Destroyer + Ted Bois = Kaputt’s beautifully bored tourist
Destroyer: Kaputt [Jan/2011] — THROUGH THE COURSE of eight previous studio full-lengths, Destroyer has stitched together an enigmatic and endlessly compelling trip around the big, bad, hyperactive mind (and hair) of Dan Bejar. The Vancouver band’s ninth record delves deeper, tugged into new dimensions by a tickle trunk full of smooth jazz sounds and layers of dreamy cadence, but rooted as always in Bejar’s converging — and sometimes unhinged — trains of thought.
Whether or not Kaputt borrows from Leonard Cohen’s bag of tricks, this black-and-white cover image, taken by the six-piece band’s keyboardist, certainly evokes the famous poet’s unfettered detachment and sly humour. In the email Q&A below, Ted Bois explains the roots of Bejar’s poseur tourist character, as well as the who/what/when/where/how/why for his photo.
Bois is a self-trained photographer. He says he shoots exclusively in available light, often at night or in dark places, and also that he is drawn to a broad range of styles — from the surrealism of Jean Cocteau films, Clarence John Laughlin and Man Ray, to the garishness of 1970s stock photography and Helmut Newton, to name a few of many influences.
“In practice, I gravitate towards false-seeming environmental portraits, wherein the subject and his environment have a sort of unnatural or uneasy relationship with each other — a sort of generalized, banal sense of mild discomfort,” says Bois. “Bejar exudes this mild discomfort naturally, which makes him a lot of fun to photograph.”
When was this photo taken? What kind of day was it?
I shot this photo circa 9 p.m. on a cloudless summer evening in early July. It might be hard to tell from a black and white photo, but the sky and mountains were turning pink and blue respectively, as they often do at dusk in Vancouver. And it was a hot day, which accounts for the hazy quality of the background. Haze photographs well.
What kind of equipment did you use to take the photo?
An old Leica M4 with an even older Summicron 50mm/f2 — the “rigid” version, for you Leica nerds. Film was Kodak T-MAX P3200, because I knew I would be shooting in fading light and didn’t want to use a tripod, but also because I wanted the photograph to look pre-digital. And nothing says pre-digital like grainy, high-contrast black and white film.
Where exactly was this photo taken?
Queen Elizabeth Park, in Vancouver. Great view — it’s the highest point in the city. Several photogenic landmarks: an amazing geodesic dome from the late 60s, a huge water fountain — which incidentally appears on the cover of the Archer on the Beach EP [pictured, below]. And nicely maintained sloping grounds with a distinctive English garden flavour. Basically, you could take 36 shots blindfolded there and wind up with 20 good ones, so I go there fairly often. Oh, and it’s about five minutes from my apartment, which doesn’t hurt either.
What do you like about the view from that spot?
There’s usually enough foliage in the foreground to block out most of downtown Vancouver, which is why tourists often have to stand on the wall for a better view of the city. I especially like this perspective because it encapsulates the proper order of things: there’s the mountains, and then there’s everything else.
How did you arrive at the idea of taking a cover photo at this location?
The intent was to make Dan look like a bored tourist. The Queen E., given that it’s a fairly popular tourist spot, felt like a natural place for a bored tourist to be hanging out.
Is this a somewhat random photo choice, or a calculated one?
The shot itself was a candid, but part of a longer shoot with an overarching theme, if that makes any sense. I shot a few exposures of Dan sitting on that wall by himself from various angles. Then I decided to do a few incorporating some of the sightseers that were milling about, which is when this colour-coordinated family of Japanese tourists just magically entered the frame and chose to stand in precisely the right spot. Or close enough, anyway.
Why does this scene fit the music on Kaputt?
It was intended as part of a suite of photos, along with Archer and the Bay of PigsEP [pictured, below — taken inside an old Vancouver mansion called Hycroft House], depicting Dan as a sort of disillusioned, alienated, existentially bored loner millionaire — which is the character I imagined singing the bulk of the songs on the album. I initially had some reservations about using this photo because it didn’t connote the same degree of affluence as the other two, and Kaputt is easily the most affluent-sounding release of the bunch.
But in the end, I think the implied mood of the photo matches that of the record pretty well. The crux is that he has his back turned to a spectacular view because appreciating scenery is a pleasure too simple for him to grasp. He’s a blase, unimpressible outsider who is, at least in his own eyes, too clever for the world and yet simultaneously feels defeated by it. I also liked the idea of casting Dan as a tourist in his own home town as a sort of inside joke. Incidentally, this may or may not be an accurate depiction of his actual relationship with Vancouver.
Regarding the Bay of Pigs cover, Ted also writes: I really wanted to ape a still from the video for Boys and Girls by Bryan Ferry — wherein Ferry seductively climbs a very fancy looking staircase with people making out next to him — but had to settle for a mood a little closer to The Shining. ‘Cause it turns out, Dan doesn’t really do ‘sexy’ ;)