Dan Bejar: an 'exiled king' of music

Dan Bejar is lead singer of Destroyer and plays with the band, The New Pornographers. He has been called "Rock's exiled king" by music critics. Bejar got together with Am Johal at his home on Vancouver's Eastside.

Am Johal: Tell me about your last tour that you came back from?

Dan Bejar: Well the tour I was on was with a band called The New Pornographers. There was a record that just came out. This time was pretty good âe" a huge caravan of people. Last time we piled in to a van, but this time there were two buses.

In terms of playing with The New Pornographers, it is pretty straightforward, every time they make a new album I write three or four songs for them. It's kind of how it works. In the nineties, I was a full on member and I played shows with them instead of just dropping in once in a while. We are all spread out living in different cities now. I was living in Spain at the time. We holed up in a studio and did a crash course in these songs and were laying them down. The drums were recorded in New York and we worked around them.

What's happening with Destroyer?

We have seven albums out, the eighth comes out in the spring.

People have said that you are cynical about the music industry and the process of getting your music to the public. What is your place in this process now?

I think the idea that I have really strong beefs with the music industry is a little overblown or a little false because I can't really have problems with it because I can't expect it to be any different than it is. I did write songs for a record called Thief that had vague lyrical hints about music or underground culture. I like the language involved in criticism. It's kind of a strange form of poetics in itself in political rhetoric and also kind of added to the righteousness that was in the songs. It was kind of an ironic record, but not in the way that irony gets used today âe" there was a certain kind of self-consciousness of what I was writing about. It was kind of the absurdity of it. I wasnâe(TM)t expecting to sell very much. I think it sold 2,000 âe" about 1,500 more than I thought it would.

One of the things about making a living being a musician or an artist is that there is a certain economic system you walk in to, and making music videos drives sales. What's your relationship to that?

I've never done a music video before. I donâe(TM)t feel so comfortable in front of the camera. Lip-synching doesn't seem that interesting. Because I don't have any particular love for the video, it would be for crass, practical reasons and I couldn't bring myself to make the kind of video that would be played. It's a vicious cycle to get in to.

In the mid 90s, the video was already dead. MTV was turning in to reality TV. Every now and then they played a strange band. There wasn't really a pay-off. The Internet has changed that a little bit, downloading shows. Maybe it will change. One of the handful of promotional shortcomings that I've skipped.

Do you get annoyed with these comparisons with David Bowie and Bob Dylan?

I don't get annoyed. The David Bowie thing came up a lot, kind of relentlessly. I think it still happens because when a label puts out a record to get press on radio, they play it up a bit. Thereâe(TM)ll be a couple of quotes that perpetuate an endless rehashing of the same old quotes. With Bob Dylan, I still struggle with the man. Heâe(TM)s done some really good things and some really bad things.

You live here in Vancouver in the Downtown Eastside. It is a long term low-income neighbourhood that has clearly been traumatized for decades. Does living and working in the neighbourhood affect your work?

It has affected me in some ways, and in some ways I probably don't know about. I would be hesitant to go in to any detail on that because the last thing I want to do is present myself as a spokesperson of the Downtown Eastside. It you live and work in any environment, if it feels extreme enough, if you go to other cities in North America, you realize what a special situation this is, it's a standout. So if you're feeling something, perhaps, if you were in a certain mood and were feeling in a negative place or a degraded place, a quick walk around the block here might enhance that.

Also, it's kind of lively too. I would walk down everyday in the summer time, when it's hot out in August. My studio is on Hastings and from here on a 10 to 12 minute walk, you see the kind of fucked up Mardi Gras that it is. Vancouver doesn't have a lot of social life, it's not known for its buzzing social life on the street, the one place that it does, is along that Hastings strip. It can really knock you on your ass. It reminds you of things that you might have forgotten about.

Don't Become the Thing You Hated seems to have struck a chord with audiences. I see it on their i-pods. Why do you think people like that song?

I didn't actually know that. I've always liked that song. I didn't realize it stood out for people. I was consciously in a mood that was simpler and more straightforward than I usually write. Sometimes you get hit with a song in a certain mood. I probably wrote that song in about three minutes and it takes about three minutes to sing it. It means exactly what it says. The melody is flowing, simple. It is different from most of the songs I write.

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