Touring in support of an album that represents a drastic
departure from an artist’s usual form is always a little
scary. Dan Bejar has done something even more remarkable:
He’s combined songs from his ethereal, half-synthesized 2004
release, Your Blues, with the stark, crashing barrage of
sound let loose by opening act/backup band Frog Eyes. This
improbable combination of Canadians took their hybrid of noise-rock
and delicate songwriting on the road, stopping in Dearborn last
Wednesday.

The tour began in Edmonton, Alberta; both Bejar and Frog Eyes
hail from British Columbia. “This is only the second tour
I’ve ever done,” said Bejar. “We played some good
ones. There were some duds … There are some places where
lots of people come out and see us, and there are some where
there’s not really anyone there.”

Teaming up with a band whose typical sound consists of thick
organ chords and clanging guitars may seem odd for Bejar,
considering Your Blues’ swooping string lines and meticulous
construction, but he doesn’t see it that way.

“So much has to do with who I’m working with,
whether it’s the people recording or the band I’m
playing with,” Bejar related. “My musical vision is
super scattered … It depends on who shows up. It’s
surprising — you never know what’s gonna end up on tape
or onstage.” And after exploring uncharted territory —
working with MIDI, experimenting with synthesizers to simulate wind
and string instruments and arranging parts for the first time
— he was ready for a grounding rock ‘n’ roll
force.

Abandoning synthesized flutes, cellos and brass for over-the-top
guitar, drums and wide keyboard swaths supplied by Frog Eyes, Bejar
took the stage at Stormy Records ready to show the audience the
product of their weird union. Despite a broken kick drum halfway
through the set, the combination was a success: Frog Eyes vocalist
Carey Mercer doubled Bejar’s nasal croon with his own tense,
delicate screech, and the band created the same emotional impacts
made by Your Blues’ baroque instrumentation.

In addition to modifying songs from Your Blues for live
performance, Bejar had to compromise in the studio. “(The
lack of resources and training) wasn’t really a hindrance in
the process of making it. I realized it’s really hard to make
a Nelson Riddle record or write arrangements that you’d hear
people croon over way back whenever,” he confessed. “I
think there’s some kind of science to it as well as just
melodic flair.”

With earlier albums like Streethawk: A Seduction and
City of Daughters, Bejar sought to evoke a sense of place
— his hometown of Vancouver. But Your Blues conveys
less of a concrete setting. “If I were to place it somewhere,
it would be like a fictional European setting — someplace
really pretty but dilapidated as well, and the orchestrated MIDI
stuff plays into that,” he mused.

To get a sense of how to concoct and present the songs on
Your Blues, Bejar looked to favorites like Scott Walker and
former Velvet Underground member John Cale. “(I listened to)
people who’ve used classical instrumentation and what they
do, and then (listened) to certain ’80s records to see how
MIDI pops up in those. I was trying to use synthesizers in an
assuredly non-New Wave way, more like a New Age way, which is even
more distasteful, but I thought I’d give it a shot,” he
related.

If Your Blues sounds occasionally theatrical,
that’s because, at times, it is. “I think that’s
how people respond when there’s 101 violins swelling in the
background, like it’s Broadway,” Bejar explained,
“There’s the fact that some of the songs were written
for a play. But there’s no narrative, I can’t write
that way … Maybe in these songs, compared to other Destroyer
songs, there’s more voice, one single distinct voice at work
instead of schizophrenic voices chattering at the same
time.”

As carefully constructed as Your Blues is, Bejar
didn’t always hear what he expected during recording.
“The way the record strayed for me from how I initially saw
it was that it ended up way more melodious and poppy, I guess
… I do like it, but it’s not what I first had in mind.
I kinda wanted a stark, phoned-in-from-the-sanitarium-style record,
but the songs I showed up with didn’t really suit the concept
… you usually end up with something different, and
it’s good — it means that something happened in the
studio instead of you laying down something that’s completely
mapped out.”

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