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Friday, March 18, 2011

Extended Q&A with Dan Bejar of Destroyer

Posted by Ned Lannamann on Fri, Mar 18, 2011 at 1:02 PM

destroyer.jpg
  • photo: Ted Bois

I talked to Dan Bejar about the new Destroyer record, the bleary and wonderfully glossy-sheened Kaputt, and Destroyer’s current tour, which hits Portland tomorrow night. That conversation turned into an article in this week’s paper, but here’s some more of the Q&A with Bejar, who, during our conversation, was as engaged and forthcoming as Destroyer’s music is enigmatic.

Destroyer plays the Doug Fir (830 E Burnside) at 9 pm on Saturday, March 19 with the War on Drugs. Advanced tickets are sold out but a very limited amount of tickets will be available for $15 tomorrow night when the box office opens at 7:30 pm.

MERCURY: I had read somewhere that there was an eight-piece orchestra for this tour. Is it an actual orchestra…?
DAN BEJAR: I don’t understand why it got called an orchestra. That makes it sound like it’s me with a septet in the background of cellos and violins. For the most part it’s everyone that played on the record. Which happens to—when you throw in the horns and the backup vocals—it ends up being eight of us all together.

But nothing more orchestral than what appears on the record?
No, I think it’s like a pretty close approximation. It’s a bit looser. It’s more live sounding. But it’s definitely not more arranged. If anything, it’s heavier into the jazz fusion side. [Laughs.] But you don’t need to print that.

That’ll be the headline.
I don’t want to scare people away.

The album sounds very fluid and loose, but I’m wondering how it translates to the live setting, because there are a lot of production elements, studio elements that contribute to the sound.
That’s true. I mean, we haven’t played a show yet [this interview took place March 3], so we’re still, even at this close date, trying to figure some of that stuff out. At some point, though, which I think is pretty typical of making records versus playing songs on stage, you have to ditch some of the canned atmospherics in favor of things like people playing off each other, or the sensation of playing music in the same room—which is an idea that is completely at war with how Kaputt was recorded, where people weren’t even playing within the same year of each other... or time zone. So things like that are more exciting, but yeah, some of the more synthetic effects you have to leave behind because you only have so many hands and so many computers in the world.

I don’t even know the chords to these songs now. They don’t really follow any patterns for the most part. They’re just like a jam that goes endlessly.

You mentioned that you’re more or less done with playing instruments. How did you approach the melody for these songs?
Well the melody always comes first, so I would sit down at the end of the day—when forced to—and drum up chords that seemed to sit right with the vocals. Then I’d play them once and we’d have them on the computer, and then we’d forget all about them. I mean, there are people in the band who know the songs—I can always ask the bass player how it goes. But, yeah, in general, they just seemed like a hindrance in terms of creating textures or melodic drones, or just having the song move in a way that didn’t hinge on these basic guitar chords that I’ve been using all my life. Just being able to smear it out of it. That’s why synths are pretty helpful actually, because they can overlap in a pretty nice way without sounding too dissonant. But yeah, that’s kind of how we did it with this record.

What about the structure of the record? I read that it took a very long time to record, comparatively, and “Bay of Pigs” initially appeared on an EP in 2009. There’s also an extra side on the vinyl version, which I haven’t heard.
That extra side [a suite entitled “The Laziest River”] was recorded independently of all the other songs on Kaputt. The piano player in Destroyer [Ted Bois], doesn’t actually play on [the CD version of] Kaputt. He took all the photos, and he did the artwork for the two Destroyer EPs before the album, but he’s not playing because there’s no piano on the record. But yeah, he pretty much composed that 20-minute side in its entirety and recorded it, and it’s really kind of a feat. I mean, I’m really really into it. I sing on it a little bit, in the middle.

And then “Bay of Pigs” was inside of the Kaputt process. It just so happened that once we started working on it, we just didn’t stop for like four months. And as we did it, I kind of thought it would be cool to just finish this really long song and put it out as a little taste of things to come.

I’m wondering how that extended recording process plays into the sound, in that it’s less spontaneous, but maybe more thought out in terms of ideas being followed to their conclusions.
In one way, the record is really thought out. I mean, it’s all really recorded on the grid. But, in another way, the elements themselves were completely chaotic and almost independent of the songs themselves, because we spent so much time building the skeleton and the guts of these songs—like all the horns and the noisier lead guitar stuff and the backup vocals. Each person who did those things essentially came in for an afternoon without ever having heard the music and just were told to go wild over these songs, just do three takes for each one and proceed how you see fit. And we made sense of it after the fact when it came time to mix. So there’s a lot of really on-the-fly moves and decisions that get made when you’re dealing with this mass of music that shows up out of nowhere after working on something for a year and a half. The record took drastic shifts that way, which was pretty cool. When you’re going to play something with a band and trying to capture it and sit down and look at it, you’re usually not afforded that kind of luxury, even if it’s very stressful luxury.

There was something I think I’d read about you felt like you had difficulty finding your singing voice in some ways, and with this record you abandoned all that and went for a “flatter” approach. I don’t know if those are the right terms to use. But do you feel like you’ve crossed a bridge, vocally, and found a technique that you’re going to incorporate in the future?
I think I’m still working on it, but I definitely think that there’s probably a divide between Kaputt and the other Destroyer records, vocally. And I’m probably going to try and steer into that—for me to just relax and step back a bit, but not in a way that’s devoid of emotion. I think there’s a conscious flattening and I think now that I’ve figured out how to empty the vocals of, like, extreme personality [laughs], then I can maybe start to lay into them a bit in a different way. But we’ll see. It’s all very recent. I think even on the song “Bay of Pigs” you can hear me still trying to figure it out compared to maybe some of the other Kaputt songs, where the vocals were recorded further down the line in a more absent-minded way.

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