Photo by Ted Blois
Destroyer's Dan Bejar
Between his exploits with the Canadian band New Pornographers and his solo project, Destroyer, Dan Bejar has been an undeniably influential presence in the indie rock world since this millennium began.
With songs marked by an unimitatable vocal cadence and lyrics that revel in the tawdry, Bejar is often saddled with the “louche” descriptor similarly conferred upon his heroes David Bowie and Bryan Ferry. In conversation, though, he’s far more approachable and ruminative than his rich, knowing, meta songs suggest. Ahead of his Tuesday night show in Carrboro
, we caught up with Bejar about the machinery behind his latest LP, ken
INDY Week: Listening to ken, I was hearing a certain pocket of that early eighties era: Prefab Sprout, Thomas Dolby, Gary Numan…
: I would say I was thinking even more basic than that. New Order, the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, stuff like that. Also Creation bands that I used to be into but took a twenty-five-year break from listening, but kind of had cool, mystic druggy lyrics, like The House of Love. The Church is another example.
Some of the guitar tonalities reminded me of My Bloody Valentine, before the Loveless era—EPs like You Made Me Realise.
They’re one of my favorite groups of all time, and that’s probably my favorite era of the band. I listened to Loveless a thousand times when it came out, and I still put it on all the time, but the late eighties seems pretty fundamental to me becoming a shoegaze kind of obsessive geek.
There’s more guitar on ken, less sax.
I started playing guitar again for the first time in ten years; I just wanted to actually be present on a record, because aside from singing on Kaputt
and Poison Season
I was really more of a ringmaster. When I went back and started listening to UK indie bands, it was a guitar style that kind of spoke to me, kind of simple but jagged.
“Cover From the Sun” really has that in spades.
Yeah, that one turned out good, you know? That’s a song that’s been kicking around for a little while and I could never figure how it would make sense as a Destroyer song, but I feel like when we just laminated it with twelve-string guitar and just made it really loud and propulsive and even kind of monotonous in its way … then I started to get really into the song.
There’s not as much sax and trumpet as on the last two records—[producer] Josh Wells had a lot to do with the sound of it and the methodology of how it came together: coming up with a basic sequencing track, a basic drum machine pattern, building it from there. But it was much more careful in a lot of ways. People would come in and play in specific places, while Kaputt
was just the sound of people soloing madly over an entire album’s worth of songs and us going cherry-picking for cool parts. Poison Season
was more us as a live band into a room and learning a bunch of songs and just playing them the way we play them onstage, which is quite different from how ken happened.
Do you think it was a non-band record because of the personal nature of how it came to be?
From the get-go my plan was to try and play as much as possible, and then I just chickened out. It was going to be a solo record, and I think I started to doubt my engineering skills. And I definitely doubt my ability to come up with what I would say is an interesting rhythm section. One of the cooler things that about ken
I find is that herky-jerk, kind of robotic rhythms—but they’re not typical. I think J’s approach to rhythm whether it’s programming a sequencer or programming a drum machine or playing drums along to a drum machine—he has an interesting mind that way. My mind when it comes to that stuff is way more typical and run of the mill.
How much does chance matter in your process?
None. The only chance is I kind of write in flashes, in like chronological order, so because the songs happen fast what you hear when you hear one is definitely the product of one sitting. I don’t taper. I’m not like Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave style person to refine something until it’s perfect. There’s not much perfection.
When you play these new songs live, do the vocals evolve?
Oh, they definitely do. I think I evolve as a singer, but the way that people labor over words, I don’t do that. It’s not just that I don’t care and it’s not cause it’s mumbo jumbo, it’s just that for them to exist in the first place, they have to have some kind of emotional resonance. They have to have some kind of internal logic within the words around them or else I won’t be able to get the words out of my mouth. A lot of unconscious work happens that maybe I’m not tuned in to. I repeat myself a lot and have a lot of the same patterns in my writing style, I seem to have pretty consistent hang-ups when it comes to topics and how they’re attacked.
“Rome” suggests an encroaching dread, and "Sometimes in the World” mentions Caligula. It feels attuned to the current moment.
[Laughs] It does feel like a darker record. In some ways it’s strange because it’s a really poppy record sonically, even though the tones are darker and icier. Destroyer for the most part is generally a pretty greasy product, and I wouldn’t describe ken
as a greasy record at all.
Is playing your own songs with your band more inherently satisfying than working in a “supergroup?”
I like singing with the Pornographers; it’s an aesthetic that I really like but it doesn’t really reflect me in the same way. Destroyer is musically collaborative but in the end it reflects my take on the world, what I think things sound like or at least try to get close to it. With the Pornographers a lot of it is just me coming up with a song. I’ll come into the studio and sing it, but it’s much more their baby than mine.