Destroyer’s Dan Bejar has many reasons to be happy. Chief among them? The Canadian musician is currently taking a break in Southern Ontario before the show and press blitz surrounding his 11th album, Poison Season, kicks into high gear. He’s mum on the exact location, but assures that the Walden Pond-reminiscent scenery, featuring lakes and forests, is a far cry from his normal environment. As for those other things currently causing him to crack a smile?
“They’re things I wouldn’t talk about in an interview!” he remarks, not unkindly.
Eleven albums deep, it would be quite a life he’s leading if listeners were to take all Destroyer musical musings at face value. The in-jokes and wordplay, drolly delivered in Bejar’s flatfooted alto, remain constant album to album (Sample: “I think I used to be more fun/Oh shit, here comes the sun.”), but seemingly everything else is up for grabs. Art pop? Lounge music? Spanish-influenced guitar work? Why the hell not?
“I can never connect anything in Destroyer to anything in my personal life,” Bejar confesses. “I’m really bad at it. I attack Destroyer as a very specific thing. I don’t really know what it’s an outlet for. Aside from the outlet of me having some strange need to open my mouth and say something with a dramatic backdrop.”
It’s an act, he wryly explains, that’s often driven by “delusions of grandeur.” Poison Season is no different. Across 13 tracks, Bejar plunges headfirst into another cinematic world, fleshing out the dark corners of his narratives with mumbling lounge vocals staged against lush beds of horns. (Yes, there is also sax, and yes, one imagines the Boss himself would approve.) It’s a down and dirty Lou Reed-meets-Broadway dichotomy. Bejar assures that the comparison isn’t far off. After all, he’s okay, pushing his art in many different directions—as far away as possible from who he is off-stage.
“As a singer, I’m definitely way more outsized than I truly am as a person,” Bejar continues. “For this record, in my head I had this wide frame. I concentrated on things that had a very rich or lush connotation. Whether it was the sweepingly romantic strings, or the woven arrangements that you would find in early ‘60s film scores. Or on a Sinatra record. Something like that. Stuff that was writ large. In reality I bit off way more than I could chew. That’s what I mean by ‘delusions of grandeur’…Art lets you get away with that. Or art lets you think that you can get away with it. I fall into that trap often.”
It’s an aesthetic that Bejar doubles down on during Poison Season highlight “Bangkok.” A haunting piano and horn-driven track, the song sees the musician singing, not from his usual omniscient voice of God point-of-view, but rather diving into the mind of a character named Sunny. For all the diversity in the Destroyer catalog, Bejar believes this is the first time he’s taken such a creative step. However, he’d hesitate to call it an outright leap.
“It’s only after the fact that I looked at it and said, ‘wow, I’ve written something in a voice that is not my own.’ Then when it comes time to try and make music out of that or make a song out of that and sing it, I take a step back and think that I have to sing it in a certain way. Usually if I write it, it means that I can be inside of it quite easily. Because I write so unconsciously. I’m also not that used to it. I don’t have a history of writing songs like that before Poison Season. In my mind, I haven’t written too many songs like ‘Bangkok’ where you can feel that there’s some kind of narrator outside of you that’s speaking from the beginning of the song to the end of the song.”
Bejar admits that the title of the album is a nod to the album’s vibe, darker and perhaps more ambitious than its predecessor Kaputt. (“I kept thinking of espionage. Or crime. I felt like it had a murder mystery vibe,” he muses.) But there’s also a simpler explanation for Poison Season’s meaning-heavy moniker.
“I get a physical rush when words sound good to me,” says Bejar. “I assume that’s because that’s what poetry is. Not to call myself a poet! But what we’re trying for when we write is to use language to achieve a physical kick that music has innately. I think when it’s that nerve it means that it’s some kind of secret that you get a glimpse at. A veil lifted from the world.”
At this, Bejar pauses,and laughs at his own lofty statement.
“It’s some kind of way of seeing things,” he continues. “That’s all I really want. That’s all I look for in writing…I can never really remember what floats my boat. But I know that I have gotten impulsive about words and language. But there are things that sound good to me. I love the progression of them. I’m not sure what phase I’m in right now.”