Like Dan Bejar's art, this interview has a lot of words.

I understand that may well be off-putting for some readers but I've done three different edits of this interview and, whether it's me being a bad editor or otherwise, it seems a little ridiculous to take a chainsaw to Bejar's natural lyricism. He speaks in a unique, dynamic manner with a sense of melody tied to his sentences. So in slicing out segments of rhetoric, it haemorrhaged the personality of the man and seemed to disturb the bigger canvas in which he consistently fine-tunes and touches up throughout a conversation. Eventually I decided that you could hear an edited Dan Bejar on any of his eleven Destroyer records. So the best way to offer something unique and compelling is to give you - malaprops, nuances and all - one of twentieth-century indie's most compelling voices at its crudest.

We speak at an East London pub about his new record Poison Season ahead of its release on August 28th. Bejar discusses how he's "expecting most people to not even remember Kaputt", being an anxious person, how he'll never be Sarah Vaughn, why he hates touring and the three songs he's written in life that truly sound like him.

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The opening lyric of the record is 'Jesus is beside himself' - it's striking. What were you going for with it?

Well, I didn't write it with it being the first one on the record in mind. When I originally wrote it I had a different name, and I swapped it out.

Really? Was it like later in the album when it is 'Judy'?

It was a different name to Judy and Jack, because they're quintessentially old-school American-sounding names. The first name I had was more modern and banal-sounding, and then when I actually wrote the song, the sound of it felt more like a standard seventies' Lou Reed-style street ballad and I figured that Jesus is a classic seventies' New York Latino name. Also, the minute you bring religion into something you get people's attention right away: it's a foul songwriter's trick, but it's true. Also to be 'Beside yourself' is a very antsy human lustre and not very romantic way of being, which is not really how you picture Jesus. You usually picture him pouting.



There's a lot of religious imagery on the record. Did you use it for that reason?

I haven't really scanned the record for religious imagery. I think that song uses people's names: some of them are traditional like Jesus or Jacob, but I don't remember.

I suppose not really in terms of names, but instead archaic images: turning from the sun, talking about God - is that to get people's attention?

No I think I just like the idea of religion - I don't know anything about it - but I like the imagery and the language around it. I think there are a couple of songs that are 'searching for redemption' songs. Songs where it sounds like maybe the person speaking is lost. And for some reason, I see that as religion: a search for some kind of light outside of the world, y'know? I don't know whether that's more mystic than religious? That's a presence you can feel in this record a lot more on this others.

Did you have a clear idea on how you wanted the record to sound before you started recording?

I did, and I threw all of those ideas out. Before I had a set of songs, I was still toying with the idea of trying to make a concise pop record. Just because I'd done that with Kaputt and it was a mode of working that I was still tapping into. I had this idea of doing a disco record; I liked the idea of doing a salsa record. But then those genre workouts didn't interest me - they just seemed corrupt, y'know? Also, so much time went by that I think I heard some bands try to do that kind of shit, and it seemed terrible to me. And that seemed like a good warning I was having terrible ideas. But once I had the songs together it was a much more natural thing to do to just play the songs with this band I'd been touring with, and that I really enjoyed singing with. That's what we did. We pretty much went into the studio for two days and ended up recording it. The bulk of the record is just a live recording.

Where did you record it?

We went to a really fancy studio for the first time ever. It was a place in Vancouver called The Warehouse: its claim to fame is that it is owned by Bryan Adams. So we practiced for a few days before going in and just knocked them out really fast. Did a couple of versions of each. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but in the end it felt really good. On the flip side of that is the stuff that was recorded with a string quintet that was kind of the exact opposite. Again, it was recorded really quickly but then putting it together was complicated.


"The way the music went down on Poison Season couldn't have been more different from Kaputt, when no single human being interacted with another human being to make music."


Did you put a score together early in the process or did you just say 'do something with this'?

I had sent Stephen Udell, the person who did all the string arrangements, some demos and what came back was really surprising to me. I think that's one of the reasons that I really respected his ideas: I knew we didn't necessarily like the same stuff. There's a couple of songs where I expected it would be more of a schmaltzy, Sinatra-style ballad but he's kind of more into 20th Century classical and liturgical music or medieval music, so they came back completely different. So these are things that I thought would be kind of strange and collide with the songs and would be kind of fucked-up in a good way.

So those were the two main things: this one off-the-cuff recording of a band who'd spent a lot of time on stage together, but then that was more of an austere, sombre stripped-down orchestral thing.

How much of Destroyer is just your vision? And how much of it is informed by others' input?

You know, I think the song is usually always the same. Which is, the song, usually there's one or two little melodic refrains that stick out and sound like something I've written. And then I have a general idea of what I want things to sound like, but that usually gets thrown out of the window quite fast. A lot of what I do is trying to assemble groups of people who I think work in a way that's cool. It was kind of like that with Kaputt, except with Kaputt it was a very long and a very slow process. Very digital: super computer-based. The way the music went down on Poison Season couldn't have been more different from Kaputt, when no single human being interacted with another human being to make music. In fact with Kaputt, a lot of people didn't hear the music. They heard a very rough skeleton of the song, but they definitely didn't hear what other people were doing. A lot of it was more of a feat of mixing, which I think it sounds like and it's all fake: the bulk of it is synthesisers, edited drums, electric drums, the guitar player recording at home with messed up digital effects into a hardrive. It's a lot of the same players, but sonically very different.



Were you driven by wanting to do something totally different to Kaputt?

Yeah, I didn't want that same sonic treatment. I definitely wanted to sing with a band because there's a difference in the singing, a huge difference when I think about it, between the style of singing I used to do. Which involved a shit ton of words, like somebody trying to attack a pile of words and a lot of times being at odds with the music that was playing with it, y'know? And kind of enjoying that distortion. And with Kaputt, I feel like for me not to sing in that way was because I hadn't written songs that made sense like that. They required not many words, they're just like bits and pieces of lullabies strung together. I didn't really know how to sing like that, so I had to remove myself from the process. When I listen to it now, I sound more than anything like absence.

You feel that it sounds like absence, or you feel an absence listening to it?

I feel that it sounds like absence. I sound like I'm evacuated on the inside. I know that, because I gave that order: 'if it sounds like I'm feeling it too much, stop the tape'.

Did you have any convictions of the same strength for Poison Season?

I think my conviction was that I'm going to try and sing with a band playing music together for the first time in my life. I've never kept scratch vocals, which is the live take, usually people ditch them right away and comp together through various overdubs. And I didn't want to do that shit, so I didn't. It took me a while to get used to it, but I think for the first time it kind of sounds like me - to me anyway. Twenty years: took a while. I think I was also listening to so many vocalists' music over the past few years: jazz singers and stuff.

Is that what you were listening to when you were putting the record together?

I think it was jazz singers: I only know basic stuff; I'm not going to bedazzle you with my knowledge or anything. It's ridiculous for me to say, but I was listening to Sarah Vaughn, because people will say 'you're not like Sarah Vaughn and you will never be like Sarah Vaughn', but I think that it's important. I was listening to Sinatra lots; I always have, probably more than ever because I really enjoy the arrangements around his voice. I just like the huge superstars and those are two examples. I think that it crept into my songwriting as well just because I'd started listening to more Jazz around the time I was starting to work on Kaputt. All that stuff, especially the earlier stuff, The American Songbook is such a part of the repertoire: those chords, words and phrases just started to seep in. On probably two or three songs on Poison Season they rear their head.

So when you listen to those old records, you see it as collaboration with these vocalists, you don't see it as a 'vocal-centric' album?

Yeah.

It's interesting because you rarely hear people talking about the band with Sinatra's stuff. But you heard the interaction and it made it for you?

For me it's the recording process with those records that I find fascinating. It's at the height of capturing something sonically, at least in pop music. It's so deep and resonant. I just wondered how they did it. How is it possible that he's just singing in a big room with an orchestra and they recorded it? It's so far from what we know about music and the way it's made these days.


"It really has this one crystallised thing that it does from beginning to end, which I think is an important part of pop music. But seeing as I wasn't interested in making pop music, I decided not to care."


Do you feel like you're closer to finding out?

Maybe a tiny bit. I think those songs 'Bangkok', 'Girl on a Sling' or maybe even the song 'Hell', ended up having that strange, sinister baroque vibe. Those seem kind of like the paths I can see myself exploring more.

I think there's something both unsettling and humourous about the lyric from 'Dream Lover' - "Oh shit, here comes the sun."

That song kind of stands out for me as a weird, novelty number from the record.

Why did you choose that as the single? Or was it the label?

It's always fucking labels. They pick the most upbeat one. I like the song because to me it doesn't sound like a Destroyer song and I like the sound of it sonically. It's different: we kind of threw open the door to the studio, and it was the last one we did. I never presented it as a serious song to the band, I just said 'let's try it out this one, it'll probably get thrown out'. It's a nothing of a song. It's very distant from my concerns making this record.

It sounds different to the other tracks.

If I cared about consistency on a record, I'd probably have been pretty screwed when it came to making this one. It was probably my only real concern with this album: it just seems all over the place. I'm not sure if it'll make sense to people, I'm not sure it makes sense to me, even. It's an amalgamation of the kind of stuff I'm into. For the most part the band songs really sound like Destroyer songs. Very naturally ourselves. In that sense, I think the way that the record begins and ends with 'Times Square: Poison Season' as a prologue and an epilogue was kind of handy in trying to contain the beast.

When you - as you said - do turn on the mics and just start recording, you risk that.

I think that the songs were quite different going in, which makes me feel like maybe I didn't know what I was doing. But I didn't know how to combat that, aside from a producer with a standard 2000s producer's stamp. Flatten things, and try to come up with a distinct sound for the whole album: I think that's something that happened with Kaputt. It happened quite naturally with that record, but when we were done I stepped back and was like 'Oh shit, this is one of those records'. It really has this one crystallised thing that it does from beginning to end, which I think is an important part of pop music. But seeing as I wasn't interested in making pop music, I decided not to care.



Obviously you released the Spanish songs EP between the two, but did you feel a pressure for the amount of acclaim that was heaped on Kaputt - from a critical perspective - did you feel a pressure to follow it up in a certain way?

Not really. I might have but I think I consciously - four-and-a-half years? What is that, like seventeen years in indie years? An entire generation, I think. I think four-and-a-half years are the standard dictionary definition of an Indie generation. So I'm expecting most people to not even remember Kaputt. So it's not a concern.

The idea of starting to care about that stuff at album ten seems a little bit embarrassing for me. I think that in Europe especially people only know Destroyer through Kaputt, so there's bound to be broken Kaputt hearts. But I don't think anybody who knew Destroyer before Kaputt would be too shocked by this record.

What stage of the process do lyrics arrive for you typically? Was it different for you in this instance?

At this point: I'm old, etched in stone. And the way I write is, it always comes first: the words with some sort of melodic refrain attached. I used to write tons in a notebook that I thought could work in a song. Now I kind of have writing that just exists for me, stuff that nobody is ever going to hear or see. Then there's stuff that I'm very conscious is part of a song I'm constructing in real-time. That process started with the Kaputt record and hasn't changed.

You're always writing - when did that change happen?

It happened by itself. I think at some point words and melody became the same thing to me. And now if it doesn't come with some kind of melodic value, I can't consider singing it. It's backwards from how most people do it. People I know who are really good at music have a lot of it fleshed-out with chords, to different melodic motifs and in the end they try to squeeze some lyrics onto it to try and match it. I think it's why Destroyer songs sound kind of conversational in a way, because they're composed that way.


"These days I think the writing I do is different and I don't see it as part of some grand poetic project like I used to. It's more like something I want to be an un-integral part of the music."


I remember speaking to Spencer Krug and he mentioned that you'd had a big impact on his lyric writing.

That's a nice thing to say.

When he saw the way you worked on Enemy Mine, the Swan Lake record you did together, it informed the way he went from there. Have you ever had musicians close to you or friends make you look at lyric writing differently from working with them?

I think by the time I started working with people, my path was already kind of set. I already had a lot of records under my belt before I started, say, doing stuff with Carey and Spencer. Lyrically, it's such an instinctive process for me. It's the most thoughtless thing I do in the world. I take more work to tie my shoes.

Because of that do you find that you can be less precious about things that you write? You can deal with criticism of your lyrics well?

I think I'm more confident with the lyrics than anything else. So for instance, I don't mind trying to sabotage a song or do something that seems insane because I think 'oh well, I think the words can stand up to the setting and still have value'. I'm not like that anymore, I stopped doing that - but there's a good fifteen years doing that, or at least ten years. These days I think the writing I do is different and I don't see it as part of some grand poetic project like I used to. It's more like something I want to be an un-integral part of the music.

Is there anything that you would not face in your lyrics in the fear of losing part of yourself that belongs with you alone?

I don't really discuss myself in my lyrics.

Not literally, I suppose I'm asking are there are places you wouldn't go?

My writing is so not topical. I only go to one place ever and it's the same place every time. Just trying to get off through words, that's the shallowest way of putting it, but my reaction when writing it is a physical thing. If I don't get some sort of physical rise out of it, then it's garbage. I can't even picture it because I never sit down and think 'it's time to write a song', it's not never happened to me. I'll just stop by something and later on it becomes more of a fabricated thing when it's time for it to become a record. The emotional kick is a kind of light that goes off.

Is there a particular lyric of your own that still resonates with you from your past or from this record?

I don't know about from this record, definitely not from Kaputt. I'll give you an example that I'd always give someone. There's one song off a record I did eleven years ago called 'Your Blues'. It's the one song that I remember listening to and just being kind of struck by how much it sounded like me. I've never really felt like I was captured, but somehow I'd captured myself in a song. I can't say an exact line but strung all together, it's like what it sounds like in my head. And also it's a sad, sad song. Which is not something that I associate with myself.



So is that a victory?

That song? Yeah, that's a victory. I've only made three songs like that in my life. It 100% is what victory is in the dictionary. I've never thought of it in those terms before, but it definitely is. There's a song on the new record that has my daughter's name in it. So I guess that's kind of personal. It's the song called 'Sun in the Sky' - it has a lot of personal stuff, not necessarily in a meaningful way, but images that I actually called from my life in the last three years. Like if you knew me really well, you'd be able to pick out a handful of things, you'd be surprised because those things never make it into songs. Yeah, that song 'Sun in the Sky' it sounds like.

It's another victory?

I don't know whether it's a victory because I'm older and so conscious of this art making thing that it doesn't sound like I was caught by surprise. The other song sounds like I maybe didn't know the tape was running.

Seeing as you work in a lot of collaborations on one hand, then you have Destroyer that you're the constant in - why do you like to keep them separate and what do you get from the collaborative work?

The collaborations are all very specific though. The New Pornographers started in 1997. That was a conversation amongst friends in a bar that just turned into something more than that. My involvement - without giving it a seconds thought - is being asked whether I've got any songs to work on, and just being like 'yeah'. There's a whole web of intrigue around that. It's the longest time I've ever spent - even if there's huge breaks in between - with one group of people. It's coming on twenty years. So there's no way that dynamic can't have some sort of fucked up family thing going on.


"I feel like there was a time that I was just constantly writing and I wrote a shit ton of songs. Not to brag, not like they were all great."


Do you have that thing like a family of coming back to work on stuff with a new mindset and within ten minutes the dynamic is exactly the same?

It's possible. With that group I've always just seen myself as a contributing songwriter who somehow agrees to sing his own songs. Swan Lake was a very specific time in the 2000s. So that was very much a studio project: we wouldn't see each other for ages then we'd get together and try to make a record. I don't see myself as somebody who tries to seek out collaborations outside of Destroyer. I kind of have that reputation - it's just the way it went, especially in the 2000s. I feel like there was a time that I was just constantly writing and I wrote a shit ton of songs. Not to brag, not like they were all great. But it was part of my life in the late-90s and 2000s, was to just constantly write songs. So it was easy to give songs out to different projects.

Do you think you've become more or less precious?

I just stopped. It probably had something to do with me never touching the guitar: partly because I don't want to, partly because I'm not that good at it. I used to always be strumming a guitar, writing songs, for the first ten years of doing that. When I consciously stopped in the run-in that led up to Kaputt. The songs have mostly been written on a piano or pieced together on synthesisers. But for some reason I think always being on a guitar made me a song factory. I think everybody slows down, as they got older too. You stop writing in the same way and become more conscious of what you're doing. You're always dragging this body of work with you, you try not to think about it, but it's there. And it's harder for you to excite yourself if you've done all this crap, all this stuff. It needs to be something special, which doesn't explain why everybody turns to shit when they get older; it's kind of the opposite. Maybe it's because you're thinking about it more. I definitely started thinking more about being a singer than being a writer, as I've gotten older, so maybe that's where my energies have gone.

Is there anything you regret, in terms of Poison Season?

No regrets, there's always things I'd change. I wouldn't go as far as to put them into the category of regret. Regret is a dark one.



It's a heavy word - any defeats?

There's always defeats, but that's what keeps you going. It's so rare to get the thing that you think you're doing. I think I'm one of those where, the distance between what I think I'm doing and I'm actually doing, is such a gulf. I think I'm not very conscious of how my music comes off. I think I'm doing one thing, but it's quite possible I'm doing something really different.

What about touring, do you enjoy it?

I hate it. I hate the machinery of it. As far as getting on stage, especially since I started with this band in 2012, the band who recorded Poison Season and that's going to tour these songs, I'm kind of into it. I like the part of singing on stage. I think I become more confident, more natural - just comfortable. I'm clearer on what my role is on stage. I used to have hang-ups about the entire apparatus around a group of people staring at you. It seemed screwed to me. I think it still is, it's still fucked-up but I'm over thinking about that. It's too theoretical of a hang-up. It's so hard just to write music that to get to stumble on philosophical concepts around that seems like a lesser evil, I'd rather not even think about it. Once I'm on stage it's really good. I'd still enjoy a chopper to come rescue me half an hour before I'm supposed to go on. A rope ladder to come down and I can climb up. I've always been a nervous person that way; I'm not a natural performer.

Are you an anxious person?

Yeah.

Do use your writing to escape the anxiety? To document it? To deal with it?

I don't think it has any therapeutic value for me. I know I feel better when I'm doing it but that's just because... I'm sure it serves a purpose, I'm just not sure why. I feel like there a thousand different things that are impossible to express in our day-to-day world in the language that we use. Words for me are never going to be enough. So you've got to find a way to deal with it, which is what I do, and it is just part of the struggle. It's art, it's supposed to be, right? If it's not a struggle then what is it? I don't think it's to document the hang-ups, but more to make something beautiful, I suppose. And if that helps, it helps. I'm sure we've been doing those things for thousands of years.

I found it so interesting that you did the Spanish Songs EP. To take a step away from what people expect of Dan Bejar, was that intentional?

I think I had hang-ups about going to the studio. I'd been super-busy touring and I'm not a multi-tasker, so I felt like it'd be good to make music, it goes without saying: people don't think it's my job to sing songs. I don't have one of those voices, even if I think that, so it felt good to do something that flies in the face of that. I'd always wanted to do a Spanish record; it's part of who I am. I knew I could just do it for pleasure, and it was a nice reminder of what it should be. Because when I'm making records, I'm usually in such a foul mood. So it's good exercise to make a record and not go into that place where you're grinding your teeth.

But again, you did it on your own terms, so it had value.

Yeah, I like that, that's good.


Destroyer's forthcoming new album, Poison Season, is out on August 28th via Dead Oceans. Watch the video for 'Girl In a Sling':