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Destroyer Gets Mellow For Your Blues

"I've always wanted to try doing a messed-up crooning record with orchestrated sounds," confesses Canadian conceptualist Daniel Bejar, referring to the artistic motivations behind Your Blues, his latest outing under the Destroyer banner. Inspiration for this, Bejar says, came not just from the likely messed-up-crooning likes of Scott Walker and Richard Harris — guys he describes as being "grandiose in their attack" — but even from, like, Ol' Blue Eyes; "I was listening to Sinatra records, too, just out of curiosity, to see his approach to instrumentation."

The motivations for making Your Blues in this fashion also came, to a degree, in response to the album that preceded it in the Destroyer discography. Bejar's fifth longplayer, This Night, was an epic sprawl, a long collection of even longer tunes strewn with all manner of dissonant electric guitars, with the songwriter's Bowie-esque vocals perched atop of the squall. And, so, with that done, Bejar wanted to shift Destroyer's direction again. "I think I wanted to work in a way that was different to the way we made [This Night]. I knew I wanted to try my hand at composition, instead of trying to whip up a murky rock 'n' roll noise."

Even though he'd "never really arranged anything before," Bejar set out composing Your Blues as a set of stripped-down songs. Whilst, initially, he was inspired by the idea of making a grand orchestral disc, soon logistical realities killed such dreaming. "To actually bring in musicians and feed them charts, that would've demanded a lot of [recording] know-how we didn't have, and a lot of money that we didn't have."

So, Bejar first played his collection of songs on acoustic guitar, and then arranged around that base. Rather than commanding string-sections and horn sections, he took his scores and charts and played the orchestral accompaniment entirely on synthesizers, using those ersatz faux-horns type presets that no one ever uses. In such, he's made a synthesized pseudo-opulent orchestral record on par with English duo the Montgolfier Brothers, in terms of making twee synth tones sound lush.

Still, Bejar's not sure how people are gonna accept such a sound. "Some of it might be seen as sounding in really poor taste, those really hokey fake-trumpet sounds. This 'old-world dramatic' feel we were going for, I think a lot of people in the world of American indie-rock could reject that," he forwards. Even more so, indie-rock fans could easily be scared off by the record's lack of anything remotely rockin'; it ditches the sprawling psychedelia of the last disc, its pared-down palette featuring many synth presets, but no electric guitars, no bass, and no drums.

"The one thing we knew for sure going into it was there wasn't going to be any electric guitars, and there wasn't going to be any rhythm section, although we did break down and added some MIDI drums at one point. But, for the most part, for rhythm, all you hear is tambourines and shakers, maybe a handclap or two. And the bass is always absent," Bejar offers. "As well as making an orchestral record, I wanted to make something that was quite minimal, and a good way of doing that is to eliminate any idea of the rock 'n' roll rhythm section whatsoever."

He continues: "When I first pictured the album happening, I was kind of aiming for a more stark, severe record. I really wanted to try and do something that was borderline unlistenable, but the songs that I brought to the plate were too melodious to do that."

The starkness of Your Blues actually harkens back to Destroyer's early days. Before Bejar and his intermittent "band" went on to author albums of lurid glam strut (1999's Thief), Bowie-esque over-the-top anthemicism (2001's Streethawk: A Seduction), and tangled-up drug-rock (2002's This Night), Destroyer was pretty much a solo songwriter's vehicle, with his 1996 debut We Will Build Them a Golden Bridge and its 1998 follow-up City of Daughters setting Bejar's surrealist lyricism largely to just an acoustic guitar.

For the songsmith, Your Blues was also a way to find more flexibility for his occasional live performances. After This Night, Bejar had to employ the band from the record whenever he played, but, with Your Blues' sparse sound, he figures both band and just a couple pairs of hands can offer some sort of translation in the live realm. Of course, the caveat is that Bejar rarely plays live, and has long been on record for his lack of interest in indulging in any sort of "touring."

"Back in the mid-'90s when I first started doing it, I would play the occasional show, and it'd be a disaster," he recalls. "It'd be really noisy, on purpose. But, at the beginning, Destroyer was mostly a recording affair, and it wasn't until after the second record came out that it seemed like it'd be a good idea to actually assemble a band that could practice and play shows if the opportunity came up."

In particular, Bejar has deliberately kept local audiences from getting too friendly with him. Rarely granting interviews for Canadian publications, and trying to make his live appearances in his Vancouver, B.C. hometown rare, it seems like he's pretty happy in obscurity. Whilst he details the shows he has played of recent — like those in the States with The Clientele and Smog — you get the feeling that Bejar's more happy about all the shows he didn't. "I've never been super at-home with performance in general; it just seems a bit problematic," he states. In reply to the simple inquisition of "why?", he responds: "Why is it that I don't want to get up on stage and have a bunch of people look at me? I don't know, to me it just seems like a strange thing for someone to want to do."

Bejar's feeling particularly sensitive about this because, at the time of this conversation, he's about to head out for his most extensive dose of touring yet. Meaning, he's feeling nervous, anxious, and very much pessimistic about his forthcoming on-the-road action. "If we could play the West Coast, and then the East Coast, with maybe one or two shows in between, that'd be ideal," he sighs. "But, to try and cover the whole continent on our own, that means playing a whole bunch of those potentially demoralizing events. You have to get from point A to point B somehow, and that usually means stopping off in a town where no one's heard of you, or where there's just no one there, period." — Anthony Carew [Wednesday, May 5, 2004]

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