Dan Bejar has described Kaputt, the critically and commercially successful 2011 album from his project Destroyer, as having “accidentally locked into an early 2010s zeitgeist.” His next two releases, Poison Season and ken, seemed a conscious recalibration from this — Bejar didn’t go experimental exactly, but appeared to use the same tools to increasingly unruly effect.
Have We Met, released in January, seems to be his first record since the early 2010s not to be in direct conversation with Kaputt. It’s a bold record, chatty and irony-tinged as any Destroyer release is, but suffused with dread and iciness. I spoke to Dan Bejar about his process writing the record, and also his experience touring it.
Brandon Kaufman: Whereabouts are you?
Dan Bejar: I’m in Dallas, Texas right now.
BK: So you’ve been touring for nearly half your life. Is there anything new that you get from it?
DB: Well, not really half my life. In earnest, I probably started touring with the fifth Destroyer album.
BK: Were you averse to publicly preforming before then?
DB: I’m more into it these days. I’m digging the band, you know. This band’s been a set thing for the last seven or eight years. I’m not a natural — I don’t think I wake up craving to get up on stage, but once I’m up there I’m into it though for sure. It took me a while to get used to it, like maybe 15 years.
1,000 shows later
BK: Was there something that changed in that period?
DB: You know, I think I just had to get a thousand shows under my belt. When I put down the guitar and started to just be a singer, that helped me as well.
BK: Do you find yourself getting more from the actual experience of touring?
DB: It’s kind of interesting. With the larger tours when the record comes out, it can kind of give you an interesting perspective on, like, the fall of the United States, or what happens in cities that get gussied up. There’s perspective there. And people in the band make a point of seeing as much as they can when they get to a city. I’m not one of those people.
It can also be like Groundhog Day. It’s really strange, you know, to be in some of the same clubs every two and a half years over the course of 20 years — especially as you age, because the audience’s age stays relatively young. And you go, “I remember being that age 20 years ago.” It’s pretty weird, I haven’t thought about that. There’s a feeling that strikes me on stage sometimes. It’s like, I know the view from the stage really well, but I seem to have morphed into this other thing while in front of me, everything’s stayed really similar.
BK: Speaking of those social or economic changes you’ve noticed, do you consider yourself a very political artist?
DB: I don’t think so. There’s people that speak directly to those topics, but I don’t speak to any topic at all. So in that sense, no. I feel like Destroyer songs describe, more than most and at least in the background, a city in upheaval — even if in the foreground it’s just like Romeo and Juliet or a ghost story or something.
BK: I noticed that really strongly on the most recent record, this sense of encroaching menace.
DB: Yeah, I feel like that’s become something I’ve written to. It’s just naturally bubbled up more and more. Maybe as you get older you start to feel that way. You’re more disoriented or you feel confused or attacked by the world, even as your story becomes smaller and less heroic.
BK: I rewatched Until the End of the World after reading that you were influenced by it while writing Have We Met. That one’s an example of the opposite, of thinking your story is getting bigger and even more heroic.
DB: Not the five-hour director’s cut?!
BK: Oh yeah.
DB: Interesting movie — makes sense it ended his [Wim Wenders] career. I couldn’t tell if it’s good or bad, all I know is I was so taken by it.
BK: I love the hubris of thinking one can make such an ambitious, expansive thing.
DB: Yeah! He really thought he could put everything into it. Such follies, but that’s the compelling part, you know?
BK: So you’re thinking of film, I take it, when you’re writing a song.
DB: It’s kind of the medium I think of the most. It’s my first love. When I think of Destroyer writing, it’s something I can put into the mouths of characters in a film, even if it’s just the trailer of a film so you don’t know the exact narrative. It’s just little snippets. I like to think in those terms because I write in little flashes, which suits film more than personal songwriting or fiction. I like it — the marriage of poetry and film.
The two-minute movie
BK: I’m curious about that marriage, how someone can achieve the emotional resonance, the gut-punch of a two-minute song, over, say, a two hour movie.
DB: I think about that question in the inverse, you know. How do you get the expanse, the atmosphere that a film has into a two-minute song, haha. How can you break it down — aside from just making a trailer? I like the idea of trailers, song trailers.
BK: That could be a good concept album.
DB: All the Movies I’ll Never Make but Here’s the Trailers for Them.
BK: So it seems you’re a really prolific consumer of art.
DB: Not even anymore. I try to keep my ear to the ground but I don’t know where the ground is anymore. But when I hear of some new director I get curious. I still try to (see work by) directors people are flipping out about, but mostly I just go back to things that I love. Music’s kind of harder. I always have it on, but it’s getting harder for me to figure out what I want from it. And then there are just some things I’ll never tire of, things I always go back to. Either it’s just comfort because I know them so well, or I continue getting new things out of them — probably a bit of both. I don’t tire of the things that are important to me. ■
See Dan Bejar in Destroyer with opener Nap Eyes at Théâtre Fairmount (5240 Parc) in Montreal on Thursday, March 5, 8:30 p.m., $25/$30.
Sample tracks from Have We Met here.
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