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The Art of Destruction
An Interview with Destroyer's Dan Bejar

Google up Destroyer and you'll find yourself neck-deep in Kiss fan sites, gamer's portals, and naval history home pages. Secreted amongst the web fodder you'll be lucky to find a handful of references to Destroyer, the Canadian indie outfit masterminded by Dan Bejar. But with the release of the band's extraordinary fifth album, This Night, Destroyer isn't long for the underground.

Unlike the band name suggests, Destroyer rely on subtlety and innuendo to drive their message and their music. Shimmering guitars, elegant compositions, and feathery vocals do the work of a truck-load of dynamite. "I kind of wanted to go for a rock 'n' roll name. In our own special way we're tearing shit apart, you just have to listen very carefully. Musically I knew it was never going to be a metal band, but I thought lyrically there were fangs to the music," says Bejar speaking by telephone from his home in Vancouver, British Columbia as he prepares to take Destroyer on tour in support of This Night.

Around Vancouver Bejar has steadily gathered a following for his poetic balladry and inimitable pubescent warble. His notoriety has grown substantially in the past year due to the success of Mass Romantic, the much-touted debut album by Canadian supergroup - apparently there is such thing - The New Pornographers, which in addition to Bejar features a collective of up-and-comers including country songstress Neko Case and Zumpano's Carl Newman. Instead of basking in the afterglow of Mass Romantic's success, when it came time to take the album on the road, Bejar side-stepped the spotlight and split for Spain. There, he wrote the bulk of This Night while aimlessly navigating the streets of Madrid, and as he puts it, "getting lost."

The remaining Pornographers toured in his absence leading to media speculation as to whether Bejar was still part of the band. In our interview he set the record straight. "I recorded three songs with them just recently. I think a couple might make it onto the next record. I just don't tour with them, and I don't really play on the other songs." He pauses and laughs, "And I don't really play too much on my own songs."

Bejar's aversion to the business of music is a theme well-documented on Destroyer's two previous albums, Thief (2000) and Streethawk: A Seduction (2001). Sardonic wit ablaze, he questions the shortcomings of popular music on "City of Daughters" (Thief). "A minor bone of contention/It's the soullessness of the convention/Rock 'n' roll shirking through for you/Why would anybody want it to?/What is it about music that lends itself so well to business as fuckin' usual?" On Thief, Bejar's narrative examines the recording industry as an outsider peering in. Another year, another album, and a new label later his tone on Streethawk, while still accusatory, finds a new mark: Bejar himself. After all, "even Destroyer's have a price" he sings on "The Sublimation Hour."

Newly signed to Merge Records - another significant step up on the indie rock food chain - Bejar's outlook evolves further on This Night. References to rock 'n' roll tyranny are all but extinct and those that do surface are neither reproachful nor self-deprecating. In fact, on "Makin'Angels," amidst a ragged orchestration of Beefheart-esque guitar lines and pixyish back-up vocals, Bejar grandiosely offers to carry the flagging spirit of rock aloft himself if he has to: "Hey, rock 'n' roll's not through (yet)/I'm sewing wings on this thing."

Bejar's critics liken him to a latter-day Bowie with a Pavement complex. Chalk the Bowie up to Bejar's theatrical delivery, the shades of Malkmus to his quirky stream-of-consciousness lyricism, but really Bejar's Destroyer is one of the most non-derivative acts to arrive on the scene in quite some time. He crafts irresistible hook-laden pop songs, peppering his compositions with rye observations and poetic wordplay. You're already singing the words before you've had the chance to probe the depth of their meaning. Though keeping up with Bejar can be a trying experience especially when you're struggling to follow along with This Night's "Self Portrait With Thing." ("Soon, the feral beast did beautify our wounds with a body that knew/You shouldn't hurt the ones you love/Unless you really want to.") In terms of his influences, Bejar is still waiting for his critics to call his bluff. Apparently he's been massing quite a collection of Morrissey records lately.

More than just the sum of his predecessors, Bejar, and his line-up of back-up musicians borrowed from various bands around Vancouver, strike a unique balance between pop and poetry - two descriptors, which under normal circumstances would mutually disqualify each other.

"I think there's a tradition of people who tried to marry - this horrible word - poetry to rock 'n' roll, and we're part of that tradition hopefully. I mean it doesn't seem to be one that's shining so brightly these days," says Bejar when asked about his poetic take on rock music. "A lot of things that work on the page don't work well when they're in a song. I always keep that in mind, the sound of words when they're sung. Things change once you spit them out, and it gives them a new meaning depending on the way you sing them," he adds.

Much like Bejar's vagabonding ramble in Spain, This Night is an album that wanders rootless and uninhibited by a specific through line. This Night, he says, refers to "night as a place for something to exist, an inner state. Something you have to pass through." I point out that "this" and "night" are capitalized whenever they appear in the liner notes - which is quite often - giving the impression that there is, in fact, a unifying thread that ties the album together. Bejar gets a kick out of this. "I thought I would do that just to make sure someone gets led on a wild goose chase." He confesses that he originally toyed with naming the album "Night Moves." "People convinced me not to use 'Night Moves.' They said I'd suffer the same fate as Bob Seger," he explains.

As our interview comes to a close, there's one final thing I've wanted to ask Bejar. Noting the absence of record industry oriented tongue-lashings on This Night, I ask him whether he's finally started to come to terms with music as a business as well as an art form. He answers in full stride. Simply put, "No!"

-- Daniel Schulman

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