A Conversation with Deerhoof co-founder Greg Saunier
By Patrick Nolan
St. Vincent, of Montreal, Foo Fighters, Sleigh Bells, Dirty Projectors — these artists all have a common thread.
It’s a thread that dates back to California in 1994 with the inception of Deerhoof, one of America’s most eclectic and prolific rock bands of the last 25 years. Hailing from San Francisco, Deerhoof has spent the last 20 years making a mark on the American music scene — from tours with Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, and Beck to producing a myriad of quirky, hard-to-define noise rock that is uniquely endearing for its audience.
Deerhoof recently dropped a new album titled The Magic and its national tour includes a stop at Benson mainstay venue The Waiting Room on Thursday, August 4th. Hear Nebraska caught up with Deerhoof co-founder and drummer Greg Saunier to talk about the production of The Magic, abandoned office buildings, trying to write a pop song, and how Deerhoof approaches live performances (among other things).
HN: My first question is quite specific. I was listening to The Magic and I was wondering what the story behind the “I Don’t Want to Set The World On Fire” cover is. It’s this electronic, out-of-nowhere cover of an Ink Spots classic that’s totally different.
Greg Saunier: Sometimes you just have an experience with a song or a melody. It’s this kind of blinding vision where it just seemed to zap you right into your soul. When I heard that song by the Ink Spots for the first time, I felt just that — zapped. It was at that time in American songwriting where the words always matched the melodies so perfectly, so I think it’s a different thing than you normally hear now. Every inflection or emphasis of syllables goes perfectly with the shape of the melody and the rhythm of the melody and you kind of have to smile at the genius of it. It just seemed irresistible, I had to make the suggestion to the rest of the gang. If everything had gone according to my expectations and the way things normally go in Deerhoof, the other three would have scoffed and laughed at one of us making a suggestion like that [laughs]. This is just one of those magic things when everyone liked the idea, so we knew we should try it. The song is sung from the point of view of someone who has basically fallen in love and has decided that other priorities have diminished in comparison. I felt like it was a really good statement to make about how we were feeling as a band at this point, so many years on. About starting to feel happy about the amount of success we have, which is less than a lot of friends or a lot of bands who used to open for us but now are way more famous than we are. We are actually pretty happy to be exactly at the level we are, to not be taking the world by storm or be at the top of the charts or whatever. You know, the song says ‘All we really want to do is spend an hour with you,’ which is really what our shows are about too. And the rest of the record has a lot to do with that as well. Too me it was too perfect of a song to waste.
HN: What about the actual sound of it. Electronic?
GS: Satomi [Matsuzaki] had this electronic loop creator app on her phone and — she wasn’t thinking about if for this cover at all — but she had this sort of weird loop and we all thought it was so cool. We didn’t know what to do with the loop and we didn’t know what to do with this song [laughs], so I said ‘I know! Why don’t we just kind of mush the two together and see if we can do it.”
HN: Moving on to the whole album, some people have been saying it’s your best. You guys have always been lauded as eclectic, but I feel like there is this air of mythology around this record — it being recorded in this abandoned building, you guys living scattered across the country. Tell me how it came together conceptually and physically.
GS: Well, we do live in different cities so in order to make the record, we knew we had to meet somewhere. The previous time we had recorded was in Ed’s [Rodriguez] basement, and so we thought it was John’s [Dieterich] turn. John is in Albuquerque, so it’s an advantage because there is more space for equipment and space than where I am at in Brooklyn. So, John had some microphones and guitar amps and borrowed some drums and some microphones and set it all up in this office building [laughs]. It was sort of off to the side of the road and next to this failing mini-mall on the outskirts of Albuquerque. He got it for super cheap, you can actually see the room we used in the video for a song called “Debut.” It was this incredibly non-descript room. It didn’t really matter once we got together. It’s like we could have been blindfolded and it would have been fine, so who cares if it was an ugly room.
HN: So how did it come together conceptually too? It almost seems like the album is an exploration of the relationship between pop ideas and a DIY, punk vibe.
GS: Right! We are always trying to make pop music! We just tend to blow it.
HN: Did you just say you blow it sometimes?
GS: Yes oh my god are you kidding! [laughs] The form of what a pop song could be to me is like that blinding hook, or phrases or melody that is so singable or some beat that is so danceable. The song goes straight to the center of your emotions. Even if the point is very simple, it doesn’t need anything else. The reality of that for us is that, we record with no budget, so we are always doing it ourselves in make-shift set ups that aren’t real recording studios [laughs]. And consider the fact that everyone in the band has super different musical tastes than everybody else too. It’s not like everyone wants to make the same type of pop music. You know, one person might want it to sound like Thriller but the next might want it to sound like The Scorpions and the next might think of it sounding like Public Enemy.
We come up with concepts in our Skype meetings and come up with these grand ideas but none of it counts for anything compared to when we are actually playing in the same place together. All the concepts just get jettisoned; everything starts to be about what we are playing and what we are hearing together.
There is this slow drawn out pre-production that’s sending demos and talking about ideas, and then it’s like this absolutely panicked race to record it — we had like five days to record The Magic in that office building — then back to months of post-production. Almost every record we’ve ever done has been like that, quick overheated recording where we can’t think twice about anything. It creates a spontaneous, loose tape that we spend months working with afterwards. By the time the post-production is done, we are really sure about every single second, every note of the record. All four of us are totally into it by the time it’s all been whittled down.
HN: I think it’s interesting that you talked about everyone having different sensibilities as to what pop is and the product of that being what you, you know, said it’s like you were “blowing it.” But to me it seems like the amoeboid result is what everyone is so endeared to.
GS: [laughs] I appreciate you saying that. It’s like…how to describe it? It’s like a record comes out and there is a critical response that is always the same. They say it’s something that is related to pop music, but never that is something that will be a Top 40. ‘It’s too weird for most you’ they say anytime we put out anything, which is fine. But when we walk out on the stage and start playing the songs, I could not care less about what the reviewer might have to say and they wouldn’t if they were in my shoes either because what you have at that point is an audience that is actually singing along with the songs, or dancing along with the songs. Every time we are there at a show, it does have that feeling of really simple songs that everybody can join in on.
HN: That’s actually my next question. People have been saying since before I was born that you guys put on one of the best music performances in the scene. I’ve been reading that it all makes sense when you see Deerhoof. So, tell me what you guys bring to the table in a live performance. What should we be looking for when you take the stage at The Waiting Room on Thursday? What is a Deerhoof performance?
GS: It’s pretty loose. The songs are actually really simple, almost sketchy. They don’t sound the same from day to day. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in Omaha, I can just tell you that it won’t be the same thing that happened in Denver the night before. It’s part of the fun of going on tour and playing the same songs night after night is that you can get so familiar with them and so familiar with each other that it’s like all interaction. We’re not up there trying to remember how the song goes. For us, it’s all about those little spontaneous interactions and improvisations and funny things that happen. The songs might be faster one day or slower the next, it might randomly change tempo in a way we didn’t plan. It’s the sound of the movement and it could go any direction. It’s kind of like a conversation. And we are not afraid to get close to crash-and-burn. Someone might try something — like I might try a bizarre drum fill that might almost derail us — but to hold it together is thrilling, and triumphant in the moment, and even becomes funny. Honestly, I don’t know if that’s special or sets Deerhoof apart, and it’s not that we have some special ability to do it, it’s just that’s something that we like to do. I think that’s part of what people respond to if they like the way we play. And not everyone loves the way that we play.
Deerhoof plays The Waiting Room with Blank Spell and Thick Paint Thursday, August 4th. Tickets available via The Waiting Room’s website.
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New Bib record “POP” out in October
Omaha punk metal freaks Bib announced their second E.P. will drop October 7 on Deranged Records. The Bib boys are keeping it palindromic and naming the new 7 inch POP.
Opening with what sounds like a rattling sewer chain crushing glass, and a signature growl by vocalist Nathan Ma, POP continues the band’s anxious, dissonant crisis. The 5-song record showcases washed out vocals and hook-filled riffs played at ultra light speed. Good crank, as the band would say.
Pre-orders are available on the Deranged Records website, and the full release is available for streaming now on Bib’s bandcamp.
POP by Bib
Bib also announced a two-week West Coast tour in support of the record set for early September, although the venues are yet to be announced. Dates as listed below.
9/6 Ft Worth
9/8 – off –
9/11 San Francisco
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Kait Berreckman announces Midwest tour, album release date
Omaha folk-rocker Kait Berreckman announced a week long tour in support of her upcoming album Battle Scenes. It will be the songwriter’s first tour with her supporting band: Jon Ochsner on bass, drummer Morgan Karabel, Sam Burt on guitar, and pianist Joe LaChance.
Battle Scenes will be Berreckman’s second full-length, and she says this time around it’s a rockier ride. The album drops August 24, and will be available on transparent orange vinyl as a limited edition perk. You can pre-order here.
Dates as listed below.
8/24 – O’leaver’s – Omaha, NE – w/ Soul Tree, Tara Vaughan
8/25 – Duffy’s – Lincoln, NE – w/ All Young Girls Are Machine Guns, The Morbs
8/26 – Gas Lamp – Des Moines, IA – w/ The Rumours, FREAKABOUT
8/27 – Lonnski’s – Grinnell, IA – w/ Pink Neighbor
8/28 – Cafe Berlin – Columbia, MO – w/ TBA
8/31 – ROZZ-TOX – Rock Island, IL – w/ TBA
9/2 – BFFFF (Benson First Friday Femme Fest) – Omaha, NE – w/ (too many badasses to count)
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EPMD plays The Waiting Room tonight with Third Eye Merchants and DJ Houston Alexander. Tickets are $30. RSVP here.
The group’s name is a concatenation of the members’ names “E” and “PMD” or an acronym for “Erick and Parrish Making Dollars”, referencing its members, emcees Erick Sermon (“E” aka E Double) and Parrish Smith (“PMD” aka Parrish Mic Doc).
Plus, Portland piano and drum duo Machine plays Duffy’s Tavern with OSAGE and The Way Out tonight in Lincoln. Tickets are $5, and you can RSVP here.
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Find a fuller listing of tonight’s shows at our statewide calendar here. Send all news tips, story ideas, tour announcements and other goings-on to email@example.com for coverage considerations.