“My intention was to wait so long before putting out another record that people would forget about Kaputt and Destroyer altogether. That’s kind of my goal: to start from scratch every time.”
When Dan Bejar’s ninth record under his Destroyer alias, ‘Kaputt’, was released to critical acclaim in 2011 it brought him to a larger audience than he’d ever expected. It wasn’t hard to see why. The album’s quasi-ironic-sounding synth, drum machines and sax-filled songs along with Bejar’s wry wordplay made it an album that you kept going back to. It was a sound you could almost describe as kitsch, sliding between soft rock, smooth jazz, and new romantic pop. It was brilliant.
But now four years later he’s returning with ‘Poison Season’ – and things have changed again. For one thing, the drum machines have been packed away to make way for a live band. He’s even been writing string arrangements for the first time.
“I knew I didn’t want synthesisers and drum machines. And I didn’t want to stare at a computer for 18 months like I did for that. I mean there are still similarities – a lot of the band are the same. The big difference is the rock’n’roll drummer and the presence of full-blown rock’n’roll piano player.”
“That was kind of the germ of making this record – me just really getting into what we were sounding like playing live. It kind of took a while to get back in the studio but I kept coming back to the sound of the band. We play really well together so it suited the record to get in the studio and just knock these songs out over a couple of days.”
“This way of working was kind of new to me. Just recording music live off the floor is not something I’ve done very much and that felt pretty good. I’ve never done much work with strings either so that was pretty interesting.” He pauses. “But I should add, none of those things have any value whatsoever unless it’s good.”
And ‘Poison Season’ is very good – mixing lithe rock tracks with lounge strings and a gloomy yet tender heart. “There were two things I wanted to do: one was to capture a romantic but doomed quality with these strings. That was a big part of what I wanted to explore. There’s a song called ‘Girl in A Sling’ which really crystallises this idea that I was chasing after. And then there are a couple of songs where I really just wanted to show off this awesome band and get a really good document of what it’s like when we’re all just going for it.”
This live sound means he’s especially keen to get the band on the road. “One of the many good things about this current Destroyer line up is that you can throw songs at them and they’ll just eat them up like a pack of wild dogs.”
Though it was recorded quickly Bejar had the record brewing in his head for a long time before going into the studio. Letting it ferment helped him to make more sense of it. “When I was younger it was just non-stop activity. I was constantly writing songs and constantly physically doing music and that’s not the case anymore. I had this record sitting in my head for a long time. I think maybe it was in my head too long but sometimes it’s good to let things fester a bit and see what forms they take.”
“There are records now that I still shake my head at. Not that they were bad, just the fact I can’t believe we just went for it. I feel the more you do something the more confused about it you become – or you question things more, at least. And I think that’s useful.”
“One of the many good things about this current Destroyer line up is that you can throw songs at them and they’ll just eat them up like a pack of wild dogs.”
This questioning helps explain the change in sound and, with the strings especially, saw him leaving his comfort zone. “I don’t have any experience in arranging strings so working on it was a complete eye opener and the two most intense studio days I’ve ever known. It meant those songs took turns that I hadn’t expected. There’s one song called ‘Hell’ which I thought would be a jazzy, lounge track and it turned out to be this Michael Nyman-style work-out I hadn’t predicted.”
What hasn’t changed is the unique quality of Bejar’s abstract wordsmithery (the opening line is “Jesus is besides himself”). “I don’t know what lyrical turns I take any more – I just kind of write one way that sounds like me for the most part. This time more than anything else I was just trying to sing in a certain way. I mean I’ve always suffered from delusions of grandeur. And this time I was trying to sing in away that would suit an orchestra,” he laughs.
And what about the title, ‘Poison Season’? “I don’t really know where it comes from. I like how it’s a kind of bad rhyme. Is there a word for that? Something that has the effect of making awkward words sound even more awkward than they did by themselves. I like how it’s depressed but that you’re going to pass through it because it’s only a season. It also has a cool murder mystery vibe…”
Destroyer’s new album ‘Poison Season’ will be released on 28th August via Dead Oceans.