If I were ghostwriting Dan Bejar's autobiography, I would make him a little more volatile and grandiose. The Destroyer frontman—who is also an occasional sideman in the New Pornographers (see Smallmouth, p. 79)—isn't nearly anywhere near as vaunting or foppish as I had imagined he'd be upon first falling in love with his Streethawk: A Seduction (Misra) in 2001. That album, his third but the first to really dent the American indie psyche, seemed to insist that David Bowie was about to be bested. But as it turns out, Bejar doesn't have the brass-balls moxie—nor the psychedelic bureau drawers—that such an endeavor would require. So as much as I'd love to write about Bejar as grandiloquent peacock, and as much as the florid, Eno-esque glam-pop of his fifth release, Your Blues (Merge), would support it, the man who is currently in the process of negotiating a "no tour" clause in his contract is really just a loner. Or is he?
In reaction to the buzz that built around the New Pornographers' 2000 debut, Mass Romantic—and, to a lesser degree, Destroyer's Streethawk—Bejar, a lifelong Vancouver, B.C., resident, jumped ship and relocated, first to Spain, then Montreal. This was our first hint that Bejar's Hunky Dory–style rave-ups were not paving the way for some sexually ambiguous companion persona to emerge. Where most musicians would savor the opportunity to wedge themselves into the spotlight and promote their "side project," Bejar opted to abscond, and I've always wondered if maybe he isn't one of those people who run as if from a burning building when things get good.
"To try and get out [of Vancouver] at the age of 28 seemed like a reasonable and healthy move on my part," says Bejar from a Kinko's in Nashville. "Musically, I wanted to try doing different things. This included dissolving the [current] incarnation of Destroyer, which to me felt like a more nerve-racking move than leaving the Pornographers. Getting your photo taken and making videos is unpleasant, but there are far better reasons to bow out of a band, like having your musical aesthetic drift off from what you've done in the past."
Although the de facto opinion of the day held that he split town because he "didn't want to be 'famous,'" or because he "enjoyed being poverty-stricken," there are songs on Your Blues—and, in fact, on every Destroyer release—that hint that Bejar is simply fascinated with places. "From Oakland to Warsaw" is both phosphorescent and concrete, a contradiction that weaves itself throughout the record in the form of unashamedly '80s keyboards, "tra-la-la" backup voices, elliptical lyrics ("I know your style/You've got drastic desires, and shit/Warm yourself by the fiery stage—fiery 'cause I lit it"), and a strong, contrasting sense of assuredness that comes from his often unaccompanied vocals, lyrics like the last clause of the aforementioned set, and an overall cockiness inherent in making records at once as flamboyant, opinionated, and abstract as these. Maybe he is about to reveal his version of Ziggy . . . except he probably isn't. It's more likely that we'll see him issue a novel in the vein of Oscar Wilde.
"I think place is important for me, though I haven't figured out how," he says. "The bulk of This Night [Destroyer's fourth release, from 2002] was written in Spain, the rest in Montreal. It has [a] wandering spirit to it, much like my life there. My writing is pretty intuitive and focuses on the few concerns I have, which are how to use the things I like about pop songs or folk songs and then how to effectively throw away the rest and make something that is beautiful that hopefully doesn't sound like all the other beautiful things. I don't use songs as a confessional, because that's totally limiting as far as the language you get to use, and the language is what accounts for the bulk of what keeps me interested in all this—that and the ridiculous stance of myself as a singer."
This is, after all, the same guy who, borrowing a line from the Rolling Stones, trilled, "It's the singer, not the song." And, also, the same guy who, after publicly regretting the hired hands on This Night, plays just about everything on Your Blues, with producers David Carswell and John Collins (who's also a New Pornographer) pitching in. There comes a time when bravado and brooding converge, and it doesn't really matter whether or not the character is a facade or the real thing—especially when the music is good.
"Your Blues is wrapped up in the sound of itself," says Bejar, and then adds, "but maybe I'm too close to it."
Destroyer play the Crocodile Cafe at 9 p.m. with Fiery Furnaces and Frog Eyes. Sat., May 29. $10.