Strange voice, strange words, all part of Destroyer's appeal

Across 11 albums as Destroyer, Dan Bejar has sung a lot of words and while his musical output is ever-changing, his albums have adopted the guise of stripped-down singer-songwriter, synth soundscapes and Dylan-esque folk-rock. 

He’s prone to psychedelic flourishes, has contributed songs to power-pop ‘supergroup’ the New Pornographers and yet Bejar’s lyrical approach has remained a constant. The 45-year-old Canadian pens verbose verses, full of playful syllables, references to other artists (and his own artworks), and impish intellectualism.

Destroyer, a.k.a Dan Bejar

Destroyer, a.k.a Dan Bejar

This approach has drawn devoted, obsessive fans, but curbs Destroyer’s appeal to a more commercial crowd. “I once had someone from Los Angeles, who worked in the publishing business, explain to me why Destroyer songs weren’t really usable as licensing things,” Bejar says. “He broke it down in a very matter-of-fact way: ‘your voice is strange, and your words are strange, and your strange voice says too many words’.

“Anything that creates some kind of fissure in the reverie of the pop-music sound ‘spoils’ the mood. It snaps people out of it, which is not supposed to happen. That’s not the goal, unless, say, it is your goal.”

When writing, Bejar says, he’s drawn to “words that clash up against each other” and that play against the music. “With Destroyer songs, there’ll often be a strange disconnect between the actual nature of the song – the chords – and the words, and between that and whatever production approach or style I’ve settled on.”

Setting out work on his 12th album, which he’ll play songs from on his firstAustralian tour this month, — Bejar has accepted the limited reach of his albums. “The kind of music I make feels more like a minor, niche concern these days, like someone who writes poems.”

He’s been, in many ways, a cult act from the start. “By the time I put out a record that wasn’t considered minor and cultish, like  Destroyer’s Rubies that came out in 2006, I was already into my 30s, had put out a bunch of records and played a ton of crappy tours,” he says.

It was only the breakout success of 2011’s Kaputt that gave Bejar “a little taste of life on the extreme margins of the mainstream”. That’s more than he ever imagined, especially cutting his teeth in the mid-’90s in Vancouver’s DIY scene. “The idea of making a career out of music, for 20 years, would’ve seemed like madness,” he says. “The very thought of it would have tasted sour in our mouths; like you’d have to be so corrupt to pull it off.”

Destroyer plays Howler in Melbourne on Thursday, September 27; and Oxford Art Factory in Sydney, on Friday , September 28.

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