Dan Bejar, the fast-firing brains behind Destroyer, has been called a lot of things. He's been labeled the smartest man in indie rock. He's been called the next Harry Nilsson, the next Randy Newman, the next Lloyd Cole, even the next David Bowie. His lyrics have been fervently studied by music nerds for 20 years, and his voice has been described as everything from hoarse and haunting to thick and theatrical.

Bejar grew into prominence under the soaring wings of bonafide Canadian supergroup the New Pornographers in the early 2000s. Bejar, though, was always the quiet sophisticate, gradually chipping away at his own project. As Destroyer, Bejar has redefined and personified the contemporary singer-songwriter.

Destroyer's 10th studio album, Poison Season, may be Bejar at his best. It incorporates elements of the aforementioned artists, along with Springsteen, Chuck Mangione and Steely Dan. But it also finds Bejar deep in his comfort zone, whether that's from the piano bench, guitar stool or conductor's podium. There are strings, horns and nods to glam, pop and '70s folk. Above it all is Bejar's cutting penmanship and distinctive delivery. If he's not the smartest man in indie rock, he's certainly the most capable. 

THE SONG

THE LYRICS

You don't start the fire

You just turn it on

Yours is to always know not why

Just turn your head and walk away

Dinosaur in the ice

Buffalo on the plain

Sun in the sky still rising

Children lost in the grain

Sun in the sky still rising

Children lost in the grain


Suffering every way you'd look

Really good in that thing

I tried to write a book for you

Couldn't hold the pen, couldn't find the paper

Tender is the night

That sweeps us up in its folly

I left my keys on the kite

And my violin on the trolley

I left my keys on the kite

And my violin on the trolley


What's in that dark love?

Is it a song about Gloria?

Is it a song about love

And the stars up above?

You drink a cup of wine

To settle your nerves

You float down the Rhine

Beside your plastic bag

You float down the Rhine

Clutching a plastic bag


It's a miracle every time

I open my mouth

And silence is golden

It blinks and it sighs

It takes a look outside

At a ball on a tether

I know a lot about the light

And I heard a bit about the weather

I know a lot about the light

I heard a bit about the weather


To see you crane your neck

When the world's at war

When the world's at war

You get a tick in your neck

Some bands like the strife

Some bands like to shimmy

Bombs go off in your eye

I'm so much deeper than the damage

Bombs go off in your eye

I'm so much deeper than the damage


Dinosaur in the ice

Buffalo on the plain

Sun in the sky still rising

Sun in the sky still rising

Sun in the sky still rising

Sun in the sky

THE INTERVIEW

WW: I don't know where your comfort level is musically but it certainly seems high with the new record. It flows well and feels confident. Was there a different approach to Poison Season compared to records' past?

Dan Bejar: Yeah, definitely. Couldn't be more different. Going back to life on the road, I guess, around 2012, I felt like that version of Destroyer was maybe a high watermark for the band. And that also was making me feel extra confident and comfortable as a singer. As a sound, it was something I kept returning to in my head. You know, tossing out half-baked ideas and going back to the idea of what we were as a band on stage. And that came together really fast and really easily over the course of a couple practice days and a couple days in the studio. You can pretty much hear it on the record. I've never really recorded live vocals off the floor like that. I didn't know how it was going to work. But the minute we pressed play it seemed really good to all of us. 

One of my takeaways was that it feels really urban. There are obvious New York connections, but overall it feels like an ode to the street, or a nod to a big city, whatever city that may be. Is that fair?

I think there are sounds that kind of go with that smokey vibe [laughs], that many people associate with like a jazzy New York feel, but I don't see it as an ode to New York City. I kind of like to think of it as an outsider's vision of America, or a great American city. Like, a European's take or a noirish version of that. To me, it doesn't really sound like a stuffy, bluesy record. It's much more of a fiction, really. 

Don't take this in a bad way, but it also felt really depressing. 

Yeah, that's the one word I kept saying over and over again [laughs]. In the studio I'd be like, "We need to make this sound more depressing!" I never said that to the band, because that's not the right word for that, but I kept talking about the feel and that the feel was good. Some of those songs are supposed to have a darker feeling than what we'd be hearing with the Kaputt songs, or the stuff on stage. But in the mixing of the record, "depressing" was my cue word. 

I've heard you talking about the new record as disjointed and not as cohesive as Kaputt. I get the opposite. It feels like a single organism. I mean, is it your hope that somebody plays this start to finish at home or is that in your thought process?

I'd have to say I'm more with you. Over the course when a record comes out, you know, I did a bunch of interviews...and something is quoted back to me, something I said earlier, and I completely disagree with it [laughs]. I guess that happens. But when I first started thinking about the record and mixing it, I didn't know how we were going to string it all together. Now, looking at it, listening to it, getting ready to play it with the guys who recorded it, it totally feels like one body to me. The few days we spent on it together was an actual bonafide thing, as opposed to the reverb plugins that created the space that Kaputt existed in. I feel it's a world in there, however small. 

One of the songs I was really focused on was "Sun In The Sky." When did you write it? 

I'd say I wrote that right smack dab in the middle of 2013, or late 2013, maybe. It's not something I could have imagined writing in 2011 or 2012, but then things started trickling out. It's funny, I don't know if people will think of it as a standout song, but it's probably the most personal on the record, maybe one of the most personal songs I've ever written. You know, it has a lot of lines that I'm not going to go through [laughs], but which actually retain specific references to things in my life that could have happened—which is, let me tell you, a rarity. I can count on one hand, generally, songs that have that element going for them. The original demo I made was quite, quite stark. 

What's that cheesy Springsteen song from the movie that was really famous? With, like, a really loud synthesizer? "Streets of Philadelphia"! It almost had that kind of vibe, like a cross between "Imagine" and "Streets of Philadelphia." I think the depressing parts sort of eke into the song, not like a sad dirge or something. In its slow way, it became lively and had a step to it. And it sort of builds into this rough and rash-y thing. It was a fun one in the studio. Each verse is sort of snippets, or little diary entries. I don't know, just spur of the moment platitudes. 

Personal vignettes.

Yeah, personal aphorisms. A little mix of both, you know?

Are you speaking in generalities here or addressing someone in particular?

I don't know. I think every Destroyer album has one song where I really get into the character as myself in the song, and sing a song that really addresses my own life. Usually it's in a much more veiled way. It feels like the most exposed song on the record. 

The sound lured me in initially and then I started paying attention to the lyrics. Maybe I'm misinterpreting or too fatalistic, but there's a futility about it—the plight of things like dinosaurs, buffalo, and maybe even humans. 

Yeah. I think that's not an uncommon Destroyer theme, but I wanted to get at it in an emotionally direct way. I think there are glimmers of hope and joy and beauty but they exist in the greater light of full-on extinction or death. 

Totally. I didn't just get the sour, I got some sweet.

It's like a Destroyer archetype, basically. That talks for a world that's completely fucked, you know? This is all screwed, but within that there will be tiny moments of greatness, you know? 

And that goes back to you talking about being an outsider in this record to something so big and powerful. And you can't help but get some joys out of it and let the rest just destroy itself. 

I think that's just a picture I'm attracted to [laughs]. Maybe it's standard and maybe it's juvenile, but I like fatalism. Like, possibilities of all maps within a world that's doomed. We're all the adjusters of futile but they still have to exist because, you know, that kind of small, doomed heroism makes for art that I like. And somehow that sums up a greater world for me. 

I sense that in the sound too. Sometimes the horns are dreary, sometimes not. And then you have this bright percussion at times. 

I think so. You can chalk it up to a couple of things. Those are things I like in music, so they are pretty standard for me. And then, the kind of music with a lot of minor seven [chords] [laughs], so there's this melancholy version of happiness. There's the actual downtrodden sound, but not full on dissonance, you know? 

The sound really chased the lyrics, especially at the end when there's talk of war and strife. The song sort of collapses. 

I think the band wanted to do something there that was actually feeding off of the words. We questioned the idea for maybe half a second and then totally went for it. 

That has to be a conflict as a singer-songwriter perspective: What comes first, the writing or the sound? And finding a balance.

I think I do it in such a traditional way. I guess I'm just trying to find a harmonious balance of things. And that's been the shift in the story over the last couple of albums. Definitely before, I was so conscious of the singer-songwriter character that there were many songs where I had to pull the rug out from under, just to give it some sonic abuse. 

Maybe "Sun In The Sky" was one of the songs where I was particularly enamored of the band's performance and the kind of actual complexion of the song from beginning to end, and I wasn't sure about loading it up with arrangements. I think the kind of horn snaps that ended up on there are pretty subtle, pretty in keeping with the vibe. The singer-songwriter stuff, you know, I'm sure there's a way more consistent and immediately pleasing way to present all of these songs, but I'm not interested in that. 

Was this song ever in danger of being on the chopping block, on account of how personal it is? 

No, no, no. I don't mind that. I never thought of it as a saccharine song. But for some reason, the way that it's sung and the actual vocal performance, it feels the most exposed. 

You are very effective with lyrical repetition, it really locks something in and makes it memorable. I wonder if that's something you thing about when writing music?

I don't think it's in my element of thought. If there are two or three basic Destroyer moves that have been kind of etched into stone over the last 15 years, that's probably one of them, and it's maybe the least conscious thing that I do. It's part of the playing with words I do in real time. I spend almost zero time crafting natural songs, you know, especially the words, they just come up fast, and usually with some kind of melody attached. The work begins when it's time to actually figure out some chords to go beneath and what the general rhythm of the song is gonna be. After that, all the arrangements and the band kind of stuff, that's the real work. But these kind of lyrical forms that kind of happen, they just kind of happen. That's just the way I talk when I'm talking in a song. 

PREVIOUS DEEP CUTS:

  1. David Bazan on "Strange Negotiations" (7/14/11)
  2. Okkervil River's Will Sheff on "Black" (8/23/11)
  3. Murs, "The Science" (11/14/11)
  4. Jens Lekman, "The World Moves On" (11/02/12)
  5. The Mountain Goats, "White Cedar" (12/14/12)
  6. Eels, "The Turnaround" (2/18/2013)
  7. Cat Power, "Manhattan" (11/29/2013)
  8. Carcass, "Mount of Execution" (3/28/2014)
  9. Lady Lamb, "Ten" (4/27/2015)

SEE IT: Destroyer plays Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., with Frog Eyes, on Friday, Sept. 18. 8 pm. $20. All ages.