Destroyer is the long-running project for 38-year-old Daniel Bejar, a Vancouver-based songwriter renowned for his poetic, intricate, ironic, and reference-riddled lyricism. Across nine Destroyer albums, Bejar has constantly shifted his musical backing: sounding, at different times, like Dylan-esque acoustic singer-songwriter (1998's City of Daughters), Bowie-styled glam-rock evangelist (2001's Streethawk: A Seduction), cryptic art-rock sage (2002's This Night), and, on his latest LP, 2011's Kaputt, like a loungey, yacht-rock lothario. Amongst them all, his seventh Destroyer record, Destroyer's Rubies, stands tall; one of the very best albums of the 2000s.
As well as with Destroyer, Bejar also plays in a number of other projects: as a singer and songwriter (but rarely as actual touring member) of power-pop outfit the New Pornographers; alongside his love-interest Sydney Vermont in the folkie duo Hello, Blue Roses; and in league with fellow British Columbian feverish-lyricists Spencer Krug (Sunset Rubdown, Wolf Parade) and Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes, Blackout Beach) in the 'supergroup' Swan Lake. Following the release of Kaputt, Bejar —who, in keeping with his lyrical prowess, prefers the written word for interviews— answered an email questionnaire.
Interview: 9 February 2011
Did you ever encounter the 'Destroyer drinking game'? If so, what did you think? Was it disheartening to be reduced to a set of recurring tendencies? Or was there something charming about such?
"I heard about it back when Destroyer's Rubies came out. I didn't think about it too much. I do like systems for making art, and am into the idea that I employ one; even if it has nothing to do with that game. Aside from wine when I'm alone, and a cup of whiskey for courage on stage..."
Interviewing celebrity Canadian violinist Owen Pallett last year, he posited that you became aware of people picking up on certain lyrical tics, and that you thus attempted to avoid them on Trouble in Dreams and the Bay of Pigs EP. Is there truth to that, at all?
"Trouble in Dreams was an attempt to write pure poetry. I wanted to dispel all references to society, or social concerns, which is how I'd generally been pegged. As if I'd ever wanted to write about the nature of art-making or something! Or write gossip about bohemians! Trouble in Dreams writing is sensual. In that when it refers to politics, it refers to physical violence. When it refers to memory, it refers to palms swaying in the wind. In this respect, Kaputt is a huge step backwards. But I realized too late that there was no market for this kind of writing in rock music, and instead of barreling forward heroically, I decided to abandon a 13-year-old project, and went towards, completely unconsciously, a survival-tactic version of writing. All this occurred without thinking. But I knew it was leading towards making a pop record. And the first pop song off that pop record that I wanted people to hear was a 14 minute song I wrote called 'Bay of Pigs.' The idea involved singing quietly over a groove that was steady. As well as singing even more quietly over music that was amorphous, chordless, and with movements that were undefined. About what Owen said, people were identifying patterns in the data, definitely, if only cause after Rubies it was the first time that Destroyer music was discussed in earnest by anyone excepting a small group of social reprobates. Those patterns were useless and endearing, they could've been applied to a Rod Stewart song. And I would've been honored to be in such company."
Is there a sense of dialogue between you and your audience? Or, perhaps moreso, an awareness of how you're perceived by the world, and thus the reactions against that perception?
"I have no idea how people perceive me. I get the sense that some people see me as a ponce. As a curmudgeon. People think I can't sing. People think I'm annoying. People think I brood, or am somehow tortured in a typically artistic way. I think I'm more handsome than the common perception. And I am definitely funnier..."
Do you ever have a sense that you're writing for someone specific? Not an amorphous audience, but an individual? Yourself? Is the line "I write poetry for myself" (from "Blue Eyes" on Kaputt) telling?
"I don't really know, that line seems like the cry of a desperate man. Whether it is a battle cry or not is uncertain. Is poetry dead? Or do we have to look for it in novels, or films, or, um, indie rock music? I like dead art forms clung to brutally."
David Berman once said to me: "It's interesting that so few bands concentrate on writing good words. Pop music is so fixed; there's a limited amount of combinations of these notes and chords. But words are infinite, and they change everything." Do you have similar sentiments re: rock'n'roll lyricism?
"I mean, I'm obviously on his side. But his side is doomed. Which is maybe why he quit. Music always trumps words, no one talks about anything you say, really, in any real way. Compared to the atmosphere that your overall production conjures up? Forget about it. Berman was such an inspiration to me. Was an inspiration? He still is. Maybe not so much an influence cause I've always been a little Euro in my focus, and his has a kind of heroic American stance (the kind I love, the old America, the disappearing kind). What's that Eno quote about why computers won't ever completely take over? 'there's six different things that happen the minute you touch a guitar string' or something like that? Maybe Berman didn't pick up on that, but f**k it, who cares, his songs are really good, and his writing is even better. It's easy to look out into careerist/capitalist indie-rock-land and think that this is not the place where poetry will thrive. That being said, there's still people totally going for it... Like at least 3 or 4 people..."
Next: "I think Rubies is way more of a strict homage to Dylan's Knopfler era, or certain later Van Morrison records, than any kind of blatant tribute Kaputt comes up with..."