Aug 17, 2005

Hipstereo Interview: Destroyer's Dan Bejar

Destroyer's Dan Bejar: Interview

Dan Bejar is taken by most to be Destroyer, although Bejar insists that Destroyer is a band project and always has been. Within the shifting ensemble that has made up the band on the seven albums released, including 2006's Destroyer's Rubies, Bejar is certainly the central figure. His mind and hand draw out the words, the poetic images, the melodies which entrance. Songs such as "European Oils", "Painter In Your Pocket", and the epic "Rubies", breathe fragrant melodies, melodies that bear the stamp of art and the shapes of poetry. Listening to Destroyer is like listening to the charismatic leader of a strategic European country... one delivering a speech in his own tongue. You don't understand it, but you know it's important. And that's okay, you're just visiting... a vacation into a land of poetry, melody, and wine.

*Sixeyes comunicated with Destroyer's Dan Bejar via email.

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*Sixeyes: You described, quite succinctly, your last album, Your Blues, as being European Blues... what would you call or what genre would you create for the music of Destroyer's Rubies?
Dan Bejar: Don't know if the person who wrote the Your Blues one-sheet was naming a genre to contain Your Blues, when they said something about European Blues... The enre that this record skirts around would be the "rock" genre...

*SE: You have written the bio for fellow Merge Records artists, Tenement Halls, the band fronted by former Rock*A*Teens, Chris Lopez, and in it you finish up by asking the reader to, "... just listen to the whole record repeatedly, and it will make sense. Not that it needs to." From that, I am wondering if you want your own records to make sense to the listener? A repeated refrain in articles, or interview preambles is, "He makes records that no one understands".. do you want people who listen to understand? What would you like the listener to or get out of a Dan Bejar record or song, out of the new record, Destroyer's Rubies?

DB: An emotional response is always good... After that they can, and will do, whatever they want with it. They can do whatever they want with it before that, as well... I don't understand - which are these totally legible records beside which Destroyer records stand as complete garble... Who wants to understand a record, anyway? Me, I just like listening to them...

*SE: Are the lyrics important to you? The meaning of the words, I mean... or is it the sound of them, their pronunciation, which is of more interest?

DB: If by "meaning" you mean intention, then yes... If by "sound" you mean effect, then most definitely... I also find both those things interchangable...

*SE: Have you developed a method, or process, for writing? I mean as far as environment or time of day is concerned? Are there any little tricks that you use to kick start yourself when the muse goes missing?

DB: Don't know how to kick myself, would like to learn... Being stuck on an airplane helps... Wine is good... Night time is usually the right time... Lots of writing and then the eventual showdown with the guitar, and then to the band/mangler for some real form...

*SE: When you started to write songs, was it a matter of fitting the words to the music, or the other way around?

DB: When I started, it involved a lot of idle strumming of the guitar and fitting words to music, yes... Then it morphed into idle word-stringing and idle guitar-strumming happening concurrently... That was good, handy, prolific... Then a steady process of the words and music drifting apart again, the guitar gathering dust, everything becoming less idle...

*SE: Along the same lines... Is your idiosyncratic vocal delivery a style you wished to develop, or is it the end result of your word heavy, image thick, and intricate lyrics?

DB: I guess you can shrink from the fact that your voice isn't particularly welcoming (first Destroyer record) or give recent college grads a reason to use the word "acrid-voiced"(destroyer music after first Destroyer record)... Lay into your weakness, which in this case is the sound my voice makes when I belt things out... Not good at sustaining notes so having vocal melodies duck and weave like the words is handy, which means having lots of words on which to hang a melody is also handy... The barking, spoken-word tip hinted at on This Night, abandoned on Your Blues, and fully embraced on D's Rubies, seems like a natural progression of of all that...

*SE: "It's Gonna Take An Airplane" from Your Blues, a favourite of mine, has a very slack, laid-back 60's 'Euro Pop' feel. The song's opening conjures for me arty French movies starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. Do you ever write songs trying to capture a 'feel' that you've felt from other music or film?

DB: "Flutes" and "strings" can really make someone think "60s french movie", especially fake ones... This Night had Thin Red Line on the brain... Your Blues, Visconti... etc...

*SE: Were all the songs for Destroyer's Rubies written at the same time?

DB: The "Sick Priest (learns to last forever)" has been around a long time... Everything else is more or less recent...

Destroyer's Dan Bejar: Interview

*SE: What about inspiration? Do you find it easily, or is it something you chase like a missed bus? Did any specific work of art inspire you as you were writing the new album?

DB: I get inspired by specific works of art all the time... All the awesome poets of the world... That weird Russian Hamlet movie (ED: Grigory Kozintsev's 1964 version)... Camaron (ED: I believe he is referring to flamenco singer El CamarĂ³n de la Isla)... I don't chase busses, more like driving through yellow lights... I usually need other people to inspire me musically, that's gotta get said...

*SE: After you've written a song, can you ever relax and feel proud of what you've done, or are you constantly worrying away at bits and pieces of it...Are you ever completely happy with what you've done, or is a nagging doubt what drives you to continue writing?

DB: I don't fret about writing or how we play a song... I sometimes fret over capturing a performance, and the sonic quality of that capture... But that's studio stuff that everyone bangs their head against... Trying to hone in on an idea that you never quite nail is what drives me to record more records...

*SE: Did you sweat over the details of Destroyer's Rubies release, such as the cover art, the track sequencing, the title of the album?

DB: Holy shit, no!!

Can you remember what albums got you excited about music when you were a kid? What music opened that door to show you a new musical world?

DB: If by kid you mean 12 or 13-year old, which is when I started getting really into music, I'd have to say popular UK new wave (Echo, New Order, The Smiths, The Cure), and then the Jesus and Mary Chain and their noisy followers, cause they had moppish hair like me, looked cool and Psychocandy was noisy and bad-ass but tuneful, stylish and detached, not like the Minutemen or Husker Du or some shit like that... This all leads to the Velvet Underground, of course, and then it's all over...

*SE: And finally, what does the coming year hold for you? Touring, recording, writing?

DB: Touring in March... Hopefully a little more in May... Writing in some form or another would be nice...

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Destroyer's Rubies will be released February 21st on Merge Records.

Hipstereo Interview: Devendra Banhart

(This interview first appeared on my other blog, Sixeyes)
Devendra Banhart is a young man who comes to us from Texas by way of Caracas, Venezuela. Barely reaching into his middle twenties with long spindly fingers, Banhart has already carved out a mythic niche for himself through shamanic charisma, child-like artistry, and media hysteria. A potent combination that if befell a mainstream performer, would either kill them, or brand them the next Elvis. Banhart is far from the mainstream current, you'll find him floating on his back in a tiny, rocky stream, slipping over the rocks like a long slender leaf; a verdant green in the steely blue water. With a voice characterized as "a quivering high tension wire [src]", "beautiful [src]", and as "a strange and ineffable instrument [src]", Banhart can divide and conquer listeners with his voice alone. Divide into 'for or against' camps, pushing the 'against' down the stairs and out the door and drawing the 'for' closer into a world of little yellow spiders, friends named Will, dogs, beards, and sexy pigs.

With his fourth proper studio album and fifth recorded work, Cripple Crow, set to be released (Sept. 13/US) on his new label home, xl recordings, Banhart took some time out to answer a few questions.

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*Sixeyes: Let's get right into Cripple Crow... what specifically inspired the songs on the new record?

Devendra Banhart: Dee Brown's [book], Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.

The Music and words and allness of:
Simon Diaz
Atahualpa Yupanqui
Robbie Basho
Caetano Veloso
Secos E Molhados
Fajar Di Atas Awan

The friendship, love, and guidance of:

Thom Monahan
The Bunnybrains
Currituck Co.
The Espers
The Metallic Falcons
Tarantula A.D
Noah Georgeson
Lorandrew Georgopabaker

and Everyone and Everything ever.

*Six: Tell me... what was the biggest difference between how you worked on Cripple Crow as opposed to previous releases? Was there a difference?

Devendra: The difference was that even though there were definite themes and actual songs pre-written upon entering the studio, the whole things feels like a strange by-product of being in the Bearsville woods surrounded by our family [*six: Bearsville, NY, where Cripple Crow was recorded] .

*Six: There is a generous amount of songs on Cripple Crow... did you have many songs to choose from, are you as prolific as it seems? And do you find the process of picking and choosing tracks for a new record difficult?

Devendra: What makes this record not so good is the tiny amount of time we had to work on each song. We had one month to record 45 songs... it was too much, I should have kept it to 18 or so, lots of getting rid of songs, a bummer it was. We ended up with 35 at the end of the month, 22 for the record, the rest b sides, I couldn't save the rest for another album because they all came together, all came under the Cripple Crow source.

*Six: If you could make me a mixtape of what you think I should hear... what would be on it and why?

Devendra: You should hear Gordon Lightfoot covering Joni Mitchell's songs, some people can't do it, but holy cow can he! Also, check out Bobby Charles, he's the person who brought us to Bearsville.

*Six: From some articles I have read about you, you appear to harbor a stronger love for female singer/songwriters than male. Is that fair?

Devendra: I think its equal and I certainly don't think its because they are female, they simply happen to also be female, and then again, I wonder if that's true, female singer/songwriters might be in my opinion much stronger, less clouded, clearer, closer to themselves.

*Six: There is a blues feel to many of the songs you have penned, is this influence linear, or is it more a type of osmosis from listening to others with 'stronger' blues influences?

Devendra: Must be a seeped into me (osmosis) thing, I listen to lots of "Blues" stuff, but holy shit! I cant ever imagine people like Charlie Patton, Blind Willie Johnson, Bo Carter, Fred McDowell, Memphis Minnie, etc., ever seeping in. If anything it's seeped in to the danceable songs, I don't think it's for me to sit and use a blues structure in a me and guitar setting, naw that don't feel right for me, but chicken dancing and some blues go wing and wing.

*Six: What was the first song you wrote that made you think, 'Hey, this isn't bad'?

Devendra: I dont know.

*Six: The raven black crow is at times too smart for it's own good and branded by some as a symbol of death... Do you feel an affinity with the crow? And why title the album, Cripple Crow?

Devendra: Well, I said to myself, "What's the title?" and I heard from myself, " Look in books, think... feel words, extract the words from the songs, condense the record into a word or a couple of words, etc". Then I said to the creative spirit, "Whats the title?" and i heard, "Keep looking in all those places you told yourself to look, keep looking diligently, though it will not come from there, i will bring it to you if you keep looking in all the wrong places". And as I looked I began to hear, "I Am Cripple Crow, I Am Cripple Crow", so i was gonna call it, I Am Cripple Crow, but I thought it would look like I was saying... I, Devendra, am Cripple Crow, which I am not , Cripple Crow is the album, so I got rid of the I Am.

*Six: Do you love simplicity in song... the kind you find in children's songs, such as Itsy Bitsy Spider?

Devendra: Yes, I do, simplicty, essence, that's the goal. "Mister Rabbit Mister Rabbit"....perfect song that one.

*Six: Do you feel your songwriting is heading in a more simplified style, or are you craving to spin out more complicated songs?

Devendra: I dont think I'm capable of getting too complicated, though I do hope to string lots of little songs together in the future, still I don't want to never return to where I began on, Oh Me Oh My, or as a little kid writing songs for my dogs.

*Six: If it's true that 'you are what you eat'.... what are you?

Devendra: Seaweed.

*Six: And finally... What are your plans for the rest of this year and the coming year?

Devendra: I hope to go to Bahia and make a record with Vetiver and Arto Lindsay inspired by Caetano Veloso and Gal Costas fist record Domingo.

Releasing tunes by Jana Hunter (Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom, October 4th) on a label just formed with Andy Cabic from Vetiver and Gary Held from Revolver called, Gnomensong . Raising a garden and chicken dancing.

(*sixeyes thanks Howard Wuelfing, of Howlin' Wolf Media, for his assistance in securing this interview.)

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You can stream Cripple Crow right here.

Devendra Banhart MP3s
from Rejoicing in The Hands
+ will is my friend
+ the body breaks
from Nini Rojo
+ be kind via
Live Radio Performance: KVRX

All of Devendra Banhart's released albums and his EP can be downloaded from eMusic.