A&E

Destroyer’s Dan Bejar talks about the freedom—and terror—of hitting the stage alone

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Dan Bejar will play Destroyer tunes solo acoustic at the Bunkhouse.
Photo: Fabiola Carranza / Courtesy

For more than 20 years, Dan Bejar has charmed fans as the enigmatic, linen-wearing frontman of Canadian outfit Destroyer. Known for his esoteric wit and clever lyricism, Bejar’s mysterious persona is almost as inherent to Destroyer as the music itself, which dabbles in everything from lo-fi indie and glistening New Wave to yacht rock and Latin ballads. Bejar called up the Weekly from his Vancouver home to talk about the anxiety of performing solo, his previous experiences in Vegas and more.

You performed here as a part of The New Pornographers back in 2010. Have you ever played Las Vegas with Destroyer? The band Destroyer played once 10 years ago [at]Beauty Bar ... It was toward the tail end of a long tour, so it’s quite blurry and it all happened really fast. I just remember us going on incredibly late, like maybe three hours later than we’d gone on anywhere else in North America.

I feel like Destroyer’s 2017 single “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood,” could easily have been written about Las Vegas. What were you trying to convey with that song? Normally I just try and flash the listener with images and let the music kind of be, um, a narrative setting. I don’t think I was trying to put across some damnation or anything like that. Tinseltown is kind of old-fashioned language, which I like, and it does give you the idea of a version of show business or glamour that chews you up and spits you out, so maybe people in Vegas can relate to that.

I’ve heard that this show is going to be acoustic and not with your full band. Oh yeah, it’s definitely just me. I’ve been touring with an eight-piece band, but I’ve also been touring solo. I don’t really consider this part of any kind of album promotion right now. [2017’s Ken] came out quite a while back, and there’s kind of a pattern I’ve set in motion over the last few years of putting out a record and hitting the road with a full band, taking some time off and going out by myself and playing songs, maybe older songs, or trying to play brand new stuff—songs I’ve just written to see what its like to sing them in front of an audience. That’s something I’ve started doing more and more; there’s a certain amount of freedom when it’s just me. It’s also terrifying.

Why terrifying? I don’t know. The sensation of me going up and just singing into the microphone and ducking down on the stage and letting the band just jam, compared to me going up there with an acoustic guitar strapped on, being the sole focal point—the two are pretty different things. I’m more used to the first thing, but some sick part of me likes to get filled with dread and go out there and see what happens.

I feel like you could mix and match songs from any Destroyer record in the past 20 years and there would still be a sense of continuity there. Is that how your solo sets feel? Yeah, actually. People talk a lot about how the records jump around in sound, but I think when you boil all these songs from the last 11 records down to the essentials—which is essentially what I have to do ‘cause I’m not a hot-shot guitar player—I just sort of bare-bones accompany myself. As I sing what I can, you do get the idea of all these songs and all these albums being one distinct thing, for better or for worse.

Merge re-released City of Daughters and Thief in May. Will your sets be heavier on those albums? When I tour as a band, we never play those songs; there’s maybe like one song off of Thief that we would try once or twice every couple years. So, yeah, when I tour solo—especially because a lot of those earlier songs were written with just me on acoustic guitar—I do kind of play those songs a bit more. I think I might try and pull out stuff that I haven’t done in years and years. I like that mix of doing really old songs that you never play and then brand new songs or stuff that you’re working on, and just seeing how they collide off each other, and what kind of show that makes for.

Speaking of old songs, you were in a band called Swan Lake with another great Canadian frontman, Spencer Krug. Do you think you guys will ever do a reunion or make a new album? I can’t really picture that happening again. We’re kind of scattered all over and everyone is doing their own thing. Spencer is doing his solo stuff and he’s busy with Wolf Parade again, Terri [Upton]’s about to go on tour with Frog Eyes as we speak. They just put out a new album a couple months ago. I can picture them playing on each other’s records or playing on a song of mine or something, but coming together with the sole purpose of putting out another third Swan Lake record feels a little farfetched right now.

The lines between indie and pop have blurred greatly over the years, but you’ve consistently stayed true to yourself. Do you pay attention to pop music at all, as opposed to the music you and your indie contemporaries make? I haven’t really listened to American top 40 probably since I was 15 or 16, around the same time I got serious about music. I abandoned that altogether. That was a really common pattern back then. So for me to delve back in after rejecting it 30 years ago would have to imply that the world is a much better place now than it was 30 years ago, and that just doesn’t correspond with any reality that I currently feel, you know? If someone sent me something, like, “Dan, I think you would really like this,” it’s not like I would reject it on the principle that it’s really popular, I just don’t have a history with that stuff ... For a while, it felt like indie music and pop music could kind of shake hands—when I listen to Vampire Weekend or Arcade Fire, it sounds like pop music to me. If it’s like a guitar-rock band thing versus a teenager singing to some ProTools beats, I don’t have a knee-jerk reaction in either direction. I’m an animal, I only react to words that move me and to melodies that inspire me, you know? And I don’t really care what machine makes them or how you get them. It just so happens that I don’t really hear them when I’m out in a public space. [Laughs.] But I also think that’s a really common thing for someone in their mid-40s to say, you know? I don’t think that’s a very original thought on my part.

You’ve said that Ken was influenced by some darker, more New Wave bands you listened to when you were younger. Why did that sound resurface 30 years later? Well, I would say a lot of it had to do with the person who produced the record [Josh Wells], who’s, like, a proper, old-school goth. So, if he’s seeking out talent to sound like Bauhaus or Pornography-era Cure, that’s because that’s the sh*t he’s been into his whole life. I don’t think I was really that goth as a teen. I was definitely into that second wave of U.K. post-punk bands, I love New Order and The Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen—things like that. I don’t know why I started listening to that stuff again, probably because I started playing the guitar after taking a really long break and I realized whenever I actually try and come up with stuff—parts on electric guitar—it always has this simple, needle-y, ’80s New Wave vibe to it. So I kind of just steered into it and got really into other things I hadn’t thought about in a really long time, like The Church, kind of more shimmery, poetic bands from the ’80s that had maybe fallen to the wayside.

I saw you back in 2011 at the Pitchfork Music Festival, and I’m pretty sure you had a glass of whisky in your hand throughout the set. What’s your drink of choice when you’re on stage? That was not one of my more glamorous moments. I think [laughs] that was actually whiskey in a plastic water bottle. Maybe there was no glass or something on stage? I can’t remember. You know, I always take a little something to help me through, but nothing fancy, you know? Depends on the night. When I’m playing solo, I generally take it easier and try and keep my wits about me. I find that it’s when I’m with a full band, they whip up this wall of sound and there’s a certain amount of momentum behind the rhythm section that kind of charges me and that just makes me like to drink on stage. If I have a guitar in my hands and I’m doing something non-stop for an hour, I don’t have those luxuries; it’s generally like a really incredibly quiet 60 or 70 minutes.

What’s in store for you once you’re done with this solo tour? I’m going to be doing a lot of solo stuff for the second half of the year, starting in July. I’m going to go to Australia in September by my lonesome, and I’m going to be playing a bunch of shows opening up for Neko Case and that’s also just me and a guitar. Between that time, when I’m alone in a hotel room, I kind of hope to be working on songs. I have a bunch of new ones written, and hopefully they get recorded sometime next year.

DESTROYER With Devon Williams, The Midnight Disease. July 23, 8 p.m., $10-$15. Bunkhouse Saloon, 702-982-1764.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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