Dan Bejar of Destroyer – The Collapse Board Interview
by Wallace Wylie
Destroyer have existed in one form or another since around 1995. The one constant in the band is Dan Bejar. Although he makes cameo appearances in both The New Pornographers and Swan Lake, his main musical project is Destroyer. I catch him via telephone to talk about the band’s ninth album Kaputt [already being flagged up as one of Collapse Board's albums of the year - Ed].
In terms of the promotional aspects of Kaputt, and I realise we’re doing an interview right now, is that winding down or is there still lots to do?
In North America the record came out at the end of January so that is definitely winding down. We are going to leave for a tour in a few days. We’re going on tour in Europe for two and a half weeks so there’s probably promotional stuff around then that’s going to happen but the record is starting to feel a little far away. It’s not that it came out that long ago but from the time I first started working on it it’s been quite a bit of time.
I read somewhere that it took a year and a half to take shape.
Yeah, maybe more. I think we started working on it in the fall of 2008 and handed it in in June of 2010. It wasn’t just us trying to blaze a trail in the studio seven days a week for a year and a half. It was an erratic schedule but I think I knew that an erratic schedule was going to be necessary for this record.
The reaction of the music press seemed to be overwhelming positive. Is that something that pleases you or are you the kind of person who essentially ignores that kind of thing and just gets on with it?
I don’t know if it pleases me because it’s always hard to tell what exactly is going on when there’s a positive reaction. Because the record is getting a positive reaction from people who never knew the band before or in other cases did know the band and actively disliked them then you never really know exactly what it means. I guess being nine albums in you see how things can come and go pretty quickly. The record also does seem to be attached to some idea of a youth culture zeitgeist, sonically anyway. People seem to want to lump it in with some younger groups which to me is somewhat amusing.
I think there’s a tendency among the music press, because of the sound of the album, to assume that you’re coming at it from an arch point of view as if you’re indulging in something which is seen as uncool and that has a lot of currency these days.
It would seem that, when you boil it down, there are certain sounds from the 80s, the commercial, crossover New Wave sounds, that were treated like venom for a few years or so but in the last few years people born around that time seem to have embraced, though I’m not really sure at what level. I guess that happens with every generation, you go hunting in the weirdest places you can find. I don’t think that’s what Kaputt is born of myself but only because I’m privy to inside information of how the record came about.
Even though this word might seem frightening to some people I think the record is sincere. I don’t mean that in the worst kind of way, I just mean I don’t see anything ironic about it. It more just seems like this is what you were listening to and you wanted to go for that sound.
At its simplest level it’s kind of a collection of sad disco music, a genre I’ve always liked. On top of that there are some New Wave and jazz flourishes. There’s a lot of soloing horns and there’s a lot of programmed drums. If all that adds up to something that’s kitschy in someone’s mind that’s fine but those are things that I like, things I’ve always liked. The deal with Destroyer is if I hear something I just want a piece of it. However ill-advised that may be I just go for it. About seven years ago we put out a record called Your Blues which was actually made in a similar way to Kaputt except it wasn’t intended to be pop music. It was intended to be experimental so it ended up being a little more baroque and melodious than pop music. It was at a time when I was really into the idea of coalescing the four decades of Scott Walker’s vision. Of course most people probably couldn’t think of someone more distant from Scott Walker than me and my voice, and probably even my writing style. From that weird project something else was born and I ended making something that probably didn’t sound anything like what I originally set out to make but it’s kind of cool nonetheless. Kaputt in its own way is not that different excepting that for the first time in my life I wanted to make a pop record so it makes sense that it’s a bit more accessible. The singing was less aggressive, a bit more space to it, kind of more even keeled. So in that sense the vocals are less alienating than they have been on other records.