May 16th, 2008 | Interviews

Luke McGarry

Destroyer “Foam Hands”


Dan Bejar is the reason Vancouver’s Destroyer is alive, though he’s disinterested in taking or assigning credit for the thirteen-year ongoing musical collaboration. Katie Byron learns this and more in a very silly and jumbled phone conversation. 

I have to say I was a bit intimidated about talking to you. You seem to have an air of cynicism—I can’t figure out if it’s toward yourself or towards the world.

Dan Bejar: An air of cynicism—I’m still unsure about what sort of airs I put towards myself, but I don’t think I’m cynical. I hope not. Sometimes I can write a song and sing it and record it and that song exists in a universe that leans more towards negative than positive. But I don’t think of myself as bitter or sarcastic.
We’ll get positive. I promise.
No, that’s good! It’s an interesting approach.
You never seem to stick to the same method. Shifts in members, recording styles, instrumentation—is this because you’re unhappy or because you have boundless energy to move forward?
I think I just have varied interests. I’m not a ‘rock musician’ per se. I don’t have a very specific style of playing guitar or playing piano. I’m not good enough to have a style on those instruments! And in playing live music—which I don’t do very often—my tastes are kind of all over the place. It’s not that I’m whimsical, but I think that I kind of float in the direction of certain breezes just blowing. There’s different things I like to try and different people I like to work with, but it’s been fairly consistent. Over the last five years a lot of the same names keep on popping up—just in different configurations.
You’re back on tour, and supposedly you hate tours.
It’s not my favorite place to be!
You don’t like performing live?
Not liking to be on tour and not liking to be on stage are really two different things. I feel like there’s a certain way one can get ground down playing music night after night after night in a different city. The lifestyle around that seems kind of unnatural and I started doing tours a little late. I think I was thirty when I went on my first real tour. I was really too old to relish the road, and getting wasted all the time and this rock and roll thing—I mean I still do those things but it’s just kind of to get you through. I’ve never been a huge fan of travel. I like going to one place and just staying there and existing there. The disorientation just maybe gets to me after a while. And I’m not the most natural stage performer. I wasn’t born to dance and sing. It’s kind of weird that I end up doing something where people have to watch me do it. I’m still getting used to it. That being said, I don’t know. I think I may be easing into it in my old age.
If you could imagine a perfect space or situation for an audience to listen to your music, what would that look like?
I don’t really know. I don’t find bars an oppressive or weird place to hear music. I kind of like them. I’m actually equally weirded out by the idea of playing to a group of people while I’m in the top of a tree in a dark forest—or anything like that, you know? But that sounds kind of cool.
That does sound cool. Would you ever consider doing that?
Destroyer started as a solo project on a four track. It’s had a changing line-up since. Why do you want this to be seen as a band rather than a solo effort?
It’s a musical collaboration. I’m not writing down people’s parts. I come up with these songs that sometimes I could sing them by myself and they’d make sense, but what happens when we record them is that we go into a room and bash them out. Then, maybe it’s my job more than others to make sense of the noise we make.
So you’re the organizer of the party then.
Yeah, I guess I’m the organizer of the party. It’s still five people on stage. It is a group and I’m not a prince or a mastermind. And even when the stuff is more studio-based like Your Blues—where that was mostly just me and the guy whose studio it was—they were still really responsible for a lot of how things sounded. The music is always collaborative and I think that gets lost in the weird cult of personality shit that seems to get whipped up around me. I understand that through the eight Destroyer albums there’s only one constant and that’s me, but when you go album to album they include other people—so it’s good to acknowledge that. I ended up, after recording the first record, just having my roommates make a bunch of noise behind me and I would alternate between that and just playing solo when I did play live. And then after a couple years I went and recorded a second record and there was a rhythm section on a few songs, so I figured when there came a time to play those songs I might as well put a band together and see if we could sound like a rock band. And that kind of went in one direction for about two or three years and then I moved away from the city and when I came back I just put together a brand new band and that band is somewhat similar to who’s on tour with me right now.
Did you like making music with roommates?
Things were always pretty slow going. Destroyer’s not a band that’s ever practiced very much. We go for months on end without ever doing that. As a band we’ve never sought out live shows, even when we were some random Vancouver band. It was always very unprofessional. I was always serious about the music but as far as taking it to the next level or presenting the band to the world, it was super lax—so everyone around the band was also lax about it.
If everyone is so relaxed and easy going, how does something move forward? Usually projects like that sort of dwindle away.
You make a record and a couple people in your hometown are into it, and then maybe you make another one and then a couple people in Canada hear about it, and then you make a third one and all of a sudden some people in the states are asking about your record. And the next thing you know, you’re talking on the phone with strangers about your music. It’s been thirteen years since I recorded the first Destroyer record—that four track album. So there’s lots of room there for a pretty easy progress. I guess it’s me. If I bailed on it, it’s not like there’s anyone around to say, ‘Hey we should have a Destroyer practice or hey we should have a Destroyer show.’
Well, yeah, you’re the organizer of the party.
Yeah—it’s like they’d pull the plug!