Deerhoof’s forays into noise and arty indie aesthetics have been entertaining you and your friends for the past fifteen some odd years. They have a new album out entitled Deerhoof vs. Evil where once again they battle the forces of darkness in the name of all that is, well, Deerhoof. Founding member and drummer extraordinaire Greg Saunier and I chatted it up on a recent morning to discuss the band’s history, aesthetics, dynamics and good fortune.
So is this your eleventh album?
Ha ha, that’s an interesting question. It depends on how you look at it. We did have a self-release back in ’94 that is often included or excluded from the list depending on who you ask or who’s discography you read.
And you started here in San Francisco did you not?
Yeah, well, technically we started out in Emeryville. There was a garage that we started playing in, really having no idea what we were doing and just making a racket.
Was this after you got your music degree?
This would have been a few years after. Strangely enough it started as this metal outfit called Nitre Pit until one day the guitarists left, leaving Rob and I to our own devices. As a duo we were the embryo that would become Deerhoof with the addition of Satomi (Matsuzaki) on vocals and bass.
I remember being introduced to Deerhoof when you guys were touring with Lightning Bolt, back when post-rock was the big thing, not that I would classify what you do as post-whatever.
Oh wow, ha ha, yeah that was some time ago. I don't think I ever figured out what post-rock meant. It was like some kind of title that people threw around to describe whatever new sound that they couldn't describe at the time.
I have heard you state that half of the band was the audio and half of the band was visual. How has that developed over the years?
Rob [a founding guitarist, who left in 1999, and went on to form 7 Year Rabbit Cycle, and is now in Common Edier, King Eider and Free Porcupine Society] used to make these stencil paintings, one of them being this deer print that he had and ultimately gave us a name. Rob was the one who worked hard on our fliers, posters and record covers. And even now the visual component is a standard that we try to uphold in our covers, posters, linear notes and stuff like that. We try to remain true to our origins, incorporating the visual elements always with our music.
In a group of celebrated conflicting approaches and contributions, what elements and characteristics of your sound do you find unite Deerhoof together?
You never know. Our records usually only start to make sense to us right at the last second. I guess that's why it's the last second. Because once we find that glue, whether it's sonic or conceptual, we know we're pretty much done.
Curious to hear a little bit more about the creative process of Deerhoof's rehearsals: free form jams?
Free form jams, now that would be funny! We're like aliens when we try to do that. No, this is a composer's band I'm afraid. Four composers. Four strong-willed micro-managing singer-songwriters on four individual power trips.
How was it leaking the album track for track on various websites in mp3 format?
Ha ha, that was fun. We did this thing called a “global album leak” where a different website somewhere in the world every week would host a new track leak from the Deerhoof vs. Evil album. It felt like a more direct way to provide people everywhere with a different taste of the album at different times.
You have also seen a lot of changes in the format industry, the rise and fall of the mp3 to the more nebulous and centralized SoundCloud realm we have entered now.
Yeah and you know I must say we have been very lucky. Somehow it seemed as if all these different trends and approaches to music media never really hurt us and instead gave us the luxury to really work on our own thing while all that stuff goes on. That added freedom to continue to work on our music despite what was happening in the industry or with downloadable media has only helped us. If anything, these various trends have embraced us so yes, we have been very fortunate.
The sound you got going on with Deerhoof vs. Evil is some of the most accessible pop I have heard from you guys. The chaos is still present but fitted within some cool pop tones.
Yeah, well, we try to keep that chaos going! Ha ha, as for the pop stuff, we have never had that one hit song over the years and that has given us the freedom to work on new stuff that we all like. So we’re lucky. Those people who blow up real fast because of one hit are forced for the rest of their careers to repeat it because that’s what their audience or label wants them to do. We are lucky to be in this special situation where we can make the music we want to make without being forced to conform to what someone else thinks we should make.
There is even some samba sounds throughout the vs. Evil album as present on “Qui Dorm, Només Somia.”
Yeah, there is some of that going on as well; we're always trying to explore sounds that we all enjoy while avoiding the curse of self-repetition.
Why is it that fans and critics alike adopt the term “classic Deerhoof” when referencing your back catalogue of albums?
Well, I think some people take groups of albums from different years and say something like Holdypaws is “classic Deerhoof,” or Reveille is “classic Deerhoof,” or whichever Deerhoof album it is where they first heard us. We don’t really see it as classic but a part of what we do as a band, which sometime seems crazy that we can make that work with our various talents but I suppose it provides those people describing our sound a point of reference.
What is the order within the group of determining what sounds constitute album worthy material?
I love the fact that you think there is order. There is no order. We have no idea what we're doing.