Achieving rock stardom is like a drug. It promises praise and devotion from not just family and friends, but from people we don’t even know. In a sold-out stadium, the crowd of strangers roar, chanting the talent’s name. It leads to a bigger house, a better car and fancier clothes. It gets us high. It’s addictive.
There are famous, successful musicians and then there is Dan Bejar. “Some people have a real flare for it and are really good at presenting themselves and a certain image. There is a talent to that, but that’s not really a part of what I do,” he says in response to being described as an anti-rock star of sorts. Despite his self-proclaimed inability to maneuver fame, the Vancouver-born artist has achieved plenty. More specifically, he has released 29 studio albums over the past 20 years, ping ponging between bands, including The New Pornographers and Destroyer.
Somehow, with each album, Bejar recreates himself quietly—and his latest album ken, as the lead member of Destroyer, is no different. It is still recognizably Bejar with his signature medley of quirky instrumentals that play kindly with thick vocals. Although, this album is subtler and also seismically darker than any previous work by Destroyer, veiled in meditations on cold weather, hospital stays, violence and the like, alongside slow tumbles of the drums and keys. An ode to the 1980s British indie bands inspired by global discord, ken is certainly not a party album, but more a compilation that will rouse the hips to sway and keep them going side to side for its 40-plus minutes.
The melancholy of ken, however, is not what separates Bejar from his peers. What makes him so different from those who sit on the top of the charts is that he is not one who aspires to sit on top of the charts. He is apparently unconcerned with how his work is received by the masses. Instead, he insists his music is for him, his band and his producers. As for his fans? “If they like it, that’s cool,” he says. “I want to get off on it, so that’s number one. I want the band to get into it. I want to feel some kind of excitement from the band, and then if those things are in place, I’m ready to just let the chips fall where they may.” That is the key to Bejar’s longevity in a hyper-competitive industry in a vicious cycle of labeling yesterday’s successful record as old news in favor of the hunt for the next big thing.
While you won’t find the musician on any charts, you will find a collection of admirers who follow Bejar’s career every step of the way. “They embrace it, not in a casual way, otherwise they won’t embrace it at all,” Bejar hypothesizes about his devotees. His secret to gaining a loyal fanbase–while at the same time straddling the line between relevance and anonymity–is that he creates music for no other motivation but that he loves making music regardless of what environment he finds himself in.
Today, that venue changes nightly as he works his way through North America on tour, recreating his latest work with seven other musicians sharing the stage. “I actually like being on stage today. I can find myself in music and get lost in it,” Bejar proclaims before recalling a time earlier in his career when he would drink himself “into a stupor the day before and after a show” to deal with the spotlight. While many artists view touring as strictly a promotional opportunity (which it undeniably is), Bejar uses the occasion to attack his already-familiar work with new volume and more textures. During his Los Angeles show on Friday, Bejar shut his eyes to sing, let the audience disappear to blast a new rendition of ken–a version that triggered his enthusiasts to also close their eyes, nod their heads in unison and let the sounds rush over them.
“Sometimes you hit things and sometimes you miss them but that’s what it’s really important—the effort. The impulse.”
Destroyer is currently on tour. To learn more about his upcoming live show visit Merge Records.