Maybe it's not so surprising that Destroyer's most adventurous stylistic departure also yielded its most pop-friendly record. Dan Bejar has been the sole driving force behind Destroyer across nine albums (as well as an able part of well-loved projects such as the New Pornographers and Swan Lake), and this year's Kaputt continues Bejar's penchant for defying expectation. It's what he calls "an ambient-disco record," but you'll recognize the high-gloss synths, metronomic drum machines and smooth sax solos as the earmarks of highly stylized '80s pop.
Of course Bejar still retains his affection for genre-bending and risk-taking. The album's centerpiece is the eight-minute "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker," a collaboration with Walker herself, who's an American visual artist. Kaputt also comes on the heels of Bejar's work with Tim Hecker and Loscil (a.k.a. Scott Morgan), two Canadian electronic artists. Reached by e-mail, Bejar described his approach to the new LP and how working with other artists continually alters the nature of the band.
B-Sides: Destroyer has always been perceived as a one-man project, but Kaputt marks a high point in a recent spate of collaborations with people like Tim Hecker and Loscil. How has this changed your songwriting and song-arranging process?
Dan Bejar: I am cool with letting songs dissolve. I am cool with not touching a single instrument, or moreso, feeling antagonistic towards instruments. I've become cool with letting the voice recede, having words simply not show up. The collaborations with Scott [Morgan] and Tim were pretty cut and dry, in the sense that I did not take part in too much besides the lyrics and the singing or speaking of them. (In "Archer [on the Beach]" I wrote the chord progression and threw in a couple sound effects, but Tim messed with all those sounds.) In this sense, it was a lot different from the making of Kaputt. I think my future lies with the former.
Likewise, "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker" is the only cowriting credit I can think of on a Destroyer release. How did you go about combining your words with Walker's?
Freestyle, in real time. Focusing on her words that seemed most melodious. And most punk...
Your vocals sound especially laconic and relaxed this time around. Is that a reflection on the softer palette of sound on Kaputt?
The softer palette is a reflection of the vocal sound that the songs demanded, as I wrote them.
The use of step-write drum machines and pre-MIDI Yamaha polyphonic synths leaves a pretty distinct stamp on these new songs. How much does the nature of the instruments themselves direct the songs? And is that different from making guitar-based music?
I don't want to give too much away, as far as what JCDC [the studio and producers who run it] will use when you ask them to help you make an ambient-disco record, but I will say that it mostly involves turning on a computer. In this sense, it is all painfully different from making guitar-based music. Painfully different...programmed drums change everything. As does MIDI.
With Destroyer's Rubies and Trouble in Dreams, it seemed like you had settled on a cast of musicians that recorded and toured with you, but most of those players don't appear on Kaputt. Do you find it necessary to alter the formula every so often?
I find Trouble in Dreams really different from Destroyer's Rubies. The difference in drummers is too vast to go into here. The only two Destroyer records that really feel part of a lineage, part of a specific era, are Thief and Streethawk: A Seduction. That was a serious attempt at a "band" version of the band. I don't find anything necessary, not even making records. If I'd found a formula for any of this stuff, I don't think I would tamper with it. But I haven't, so things drift. What the individual players add to a single recording alters things in a way that is far greater than I could ever imagine. That's why working conceptually falls flat.