by Conor Prischmann
Although I can't claim to be a perfectly objective observer, as far as I'm concerned Deerhoof are by far the most interesting band currently active in the San Francisco Bay Area indie circuit. They combine delicious pop melodies with an avant-garde sense of rhythm and noise. They follow no trends except those of their own making. Their latest album, Apple O', is out now as a joint release of Kill Rock Stars and its sister label 5 Rue Christine. I interviewed Deerhoof drummer extraordinaire Greg Saunier via email (no thanks to Hotmail). This is what he had to say.
SCR: Where did each of you go to high school?
Greg: Satomi [Matsuzaki, bass and vocals] in Surrey, England; John [Dieterich, guitar] in Steven's Point, Wisconsin; Chris [Cohen, guitar] in L.A.; and Greg [Saunier, drums and vocals] in Columbia, Maryland.
Does Deerhoof ever improvise live, or is everything essentially composed beforehand?
Deerhoof has improvised, but I don't feel like it's my forte really. I love playing songs. The thing is, once you play a song so many times that you can play it without thinking about it at all, it can very easily feel like improvisation while playing it, which is how I actually feel when I'm playing.
I've noticed from seeing Deerhoof live so many times that your songs are often altered slightly from time to time in an apparently pre-planned way. Is this just to mix things up, or are you searching for the optimal version of a song? Do you believe there is such a thing? Do you equally enjoy all versions, or not?
I don't really believe in such a thing as an optimal version, but we act as if we do. The reason for changing the versions is to find the best version we can, not for variety's sake. Because of what we were talking about in the last question, even if you decide on a final version of a song, it can, and inevitably will, still be played differently every time. Even so, changing instruments perhaps gives the feeling that the instruments themselves aren't so important. The music still exists apart from this or that instrument, or even this or that performer. A song like "Happy Birthday" doesn't have to be on piano, or sung by any particular person, for it to work its magic.
In the past there has been a fair amount of instrument swapping, sometimes within the duration of a show, sometimes between shows. Do you feel you've reached the right configuration? Might the electronic elements that appeared in Reveille return at some point in the future, or no?
It's the same, there's no "right" configuration, but it makes sense to act like there is, and what we have now seems to work best. The electronic elements on Reveille weren't necessarily actual instruments, and were there to try and make the recording interesting as a recording. For the live show, we seem to always like it best when everything is as simple as possible, so we can worry about the musical interactions and the expression and not think about the instruments or the technical side of it. In our live show, if you feel that there suddenly needs to be an "interesting sound", you have to just make one with the instrument you have.
If you could add any instrument to the lineup, what would it be? Have you ever thought about composing Deerhoof music for a full orchestra, and do you think the result would still be Deerhoof?
All instruments are unique and beautiful in their own way, but we wouldn't add anything right now. There's little point in writing music for full orchestra unless you have an orchestra to play it, which we don't. But if Deerhoof music is done on different instruments, I think it would still be Deerhoof. At least some of our songs are that way. They are abstract, as well as simple, so they can easily be arranged for different instruments.
Deerhoof -- http://deerhoof.killrockstars.com/
Kill Rock Stars -- http://www.killrockstars.com/
5 Rue Christine -- http://www.5rc.com/
Subterranean Records -- http://www.subterranean.org/
All photos courtesy of Kill Rock Stars.
To what degree is the composition of Deerhoof material collaborative? Is there a typical method by which Deerhoof songs become reality, and if so, what is it? How long does this process usually last?
It's different for every song. Some are written all together, and some are written entirely by one person, who has everyone's parts figured out. Most often it's the latter, but when we get together to try it, we find things to improve it as a group. Sometimes it's fast, but it never really feels like it's done, so really it goes on for years.
Do you still wake up remembering dreamed melodies? Can you will this to occur beforehand in some way, or must you wait for it to occur? What else happens in these dreams? When you remember the melodies, have you usually woken up naturally, or by an alarm clock?
Yes. I have to wait for it to occur. I might wish that it happens more often, but still I'm glad when it does. There are things that seem to make it a little more likely, such as listening to or playing music all day first. Especially if I listen to unfamiliar music, it is likely that my mind will create something that night. The same effect can happen without actually sleeping. Sometimes music will just come into my head. When I dream music I usually wake myself up, so I can write it down.
I recently read in a very reputable publication that a major idea with the Holdypaws album was the emphasis of musical content over sound. Is that still a major idea in your current work, and if not, how has this dynamic changed?
It's a major idea in writing songs, at least for me. I would like to write songs that are easy to remember, and could be sung and played in different ways, by different people, and still be a good song. Holdypaws makes that point by having every song sound the same. Reveille and The Man, The King, The Girl sort of make the same point by having every song sound different.
In the same publication, I read that a major theme with Holdypaws was that of imprisonment. Are there similarly unifying themes in your other albums, and if so what are they?
There are themes like that on all of them, several on each one. It's not really something that should be expressed in a word or two -- it's more of a feeling, and it's different for everyone who hears it, and hopefully it's a little different every time a person hears it.
I understand there is an LP from before The Man, The King, The Girl? What's it called, who released it, and will it ever be available again either on CD or the internet?
It's called Dirt Pirate Creed, and it is available. Only one distributor, Subterranean, has it. Some of the material was reused on The Man, The King, The Girl. Unfortunately, the LP is pressed extremely poorly, so although I feel good about the music, I feel torn about selling the LP to people.
How did playing in Europe differ from your experiences in the States?
It wasn't so different, but in Europe people expected longer concerts than here. Maybe it's because they have longer attention spans, or maybe it was just that Deerhoof was from so far away that they wanted to get the most out of this special occasion.
What do you remember of your experiences in Houston, the Space City?
The fun. I liked our show there with xbxrx. I hope we play in Houston again soon. Right before we played, the DJ was playing the soundtrack from Barry Lyndon.
You have started to sell out shows in the Bay Area. How popular do you think Deerhoof can become nationally? Do you have a desire for the band to become more widely known, or are you indifferent? Is there any point beyond which you would feel uncomfortable with success in these terms?
If it were just a matter of the music itself, I think Deerhoof could be as popular as anybody else. As far as everything else, we're trying to do what we can, touring more and so on, so that we can make enough money to live. There's no amount of success I would feel uncomfortable with, but there are many things I would feel uncomfortable with doing to achieve success, so we might never get past a certain point.
What bands or artists do you feel are working along similar lines as yourselves, either locally, nationally, or internationally?
I think every band works along different lines, unless they're especially conservative and work along someone else's lines. So there are so many bands I love, but I love them not because they're similar, but because they're themselves, or themselves fully realized.
Does Deerhoof have any special dietary needs?
I have a special dietary need for John not to drink any more coffee!
How old is Deerhoof? Will Deerhoof live forever?
Deerhoof is nine. No one lives forever, but some music lives a very long time. Obviously that's pretty rare, though. I would like to try to make music that will live a long time, that people will come back to again and again, whatever that means. END