Dan Bejar of Destroyer – The Collapse Board Interview
With some bands you can see a progression in their albums, and you can tell where they’re going to go on the next album. With Destroyer, though, it almost seems like since Streethawk: A Seduction every album has been almost a rejection of the previous album. Is that a fair enough assessment or do things just happen that way and it’s not a conscious decision?
I don’t think it’s an active rejection. I kind of have a jittery muse. I’m not really a musician, I mean I can string together chords on guitar or piano, so I’m not really tied down to expressing myself in a distinct way on an instrument. I’m more of a vocalist and for that reason the music can dart around a lot. I have some very disparate tastes. I probably have very myopic tastes at the end of the day but within the tiny confines of rock and pop music I think it can jump around a lot. I think I’ve started looking at the music on a song to song basis of what I think the song actually needs, of what would be beneficial for the song. Before there was a certain idea of, ‘Let’s see what the song is really made of’. If it’s worth its weight then it’s going to have to stand up to a certain amount of abuse so sometimes things could get a bit discombobulated or would get built up in very strange directions. That would happen from record to record. Sometimes I would just want to relax and play in a group and have the record sound as close as possible to what it might sound like for us to be all together in a room playing music. Streethawk would be an example of that.
Not so much on Kaputt, but a lot of your previous albums have featured barbed critiques of the music industry. I remember you got some press previous to the album coming out when you put together some ideas of what Kaputt was born of.
Yeah, the record label wanted me to put together a list of what I thought the record was about.
(That list in full – Kaputt by Malaparte, which Bejar has never read… Kara Walker, specifically the lyrics she contributed to the song ‘Suicide Demo for Kara Walker’… Chinatown, the neighborhood bordering on Bejar’s… Baby blue eyes… 80s Miles Davis… 90s Gil Evans… Last Tango in Paris… Nic Bragg, who played lead guitar on every song, again… Fretless bass… The hopelessness of the future of music… The pointlessness of writing songs for today… V-Drums… The superiority of poetry and plays… And what’s to become of film?… The Cocaine Addict… American Communism… Downtown, the neighborhood bordering on Bejar’s… The LinnDrum… Avalon and, more specifically, Boys And Girls… The devastated mind of JC/DC, who recorded, produced and mixed this record from fall of 2008 to spring of 2010… The back-up vocals of certain Roy Ayers and Long John Baldry tours… Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence… )
You seem to be cursed in that when you mention something it becomes the theme of the next 15 interviews. I remember you described Your Blues as “European blues”.
Yeah, I still have to answer questions about ‘European blues’.
Do you feel dismay at music culture in general? Is the way music is consumed bothersome to you or is there just too much being made of things you say before your albums come out?
When I think about Kaputt, if I’m thinking of the record itself, I seem more at peace with the world than ever. If those things ever come up they come up in a very different way they come up in Streethawk or Thief where, aside from whatever view I might have had on the underground culture business, a lot of my lyrics were composed as a series of jabs. That was probably my style back then. I don’t think that’s happening on Kaputt. Before that, probably starting with Rubies and leading up to Trouble in Dreams, I felt like I was on a path of leaving behind any kind of social writing whatsoever and trying to focus more on an imagist style. I guess Destroyer records have some kind of rep as being cultural critiques but that’s not really how I see myself as a writer. I suppose as someone who accidently describes their social milieu then every drama needs a backdrop or a background and I just used the world of music or the world of art as a background on a couple of songs but I don’t think it’s the pivotal aspect of what is happening. On Kaputt, when I rattle off a bunch of dead UK music magazines it’s not meant as a barb. It’s more someone just rattling off a bunch of distant memories. That someone may be on their sickbed, on morphine, and they’re just laying awake and being visited by these fleeting, possibly pointless, aspects of their past and that past may include a copy of Melody Maker. I will say that the way music is consumed and disseminated now, probably mostly because of my age, I do find it a little confusing. Confusing would probably be the best word. I’m not so much critical of it as just alien to it.
As somebody who’s only three or four years younger than you I definitely share that confusion. You face a choice of becoming the kind of person who re-listens to the same albums until they die or alternatively trying to embrace something that may not actually be made for you in any way.
It’s true, but when I’m actually writing I don’t think about any of this stuff because when I’m in that mode I’m more of a beast. Everything is kind of instinctual. Then when I go into the studio, which is the real work part for me, I don’t really think about it either. I only really think about it when the record comes out and we go on the road. You look out into the audience and you see a bunch of people half your age and once in a while I’ll think ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ Most of the time I’m not engaged with those thoughts.
On Kaputt, I don’t feel like you’re actually trying to ‘say’ something. Some people think the point of music is for the artist to express an emotion, while others think the point is to create an emotion in the listener. I feel like you’re trying to create an emotion in the listener, perhaps trying to spark up images in their mind, as opposed to actually saying something.
I think I know what you mean. How Destroyer worked in the past, even though it could be a lot more abstract sounding, I think it’s way more pointed than Kaputt. On Kaputt I really wanted the vocals and the words to contribute to the ambience. Usually my lyrics and vocals provide a counterpoint to the music, or there’s even a bit of a battle going on, but this time I wanted things to be seamless. I don’t think it was really a conscious move but I knew when I had the songs in front of me that this is how I wanted to proceed. In general I was way more concerned with the sonics of the record than with my role as an orator or something. Sometimes in the past I kind of played around with that as if I were doing vocal takes from a podium.