Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier talks to SCV about Deerhoof vs Evil
Greg Saunier has been the drummer for San Francisco band Deerhoof since the group’s inception in the mid-90’s. The group has been known for primitive and lo-fi experimental music that dives into so many directions of sound, a genre label for them is meaningless. I always hear art rock, experimental rock, noise rock and various labels that center around these directions of sound but the body of work they have created is a world of its own.
Deerhoof have been together for over 15 years and have not looked back since the beginning when they signed to Kill Rock Stars. Deerhoof vs Evil was released in January of this year in various regions around the world and is one of our favorite records this year here at SCV. Enjoy the interview we conducted with drummer Greg Saunier of Deerhoof.
SCV interviews Greg Saunier of Deerhoof
Fall of 2011
Conducted by Erik Otis
You guys released your latest full length through various labels in different regions. Is this format most comfortable for you guys when releasing your music to the world?
You know, I never really cared much about format. For me as a music fan it was always just about being able to hear the music, cassette, vinyl, or CD. That’s why I got pretty excited when mp3s were created.
But recently I was in a friend’s clothing boutique here in New York and they were playing some a record, an English ska compilation from the mid 80s. And I thought to myself “I would never buy these songs on iTunes in a million years, but hearing my friend dressed up playing this record in this situation with all these fancy clothes around me, this music means something to me at this moment.”
Just last night I was talking to my friends who were saying “Yeah I heard this Willie Nelson album at a club one night and it just sounded so amazing. But when I went home to buy the mp3s i realized that I didn’t actually like it. It was just the club PA and the mood I was in and stuff.” And I totally related to that. That has happened to me so many times.
But now I’m wondering – Why would I consider the experience of some music in a social or real-world context as being somehow less real than listening to it in isolation. The song out of any context and me just by myself on computer with my critical ears on. Like I was some kind of music critic. Heck no. So now I’m starting to look for chances to appreciate music in whatever form it takes and with people around to give the music a meaning it wouldn’t have otherwise.
In the notes for Deerhoof vs Evil it says “Cover photograph courtesy of National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office”. What is the story behind this choice of an image and the title Deerhoof vs Evil?
We had done Offend Maggie, our last record, and it was all about personal relationships. We felt like we wanted to go really big on our next one, almost TOO big. After we while we hit on that title and thought it was funny, because how is something as insignificant as Deerhoof going to do anything to actually fight evil. There’s something darkly humorous to me about the futility of being born with a drive to be a musician when people around me were starting non-profits or becoming politicians or doctors or teachers. In a way I feel some of the same feeling of futility being born in an ugly, oppressive world where the atomic bomb has already been used, by my country even. The fact that our bassist and singer Satomi is from Japan complicated the situation more, and we’ve come back to the theme of the atomic bomb several times, especially on Apple O’.
Deerhoof vs Evil was released in January of this year and the band has done a lot of touring for the record. How have the shows been going for this years schedule?
They’ve been amazing. You’d think that after all this time we would have our thing down… You know, we’d know how to play together, how to set up, what equipment to use, what songs to play and what outfits to wear. The audience should know what to expect and we should know what that is and just go ahead and do it. And somehow it never feels like that. Less now than ever. The feeling of concentration and fun from the audience this year has been more than it’s ever been.
Greg, you have been drumming for the band since the beginning. What type of different drum kits have you used for the band live and in studio?
Well this summer was a really interesting experience for me. We were playing so many festivals and so I was playing a different kit every day. Then some days would be a regular show in a small club. Add to the shows we played this summer weren’t only with Deerhoof. The four members of Deerhoof were part of a 19-member group called Congotronics Vs. Rockers that was also touring. So the whole summer was just constantly going back and forth between not just different drum kits but different playing styles. In a club I have to keep my volume under control, but outdoors I can go completely wild. In CvR my role in the band was to be really precise and hold down the rhythm.
In all of this I really found that the actual kit itself hardly made any difference after a while. I got used to switching around. How you tune the drums makes 10 times more difference in the sound. And especially of course, just how you play them is where the real issue is.
Deerhoof vs Evil was self recorded in the bands rehearsal space and basement. How long did it take to track everything, mix and have the final result that we hear today?
I can’t remember. Several months. Some songs were AOK after one take but then took forever to mix. Others were recorded in little bits and pieces and almost written in the computer. There really never seems to be any rule about how long it takes or how any song comes together. I’ve been doing a lot of remixes lately and I’ve been trying to push myself to do them faster, just to see if I can do it. Because sometimes with working on the same song for months, you can really start to lose perspective on it, not to mention lose your mind. But we’ll see next time I’m just kidding myself and it takes as long as usual.
I love the type of variation in tone on Deerhoof vs Evil. From the acoustic and beautiful guitar work on ‘No One Asked to Dance’ to the dream like rhythmic state of ‘Must Fight Current’. Does the band meet extensively for rehearsals and construction of songs or is the process based in the moment?
The instrumental parts of ‘No One Asked To Dance’ were written entirely by Ed, and it was finished before we started playing it together. He made a demo that sounds a lot like the finished record minus the vocals. It took maybe a few hours to rehearse it to where we could really play it. That’s when we hit record. We added the vocals a couple months later. The lyrics came to me one day, kind of all at once. When we recorded the vocals it also happened so fast. I seem to remember teaching Satomi the vocal part and having a finished take about 10 minutes later.
‘Must Fight Current’ was a lot more complicated. Different sections were written and recorded at different times. We didn’t even know at the time we recorded them that they would end up in the same song. A lot of our songs were like that. Most of this one was written by John but the version we played when we recorded it was pretty different from John’s original idea. The sort of metallic noises at the beginning were from a rare Deerhoof jam that we recorded. All the guitars that come in a few seconds later were recorded as a section to some other song we didn’t use. Later we put the guitars on top of the metallic jam and then used that as the intro to the rest of the song.
For the vocals, John and I wrote vocal melodies and lyrics totally separately. We thought we’d just let Satomi choose whichever one she liked best. But in the end we all liked both versions so John sings his and Satomi sings mine, at the same time.
How much time does the band spend together outside of the time all of you dedicate towards music?
Does riding in the van count?
Sure, why not [laughs]. We always love to dive into the non obvious areas of influence from artists. What are some sources of influence, good or bad, that the band received before creating Deerhoof vs Evil most would never expect?
We had just played Poland for the very first time. The Off Festival, 2009. We had a truly amazing experience there. Felt like the audience just totally got what we were doing, got our sense of humor and seemed really into it. Also our driver on that European tour (and every one since) was Jakub who is Czech. He also has a great sense of humor and I started thinking that Eastern Europe must be some kind of golden zone for humor. That we should play there as often as possible.
In the in-flight magazine on the way home from that Poland show they had an article about the history of Poland during the 20th Century. Being invaded by Germany, then becoming part of the Eastern Bloc under Soviet domination. It mentioned how the Polish sense of humor stayed intact through all of these dark and oppressive times. They described Poland’s reputation as “the merriest barracks in Europe”. That’s where the idea for our record first started to form in my mind.
The releases Deerhoof puts out always get the special vinyl treatment. Color discs and odd sizes and so forth. Do you find a big difference from when you listen to your albums in the vinyl format as opposed to the digital formats everyone commonly consumes music in?
I wouldn’t know because our label Polyvinyl still hasn’t sent me my complimentary copies of our vinyl.
How much writing does the band do on the road?
It’s not that simple, because even when we’re not sitting down at a desk and saying “OK I’m writing now” our subconsciousness are always at work. Many of my song ideas come to me when I least expect it, like in dreams for example. So for me actually being on tour isn’t the most fruitful writing time because I always have songs in my head already, either ours or the opening bands’ songs, from hearing them every night. Which tends to squeeze out other original ideas. Satomi needs peace and quiet to write songs and that’s pretty hard to come by on tour. But John for example, he’s always noodling on the guitar, like backstage, so I guess he’s probably coming up with something.
What have been the most inspiration or memorable places the band has traveled to together and do these experiences have a direct translation into the music?
No inspiration is direct even when you think it is. I guess the most inspirational place the band travels to is the stage. That’s the one I come back to more than any other in my mind, when I’m trying to write songs or imagine what our record should sound like.
Thank you so much Greg, we look forward to the next record and will continue to listen to this new one for a very long time. Cheers.
*The LP for this release has been pressed in a 180 gram limited number format of 2000 colored vinyl by Polyvinyl Record Company along with the CD and digital formats.
Deerhoof will be heading to New Zealand and Australia in the beginning of next year to continue touring for Deerhoof vs Evil. SOURCE.
From the album Deerhoof vs. Evil. Purchase LP / CD / MP3 here – polyvinylrecords.com/deerhoofvsevil
Directed by Ewan MacLeod – emacleod.com/
Produced by Plot USA (Jamie Houge & Virginia Kay)
Jess Gower (hunter)
Ashleigh Dejon (creature)
DP/Stunts by Puven Pather
Camera Assistant: Sal Vega
Art / Wardrobe: Nina Sawtell
Sound: Ryan Carman
Production Assistants: Harli Ames & Kate McGregor
Stills: Dion Majak
Creature Sculpture by Jessie Fohrman
Creature Illustration and Storyboards: Sean Edward
Creature blink by Mark Williams at GOMi
Special thanks to: Zach Reeder & Helena Randall