Bazan released a video not on the album, an ethereal, orchestral electronic song called “The Trouble With Boys,” a reaction to the rampant misogyny spewed during the election. A tour to support the mystical and inspiring Dark Sacred Night just ended in late December, so Bazan will have time to spend with his family. A quick look at Bazan’s online presence will tell you family is a priority for him. Lucky for us, Bazan took a break from his undoubtedly jam-packed schedule to chat with CULTURE. Bazan filled us in on his newest tunes, his inspirations and his relationship with cannabis.
“. . . [Cannabis has] made me enjoy myself more when I am high, and it’s also easier to play and write music, because the extremely judgmental portion of my brain just gets kind of disengaged.”
How did you get started playing music?
David Bazan: My dad and mom are musicians. But, they expressed their music in church only. My mom sang in church always, and my dad played cello and piano. His job was the music pastor, and so I grew up in church and the music was all around. But it was specifically like church music. So I started playing piano when I was five, and stopped in seventh grade. I started playing drums then, and that’s what really kind of shook me to where I am now, which is what I do for my job, which I’ve done my whole adult life. By ninth grade I know I wanted to be a musician for a living. I hadn’t started to play guitar yet, and I just figured I’d do what my drum teacher did, which was teach drums and play in wedding bands and jazz combos, and get the occasional recording gig for this and that. And then I learned to play guitar and write songs, and I realized “No this’ll be way easier to be in control of what happens to me as a musician,” so I started doing that. And then that pretty quickly changed my focus of what I want to do as a job, from being a drummer to being a, I guess you’d call a singer-songwriter though I’ve never really liked that tag.
Where do you hail you from?
Currently I live in Edmonds. I’ve lived in the Seattle area for 25 years. I grew up in Phoenix. I also lived in Northern California briefly too.
What bands or artists have influenced you?
I guess I would probably say the bands who have been most influential have been either in terms of inspiration, and actual sound, is The Beatles, Fugazi, this band Bedhead, that later became the band The New Year and ugh . . . Tom Petty.
Has cannabis culture impacted your sound or creative process in any way?
I think that it has, but it feels indirect. It feels like it’s made me enjoy myself more when I am high, and it’s also easier to play and write music, because the extremely judgmental portion of my brain just gets kind of disengaged. That was a huge benefit for me apparently, just with how hard I can be on myself. It’s one of the many ways that it’s helped. And it is sort of more fundamental than helping creativity. It sort of just helps me function better, and therefore helps with all these things. I do tend to be high when I’m playing music these days. And it’s truly the best.
What do you like to listen to when you’re imbibing in cannabis?
It really depends! When I’m high, and really in general, I have a hard time separating the art from the artist. Like if the artist was a dickhead or something, and the music is great, I can’t all the way get down with it all the way. And when I’m high that’s even more extreme. My perception of the intention of the music has to meet some unknown standard. I find myself sort of skipping around until something feels true and fundamental.
The other day I was listening to Ready to Die, the Notorious B.I.G. record, and that was really heavy. Genre doesn’t really matter; it’ll go from that, to classical, to noise. I really like emphatic expressions of music, like Fugazi for instance. Its heavy music in a lot of ways, but it’s sophisticated and has a lot of depth of intention. It really has to do with some criteria of my perception of the intention is in line with my intent at the time. It’s not even conscious. Often times I’m just flipping around and find something that really lands.