With his eighth studio album Trouble In Dreams out this week, and a handful of side projects under his belt, including a new collaboration with Sydney Vermont dubbed Hello, Blue Roses that hit shelves earlier this year, Destroyer’s frontman Dan Bejar seems to have only grown in critical favor over the last 12 years. Not only that, but after the success of Destroyer’s Rubies(2006), Bejar and company – a revolving door of back-up musicians – have attracted a fan base the likes of which the Toronto songwriter has never seen.With his eighth studio album Trouble In Dreams out this week, and a handful of side projects under his belt, including a new collaboration with Sydney Vermont dubbed Hello, Blue Roses that hit shelves earlier this year, Destroyer’s frontman Dan Bejar seems to have only grown in critical favor over the last 12 years. Not only that, but after the success of Destroyer’s Rubies(2006), Bejar and company – a revolving door of back-up musicians – have attracted a fan base the likes of which the Toronto songwriter has never seen.
Always the enigmatic figure, swinging from outsider artist to indie success story following his pairing with The New Pornographers, it should come as no surprise that Bejar opted for the e-mail interview, rather than the pseudo-intimate phoner. And if it seems that his responses are a bit terse, or sometimes altogether evasive, you need look no further than a Destroyer lyrics sheet to understand why: It’s not that he’s trying to be elliptical; to his ear, it just sounds better that way.
American Songwriter: Though Trouble In Dreams is still chock full of your signature labyrinthine lyrics and meandering ballads, it seems you’ve hit a steadier stride over the course of your last few records.
Dan Bejar: It’s possible I’ve pared down the word count here and there. I think I sing different. But I think there’s also the case of people just getting used to the way I sing, the stuff I say and how I say it. The musical element of Rubies did seem to have a less alienating effect than that of the two records that came before it, or the live stuff with Frog Eyes. I can’t vouch for this new one.
Or do you think it’s that way merely because of the critical success of Rubies that you’ve simply found a wider audience?
Sure, Destroyer has a wider audience than two years ago. Still not all that wide.
How do you feel your work has evolved over the last decade?
Man, I really couldn’t tell you that. City of Daughters and Trouble In Dreams still have some similarities. The people involved in the records have shifted some, so most of the change might be outside of me. I’d like to think I have a purely poetic take on lyrics now, as opposed to the anti-purely poetic take from 10 years ago. I think I sing steadier.
What do you mean exactly by “anti-purely poetic”?
I meant that in the mid- to late-90s, I went out of my way to write songs that didn’t contain adjectives. In their place, I put an importance on commands, writing in the imperative/pamphlet form.
Does that go hand-in-hand with paring down the word count?
I don’t think a smaller word count necessarily has anything to do with using adjectives. In fact, you’d think that they’d be at odds. In my case, they aren’t.
Can you think of any example on Trouble In Dreams?
Too many examples to think of on Trouble in Dreams. Unless I’m wrong.
How do you feel Trouble In Dreams fits into your overall trajectory? Besides having simply solid songwriting, what makes it stand out from your previous albums?
Most of it seems different. But it probably still sounds like us. I probably won’t make another rock record, at least not for awhile, so I wanted the drums to kick a lot of ass on this one, and they do. That’s why I asked Fisher [Rose] to play. I don’t consciously try to make one record different from the last, there is no arc to Destroyer records, no trajectory. Just doing figure eights for all I know.
Since you don’t plan on a rock record anytime soon, what direction do you think you’ll take? Perhaps a return to an earlier sound, or some blend of it?
The earlier sound was also rock. I have no idea what I’ll do next. Really depends on what kind of cool shit I’ve amassed.
The word “supergroup” is tossed around quite a lot when referring to Canadian bands like the New Pornographers or Broken Social Scene. Though American groups often have side and solo projects, it seems to me that Canadian musicians in specific have a much more communal, or collaborative spirit when it comes to their music. This can be seen in your own collaborations with Swan Lake, New Pornos and, most recently, with Hello, Blue Roses. Do you agree with that and, if so, why do you think that is?
If what you say is true, it’s probably because of our however-fading socialist traditions in contrast with the greedy arch-capitalists of America. More realistic is that the whole idea of the Canadian music collective is a hoax perpetrated by a few happy-go-lucky Canadian musicians on an unblinking global music press. But I didn’t do it.
You don’t see yourself as part of a larger trend of musicians swapping from one project to another and back again?
Sure, like jazz musicians from decades ago. Not an idea I specifically associate with Toronto.
I would think that with each project you work on, a new side of your songwriting takes shape. Have you found that to be the case with your work with Frog Eyes, and with Spencer Krug and Carey Mercer in Swan Lake?
That was definitely true with the last Pornographers record. And I definitely tailor my writing to the boys in the Destroyer group, depending on who’s playing. Swan Lake is a little trickier, as I’m never quite sure what those guys are gonna gravitate to or be sickened by. One thing that definitely happens is that my interest in the practical realities of recording and arrangements get rekindled when we do a Swan Lake record, which is kinda funny in that Carey and Spencer do pretty much all the recording and arranging.
What is it about Swan Lake that rekindles your interest in recording? And what about the Pornographers shapes you?
‘Cause Spencer and Carey are both pretty composer-ly in the way they put together a rock song. And they’re both sonically quite specific in their tastes. And so being around them makes me hope that some of that stuff might rub off on me. The Pornographers allows me to indulge in rock and roll genre pieces, which is a part of me that doesn’t get to run rampant that often.
How did you decide to collaborate with Sydney Vermont?
I wanted to play on her songs and then record them, though I chickened out of the latter part. She let me.
Do you see any future collaborations you’d like to try?
Since both Destroyer and New Pornographers are touring at the same time, will you ever be able to share the stage together?
Not that I know of.
Destroyer’s new record Trouble In Dreams was released on March 18 via Merge Records.