Destroyer, Dan Bejar's 'Other' Band Destroyer is the "bandonym" of singer-songwriter Dan Bejar. Bejar is part of the critically acclaimed Canadian group The New Pornographers. But as Joel Rose of member station WHYY reports, Destroyer is almost as well-loved by critics.

Destroyer, Dan Bejar's 'Other' Band

Destroyer, Dan Bejar's 'Other' Band

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Destroyer is the "bandonym" of singer-songwriter Dan Bejar. Bejar is part of the critically acclaimed Canadian group The New Pornographers. But as Joel Rose of member station WHYY reports, Destroyer is almost as well-loved by critics.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Next week, Daniel Bejar starts a national tour. Who, you may be asking, is Daniel Bejar? He is a singer and songwriter from Vancouver who makes critically acclaimed records under the name Destroyer. He is also a member of a Canadian band called the New Pornographers. And if you don't know who he is, that may be just fine with him. Daniel Bejar mostly avoids publicity and doesn't like performing live. Still he continues to write and record, and critics say his latest record as Destroyer may be his best yet.

Joel Rose of member station WHYY reports.

JOEL ROSE reporting:

Destroyer is not a household name, but he's famous enough that there's a drinking game inspired by lyrics like these.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DANIEL BEJAR: (Singing) [unintelligible] it's no contest, proud Mary said as she lit the fuse. I wanted you, I wanted your blues. Your blues.

ROSE: The first rule is take a drink if the words are borrowed from another song, even if it's another Destroyer song. So in this example, you would have taken two drinks, one for the nod to Clearwater's Proud Mary, the other for the phrase your blues, which is the title of an earlier Destroyer album. And that's just the first rule.

Mr. CARL WILSON (Music Critic, Toronto Globe and Mail): Another is references to the music industry, another is references to geographical locations.

ROSE: Carl Wilson is a music critic for the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Mr. WILSON: Lines that contradict the previous line, characters, given names and songs, usually a woman's name.

(Soundbite of music)

ROSE: Critic Carl Wilson says if you played the drinking game by the rules, you'd probably wind up in the hospital. Destroyer fans apparently made up the game in order to extract some meaning from lyrics that are more or less inscrutable, much like the guy who is singing them and the name under which he chooses to record.

Mr. BEJAR: I've never given too much thought to the name. I mean, it kind of has like a classic rock sounding name. I like classic rock. And it's kind of tough, that's cool. It's got three syllables, which is good, but it's still one word, that's also cool. You know, all the real basics are covered.

ROSE: Sometimes it's hard to tell whether or not Daniel Bejar is pulling your leg. Critic Carl Wilson suspects there is more to the name Destroyer than Bejar is letting on.

Mr. WILSON: At the same time, it's a bit of a joke about somebody making quite gentle, in many ways, and poetic music and taking on this very sort of very heavy metal name. It's also serious in that there is some rebellious and anti-establishment and anti-society agenda that kind of runs underneath the project in a much more earnest kind of way.

ROSE: Wilson thinks that anti-establishment streak often plays out in metaphors about the music business, which is a frequent target of Bejar's disdain.

(Soundbite of music)

ROSE: Daniel Bejar's criticism of the industry extends to the independent side of the business too. His music is full of subtle barbs at the American underground and the publicity machine that produces indie rock stars. It's an industry he's done his best to avoid. After signing the most important recording contract of his life, Bejar spent a year hiding out in Spain, and touring used to make him miserable.

Mr. BEJAR: Plain life, almost irregardless of how well it went, would put me in a bad mood for 24 to 48 hours before the show, and like another 24 to 48 hours after the show.

Mr. CARL NEWMAN (Lead Singer, The New Pornographers): Luckily, it's not my job to figure him out. So I can live with the fact that he is an enigma.

ROSE: Carl Newman is the main singer and songwriter of the New Pornographers. Bejar has been part of the bad since the mid 1990's. And although he rarely joins them on stage anymore, Bejar still contributes a few songs per record. Newman says Bejar's lyrics are abstract in a good way.

Mr. NEWMAN: They're poetic, you know. The guy is a poet. I'm pretty tough on lyrics, and I think Dan writes really great lyrics.

(Soundbite of The New Pornographers)

ROSE: Daniel Bejar grew up in Vancouver. He started writing songs 10 years ago when he dropped out of college and borrowed a friend's four track cassette recorder.

(Soundbite of Bejar)

Mr. BEJAR: (Singing) Some things work. But me, I choose to lose my skin in the dirt. This whiskey priest, he burned the church to keep his girls alive. Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet fires in the street, let's sully every stage we meet. Lick my lips, twist my hips. But Contessa, I already did.

ROSE: One thing he has tried to avoid is the confessional style of many singer/songerwriters. Bejar says he adopted the name Destroyer, instead of his own, partly to keep listerners and critics guessing whether his songs are autobiographical or not.

Mr. BEJAR: It gives you so much more room to move, I think. You always have room to move, but at least it gives people who want to try and formulate some idea about what it is you're doing a lot more room to move in their interpretation.

ROSE: Or to keep them on their toes. For a Destroyer album two years ago, Bejar abandoned his backup band for a bank of synthesizers.

(Soundbite of Bejar)

Mr. BEJAR: (Singing) You've lost yourself. You've lost your swim. You thought you've heard of everything have known.

All I ever try and do is come up with lines that strike at some kind of poetic resonance, or beauty, and it also seems like I've never said it before, and in that way, I don't know, it kind of sounds distinct to me. That's always the driving force. And everything else that seeps out might be a mild interest of mine. But it's like not something I would try to structure a song or any piece of writing around.

ROSE: For his latest record, Bejar returns to a familiar, classic rock sound.

(Soundbite of Destroyer)

Mr. BEJAR: (Singing) There's part of an inner circle. Daughters of the motherland, like a ship lit up at sea with causeway electricity. Causeway at the Pacific.

ROSE: In some ways, says critic Carl Wilson, this is Destroyer's most accessible work yet.

Mr. WILSON: You can hear a much more sort of lived and experienced kind of passion. And that's certainly is a sense of place in these kinds of things that are much more straightforward.

ROSE: So does that mean the end of the Destroyer drinking game? No. And the rules still apply.

Mr. BEJAR: References to visual art or artists, literary references, references to royalty or fuedal hierarchy. And then I have a note saying drink twice for reference to disillusionment with royalty.

ROSE: For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.

Mr. BEJAR: References to the legal system or political systems, references to religion...

(Soundbite of Destroyer)

Mr. BEJAR: (Singing) Well, the situation seek redressing. The song just goes testing, testing. I took a picture, I was sick of motion. Pour watercolors into the ocean.

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