Destroyer's Dan Bejar: "I think whatever it is I do will also be a little complicated."
Motor Mouth Media
Destroyer (due at the Bluebird Theater this Saturday, June 9) released its last album, Kaputt, in January 2011. More than a year and a half later, Dan Bejar, the act's distant, notoriously cryptic frontman has no idea where the change -- the romantic experiment and distinctly new direction -- came from, how it affected his soundscape or even where he'll go from here.
What Bejar does know is this: On the other side of this North American tour, he needs some space. Dizzy on music and slow on words, the 39-year-old singer-songwriter spoke with us recently about the various interpretations of Destroyer (from "high-art poetry rock" to "goblin rock") and whether he actually cares how his listeners interpret his music.
Westword: Kaputt was this explosively different venture for you. Is there any pressure to top it on your next album?
Dan Bejar: I don't really know. It's kind of been this strange, slow time for me. I don't think I'm actually that close to making another record. I've just been busy doing other things, you know? Destroyer was never much of a touring band before. We would always do a little bit when the record came out, but last year was really busy for us, and now we're going out again really soon for North America and a couple shows in Europe.
I need more silence and stillness in my head before I can forget what it is I've done as far as writing is concerned. I think whatever it is I do will also be a little complicated. It probably won't be rock music. It won't be a pop album. That always becomes strange territory when you're dealing with us. But maybe it's not that different from any year spent being dizzy with music. I don't really think of it as having to top myself. I don't look at it in those terms. The goal is to put out the best Destroyer record.
In other interviews, you've mentioned that Kaputt was less intentional, that the brainstorming process just sort of came to you gradually and then it was time to create. Have you had any more of those sudden realizations recently?
I must have been talking about the actual writing of the song, because the making of the record is the most laborious thing ever, the most detailed work involved. At the journal stage, though, it's true they all came to me pretty fast in a more straight-ahead than usual manner.
I'm probably still in that stage that when I do write, it's a little piece of something coming out of nowhere. The language and melody is easier than it used to be. But it's not really until you sit down and try to make sense of it all together and then force yourself into the studio that you know what you're dealing with. It helped me sort out my thoughts and what my tastes were, and I imagine I'll take a stab at that process again.
What made you give in to that method in the first place?
I think I knew that when the record came together, it was going to be very much a studio production and not based in the band's sound, even though there's the illusion of a full band playing. It's kind of like a full band in space. So I knew that, just to go in and play the songs on a guitar wouldn't be an option. I wasn't going to be able to do that. I thought that messing around by myself on the computer beforehand would be a good option and give us a fighting chance at the beginning. And some of it was surprisingly close to the spirit of the end product, however dumbed down.
What have you learned about the album by playing it live?
I realized it's a set of songs that lends itself more to old-school aggressive disco styling than it does to step-based '80s ambient easy-listening styling. That's definitely the angle we steered into when we started practicing the songs. I think this year we'll steer into that even more. I knew that in their own way, all the people who played on the record have a more muscular style than the universe of that set of songs really demanded. There's room to kind of kick the shit out of those songs, actually.
To what extent do you care how your fans interpret your music?
I'm sure some part of me cares, but I think Kaputt is some sort of rupture between something that was important to Destroyer for the first decade -- and that was trying to make high-art poetry rock, which is not a genre we'd really heard of, and maybe there's a reason for that. It's something that I gave up, not defeatedly, I like to think, but pop music was the forum for those concerns and those kinds of grooves. And I think the writing changed because of that, and my singing changed. I probably threw my hands in the air and was like, "People can do with this what they will." They can call a song gibberish, and I know it's not that, but I'm not about to lay out an algorithm or make some sort of PowerPoint presentation on the subject of why it's not gibberish.
Or attack people on Twitter or something.
[laughs] Yeah, I'm definitely not going public, though I guess I just did. It's definitely not a concern. In a lot of ways, I've been more focused on the music end of things than the writing ends, so maybe I'm more bizarrely at home in my role as a singer than as my role as a writer right now.
What's the best description anyone has ever given your music?
Maybe someone I kind of know once said, "Don't you think Dan sounds like a goblin?" And I thought "goblin rock" was a cool genre for Destroyer to have.
You've been critically associated with a sense of heavy cultural nostalgia. Is this a good thing? Is there positive room for nostalgia in your music?
I don't really call it nostalgia or think of it like that. Music is never born of nothing. All that happens is that sometime people forget about certain decades and then they go looking around for something in the dark. At first, it's called some sort of nostalgia movement, but then it gets diluted into the mainstream. Now, when I heard New Order, it just sounds like the Stones to me. It sounds like any other rock band you'd hear on the radio and say, "That's classic rock." The decade has taken its toll. You're always mining a certain act for what you create.
How would you describe your relationship with American music these days?
There's American music I really love, but I finally realized I'm just not going to become an American rock and roll singer -- which is maybe something I was trying my hand at for a few years. The bottom line is that I just don't listen to much music like that. But I listen to jazz music a lot, and that's American. I'll probably keep trying and failing, but I think it's important to keep failing. I don't think I wanted to be an American anything, but, as far as that singer tradition, I think I had that realization onstage some point in the year 2008. I can't pinpoint exactly what day, but somehow in the spring in America in 2008 I realized I would not become an American rock and roll star.
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