Dan Bejar steps out of the rain into Vancouver’s Pat’s Pub on a typically dreary winter day wearing a fashionable old brown jacket and a grey toque with side flaps. When he walks up to the table he takes off his hat, unleashing his large frazzled mane.
He’s got a couple hours before he has to be anywhere so he gladly orders a beer from the server over top of loud fuzzy blues rock playing overhead.
Pat’s Pub is somewhat of an historic musical landmark in the city’s Downtown Eastside, a jazz club in the 1920s once home to famous American jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morten who lived and played in the building for a stint of time. The pub also happens to be only a few blocks away from JC/DC Studios, run by producers John Collins of the New Pornographers and Dave Carswell. Although the studio moved into its current location only recently, the original JC/DC (three blocks in the opposite direction) is where the majority of Bejar’s life’s work has been set to tape.
He looks down at the original wooden flooring etched with decades of memories and pauses for a moment before he speaks. “I knew a lot of the old big band bands would come through but I didn’t realize this was one of those places.”
His calm and mildly unimpressed demeanor is somewhat comforting. It’s the same demeanor he’s carried with him throughout his fabled career as Destroyer. Even his facial expression on the cover of his new album, Have We Met, seems a bit detached. But true to his signature wit and cynicism that he exudes both in life and his songwriting, his apathy is overshadowed by the magnificent microphone he’s posing with: the Sennheiser 441 — unequivocally, a very sexy looking piece of recording equipment.
Both accurate and versatile, it’s a long, metallic, retro mic from the 60s. Stevie Nicks used it on Tusk and now Bejar, as if channeling his inner Neil Diamond, has employed it as both an accessory and extension of himself.
“I wanted the record to be like an action shot. And an action shot of my world means me singing. That’s what I do. It’s literally the only thing I ever do now,” Bejar says, taking a sip from his pint.
“I wanted it to be kind of generic as well but in a visually nice way,” he continues. “Just like, ‘There’s Neil Diamond, holding a microphone and singing his songs.’ Which is kind of my world at this point — like Neil Diamond but in bars instead of stadiums.”
The 47-year-old Bejar has been grinding it out in bars all over the world, writing and performing as Destroyer with a rotating cast of musicians for more than 20 years. Throughout that time he’s grown in and out of himself, wearing multiple hats as both the patron saint of lo-fi indie folk, recording ballads on a four track and building them out into full rock band spectacles; and as the modest on-again-off-again member of pop rock outfit, the New Pornographers.
With 13 Destroyer albums now under his belt, 2011’s smooth, suave and undeniably sophisticated Kaputt signalled a creative breakthrough for Bejar, who morphed into an elegant lounge singer, which garnered international acclaim and helped set the pace for indie music in the decade to come.
It was around then Bejar set his career on a new path by putting down his guitar.
“I think that’s the biggest thing that ever happened to me,” he says. “When I decided to put the guitar down forever and focus on being a singer.”
Bejar opted instead for whatever midi keyboard he could get his hands on. This is what brought the world the brash and bittersweet Poison Season (2015), the dark and brooding ken (2017) and now, Have We Met, an ominous album that he recorded on a laptop from the kitchen of his Strathcona home in the late hours of the night and from hotel rooms while on the road performing a string of solo dates supporting his former New Pornographers bandmate, Neko Case.
“Technically they’re really poor recordings, done in my kitchen, singing really quiet because it’s late and I don’t want to wake anyone up. I thought for sure once we had a better idea of how the music would go I would redo them, but there’s kind of an alone sounding but also very comfortable sounding quality to them for me that I haven’t been able to get on other records and it became something to really anchor the songs. I thought we could make the music as wild as we wanted once that was in place.”
When asked how he’ going to bring Have We Met to life when he takes it on the road, he cracks a rare but welcomed grin.
“With a seven-piece band playing loud rock music,” he says, pausing for a moment as if to imply there’s simply no other way. “That’s one thing about Vancouver, I’m pretty attached to my band. I feel like musicians here are kind of smarter than other places. They’re also kind of negative, which I like. When you play in Vancouver your back is against the wall and I like that. It’s not the most positive but it’s creative. Music here is not congratulatory. It’s more like, ‘oh… fuck…’”
Bejar trails off and stops again to collect his thoughts.
“No slight to Toronto or Montreal or places like that, but it feels like in Toronto you could just get by being a band and have a Toronto based career, but (in Vancouver) that’s just like an insane idea or fantasy. You pretty much need to be Jelly Roll Morton to make that work.”
Have We Met is available now on Merge Records.