Steely Dan Bejar: Destroyer, 'Kaputt' at Black Cat

April 4, 2011


The only constant in Canadian indie-rock band Destroyer’s music is change. From album to album — and sometimes from song to song — Dan Bejar changes up the band’s sound and the rules of its music according to whim, following a muse only he can see.

The result can be thrillingly disorienting. He’s explored anthemic indie rock (“Trouble in Dreams), exquisite chamber pop (“Rubies”) and MIDI-fied synthscapes (“Yr Blues”). And on the band’s latest disc, “Kaputt,” Bejar resurrects early ’80s smooth-jazz pop a la Steely Dan in an echo chamber, with lots of reverby sax solos and lush ambiance.

It’s a genre that’s been generally critically ignored, if not outright reviled, but Bejar makes it sound as innovative and world-shaking as Radiohead or Kanye West.

What piqued your interest in this sound for the record?
I’m not sure how close the sound of the record is to what I originally had in my mind. I think my first thoughts were more billowy. That slowly started to morph once things started to become more groove-based, with [David Carswell's] rhythm guitar. But I was committed to the instrumentation from very early on. That might have had something to do with listening to a lot of jazz music, and listening to ’80s English music that borrowed from ambient production.

How much of the music was something in your head that you wanted to capture in the studio, and how much did you discover by exploring?
We had some pretty solid working templates, and also songs where nothing made sense until the very end. A lot of nerve-wracking freedom in that regard.


How did you choose the musicians for this album? What kind of guidance did you give them?
Some of the musicians are people I’ve worked with very closely for ages now. Others were people I knew by reputation, or people whose style always just stuck in my head. I gave people little to no guidance. The playing on the record is mostly just a couple afternoons’ worth of total free-for-alls, which I think might be the defining sound of the album.

You’ve referred to this album as your first pop album. Can you elaborate? Pop can mean so many different things.
When I say pop, I only mean one thing, and that is establishing a consistent approach to production that is never broken from, thus never snapping the listener out of whatever stupor they’ve stumbled into. Pop music is a trap.

I know you’ve said that you write for the sound of the words as much as their meaning, but do their meanings change for you after time?
The sound of a word and its meaning are the same thing. The sound is whatever art lives in the line that connects it to the word that comes after it and the word that came before it.

How do these songs change from the studio to the stage? How closely are you trying to re-create the sound of the album?
Live, the songs err on the side of hard jams instead of delicate ambience, that’s how they differ. That being said, most everyone who played on the album is playing on stage, so it should sound familiar to people. There are a handful of older songs that are being put through this sonic grinder.

Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; with the War on Drugs; Tues., Apr. 5, 8 p.m., $15; 202-667-4490. (U St.-Cardozo)

Written by Express contributor Stephen M. Deusner

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