Interview: Deerhoof and the perfect you

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Deerhoof are on tour and playing live at Lido in Berlin on Monday the 16th of February. You can find all tourdates here.

Come overseas. My greet will cure your great soul” they sing in “choco fight”and I so want to sing it back to them now. Because they all four have a great soul. And they will travel all the way from America to come and play for us.

Oh yes there is a perfect you. Deerhoof is the band that teaches you important lessons about life. Apart from the joy you get from all the effortless music they make for almost 20 years now, you learn. How being yourself is the best thing to do. That you shouldn’t be afraid to be different. That if you believe in what you do, you will make it. Oh don’t tell me that all this sounds so cliche, because I am sure you haven’t applied it yet! You keep trying and trying… Deerhoof teach you that opposites match and controversies patch. And this oh so legendary and timeless: there are no rules. Yes! oh let’s play like children. And then when we get tired in the evening, we will talk with our hearts and think with our conscience. And read books and write poetry and listen to orchestral music and then make it MIDI and replace the old instruments with new ones. And why don’t we never record in a studio and just do everything by ourselves. Because we can! And let’s switch instruments for a record! Wouldn’t that be fun? And in general, why don’t we invent our own sound? Just mix all these sounds that we have learnt to love in all these years and be proud of ourselves? Be noisy, be grunge, be sophisticated and smart but above all, be considerate.

We are riders in the cavalry

And will soon be the victims of our imitators

What did we expect?”

Deerhoof have the purity of a child and the ethos of a grown up. And that’s the kind of person we are all struggling to be. Everything would be so much more effortless if we reach it. Wouldn’t it?

Here are some questions I asked Deerhoof songwriter and drummer Greg Saunier:

LSD: All your albums sound so diverse. However each one  of them is homogenic. What defines the sound you decide to have each time? 

We have four songwriters in this band so when we first start out, nothing makes any sense. It’s not just that the songs don’t fit together. It’s that we don’t have any idea for how they could fit together. Usually it’s like this until near the end. Then at the last moment we suddenly see a theme that was hiding there. Magically it is clear how to finish the lyrics and finish the mixes.

LSD: What kind of music are you listening to during this tour?

I saw an interview – I say saw because it was in French – where Albert Marcoeur said he liked Deerhoof. I had never heard his music and I was so surprised when I discovered how brilliant it is. This was yesterday. I have a feeling it’s going to change everything.

Lately I’ve been listening to MIDI versions of classical music. People put them online. A symphony is just a few kilobytes, smaller then an email. Recently for example I downloaded Bach Brandenburg Concerto #5 and changed all the instruments and slowed it way down so it takes three hours to play it.

LSD: Your songs make me feel heroic sometimes. Let me explain what I mean. “Wrong time capsule” is so utterly  melancholic and when I am about to get  red eyes, I hear “bend the machine…skip the waves….syncopate…forwards backwards…” and so I don’t cry in the end and I keep my pride. Is there a secret meaning behind your lyrics in general, or are you bluffing and improvising most of the times? Shall I ask Satomi about that?

No you can ask me because I wrote the lyrics on that one. Nobody asks me that. Maybe they’re shy. Maybe they think the lyrics must mean nothing because no one else is asking about the lyrics. But I can see that you’re not shy. It’s about a girl who makes a time capsule, perhaps for her future self. She can see the future and wants the future person to listen to her advice, which is to forget the past and break harmful cycles. So it’s a paradox. It’s about how syncopation is a form of time travel.

LSD: Track “look away” from the album Friend Opportunity is a gift I sometimes give friends with thirsty ears. I make them sit comfortably on the couch, I switch off the lights and put the track on. I always wonder if it’s all improvised. In the middle part, when Satomi sings “love no love no love”, it must be pre-composed. It reminds me of George Crumb, or maybe the impressionists and then this guitar riff… and then the electronics and then pure darkness…and then the jazz chords ostinato. Never ending pleasure…Oh and then this melody from the keyboards… as if  it has just flown from a Wagner opera. Oh please tell me how you made this track!

When we work on a record we are listening to it just like that. Concentrating super hard. If we want to make the music work as light background music, it is difficult since we’re not listening to it that way ourselves. So you are like a fantasy listener for us. What is the most comfortable position on your couch? Is it a soft couch or firm couch? Do you put a pillow behind the listener’s back?

I don’t think there’s any improvisation in look “Look Away”. Satomi did improvise one part of the vocals. John wrote all of the music. But usually his way of writing is by improvising on the guitar, so it has a taste of his improv style anyway. It took a long time for John, Satomi and me to figure out how to arrange all these pieces of John’s into one song. I’m glad you like it.

I don’t think John was thinking about George Crumb or Richard Wagner. I don’t think he knows who those people are, but maybe I’m wrong. You should hear my MIDI version of the Tristan Prelude. I once played on Ancient Voices of Children. Very few people know that I was once a professional performer of the musical saw.

LSD: You are a conservatory trained musician. You studied composition, is that right? However you stated in one of your interviews that a part of musical education has to be the ability to forget all. Which part of your education do you always remember?

I think I remember all of it. My body remembers it. Even if my brain forgets it. It’s like tonight is the first show of our Europe tour. We haven’t played together in a couple of weeks. Will we remember how? Our bodies will remember, even if our minds are concentrating on the Warsaw people we are playing to.

LSD: If you were a movie, which movie would you be?

I never watched myself. That’s why I have someone like you to tell me what movie I am. Maybe I’m one you want to watch again and again. Surely there is a handsome lead, a big star. But what genre am I? Courtroom drama? Maybe I’m a thriller. Everyone loves me but I’m not the kind that wins any awards.

LSD: Ok now my favorite question: if someone told you, you can have a Saturday night out with whoever you wanted- even people who have lived in other eras- who would you choose and where would you take him/her?

There’s something I don’t understand about your question. If this date goes really well then they will ask me out again the next Saturday? Or it’s one date and we fall in love and then we part forever? I was thinking I should choose George Bush 20 years ago and take him to a restaurant that serves poison food. But then I always dream about meeting Keith Richards. I’ve had this dream since I was a teenager, about two times per month. Maybe I’ll have a date onstage with Keith Richards. Magically I’ll also have a guitar in my hands. But then I think, isn’t it just better to be in Deerhoof on a Saturday night? Our audience is cuter. And they came to see me, not just use me to try and get to Keith Richards. Yeah – I would spend it with Deerhoof. Tonight, in Warsaw.

LSD: And now someone comes and tells you “you can exchange one of your albums with one of someone else’s.” Which one of yours would you give away and which one would you adopt?

Ooh, what’s my favorite record? I have a lot of favorites. But if I choose a really good one, then it will make the rest of our albums look bad, and I’ll want to exchange them too. Maybe I should exchange for something so terrible that it makes the rest of our albums look like the work of genius.

LSD: I know it’s one of your favorite bands, but do you realize in what extent you look like Mick Jagger? You already know that you are still going to look sexy when you are a grandpa. Is this an amazing feeling? Will you whiten you teeth?

I don’t have any cavities but I do drink a lot of black tea. So yes that’s a good idea, I will whiten my teeth. Are you going to be this flirtatious when we meet for the first time at our show in Berlin? I will be at the merch table drinking Earl Grey.

LSD: So in the war Beatles VS Rolling Stones, the Stones win in your opinion right? Could you elaborate why?

They win because they care more about each other. They still get along.

LSD: Deerhoof VS Evil, who wins?

Evil won and actually we switched sides.

LSD: When you were young, were you dreaming of becoming a musician? I and many others would like to let you know, that we are lucky you became one. You are a social worker. And thank you in advance.

I always knew I would be a musician. I never thought of being anything else. Until just now when you suggested I could have been a social worker…