If you are excited about Destroyer coming to town -- and we certainly are -- you can thank the world of jazz. When songwriter/vocalist Dan Bejar, who essentially is Destroyer, set out for another round of touring behind the 18-month-old, critically adored Kaputt, he had a specific goal in mind.
"I tried to book a tour entirely composed of jazz festivals," Bejar says. "That was kind of the impetus. It failed miserably, so we're just doing a normal tour."
Kaputt, with its softcore gauziness and synthetic textures, shares a certain commonality with the kind of smooth jazz you used to hear on KYOT. But the jazzbos weren't having it.
"[The jazz of Kaputt is] definitely kind of tapered into a kind of synth-based disco balladry," Bejar says, "but the stuff floating around it has some overlap with that world. But I don't think the jazz world is too convinced; they shut us down. We're playing a few in Canada, and maybe one in Europe, but in general, they weren't fooled."
Up on the Sun: It's funny that jazz festivals didn't book Destroyer -- there are certainly elements of jazz fusion at work on Kaputt.
Dan Bejar: I take that as the highest compliment.
The record truly started a lot of conversations between my friends about "authentic sounds."
I think I knew I was making a really inauthentic record, so I wasn't scared. I knew that I was going to be piecing a record together in the studio, and in my terminology, that's inauthentic, even though that's the way everyone makes records. I knew I was going to make a record that embraces studio production and computer- editing wholeheartedly. A record that embraced MIDI, so that you can build songs up and take them apart at will. I had to incorporate these other things that came from that spirit.
That being said, I don't think the saxophone as being an emblem of that world. Destroyer has always been into '70s rock stuff, and in my book, if the Stones or Lou Reed or Joni Mitchell or Marvin Gaye or Bowie or Roxy Music get to have saxophone in their music, I want mine. There's a tradition to all of it. It all comes from maybe distinct sources that are considered pure, and over the years other sources, commercial sources, feed off of it like vampires and turn it into this other thing. Some of that is horrible, and some of that is really good, just like in all things in life.
...if the Stones or Lou Reed or Joni Mitchell, or Marvin Gaye or Bowie or Roxy Music get to have saxophone in their music, I want mine.
--Dan Bejar, Destroy
Do you get the sense that we've spent so much time talking about irony that we have almost forgot what we were talking about in the first place?
Maybe because I don't play an instrument all that well, I'm not really married to a discussion of what sounds are authentic and which ones are real or human or vital. [Some music is a] perfect document of people performing on an instrument. That can be really boring or really cool, and the same thing goes for music that is really tweaked in the studio. (Continued next page.)
(Continued...) I think I like the discussion of authenticity in the sense of intention; and melodic line and phrasing. The nuts and bolts of music. Not just a rote discussion of the ambiance and gestures of a record. Of art in general. In that sense, it's kind of lead me back to the craft of songwriting. Not that I've written a song in a million years.
You're talking more about where you are, rather than the tools used to get there?
That can feel authentic. The question: Why are you doing this? Why are you here [laughs]? That's where the discussion should lie. Not "what sounds are considered kosher" and what aren't, but "What are you saying in this song of yours? What is it you aspire to or are presenting?"
Your lyrics are often described as "cryptic," but I've understood exactly where the line, "I sent a message in a bottle to the press. It said, "Don't be ashamed or disgusted with yourselves" is coming from.
[Laughs] I don't really know where these things come from. My job is just to order things.
"What are you saying in this song of yours? What is it you aspire to or are presenting?"
--Dan Bejar, Destroyer
You're often compared to a critic -- the way your lyrics often references classic rock or pop lyrics, song-titles. Do you feel comfortable with that? It's hard to say. I think there's two ways of looking at it -- [one is almost like] being an essayist. I'm not sure if that's true or not [in regards to Destroyer], because it doesn't feel like I am when I'm writing. I feel in some ways my temperament is closer to that of a critic than maybe a Morrison figure. But I don't know. Jim could have maybe really settled down. He might have. But I think I could see how Destroyer could be fodder for a chance to talk about something besides the song at hand. I think other songwriter really despise that though. It seems somehow polluted and impure. It's not what they look for in songs, not what they look for in pop music. It's not their version of what ambition is. I don't do it consciously. I just write a jumble of things. If I can sing them, if they have a hint of melody attached, they'll end up in a song of some kind.
I think the way that my voice has been received is a pretty good example [of the way people approach Destroyer]. Not that I'm necessarily shocked, but just the focusing on the distinct and weird and initially unappealing sound that my voice makes, I see that as kind of like symbolic of my music as a whole, at least for the first 15 years. With Kaputt there was a conscious effort to create more space, more rest. More calm. And I'm singing with the idea to hit notes, and project emotion. The melody and words, and not just melody and persona.
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I feel like Kaputt didn't come completely out of left-field in the overall Destroyer catalog, but it is a very different record. In some ways, older Destroyer records were meant to be sort of an attack on something. They weren't death metal records, but there was this sort of antagonism against music itself. And knowing that my voice was not a traditional voice, and going out of my way to make it less traditional. Those kinds of concerns feel very distant to me now.
Destroyer is scheduled to perform Thursday, June 7, at Crescent Ballroom.