Destroyer on “ken”

Ringmaster in Repose

Dec 11, 2017 Issue #62 - Julien Baker Photography by Ted Bois Bookmark and Share


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Since 1996, Dan Bejar has released a large number of albums, both with his solo project Destroyer and as part of The New Pornographers and Swan Lake. Still, the Vancouver-based singer/songwriter doesn't see his extensive output as some kind of superlative accomplishment, his matter of fact descriptions of the process implying that making music is hard-baked into his daily life.

"I'm not saying that it's easy," Bejar says from his home in Vancouver, expanding on the observation about his creative process with a rueful laugh. "It seems to get harder and harder. [Making music is] just a thing that I do. I don't really reflect on it too much. When it's time to put it out into the world, I'm basically forced to not reflect on it."

The statement belies his intricately conceived musica melodic blend of spaced out synths, drum machines, and stories of lost souls, delivered in Bejar's idiosyncratic vocal inflections, which stretch from deadpan radio announcer to tipsy lounge singer. It's a mix which he once declared in interviews was a direct reflection of his "delusions of grandeur."

"It's only in the music itself," Bejar says, clarifying that he's not after some kind of pop chart domination. "I don't have delusions of grandeur of what it's supposed to accomplish or what space it's supposed to occupy in the world. But the sound itself and the words itself and what they reach out to, whatever veil they're supposed to try and lift, I've never downplayed that."

For his tenth album ken (a reference to the original title of Suede's 1994 single, "The Wild Ones") Bejar partnered with producer Joshua Wells (of Black Mountain). Shortly into working together, on album opener "Sky's Grey," which over the course of three minutes develops from Bejar's original sparse piano demo to a full band arrangement complete with a spikey guitar bridge, the musician realized he wanted to give his producing partner almost total control. Although ostensibly a solo project, the idea of ceding power to another person, or, as Bejar phrases it, stepping away from his role as a ringmaster, turned out to be fairly easy. As he explains, it was interesting to see how his work evolved when viewed through a different lens.

"That's what songs are," he confirms with the equivalent of a verbal shrug. "Maybe it's a cliché but I like the idea of them being a floating collection of words and melodies that could infect anything."

Wells and Bejar's combined vision resulted in some of the shortest songs in Destroyer's recent catalogue. And as Bejar notes, for the first time in 10 years he's playing guitar on the recordings, something he has zero inclination to do in his live shows. ("I'm content with my microphone and my 40 seconds of tambourine playing onstage.") Yes, certain elementsparticularly the reverb-laced guitars of "Tinseltown Swimming in Blood" and the sax solo of "Rome"resemble instrumentation found in the music Bejar was listening to in the 1980s as a teenager. However, he doesn't see the final product as owing to any one set of influences.

"It's kind of a capitalistic free-for-all out there," Bejar says. "You can take and grab from all eras. You'd have to do a straight-up rockabilly act to be considered nostalgic these days. Which is something I'd probably be pretty into."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Fall 2017 Issue (October/November 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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