Songwriter David Bazan is a lot of things to a lot of people. At the bare root of it, he's simply a man trying to make a living playing songs for people. Even he can't believe he's done it for as long as he has. He feels fortunate and humble to be able to continue a career that's lasted almost two decades now. As he sits across from me discussing his upcoming album, his following and continual improvement as an artist (and I don't use that term loosely describing this man), his carefully worded statements are bold and impacting not only in music, but life in general. Where Curse Your Branches was one of the most uneasy, truthfully therapeutic sessions on tape in years, Strange Negotiations finds Bazan worried less about himself, but for his family, friends and fans.
Rewind to the night prior to our lunch, and Bazan is standing, ready to play a solo show in a house in Austin, Texas - arriving only minutes before the show, but staying afterward to meet and talk with fans. He stands with confidence, and plays through unheard tunes from his forthcoming album, as well as classics from his days in Pedro the Lion and various solo efforts. At one point, during a Branches track, I almost shed a tear in the essence that filled the room. It was intimate, and aside from all the bullshit and necessary business end that plagues the industry, it's one of those moments where I can look back and say I was part of something that felt real.
For those of you who have never seen Bazan perform live, it's an interactive experience. He stops periodically throughout the set to ask if "Everyone is doing okay?" or "Are there any questions?" No matter the question, he answers them all. He squashes any notions that he wrote a hateful song against Ben Gibbard, saying they are friends and "that guy gets up every day to write." When one fan asks if there is "hope in his new record," Bazan calmly explains that there is hope in all of his music. While the gentle giant may come off as graven in his musical execution, he even ended the night with a cover from one of his close friends, Victor Chesnutt, but not before adding a funny memory of tour about the late singer-songwriter - one that cracked a smile across Bazan's face.
As the show ended and Bazan signed a batch of free tour posters printed out for everyone who attended the shows, he packed his things and took his van to a Wal-Mart parking lot for the night. Showing me the next day, Bazan hauled through the U.S. house show tour in an 18 passenger van that has been gutted to fit a bed with all the windows covered up. Opening the back two doors, Bazan has crafted a mini-kitchen/cupboard where he keeps food, pots and pans, a small electric stove and contents to make his trip a true camping experience. With gas prices the way they are, and Bazan out there on the road by himself, it's the most economic way of doing things. He's never had a problem doing it. When asked why doesn't he stay at the houses he plays at, Bazan responds with a humble answer. He not only wants to keep the houses to a special venue setting, he also doesn't want to impose his presence past the intimate shows themselves.
After lunch and our interview, we headed to Austin's KUT radio studio for an in-studio performance. So I take a seat at the table towards the front of the studio's entrance while Bazan gets set up for his sound check. He's timid, and you can tell he's calculating a good performance in his head. Since the soundcheck was an hour before air time, Bazan decided to take the time and run through a lot of his performance, and even began playing around with some new songs off Strange Negotiations that he hasn't played live yet, not even on the house tour. At one point, he's asking me if a certain song sounds okay, and I recognize it off the new album I received days prior. I hadn't recognized that he changed the key completely though. And in utter amazement, he walks to the back of the studio to prep a drum kit with a hi-hat, and in minutes, plays the song through as a one man band.
After he finished his in-studio set/interview, we each said our goodbyes and I thanked him for the interview and letting me spend the afternoon with him. As I'm writing this article, it's still surreal. In a few hours spent with the songwriter, there is no question why David Bazan, through the ups and downs of his career and personal struggle, continues to connect with people on a musical and personal level. There is no bullshit given, and therefore there is none returned in the art form that Bazan has to offer to the world. He's a songwriter that will never settle on "his best," and continues to be a poetic humanitarian that sits in the deepest nerves of our spines.