In the 15 years since Dan Bejar started releasing music under the name Destroyer, his profile and success has grown exponentially. He has been aided along the path by his work with Canadian supergroups The New Pornographers and Swan Lake, but it is via Destroyer that Bejar has really proven his mettle as one of the great songwriters of the '00s. The last half-dozen Destroyer albums have been marked with ever-changing musical ideas - MIDI synth pop, scratchy art rock, and on his most recent album, 2011's Kaputt, an exploration of jazzy pop ideas prevalent in '80s UK greats like Roxy Music and The Blue Nile. Bejar and company (the membership of Destroyer is in constant flux) are starting out a U.S. tour with tonight's performance here at the Aladdin Theater, and we spent some time on the phone with Destroyer's soft-spoken and witty majordomo to catch up on the current sound of the band and how people can react to the project's near-constant state of change.
Your publicist said that most of the stuff you're going to play on this run of shows is coming from Kaputt...
Well actually I think this band has learned more songs than any single Destroyer band has learned. This will be an attempt at playing the most far-reaching parts the Destroyer catalog. I should really send a memo to the publicist so that no one's expecting round two of the Kaputt tour. There will be some old ones, new ones, Kaputt songs...we might learn a cover or two. The band's really good.
It's interesting that you're going on tour now considering that Kaputt came out a full year and a half ago.
I think maybe normally we would have gone on tour with Kaputt when the record came out, and if the response was pretty good, we would have done a tour of secondary markets, or a manager would have tried to get us on a bigger tour as an opening act. But we don't have a manager so we didn't do that. We didn't tour North America again after the first tour that we did. It doesn't quite feel excessive, not any more so than what most musicians do these days.
How much have you messed with the sound of the songs from Kaputt and beyond with this new band and for this tour?
We've taken older songs and completely ignored the recorded versions of them. We haven't really made them sound like Kaputt, although there are elements of Kaputt in some of them. It's popular to talk about '80s soft rock and sax and shit when it comes to that record. But when gets ignored is a strain that's always run through Destroyer since the late '90s: a relaxed wine drunk late night '70s music, whether it's a Stones-y version of that or Bowie version of that. Or versions that people like that are more in keeping with that live rock band feel of old.
I have to say that when I saw you last year at the Pitchfork Festival and when you have played with the New Pornographers and you are just singing, you look very uncomfortable without a guitar in your hand.
It's true that I have about 15 years to unlearn as far as hands wrapped around a guitar. As a singer now, I feel way more comfortable. I'm kind of like a pacer naturally. When I'm not singing. I like to get out the line of sight or fire. There's lots going on on stage. There's a eight of us. I just like to listen to it, and it helps the audience listen to it. I'm increasingly more and more comfortable with it. Or as comfortable as I'm going to get. There's a certain amount of agitation with anything that I want to do. I don't think I've become a really relaxed veteran of the festival circuit. If that happens, I'll probably know that it's time to pack it in. It isn't always the most natural setting to be out there drying in the heat with the sun in your eyes.
Considering how prolific you have been over the years, do you enjoy heading out on these tours or are you constantly wanting to get back into the studio?
It depends on my moods. I have been itching to get into a studio and get to work. I don't have that comparable feeling of itching to get on the road. Once I'm there, I definitely get into it. It's more like I have to go off to war. Once you're in the trenches and put a rifle in your hand, it feels more natural.
To an outside observer, it occasionally seems like you are willfully abandoning working formulae from record to record. Are you simply following your muse, or is there a reactionary bent to your career's trajectory?
I don't think so. I think because I'm not tied to any instrument or set of instruments because I can't really play any of them except when I need to string together chords. My mind seems to wander. Not in a way that my attention can't be held. I just want to explore different things. If I hear a style of music that I like, I want a piece of it. I'm like a baby in that way. And there's not a set group. If you scan the credits of my work, you'll see lots of the same people but in different configurations. I have no aspirations as far as putting together a rock band and putting together rock music. And if you boil down the songs themselves start to look really familiar. Just ask some of the people learning them and playing them over the last few years.
What about those people that just want to hear another Streethawk?
I guess those people exist, I don't know, I probably had to deal with that clamoring, but it seems so far away. When we put out This Night, a lot of people...well, a few thousand, whoever bought Streethawk ...were like, "What is this stuff?" Same deal when I made Your Blues. The way we did it was a kind of like baroque precursor to Kaputt. For a while no one could ever get on the same page. Maybe Rubies was the real breakthrough Destroyer record. People who heard the band in the past they really liked that one. I just really just make these things for myself and maybe like one at some point down the line they'll trust me that there are elements connecting each one.