It Just Doesn’t Happen
The Television Music Supervisor
Have We Met
The Man in Black’s Blues
Throughout the late ’90s and 2000s, Destroyer was essentially a guitar band. Whether principal singer-songwriter (and erstwhile New Pornographer) Dan Bejar was exploring glam rock’s velvety contours (2001’s Streethawk: A Seduction), experimenting with drum- and bass-less baroque pop (2004’s Your Blues), or orchestrating a grand rock opus (2006’s Destroyer’s Rubies), six strings generally provided his songs their backbone. That changed with 2011’s Kaputt. “I cast down the guitar in disgust,” the Vancouver-based Bejar tells Apple Music, partly kidding, but mostly serious. Kaputt’s focus on atmosphere and mood (its soft-rock synths, fretless bass, ’80s jazz-pop saxophones) signaled a major shift in not only how Bejar would write songs (“I like to avoid writing on an instrument at all,” he says), but also how each of his subsequent albums would sound. The experiments with chamber strings and horns on 2015’s Poison Season and the apocalyptic New Wave of 2017’s ken were essentially a lead-up to the band’s 12th album, Have We Met, Bejar’s most self-aware, confident, and abstract work to date. It’s also his darkest, filled with scenes of violence, isolation, and existential dread, most of which Bejar wrote and sang into his laptop at his kitchen table at night. (He then sent those files to bandmates John Collins and Nicolas Bragg, who added everything from bass, drums, keys, and guitar to the glitchy bee-swarm textures that close out the LP.) But for all its excursions into the unknown, Have We Met is still very much a Destroyer album—those hyper-literate, self-referential lyrical flourishes and melodic arrangements that have become Bejar’s signature still fully intact. No matter how different things might feel this time around, "You can see a Destroyer song coming a mile away,” Bejar says. Here, he deciphers his 10 latest.
"It's composed of the style of writing which I usually call like 'old Destroyer.’ I don't see that kind of lyrical attack too much in any song I've written since [the 2009 EP] Bay of Pigs. I had it in my special ‘this is for something else' book, and finally wrote the song from disparate chunks of writing that struck me as kind of musical. But it was really all over the place, and I needed to tie it in together somehow. And for some reason I thought a good way to do that would be to constantly say 'crimson tide' at the end of every stanza. It has specific connotations in America—like a college football team or a submarine movie, which are really dumb. And so I think that's important to point out, when there's dumb American things that take over language. It has an end-of-the-world ring to it, as like blood on the horizon, or some kind of apocalypse incoming. It was a loaded two words, and it felt good to sing it at the end of each verse and just see what the song ended up meaning."
"As opposed to 'Crimson Tide,’ 'Kinda Dark' I felt was some other kind of writing that I didn't really know—a kind of music, especially in the last half of the song, that I felt was a bit more violent-sounding than the band usually is. It's supposed to be the three stanzas, with the last one being particularly gnarly. The first one is kind of a cruising imagery, leading up to sitting on a park bench next to the Boston Strangler. The second one is more slightly eerie sci-fi. And the last one is just a dystopic kind of dogfight or something like that. Like a torture chamber with an audience."
It Just Doesn't Happen
"That song was kind of different from the rest. I wrote it on the guitar, for one. And I sat down, and I just wrote it. When I do that, the songs always have kind of a ditty quality—a happy-go-lucky quality—as opposed to the song that comes before it, which has none of those qualities. I thought that the song titles themselves [the lyrics name-check Primal Scream’s “You're Just Too Dark to Care,” Charlie Patton’s “High Water Everywhere,” and The Platters’ “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”] somehow reflect the vibe of being alone at night in a strange place. Which is something that happens to me a lot. And then wondering if that feeling of isolation is really so special or so specific to you, or is it maybe something that every single person is feeling on and off."
The Television Music Supervisor
"For such specific subject matter, it came to me as if in a dream. It just came to me with the melody in this kind of lilting way. And it was just supposed to be this sad moment in someone's life, looking back on their life. It's either with perhaps some sense of regret or some sense of amazement. It really depends on what you get out of the words 'I can't believe what I've done.' I also thought the title was maybe such a specific phrase to the early 21st century, just because it's possible that in 20 years, no one will actually know what that means—the job that most specifically sums up our day and age. It really rolled off the tongue, too—for such a weird thing, it really feels so musical and melodious to sing it. I think that's why I wanted the music to be dreamlike and collapsing, like a fog that I sing through. John [Collins, producer] really nailed that one."
"I like art that talks about what it's going to do when it makes art—and then at the end, that's the piece of art. The art that's just like, ‘Here's my plan, it's going to be great,' and then in the description of the plan, you get the plan, you don't get the thing. And that's kind of what 'The Raven' is. The last line that repeats itself kind of alludes to that: 'That's what I'll write about when I write about The Raven.' I think it's me—or it's the singer, because that's not me necessarily—talking about... In some ways it's kind of like 'When I Paint My Masterpiece,’ the Bob Dylan song. You know, when I get around to writing about the serious topics, this is what it's going to be."
"I like that song a lot, for very different reasons. Part of it is that the production is just way more maniacal than I'm used to, and extreme in its rhythm. It's kind of obliterated by guitar playing that's used as samples. I find it very groovy and also ominous at the same time, which is a combo that I like. I also really love stage direction as literature. It's maybe my favorite form of literature—the stuff in parentheses before there's any action in the play. Like, ‘Cue this, exit that.’ It's all a lead-up to the last verse, which is just unbridled dread. I don't normally let it loose like that. And when it's a song that's leading up to a portrait of a doomed world, it's interesting to me to see how musical words can be painted or darkened or made evil-sounding when you know what the last verse is. Or I guess before you even know, maybe the point is to make them sound terrible—to make the word ‘synthesizer' or ‘guitar' or ‘drum' or 'fake drum' sound like weapons."
"That's maybe my favorite song on the record. University Hill is a school in Vancouver in what is now a really nice part of town. When I was a kid, it was kind of a small school where fuck-ups would go. But the main thing that University Hill is is a description of some kind of force that comes and kills and puts people in camps. I mean, that's literally what the words describe. So there's very little room for interpretation, aside from the very end of the song that has this 'Come on, University Hill!’—like a school rallying cry. What I really needed, though—this will give you deep insights into how I work—the last verse goes, ‘Used to be so nice, used to be such a thrill.’ I needed something that rhymed with 'thrill.’ And I knew deep down it was going to be some kind of hill. And I was like, what hills have I known in my life? And out of nowhere, I was like, oh, there's University Hill, and that's kind of a big part of my childhood. It comes loaded with real imagery for me."
Have We Met
"The original idea was for the record to be an attack on melody, to completely clamp down on that. But in the end, that's not what me and John like. I knew that Nick had been making these guitar pieces over the last couple of years, and I just wanted that one. There was a claustrophobic kind of Max Headroom vibe to the album, which was purposeful. But a moment of sighing, a moment of respite, would be really nice. I also just think it's kind of a really beautiful track. I wanted there to be a title track—and it made the most sense for that to be it. I knew the record would be called Have We Met. And I wanted that expression to be as open-ended or endless as it could possibly be. As far as the title, I realize I've never heard that said in my entire life, even though I've always heard it said in movies. So it automatically seemed strange to me, and it seemed really deceptively simple. I purposefully left the question mark out, so there could just be words. And there's something vaguely noir-ish to it, which I love in all things."
The Man in Black's Blues
"I think that song was initially called ‘Death' or 'Death Blues.’ It's just a song about death. One thing that I always seem to write about these days is the world disappearing or erasing itself. And I think that song is supposed to be on the more personal side of that, and it's just about what it looks like to be faced with utter loss. But also, it's supposed to be kind of like a balm. It's not like a dirge. And it's not wailing. I feel like it’s kind of a stroll through grief. The original demo was a lot like what you hear at an Italian ice cream parlor maybe, in the late '80s. It had this kind of weird fairground midtempo disco. More than any other song on the record, I feel like there's a real disconnect between what I'm singing and how I'm singing it and the music around it, but I didn't want it to be a depressing song. I wanted it to be kind of danceable—a moment of levity—especially at the end, where it's pretty goofy, and it's like, 'Knock knock/Did you say who you come for?' It's literally supposed to be the Grim Reaper at the door, but I kind of sing it in this British funk kind of way."
"I wrote it around the same time that I wrote the Kaputt songs, but it didn't fit on that record, because there were no 6/8 or waltz-time songs allowed; if you didn't have a steady beat to it, then you got kicked off that album. But it was definitely written as a kind of lullaby. A lullaby's a vulnerable song, just purely because you sing it to a baby or a small child, which is a vulnerable headspace to be in. I feel like it's not a song I could write now. Maybe it's the only instance where I've ever thought, like, I'm serenading myself. And, you know, the lines are not comforting at all. The end refrain, 'Its figures all lit up/Nagasaki at night/At war with the devil'—I guess maybe lullabies have a history of containing terrifying imagery. But maybe it's not so strange. I think there's a tradition of gothic horror in lullabies. This makes total sense."