Destroyer’s Dan Bejar talks about unreleased David Berman sessions in new interview
Before David Berman made the Purple Mountains album with Woods' Jarvis Taveniere and Jeremy Earl, there were attempts to make the record with Dan Bejar, Dan Auerbach, and Jeff Tweedy. In a new interview with Pitchfork primarily about Destroyer's anticipated new album Have We Met, Bejar talks about his sessions with Berman, which happened in 2017 with a band that included members of Destroyer and Berman's former Silver Jews collaborator Stephen Malkmus:
“My first act as producer was to say: ‘Don’t ask someone who was inspired to become a singer-songwriter by your records to produce your record.’ But he just thought that was funny.” The band for the sessions included members of Destroyer, as well as Berman’s longtime musical foil, Stephen Malkmus, who worked in the studio for a few days. The recording process started out promising enough, but it eventually became clear that Berman wasn’t into his own writing, which was far from complete.
“There were lots of really wild lines that would have fit in more with ’90s Berman—just blasting images, more manic, which was actually the state he was in. But I think he wanted to do something different. So a lot of those amazing pieces of writing didn’t get used,” Bejar says. “It was interesting to see. Like, wow, this is how the great ones do it. Chipping away at this page. It made me realize how different it is than what I do, which is way more thoughtless. Literally without thinking.”
Bejar also remembers desperately trying to get Berman to sing in the studio, and exchanging concerned glances with Malkmus. “Steve just looked at me and was like, Good luck, my friend,” Bejar recalls. “My heart was in the right place, but I didn’t know what I was dealing with. I was the last person to know how fucked I was.”
Bejar says the songs they worked on had a much different feel than the twangy vibe of the Purple Mountains album. “It was incredibly loud and brittle and dry and compressed, with this Serge Gainsbourg-style voice of god over whatever is happening beneath. But I don’t think that's something that really spoke to him in the least.” An album's worth of material, “halfway to final mixes," exists and Bejar tells Pitchfork whether it ever sees the light of day is up to the label, Drag City. “I don’t know if he would have wanted the world to hear it.” Berman took his own life in August, 2019.