Disco Balladeer (For Now): An Interview with Destroyer’s Dan Bejar

06/20/2012 4:00 AM |

Photo: Ted Bois

Though Dan Bejar has recorded with many different bands and projects over the last three decades, he is Destroyer. Last year’s gauzy pop masterpiece, Kaputt, is maybe the most widely loved thing that personal passion project has ever done, though it came from rejecting creative methods that had defined his previous work. Now, touring its songs into a second year, he’s in a good place to really reflect on it, and is still learning new things about the rest of his records, which just happen to make up the finest glam rock songbook anyone’s produced in two decades.

We caught Dan holed up in Phoenix, en gradual route to his Brooklyn shows. We talked about Kaputt and what comes after, a tour which has him performing his huge back catalog for the first time ever, what his continued development as a pop singer requires him to be, and how Bryan Ferry’s career trajectory is the one that continues to guide and spook him, both.

The L Magazine: Are you still touring with the same group of people who were playing the Kaputt shows last year?

Dan Bejar: It’s a different lineup. About half the same, half different. The rhythm section is different, which always changes everything, a different piano player. The horns are the same, and the guitars players are
the same.

What about the performances feels most different to you?

It’s a looser congregation, people go off a bit more. Also, it’s not like a new song showcase, which was the case last year. Most of our energy went to wrapping our heads around how to play those Kaputt songs, which were completely pieced together in the studio and couldn’t be further from being band performances. It’s also maybe the first time that a band I’ve toured with has just learned a shitload of Destroyer songs.

How did you go about building the set lists?

It was kind of a mix of songs that were either in keeping with the spirit of how we were playing, or songs that were open-ended enough that we could totally throw out the recorded version and just make it what we wanted it to be. Nothing super-duper old. I’m thinking the oldest stuff we are doing is maybe 1999. Which does feel incredibly old when I say it out loud.

I was listening to Streethawk: A Seduction the other day and I realized it was released 11 years ago. If that seemed weird to me, it must seem weird to you.

Yeah, it definitely does. Singing some of those songs is a strange experience. Destroyer did not really tour back then, so some of those songs have never been played on a stage, you know?

In the moment when you’re playing an older song with a much bigger band, or wildly different instrumentation, does it ever take on a different meaning for you? Or if you hear something in the song that’s way different than the intent when you were writing it?

There are a couple songs where I feel like we nail it way better than the recorded versions. I don’t know if that’s because I have a better understanding of what the song is, or if it’s the circumstance. I mean, the band that is Destroyer right now is kind of a bad-ass band in some ways. They’re like animals, you throw out a piece of meat and they devour it. The meat being a song.

Do you prefer playing with this big a set-up to playing smaller, or solo?