In numerous incarnations since the mid-1990s, San Francisco noise punks Deerhoof have taken an experimental approach to music touching on psychedelic, jazz, atmospheric and pop styles evident in the band’s 18 studio albums, a few EPs, a handful of live albums and numerous collaborations.
The quartet of bassist and co-vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki, drummer and co-vocalist Greg Saunier and dual guitarists John Dietrich and Ed Rodriguez — most recently released “Actually, You Can,” last October, and are appearing at the Space Ballroom in Hamden on Saturday, May 7 with indie rock trio Editrix to support the release.
Saunier and I talked ahead of the show about not agreeing with the press release for their latest album, a live stream session that became a live album, touring with the COVID-19 variants still lurking around, his dream collaborator and being fairly mum about the next Deerhoof album.
RD: According to the press release, “Actually, You Can” is meant to be a thematic inverse of the 2012 album “Breakup Song.” How did you go about making this vision possible with your latest studio release?
GS: That’s an interesting theory, but I actually don’t agree with ourselves on that one. I don’t really think that it’s the thematic inverse, I think a lot of our records are thematically the same. It’s the attempt to churn up a bit of an optimistic feeling and kind of motivation for increased energy in the midst of somewhat absurd, ludicrous or dark situations. I would say this is true in “Breakup Song,” which at least on the surface has this main theme of a romantic relationship coming to an end. It’s also true in the case of “Actually, You Can,” which has more to do with things like the world coming to an end and our species about to be terminated by artificial scarcity and the feeling of powerlessness & hopelessness created by our own American oligarchy.
RD: I totally get you on that. Deerhoof also has a very upbeat sound that counteracts themes of despair, absurdity, heartbreak and like you said, hopelessness. I really enjoy that dynamic.
GS: Thank you.
RD: No problem. A couple months after the album’s release, the band released the live album “Devil Kids” that was taken from a live stream Deerhoof did back in December 2021. How did you go about setting up the equipment for the stream in Ed Rodriguez’s basement and how long did it take you to mix the audio by yourself?
GS: It was very quick. By far, the most time was spent reacquainting ourselves with each other. We live in four different cities so we hadn’t seen each other in two years. We had put out something like four records during those two years, but that’s not even counting various collaborations and side projects that each of us had done. As Deerhoof, I think we put out four records with Devil Kids being the fifth during this hiatus from any touring.
Touring was completely our life and like any busy touring band we were probably doing around 100 shows a year for many years in a row. For us, the return to being in each other’s presence, not on a phone call, was a little high stakes. It felt a little like, “are we going to remember how to play any of our instruments? Do we still have any rapport with each other musically? Can we remember any of our songs?” Probably more challenging than any of those was, “can we play any of our new songs that we’ve released in the past two years?”
We’ve never actually played them in a room at the same time and it was all done remotely so the jury was still out on if we could actually play any of those songs. We spent a lot of time in Ed’s basement finding out the answers to those questions and I think we were all delighted to realize that we still get along as real people. When I say still get along, I don’t necessarily mean we got back together and it felt the same or we struck each other as being the same people we had known in the years prior. I kind of mean that we all shifted a bit, just like everybody, and our personalities had changed slightly. I feel again, like a lot of people, that there had been a lot of time for self-reflection and by getting off the touring habit that was our default there became time to examine one’s life priorities, decide what was still important and what maybe isn’t important anymore.
Honestly, I think a lot of people had been going through that so the delight was not just that it was like it always was. It was more like meeting people who were somewhat new people and realizing by some miracle these four new people actually got along with each other and liked making music together. Once we had the songs down, recording it was a breeze and we sort of slammed into the songs. We basically ran the whole set down and then mixing it was also a breeze. We had mics on everything but the video was recorded with four cell phone cameras and actually the audio from the cell phones sounded pretty good.
RD: Oh, wow.
GS: Yeah, so I mixed it while having a mic on the kick drum, a mic on the guitar amp, etc., etc. I was also mixing in audio from the cell phones that sounded surprisingly good, which we were of course very proud of because it meant that it didn’t take a lot of trickery for our live sound together to kind of add up. It was pretty good and I could hear everything, usually the problem is that I’m way too loud as the drummer so usually when you put a cell phone in front of us it’ll be nothing but cymbals or whatever. Either I learned to turn it down or they learned to turn it up but somehow there was a pretty good balance, so like I said, mixing it was a total breeze.
I never had such an easy time mixing a record. We weren’t planning to release it, it was our label at Joyful Noise. Once they heard it and they saw the video they were like, “Oh man, we gotta put out an LP version of this or an audio only version,” at least in a limited form, because they were so excited about how it sounded and we thought it was a cool idea.
RD: Do you think Deerhoof will ever do a live stream like this again or do you think this will be a one time only thing?
GS: If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this band is to never prognosticate. I never have any idea of what we might end up doing. One of those four records I was talking about that we put out in 2020 was a live record. “Devil Kids” isn’t exactly a live record in terms of being recorded in front of an audience but we performed live in Ed’s basement. I think right now we’re focused on preparing the next record and this one will be very not live and will not sound like a live record at all, that won’t be the concept of it. With the return of live concerts, it kind of reduces everybody’s need to feel like they need to do live streamed videos but it’s still pretty up in the air.
I have the feeling that this particular virus is going to be with us for a long time and the pandemic may just be getting started due to the utter mismanagement of it basically by the government. I feel that if the government had, or even if they still did tomorrow, chosen to pay all of us to stay home then we’d have no more virus. Just pay everybody a salary to stay home for two or three weeks and there’d be no hosts for a virus. They could have chosen to do that at any point during the past two years or at any point in the future but some CEO’s bottom line might be negatively affected so scrap that idea. You’re basically taking your life into your own hands if you have any sort of risk factors in your immune system or anything.
All of the enforcement is shifted to the venue and especially to the band. It’s like the band gets to be the cops and say “please wear a mask” or we request that everyone wears a mask to the show. Of course, not everyone wants to do that and like I said, if the government had treated it as drafting us all into the army of destroying the virus and they would pay us to do so then it would probably be different now. Countries like New Zealand did and it was a complete success, they’re having normal shows, everyone’s going out to eat and there are parties all the time because instead of not managing the virus they decided to manage it. For them, life is hunky dory while for the rest of us it’s like the population sort of matters but we have to keep the GDP in our thoughts and prayers.
It’s very risky and I’ve had so many friends in other bands while on tour in the past month catch COVID-19 and they have to cancel the rest of the tour and that’s that. They’re completely losing their shirt on the tour and they regret even going out because all they ended up doing was playing the first half of the tour. Somebody gets sick, they cancel all the rest and they’re quarantined for 10 days in some random town while having to stay in a hotel or something and they’re just screwed. That fate awaits anybody and it’s a very likely possibility for any artist that wants to try and mount a tour during a time like this. To answer your question, it’s hard to say because everybody might be back on live streams before we know it if a new wave of the virus suddenly rises up tsunami-like, but I hope that doesn’t happen.
RD: Let’s hope it doesn’t but I totally get where you’re coming from. Outside of Deerhoof, you’ve established quite a resume of collaborations over the years including projects with Sean Lennon, Brian Chippendale from Lightning Bolt, Joanna Newsom, Mike Watt from The Minutemen and Nels Cline from Wilco to name a few. Who would you say is your absolute dream collaborator dead or alive to make music with? If you had to pick anyone from music history to do something with, who would it be?
GS: It’s funny you should phrase it quite that way when you say my “dream collaborator.” I do have a dream collaborator and I’ve dreamed about either collaborating with this person or replacing this person in their band probably since I was 13. I have this recurring dream at least once a month in different variations and that would be Keith Richards. I would love to play in his band, perhaps you’ve heard of them.
RD: Of course (laughs), the Rolling Stones.
GS: Either that or become Keith Richards. I don’t use any substances or anything so my qualifications are somewhat low. I’m mostly known as a drummer but in my dreams I fancy myself as a truly excellent rhythm guitarist, so I would love to either be Keith Richards if he wants to take a break one day or I could be someone else in the band. I’ve dreamt of being various people in that band over the years. I’ve been the drummer, I’ve been the bass player and I’ve been the other guitar player, they’re all pretty fun so I’d say Keith Richards. Keith is a Connecticut resident if I’m not mistaken.
RD: He does have a mansion in Weston.
GS: Maybe he’ll log on, read this interview and realize that Greg Saunier is actually reaching out to him and is looking to make some musical magic happen.
RD: Let’s hope so, Greg. You mentioned earlier how Deerhoof is in the beginning stages of their next record, so how far along is it? Is it still in the early parts of the process or has there been anything fleshed out already?
GS: Well, what I’ve already said is more than anyone else on this planet knows so you’ve already got the major scoop.
RD: Good to know.
GS: What can I add? The songs have been written, there are some songs. These are some good ones and that’s all I’m gonna say about it. Yeah, we got some songs and stuff.
Photo Credit: Jess Joy