Destroyer’s drama

He might sound theatrical, but Dan Bejar’s never seen a play

DESTROYER at the Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth), Wednesday (September 30), 8 pm. $20-$22.50. See listing.

By the end of our FaceTime call, Dan Bejar and I agree that his new Destroyer album is really weird.

With its mix of ornate strings, whispery vocals, sparsely written lyrics, rollicking horns and emphatic, genre-crossing suites, Poison Season (Merge), is heady. It falls together almost like a play or musical, with recurring motifs and a possible theme song in the three, utterly distinct iterations of a composition called Times Square.

“It’s all quite fictional,” Bejar says from a Vancouver park bench. “I wanted it to have the force of a film, which can take you to an environment really fast and in a vivid way. That was important, and there’s a certain fleeting element to the lyric sheet as well.”

Most Destroyer records possess a coy playfulness. Bejar, also a songwriter in the New Pornographers, subverts standard rock songwriting by writing and performing more sophisticated, uncompromising songs. He’s often wordy, and his phrasing and singing are dramatic and theatrical. 

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a play,” he says when asked about the album’s storytelling and structure. “I kind of remember seeing one in high school, but I’ve seen them less than any human being I know.

“But I really like reading plays. Maybe it’s my favourite form of literature to read, actually, because it cuts out all the boring shit and is forced to take place in a poetic world. Realism onstage is blown from the get-go, so it has to take place in a universe that’s very mythic right away.”

That’s exactly what the aural landscape of Poison Season is like: a surreal yet familiar array of major cities are lovingly mentioned, but the romance of it all seems staged.

“I’m not a theatrical person,” Bejar says. “I don’t think I am. For the first time in my life, I’d put myself in the American tradition of the classic mid-20th century songbook that’s been combed over for jazz standards and shit like that. What people refer to as show tunes – things born of Broadway and Tin Pan Alley. 

“I got into those songs a bit because I got into jazz records and singers, and that infiltrated my singing and writing for this record.” | @vishkhanna

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