Destroyer rips into fall with Poison Season

Destroyer. Photo by Fabiola Carranza.

Dan Bejar is killing it in the music scene with longterm fans and unconventionality

For those of you who might not yet be familiar with Dan Bejar’s Destroyer, you’re in luck, because you’re about to discover one of Canada’s brightest musical stars. For those of you who do know Destroyer, you’re also in luck because Poison Season was released less than a month ago, and it’s destroying the ‘slightly moody and strange vocals and lyrics jazz rock’ game.

Destroyer. Photo by Fabiola Carranza.
Destroyer. Photo by Fabiola Carranza.

While I realize that ‘slightly moody and strange vocals and lyrics jazz rock’ is an unconventional way of classifying a band’s style, there really is no better way to describe Destroyer’s sound. Plus, it’s how Bejar himself did when we spoke earlier this week. Really, there isn’t anything conventional about Bejar or Destroyer.

Take the band’s name for instance. Destroyer sounds like the perfect name for a heavy metal band circa 1983 right? Well, for anybody interested in getting a new wave heavy metal band started, this could be your chance to re-brand Destroyer.

“I was mostly just shocked that no one else had used [Destroyer] yet. So I grabbed it, I just wanted to grab it, to trademark it for myself so I can sell it down the line … I’m open to offers,” said Bejar. Get it while the going’s good, folks!

The name isn’t the only thing that’s unconventional about Bejar and Destroyer. Destroyer’s first record came out in 1996, and Bejar will be 43 in early October. It’s not common for an artist in his 40s to maintain relevance in the indie music scene. It’s even more uncommon for said artist to be touring and performing for crowds half his age.

“It’s strange for sure, it’s cool though, you know,” said Bejar. “I don’t think Destroyer has ever really spoken to any particular generation in specific, you know. Kaputt rang home with a much younger demographic than I was expecting,” he said.

Kaputt is Destroyer’s 2011 album that really put Bejar at the frontlines of the indie music scene. Kaputt’s success gave Bejar the freedom to expand his creative reaches on Poison Season, mainly in terms of the elaborate instrumental arrangements, which include a string section.

“It’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing, something I’ve always wanted to do, but I felt was like a bit outside of my scope. [I] definitely needed the time and the money to go for it in that regard. That’s the main thing: I’ve always loved music with strings. I made a record called Your Blues about 11 or 12 years ago that was all fake strings, fake orchestral arrangements, and so this time I thought I would have the real thing,” he said.

Though Destroyer is known for its intricate instrumental arrangements, from blaring horns to melodic piano, Poison Season goes above and beyond expectations for a rock album.

“The band comes up with tons of stuff,” said Bejar. “I’ll usually come in with the vocal melodies, the chords, a general idea for the beat of the song, kind of what the rhythmic phrasing should be, and then I’ll come in with one or two melodies that I’ll usually hand off to one of the horn players, a flute line. Get someone to play it, and just embellish it and make it sound good.” The band’s talent is really only matched by Bejar’s skill as a poet/lyricist and a singer.

Bejar said this album comes closest to his idea of what his voice should sound like. “I’m getting closer,” he said. “The sound of my voice, you know, the tone of it and the phrasing of it.”

Surprisingly, his favourite moments on the album are “musical ones, not ones that involve [his] voice.” Check out his favourites, the last two minutes of “Bangkok,” or the last couple minutes of “Forces from Above” and you’ll understand why.

Poison Season follows fictional characters Jesus, Jacob, Judy and Jack across a musical journey that begins and ends with the track “Time’s Square, Poison Season,” an orchestral ballad that takes the listener on a spiritual adventure. Religious language is present throughout the album, lending an ominous tone to Bejar’s already dark lyrics.

“I couldn’t describe myself as a spiritual person, but also, I feel like it’s really up to someone else to describe me that way. I just like that kind of language, I like language of longing, and searching, and being lost, and trying to find some kind of light, you know, or purpose in all this muck. And this just translates into religious language … or at least mystic,” said Bejar.“I feel like the minute you say ‘I’m a very spiritual person,’ a little baby bird dies somewhere.” We agreed that there must be lots of dead baby birds out there.

Poison Season sorts through the proverbial “muck” by anchoring the listener in with “Time’s Square,” which is also tucked away in the middle of the album, this time set to a jazz-rock backdrop. Bejar recorded two versions of most songs, one with “the band practicing and recording really fast” said Bejar, and “a whole separate track with the string arrangements. And sometimes they could live together in the same song.” It just didn’t work for “Times Square,” and he “got really attached to both versions, and decided to put them both on.” Like I said, there’s nothing conventional about Destroyer.

The sequencing on Poison Season is different from most Destroyer albums. With a mix of songs that seemingly don’t belong on the same album, Poison Season’s sequencing brings the listeners on a roller coaster ride with poppy highs and jazzy lows. “I like the way the record moves a lot … the flow of it makes a lot of sense to me,” said Bejar.

There’s a lot that makes sense about Poison Season, in a way that could only really work for Destroyer. I don’t know of many bands that could sing “You’re sick in bed, you’re sick in the head/ You’d love a dog to play dead, you’d love a dog to play dead/ I think I used to be more fun, ah shit here comes the sun,” and still make you want to dance with a big old smile plastered on your face.

Destroyer plays the Fairmount Theatre Thursday, Oct. 1 at 9 p.m with Jennifer Castle.

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