Dan Bejar may be known for his lyrically crisp indie-rock, but the longtime songwriter has no regrets of dropping out of college before getting his degree in English.
“I wish I had dropped out earlier,” Bejar says with a laugh. “I wish I had done more rock stuff. I wish I had lived more wildly early on.”
On Thursday, Oct. 25, Bejar will visit HI-FI in Indianapolis for a solo Destroyer set, receiving opening support from Adam Gross of Indianapolis band S.M. Wolf. Before the show, we caught up with him for a phone interview.
NUVO: When you first came up playing music in Vancouver, what was the music community like?
DAN BEJAR: I have to think back to Vancouver in the mid- ‘90s…It was a small scene that was kind of fractured, though that would change over time. It seemed like a city that had a hard time keeping clubs open, so there was never really a ton of places to play. Rock music was on the wane in the mid- ‘90s, at least where I came from. It seemed like that all over the world though.
You’d just make your own fun. It was a pretty tight-knit scene. Even if there were different cliques, you would generally recognize everyone at shows. I guess that’s kind of the same everywhere though.
NUVO: Were there any key people or places for you in that time?
BEJAR: There was a record store/distribution company called Scratch Records. They were really helpful in the early days with putting out Destroyer records. Through them, and specifically through members of this 10-person guitar-rock band called Superconductor, I met people that I would later go on to play music with, like Carl [Newman] in the New Pornographers. A couple of those guys played on Destroyer records.
I met people in this group Zumpano [also featuring Newman], whose music I really liked. I would later go on to play music with one or two of them. There’s a songwriter named Mark Szabo, who played in a group called Good Horsey. I think I got into some cool music through him. He was just an older mentor type.
NUVO: Over the course of your career, you’ve played in notable bands outside of Destroyer, including the New Pornographers and Swan Lake. Is collaboration something you seek out?
BEJAR: I think the time of me playing in a lot of different groups was pretty specific to the late ‘90s and early ’00s. It hasn’t really been my scene for the last 10 or 12 years. I mean, I’ve contributed songs on some of the New Pornographers’ albums. But aside from going on big record release tours with them, it’s kind of been something where I’ll disappear for three years and then show up. For the most part in the last few years, I’ve just been focusing on Destroyer.
But I would say that musical collaboration has always been a big part of what I do. It’s something that still excites me, as opposed to being someone who’s stuck in a corner writing their songs and singing them by themselves.
NUVO: You went to school for English before eventually dropping out. Is writing something you do at all outside of music?
BEJAR: It’s hard to say. Occasionally scribbling something down seems to be the thing that I constantly do, while music is something that I do in fits and spurts. That being said, I dropped out of school, and I never really learned how to take a rigorous approach to writing. That’s why I don’t really even know what form it is as I’m writing.
I know sometimes they [the lyrics] are vaguely rhyme-y, and they’ll end up as a melodic piece of language that works in songs. Other times, it seems more like brittled, hardened, nasty ideas that will just end up floating around on a piece of paper or on my computer somewhere. Sometimes I can string things together, and sometimes I can’t.
I think it [scribbling things down] is something I’ll always do. It’s the most unconscious part of what I do, while the music is the part that is the most laborious. [laughs] The musical task is the sitting down and seeing what kind of world you can make for a piece of poetry to [have it] come alive and be more than just words.
NUVO: Staying on this topic of English and literature, I’m curious to hear what you’ve been reading lately.
BEJAR: I just got back from a solo tour of Australia. When I was down there, I bought a couple books that were both really good. One [Down Below] was an oral memoir by this surrealist artist named Leonora Carrington, and she’s dictating a story of her time spent in an insane asylum in the early 1940’s.
Another is this Swiss writer who writes in Italian named Fleur Jaeggy. I’ve been reading a bunch of her little books. I also just read Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, but I’ve always known he’s good.
NUVO: The last few Destroyer records have been co-released via Merge Records and Bloomington-based label Dead Oceans. How did your relationship with Dead Oceans begin?
BEJAR: Dead Oceans is part of that Secretly family, and I’ve known them since 2000 probably. Jagjaguwar was one of the first labels to ever express interest in Destroyer in the States. The other person, who ended up putting out Destroyer records, was this guy named Phil Waldorf. He put out Seahawk: A Seduction, and that was for a label based out of New York called Misra. But then, he left that label and started one called Dead Oceans. That’s how I got re-connected with them [Secretly Group] a few years ago.
Aside from being into their general aesthetic, I’m an old person working in show business. After doing it for 23 years, anytime I see a familiar face, I generally cling to it like a life raft.
NUVO: You are visiting Indianapolis as part of a solo Destroyer tour. What do you enjoy or not enjoy about solo tours?
BEJAR: I’ll just address the performance. I find that it’s kind of nerve-wracking and exhausting, but it’s good for me, I think, to put myself in a more demanding position like that. There’s also a certain amount of freedom in what I can do. Generally when I do these [solo tours], it allows me to play a bunch of new songs in front of people that I’m working on, which is a little weird and something I’d never do with a band. I can also go back into some of the older records from the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, which is stuff that we generally ignore with a band.