“You know when you read something and your heart beats, your pulse speeds up because it’s affecting you? I had the desire to do that to myself, so I would do that by writing and getting off on it”.
Three years after their latest release, Destroyer’s Dan Bejar has announced that his 13th album, titled Have We Met, will be released on the 31st January 2020 via Dead Oceans. In an effort to shine a light on Destroyer’s mysterious melodies, I met with Dan, the band’s singer/songwriter. It’s safe to say, the mystery holds.
An appropriately grim day in Shoreditch sets the scene. Having freshly arrived from Berlin and heading to Amsterdam next, Dan has learned to live in bars and sleep poorly on buses. As we sit down, he is hesitant at first. Dan is not big on interviews and self-promotion. What he is really excited about is “getting in a room with the band and figuring out how to play the record”. Dan has been making music over a decade but ask him what he does, and he would say he reads poems.
From the comfort of his couch, Dan worked on creating the song’s skeletons singing them late at night. “One of the weirdest things is the fact that what you hear on the record is like me singing the songs for the first or second time ever” he says. The world was never supposed to hear them. An enlightening process, which allowed him to create an intimate voice that he could not quite bring about in the studio: “I really sound like no one is listening which is really a hard place for me to get to”.
Then, long term collaborator John Collins was tasked with layering synth and rhythm over stream-of-consciousness Bejar, as Nicholas Bragg added three-dimensional, shredding guitar. Dan describes the working process for the album as “hermetic” as, for most of it, the three of them weren’t in the same place, at the same time: “At the very tail end, I went down and John and I rushed the record into shape but a lot of it was like working in extreme isolation, which is different for us”.
Dan admits that “John’s production was really, really different” from anything he had expected. In particular, he refers to a song titled ‘Cue Synthesiser’ which he describes as “perverse” with a kind of “clattering hip hop percussion and funky industrial base”. He tells me that everything about this song made him nervous, although it’s also a feeling that he loves, “the dread of the unknown” as he calls it.
Inspired by the poisonous blood-like tide occurring in the Pacific Ocean, the album’s first release emerged from years of writing set aside for projects beyond music. From these writings deemed unmusical, Dan started writing ‘Crimson Tide’ and describes it as “a wistful, nostalgic, and romantic song”. Adding to the apocalyptic-like imagery, doomed love is another recurring theme in Destroyer’s music. Asked whether ‘It Just Doesn’t Happen To Anyone’ talks about love, Dan is hesitant “I think I’m always talking about that” and continues saying that it’s more about “feeling isolated, seeing yourself as a singular, distinct person somehow special and poking fun at that idea”.
Dan doesn’t take himself too seriously but that doesn’t prevent him from being honest about his song writing. Inspired by films and literature, Dan is primarily a writer and ended up making music when he noticed that words and melodies came to him easily – “I would write and play guitar all day long” he details. And although sometimes he still wonders how he got there, the evidence suggests that making music is his natural state of being. Dan’s a poet of the unconscious, mumbling words to himself, translating memories into musical and visual experiences. His enigmatic approach to music isn’t a mystery to solve; it’s one to indulge on.
Photo credit: Ted Bois