Despite the moniker under which Daniel Bejar has performed since 1995, the music of Destroyer hardly lives up to its aggressive name. Rather, Bejar and a revolving cast of musicians create a thoughtful, highly literate brand of music that slowly dissects its intended prey with bittersweet lyrics and tender, 1970s rock-styled guitar arrangements.
Bejar grew up primarily in Vancouver, British Columbia, and it wasn't until he was in his twenties that he actually began recording music. After borrowing a four-track recorder from a friend in 1995, he almost accidentally recorded the beginnings of the first Destroyer album. With a bit more tinkering, the experiment soon became We'll Build Them a Golden Bridge, released on Tinker Records in 1996. We'll Build Them a Golden Bridge incorporated many elements that came to represent the heart of the indie rock spirit: a lo-fi aesthetic, fuzzy pop songs with obscure references, and a general leaning toward experimentalism.
In 1998 Bejar adopted a rhythm section, rounding out the band with bassist John Collins, drummer Scott Morgan, guitarist Stephen Wood, and keyboardist Jason Zumpano. Together they recorded Destroyer's second record, the much more realized City of Daughters for Cave Canem/Triple Crown Audio. The same band recorded Thief in 2000. The record brought with it an already-growing distaste for all the music industry had to offer. Songs like "Barred from the Temple" and "Death on the Festival Circuit" explored the "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide"-esque themes that would carry over onto 2001's Streethawk: A Seduction.
Thief garnered its fair share of press, especially in Canada. Ian Danzig of Exclaim! commented that Bejar's "biting socio-political commentary sets him apart from soft pop merchants like Belle and Sebastian, while creating music far superior in its sheer beauty." Carl Wilson of the Toronto Globe & Mail wrote, "Though sometimes too much the wise guy himself, Bejar is more subtle and no less deft than, say, the much-celebrated Rufus Wainwright, and he's far too good to let wander away."
Streethawk: A Seduction brought even more praise the following year. But along with the platitudes came numerous comparisons to David Bowie—specifically to his Ziggy Stardust incarnation. Bejar could only shrug off the comparison when he later found out that Bowie himself publicly championed Streethawk in a radio interview. In her review of the record in Magnet, Cyndi Elliott also made reference to the band's presumptuous name. "With Streethawk's grand rock gestures and churning choruses, it's ultimately not at all ironic that a band so engaging could bite the head off the bat that is rock and spit it out—just like a band called Destroyer should," she wrote.
The praise never went to Bejar's head, however, and he remained wary of the music industry. "Destroyer will never be huge," he told Fast Forward's Mark Hamilton. "There's just too many hurdles that whatever machine that makes things big would have to jump through to make this music accessible. There's no historical precedent for it, and first of all they'd even have to get someone else to sing the songs."
At around the same time, Bejar began casually moonlighting with the Canadian indie supergroup the New Pornographers, with alt-country poster girl Neko Case and Zumpano's Carl Newman. After the release of their Mass Romantic album, and on the cusp of its subsequent success, Bejar all but abandoned the group and opted for a few contemplative months in Spain.
His time spent wandering in Europe yielded much inspiration for 2002's This Night, his first release for indie rock superpower Merge Records. Upon returning to Vancouver, Bejar disbanded Destroyer's lineup and took on guitarist Nicolas Bragg, bassist Chris Frey, and drummer Fisher Rose to complete the new album.
The switchover from Misra Records to Merge proved successful for Bejar and, along with a tour supporting the group Calexico, the critical praise continued to flow. Hamilton commented: "This Night, Destroyer's new behemoth of a record, is at first an almost impenetrable maze of pomp and circumstance. Where tunes and song structures were once strictly regimented (few pop songwriters can make five minutes feel like two—Bejar is one of the best), This Night's tunes form slowly out of messy guitar rambles, the thrust of a song tucked away somewhere in the back, saved up like a secret weapon." Bejar told Hamilton in the same article, "I think there's a lot to digest. I don't think that any Destroyer record has ever been renowned for being an immediately engrossing listen—a lot of people have said that at first they really hated it, or at first they're neither here nor there, but then, usually all of a sudden, they come around."
Despite the completely different approach, though, Bejar still couldn't shake the Bowie comparisons. Writing in the Washington Post, Ivan Kreilkamp commented that although Bejar was "a truly idiosyncratic talent with a love-it-or-hate-it whiny voice, [he] sounds a bit like a Robyn Hitchcock making up lyrics to early '70s Bowie songs."
Wanting to explore an even more experimental sound, Bejar re-formed Destroyer again and released Your Blues in 2004 with just the help of Collins and David Carswell. The centralized production of the record was quite a switch for Bejar, who was used to more traditional studio techniques. For the first time, Your Blues saw Bejar using MIDI guitars and keyboards to imitate and synthesize new sounds.
Bejar envisioned the album as having a Scott Walker or Jimmy Webb influence. He told Phillip Hunt of the High Plains Reader that he sought "a weird, crooning record...[with] lots of orchestrations," but soon realized that he'd have to digitally generate the orchestration rather than commission a full symphony for the album. "At the end of the day, I just don't care if it sounds like a real orchestra," he explained to Hunt. "To me, that's just beside the point. It's more the effect that the melodies have, and the general frequencies they take up and the big sonic picture."
His biggest hurdle, though, arrived when it came to touring the record. At Bragg's behest Bejar chose the Vancouver band Frog Eyes as his backup band, and they soon learned and then decimated the songs that made up Your Blues. Commenting on how the songs would fit with the new live lineup, Bejar explained to Tyler Wilcox on the Junkmedia website: "There's no challenge, because the idea of trying to replicate or even approximate what's on the record was the first thing that we threw out the window. I mean, on some songs the vocal melody is the same, the lyrics are the same, the chords generally stay the same, but they bear no resemblance whatsoever to what you might hear on the record. For the most part, it's a full-on rock band."
For the Record …
Members include Daniel Bejar (born on October 4, 1972, in Vancouver, BC), guitar, vocals; Nicholass Bragg (joined group, 2002), guitar; David Carswell (joined group, 2002), keyboards; John Collins (joined group, 1998), bass; Chris Frey (joined group, 2002), bass; Scott Morgan (joined group, 1998), drums; Fisher Rose (joined group, 2002), drums; Stephen Wood (joined group, 1998), guitar; Jason Zumpano (joined group, 1998), keyboards.
Group was formed by Daniel Bejar in Vancouver, British Columbia, 1995; released We'll Build them a GoldenBridge on Tinker, 1996; Bejar took on bassist John Collins, drummer Scott Morgan, guitarist Stephen Wood, and keyboardist Jason Zumpano, 1998; recorded City of Daughters on Cave Canem, 1998; released Thief, Catsup Plate, 2000; released Streethawk: A Seduction, Misra, 2001; enlisted guitarist Nicolas Bragg, bassist Chris Frey, and drummer Fisher Rose for ThisNight on Merge, 2002; with just Collins and keyboardist David Carswell, released Your Blues on Merge, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Merge Records, P.O. Box 1235, Chapel Hill, NC 27514, phone: (919) 688-9969, fax (919) 688-9970, website: http://www.mergerecords.com.
We'll Build Them a Golden Bridge, Tinker, 1996.
City of Daughters, Cave Canem/Triple Crown Audio, 1998.
Thief, Catsup Plate, 2000.
Streethawk: A Seduction, Misra, 2001.
This Night, Merge, 2002.
Your Blues, Merge, 2004.
Exclaim!, c. 2000.
Fast Forward, October 17, 2002.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Canada), c. 2000.
High Plains Reader, April 29, 2004.
Magnet, c. 2001.
Washington Post, December 4, 2002.
"Interview with Destroyer," Junkmedia, http://www.junkmedia.org/?i=1062 (June 7, 2004).
Additional information was provided by Merge Records publicity materials, 2004.
destroyer, class of warship very fast relative to its length, generally equipped with torpedos, antisubmarine equipment, and medium-caliber and antiaircraft guns. The newest destroyers are equipped with guided missiles as their chief offensive weapon. The destroyer, originally called the torpedo-boat destroyer, was introduced in 1892 as an answer to the torpedo boat, but it rapidly replaced that type by taking over its functions. Later, its role as a torpedo launcher declined, and today destroyers have a mainly defensive role; they are used for convoying merchant ships and as escort vessels in a battle fleet. Destroyers were of great importance in World War II; equipped with new electronic devices, they proved highly effective as antisubmarine weapons and, hence, as escorts for convoys. Specialized types include the radar picket destroyer, designed for detection of enemy aircraft and control of friendly combat air patrol, and the minelaying destroyer. The USS Truxtun (launched in 1964) was the first of a class of nuclear-powered destroyer-type ships, officially categorized as frigates.
See E. Brookes, Destroyer (1962); E. J. March, British Destroyers: A History of Development 1892–1953 (1966); Jane's Fighting Ships (pub. annually since 1897).
de·stroy·er / diˈstroiər/ • n. a small, fast warship, esp. one equipped for a defensive role against submarines and aircraft. ∎ someone or something that destroys: the greatest destroyer of love and peace.