Destroyer’s Dan Bejar talks “Kaputt,” new live band, moreBy John Wenzel | June 7th, 2012 | No Comments »
Dan Bejar had already completed a well-received tour behind Destroyer’s 2011 album “Kaputt,” a glossy, foppish affair that landed atop dozens of best-of lists.
So why did the Vancouver songwriter and member of the New Pornographers indie supergroup schedule another 19-date tour for June – especially when lacking a new album to promote?
“That’s a good question,” the 39-year-old said over the phone from Vancouver last week. “What was I thinking? I don’t know. This could be a new level of mismanagement.”
Bejar doesn’t exactly need a reason. “Kaputt” was his ninth full-length since 1996, and between the New Pornographers and his other bands (Swan Lake, Hello Blue Roses, etc.) he’s built a devoted fan base with his sad, funny, cryptic lyrics and penchant for experimentation.
But the tour, which kicked off in Portland, Ore., on Monday and visits the Bluebird Theater Saturday, has evolved into something more than a “Kaputt” retread.
“This time we had the luxury of learning twice as many songs as any Destroyer band has ever known, just because there’s nine records now,” he said. “So we’re going to play as wide a spectrum as possible.”
That’s good news for fans of any period of Destroyer. “Kaputt” traded guitars and organic instruments for ’80s fetishism, draping gauzy synthesizers over thin, snappy beats and thick-necked bass. Bejar’s delightfully fey delivery – think David Bowie filtered through David Berman – and bizarre, poetic lyrics remained intact, but the instrumentation was more aluminum siding than rock backbone.
The retooled, eight-member version of Destroyer is up for almost anything, from an epic ’70s-styled burner like “Shooting Rockets” (from 2008’s “Trouble in Dreams”) to the downcast “Crystal Country” (from 2002’s “This Night”). But while Bejar calls it his “dream lineup,” it’s still not the definitive version of a band that has survived by constantly morphing – even if Bejar once called the 2006 version the permanent one.
“There’s nothing I’ve ever said in an interview which I haven’t discredited either in the next interview or just in my actions as a human,” Bejar said. “Not that I was making it up or lying. I probably really believed it at the time. But I can’t be trusted. This music thing is too much in flux.”
However, Bejar noted that perceptive readers of his liner notes will recognize familiar faces in the new touring lineup.
“With ‘Kaputt,’ there was this kind of jazz element that came in with the horn players, and drumming-wise things seemed to become pretty posh.
People I worked with in a production capacity finally joined the fold. But I no longer pay any lip service or have any aspirations towards playing in a functional rock band. In fact, I’m probably enjoying playing music far more than I ever have right now with this particular group.”
On his last tour, Bejar threw out the “sculpted, fragile, ambient quality” of “Kaputt’s” studio versions for louder, more aggressive arrangements. But the structure of the songs allowed for less singing and personality from Bejar, effectively writing him out of the equation.
So he’s taken pains during rehearsals for the current tour to find common ground among the songs – even if that means dismantling them.
“The challenge, if you’re serious about tackling this kind of wide range of Destroyer’s back catalog, is how to do it and still have this band born of the ‘Kaputt’ lineup that doesn’t sound like I’m covering my other work,” he said. “But we picked songs that were malleable enough that we could completely discombobulate them. That’s really exciting to me.”
This gives Bejar yet another chance to find listeners in unexpected places. Part of the reason his work has been so rapturously received is because it’s intensely idiosyncratic, owing debts to both Frank Sinatra and Guided by Voices, Picasso and Steely Dan. No one would mistake it for anything other than Destroyer – provided they listened long enough to form an opinion.
“A lot of people who had never heard of the band got into (‘Kaputt’), and a fair amount of people who had heard of the band and disliked or despised the band got into that record,” Bejar said. “So when you’re playing songs that really have nothing to do with that sound, it always creates an interesting show.”
But without a sense of promotional urgency, why is the band limiting its North American tour to the month of June, often playing back-to-back dates hundreds of miles apart?
“What am I going to do with eight Canadians on a day off with a bus in the middle of nowhere?” he asked. “We gotta just play music or die.
We’re kind of like ‘The Warriors,’ and the U.S. is like New York in 1979, and we just have to get the hell home.”
John Wenzel is an A&E reporter and blogs editor for The Denver Post and the author of “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” (Speck Press/Fulcrum). Follow him @johntwenzel and @beardsandgum.