Deerhoof

Deerhoof
Who picked the title Deerhoof Vs. Evil, and why?
Greg Saunier: You know, I came up with that title. It may have something to do with a feeling that there's no shortage of evil in the world, and things that we might wish weren't there ― diseases, wars, people with no homes. Basically that this thing, that we and the band have been driven to do all this time really can do nothing to fight it. I mean, music has been an obsession for me since I was a little kid, and no matter how many times I've realized that pursuing it is completely pointless, I haven't been able to stop. And so, I think the idea, the feeling I get with that title is just an expression of absurdity; it's a lie. It's also, I think, playing on how Deerhoof often gets talked about and written about [in the media]. This always surprises me, but it's talked about in this way where they'll say "Deerhoof is here to save music" or to fight against a certain kind of music, or whatever, and of course, for me, in my mind, nothing could be further from the truth, but I like the idea of playing on that.

That's interesting. It's kind of a common trope in modern music to say things like "music will save the world," or "If I could just write one song that would make the world a better place..." It's challenging to think about or acknowledge the arguable futility of art as a radical world-changer.
Yeah, I mean, if it is a world-changer, it's some kind of inner world. It's not the world of tangible evils...

It's on a more personal level?
Yeah, maybe. I don't really know what it is, to be honest. When I thought of that title, I think it tickled me not only because music can't fight evil, but also because I don't even know what music does do. I guess I know it doesn't do that, but I was trying to think of the most lofty goal that a person could have, and it's not just that I wasn't sure it could reach that, but I don't know if it could reach anything. After all this time, our band still has no idea what we're doing or why we're doing it.

Funny, because to me at least, Deerhoof Vs. Evil sounds like a happy album, at least in comparison to Offend Maggie...
Hmm. Well, it all depends on how you perceive the album, which I think depends on a person's mood. Then again, I'm not even the best person to ask; sometimes it takes me years before I can really hear whether our music is happy or sad. Years after the fact, I'll listen to an album that sounded happy on the surface, sounded happy at the time that I was working on it, and later I'll go back and hear it, and I'll realize that it's not happy at all. I kind of have a feeling that this one is like that, too. I feel like there's always something at play whenever we make music ― one person will hear something cheerful, something cute, catchy; another person will hear some kind of extreme avant-garde kind of atonal noise music or something, and they'll both be talking about the same song. And, you know, It's not like either one of them is wrong.

Right.
For me, if I was going to talk about the emotions in the music, I think that it's ambiguous, hard to say. I might talk about the emotional character of the record more with someone like you, a total stranger, in an interview, than I would ever talk about it with any of my bandmates. So, between the four of us, never discuss "Is this a happy album or happy song?" I can only say what I secretly think, and when I say secret, I mean it's a secret from them [laughs]. In my opinion, the songs are very, very sad. They sound defeated, they sound at times sarcastic ― the seemingly happy thoughts that are being expressed are actually being expressed sarcastically. The extremely romantic or heroic lyrics are sung by Satomi [Matsuzaki] extremely beautifully, but with a subtle expression that really tells you that she doesn't believe what she's actually saying; she's saying it, but it doesn't really convince. That's not because she's not a good singer, it's because she is a good singer. Or at least that's my opinion. I admire her delivery and her expression a lot... that's why I wanted her in the band! (Laughs.)

Like most Deerhoof albums, this album clocks in at under 40 minutes. I read an interview with John [Dieterich] in which he claimed that making shorter albums was a decision on the band's part, and I was wondering about the band's reasoning there.
Is that short? What's the recommended length?

I don't know if there's a recommended length...
I guess there sort of is for LPs. Like, if you go too long, then the people mastering it will say things like "Ooooh, I dunno, you're going a little too long on this, and we won't be able to make the grooves wide enough, and your record's going to be quiet..." And we all know that the real purpose of recorded music is winning the volume war, so you don't want to make it too long.

Exactly.
[Laughs] I don't know. Of course, [in terms of constructing the record,] we're not thinking in terms of minutes, and not even in number of songs, because we have more songs that we've left off [the record]. It's more like, you've got four people in the band who really could not be more different from each other in terms of their background, their interests, their personality, why they got involved in music in the first place. I'm somebody who's always been totally bananas about music ever since I was little ― I was in middle school and I already knew what I wanted to do with my life, and haven't looked back. I went to college for music composition, I studied it obsessively my entire life, whereas someone like Satomi walked into the band almost by accident. She was put in touch with us by a mutual friend and we were looking for a singer. We talked on the phone ― I think she thought, from the sound of our voices that we were girls and that she was going to be joining a really casual kind of girls noise-poppy band or whatever, and she'd never played a note of music in her life. It was only because she was looking to meet new friends because she'd just moved to San Francisco from Japan. I don't think she even entertained the idea of coming over and joining a band. Before she knew it, we were on tour and she was the lead singer, and since then she's become a lifer, a full-blown professional musician. What I'm saying is, in terms of our backgrounds, the four of us are very different from each other and we have very different musical tastes, so it's very hard for us to agree on anything when we're working together. We feel like that's good in a way, because then once we do hit on something that everybody is into, then we just have this instinct that it must be right, because for the four of us to agree on anything is kind of a miracle, you know? That's sort of the point it reached right at the last minute as we were finishing this album, we didn't know exactly which songs were going to be on it, we didn't know what order they should be in, we didn't know how long it should be, we just used trial and error and at a point it started to click. A few adjustments to the mixes, a few adjustments to the song order, and we were like, "This is it, we have it, we did it" and everyone was satisfied. Then we'd emerge from the cave, and try to figure out what we did, but in the throes of it, we were just happy to have found something that gave everyone the right feeling.

I read that you guys switched instruments a lot more on this album.
Where did you read that?

In your very own press release! And I was just going to ask, is that press release hyperbole, or was there more experimentation on this album compared to those previous?
I mean, of course we experiment [laughs]. But it's a funny word, because we get called "experimental music" now and again, and I'm never really sure what to say ― not that you're calling us experimental...

But of course not.
True experimental music is music where even the final result is an experiment and you really don't know what's going to happen. In a sense, all music is that, and the kind of experimental music that John Cage is famous for having created, in a way, makes the point that all music really is experimental. For instance, take my example of those two Deerhoof fans, to both of whom I owe my career, but who hear our music and hear totally opposite things. That kind of proves that it's an experiment. These songs we write come to us out of nowhere. Speaking for myself, at least, it feels like I get songs ideas out of thin air, and I want to "report" them to my bandmates and then we want to report them to other people, the listeners. We don't know what the reaction is going to be, we don't know if anyone's going to like it. I mean, liking it or disliking it is almost the least of our concerns, it's more like "Does it mean anything to anyone, or is this just completely private, so deeply shrouded in one person's imagination?"
But, I mean, just as far as experimenting in the studio, in terms of behind-the-scenes, VH1 Behind the Music sort of thing, in that case it's always an experiment ― we never have any idea what in the world we're doing, we don't even have a studio, I mean, we recorded the album in a rehearsal room, and some of it we recorded at Ed's house, in the basement. Anyone who brings ideas to the band is... I mean, I don't want to exaggerate, but there's a lot of anxiety. You're sort of showing your most embarrassing side of yourself, like "This came to me last night in a dream, so don't laugh at me." We all play our song ideas for each other, and the others are like "Huh?" If people think our music sounds weird, there's nobody on Earth who thinks it sounds weirder than we do, at least when we first hear it. So, by the end, it's exactly the opposite ― by the time we've worked on it, because it's totally DIY the way we work, it's become the most familiar, home-like music we could ever imagine. Because I was the one who mixed it, these songs were the only thing I listened to for three months. The only music that went into my ears was this exact set of songs over and over.
And it's an experiment just in the sense that we don't have any idea what we're doing, we're not masters of music, we're not even masters of Deerhoof. Sometimes you'll just hit on something cool and something will succeed and you say to yourself "That turned out to be a good song," but as soon as you try to repeat that formula again the next time, it always fails, so we really don't have a method.
But this is all just an introduction to my actual answer, which is that in the end, we hope it doesn't sound tentative, like experimental music in the sense that it's thrown together. It has that side to it, and that's such a big part of the process, but there's another to it that's been obsessed over, you know?

I don't think anyone would say Deerhoof sounds tentative. Who came up with the "Global Album Leak" and what were the its aims?
I can't remember, actually. I think it might have been me, or it might have been me and my friend. When I thought of it, it wasn't exactly the way it turned out, which ended up being pretty cool. When I thought of it, it was just that I'd been thinking that a lot of bands now will stream their whole album when it's new and I'd been thinking that that was cool. I've been able to discover and become a fan of quite a few bands and albums just because of that. But I was thinking to myself, "Who really has time to listen to the whole stream?" especially since according to you, even the 40-minute album is considered short...

Hey, don't kill the messenger!
[Laughs] Okay, but I was just thinking, "It's great to have that stream there, but people might not have time to listen to the whole thing. Maybe it would make sense, rather than have the whole thing there and have people need to press 'stop' when they get tired of it, or they need to leave, or when they need to get back to work" ― you know, when the boss walks up and wants to have a conversation about having headphones on, or something ― I just thought why not make a fun treasure hunt out of it, where you have all the songs on different websites, and if you want to hear more, then you go seeking more, rather than finding yourself switching it off in the middle.

Yeah.
Then our label, Polyvinyl, liked the idea and ran with it, making the websites all over the world and also spreading out the timing of it so that it would happen over a period of weeks and months, rather than all at once. We're happy with how it happened.

You mentioned that there are plenty of songs that didn't make the album ― are there any planned EP releases or that sort of thing for 2011?
There are quite a few potential things here. We just released a seven-inch, a split with a new band called Physical Forms, the singer of which is also a solo artist named Busdriver. We wanted to do a split seven-inch, so I made up an instrumental track for Regan, aka Busdriver, to sing or rap over. I sent it to him in an email, however, by the time he wrote back, he was so excited about it that that same day, he'd already written, recorded, and mixed vocals for the song. When he sent it back, I realized I'd sent him the wrong song; instead of sending him this Deerhoof unreleased instrumental track I'd made especially for him, I sent him the instrumental part for one of the songs on our album, which was already coming out and had vocals, lyrics, melodies and everything, we just hadn't recorded them yet. I couldn't believe it, and I was heartbroken ― he'd already recorded, and there was no way at that point that I was going to say "Well, can that, this is the one I meant to send," 'cause what he had done was so beautiful and I really loved it. So, out of this totally idiotic mistake on my part came the idea that we would do a whole series of these split seven-inches, with different artists who basically will sing over the instrumental tracks from our album. They'll create their own vocals over it, their own melody and lyrics and everything. The first one [with Physical Forms] has already come out, a new one with Xiu Xiu has just been completed, and we have plans for every single song on the record to be done that way, so that's one thing that will be coming out from time to time during 2011, these seven-inches.
We've also got a big collaboration thing planned for this year that's super exciting, I don't even know if I'm allowed to talk about it yet. It's very likely that there's going to be a large collaborative group that will include the members of Deerhoof as well as members of Konono No.1 and Kasai Allstars that will hopefully be doing some large festival shows in the summer of 2011. And, we're going to be reissuing more of our older albums on LP, as almost all of them are out of print.
As far as these extra songs, sometimes they end up as bonus tracks, stuff like that. Or maybe things will just pop up for free on websites here and there. We have a lot underway, so the short answer is yes.

To read a review of Deerhoof Vs. Evil, click here.