Destroyer channels deep contemplations and discovers beauty in lonely spaces on Have We Met
Bluebird Theater | March 16
By Chris Bjork
Photo by Ted Bois
There is a special breed of indie rock songwriters whose unique delivery of abstract expression leaves the listener feeling as if they are stepping into their world.
Arguably one of the most complex, strangely evocative and profound artists to possess this talent is Destroyer from Vancouver, British Columbia. Fronted by the creative mind of Dan Bejar, who started the project as a solo home-recording endeavor, Destroyer has grown to become one of the most idiosyncratic acts in indie rock today. Across the course of twelve full-length albums beginning in 1996, the musical landscape of Destroyer has explored a wide and diverse array of influences. The styles of electropop and smooth jazz can be heard all throughout the tracklisting on the bands 2011 album Kaputt. Six years later on projects like Ken, Destroyer continued to experiment melodically, infusing elements of baroque pop and jazz-rock into their sound.
Bejar has been a contributing band member in other Canadian rock acts such as The New Pornographers and Swan Lake and is no stranger to using unconventional ideas in his songwriting. Destroyer’s latest release, Have We Met, could be the most poignant example of this characteristic so far in his career. Bejar recorded his vocals for the album in complete isolation at his home in Vancouver, marking a change of pace from his band-oriented recording approach utilized in previous Destroyer projects. In many ways, the album’s cover accurately portrays the backdrop of Have We Met’s recording atmosphere, which features Bejar standing alone, solemnly looking down while holding a microphone.
“I did record them myself and I did record them at home,” Bejar said, during a recent interview with The Marquee. “They were kind of like the first thing that got recorded and I did record them thinking no one would ever hear them because I just figured once the album took more shape we would want to re-record them and record them properly because technically, even though I like the performances, the recordings themselves were very poor. But I think the decision to commit to them probably informs the sound of the record. There’s a lot of sound that swirls around them but also, they’re quiet and intimate sounding. Though a lot of the record itself has those qualities the sound is a lot more brash in general and so we probably felt the freedom to affect the vocals brutally in an attempt to have them fit into the music a bit more. They were definitely more effective than they normally would be in a Destroyer album which I liked.”
Bejar’s clever and eccentric singing and wordplay, as well as his beautifully esoteric and eloquent style of lyricism, is easily one of the most defining traits of Destroyer. Bejar’s vocals are as integral to the mix as any instrument being played and are treated as the fundamental focal point for the direction of every album. After listening about halfway through any Destroyer record, it begins to feel like observing a detailed but bewildering abstract painting where the beauty is derived from a completely personal perspective. Bejar’s writing techniques have evolved gradually over his lengthy discography and more recently on Have We Met.
“I used to write a lot of words. I used to write separately from music and stick the words into songs. Back in the days when I first started, I’d be playing guitar all day long and then I’d be writing all day long. Now the process is quite a bit different where it kind of happens just in my head. I record things as really short voice memos which I then string together. I feel like it lends itself more to like the goofball private detective mumbling to themselves on the case. You’re keeping notes on the case. They’re short, they’re pretty isolated. There’s one from two o’clock in the morning one night and a couple days later there’s one casing out at lunch. That’s kind of more the current vibe which is kind of an older feeling as well. I’m kind of more into short blasts of brutal writing. It couldn’t be more different than the kind of writing I was doing in 2000 when I was writing Destroyer’s Rubies and Trouble in Dreams which is a far more traditional approach to poetic writing where it’s a constant flow of images and I don’t think Have We Met works like that. It’s not really reaching out to the world in the same way, it’s more trapped sounding,” Bejar said.
While Bejar’s experimentation with his writing for Have We Met signaled a dynamic change for Destroyer’s music, there are many components that have remained stable in the band for decades. Since the release of Destroyer’s 1998 sophomore album, City of Daughters, Bejar has worked closely with producer John Collins who plays a vital role in each record. Bejar has also performed with some of the same band members for many years.
“I think for people who want to nerd out and scroll over the names of all the Destroyer records from the last 18 to 20 years would probably see a lot of overlap. They would maybe find the guitar playing on Have We Met to be quite distinct and look and see that its Nic Bragg playing guitar who’s played guitar on I don’t know how many Destroyer albums. And even though the sonic landscape is maybe extra modern and computer sounding, I think it still very much has John Collins’s fingerprints,” Bejar explained.
Bejar’s transition from his recording with Collins in previous settings to working in solitude for much of Have We Met resulted in working out of a familiar comfort zone. What seems like an atypical way of assembling all of the musical ingredients together, worked surprisingly well in bringing a sense of cohesion to Have We Met.
“It was a strange process,” he said. “I’ve never really done one like this where I was working at my computer. For the last few records, I’ve demoed stuff but I’ve never done it with the intention that maybe what I was doing might end up somehow being the record. Not that the record bears that much resemblance to my demos. But the fact that I would just shoot those files off to John living in another country and be like, ‘Here, take it away.’ That was strange. It all happened in a kind of hermetically sealed way, everyone in their own space and it somehow came together in the end. It does sound like a pretty discombobulated record but I knew that we weren’t trying to capture any performance. We were just trying to capture a mood.”
Bluebird Theater | March 16
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