“If some people don’t like how this stuff sounds live, I couldn’t honestly care less,” quips Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, repeating himself above the Curtis Mayfield record blaring in the background. “If someone has a problem with the way I do this stuff with a band, they can always listen to the record when they get home.”
From a tour van headed out of Chicago after a set at The Empty Bottle the night before–nine stops into what he says will be his final outing behind Your Blues, his most recent and fourth album under the Destroyer guise–Bejar is frustrated with the bland assumption that a band’s existential purpose is to recreate live a record that may have been made years ago. He’s working hard to change that perception with a novel live approach to his earlier work. And, though it may seem that his approach stems from purely philosophical motives, much of Bejar’s decision to re-imagine Destroyer songs on the stage has been an issue of practicality.
“Well, I wasn’t going to play to a tape or anything,” says Bejar, who reached new levels of exposure last year with his heavy contributions to The New Pornographers’ Electric Version. “And I couldn’t think of anyone in Vancouver that I’d want to tour with.”
Bejar recruited Canada’s Neutral Milk Hotel-meets-Queen quartet Frog Eyes to join him both as an opener and a backing band for this tour. Fans of the lavish airs smeared across Your Blues may not be as enthusiastic about the material from the stage. In fact, some may not even recognize it.
Your Blues–a grandiose record of explosive arrangements wrapped around plainsong melodies that walk (and, more than once, happily cross) the line between pomp and silliness with something of a Rufus Wainwright strut–was recorded laboriously over two months with his long-time pals and collaborators, David Carswell and John Collins.
The process started simply, an acoustic guitar as the only ornamentation used for the basic tunes. For years, though, Bejar had been wanting to do a MIDI album: that is, he had been hoping to use a Musical Instrument Digital Interface to imagine a virtual backing band built on 1’s and 0’s fed into and arranged with a computer. Eventually, the three worked with a MIDI guitar and a few synthesizers, imaging a full-scale orchestra–from strings and winds to glockenspiels and trumpets–to accompany the songs and to drive them to over-the-top, sound-and-vision limits.
“I had the ideas for probably two to three years before I recorded it, but I couldn’t figure out how I would do it. No one really wants to make a MIDI record anymore,” says Bejar. “But I feel really comfortable with Dave and John, and we had a lot of fun just changing the arrangements and finding neat ways to make it sound better.”
Live, the cloak of careful studio planning and tweaking lifts, discarded instead for the spontaneity and opportunity of a five-piece rock band.
“It’s tough to decide, really, which versions of these songs I like, really, because they’re like completely different projects,” says Bejar, who plans on returning to the studio after the tour to begin practicing new material and to re-record selections from Your Blues with Frog Eyes for a possible EP to be released on Merge Records early next year. “I mean, we’ve been rocking the shit out of these songs recently, so I’m pretty partial to the way we’re doing some of them as this band.”
Destroyer plays Cat’s Cradle with Kingsbury Manx and Frog Eyes Thursday, May 13. Show starts at 9 p.m. and costs $8 in advance or $10 at the door.