Over the course of almost three decades Deerhoof have carved themselves a reputation for doing things differently. Their magical, joyfully adventurous music veers from anti-fascist anthems and environmental protest songs to playful tunes about ducks and pandas, incorporating all the hues and tones of the musical palette and taking in elements of hip hop, classical music and traditional forms from around the world to create a blissful experimental avant-alt-rock-psych-pop-art-folk-jazz-noise-punk (I could go on but I might wear out the hyphen button on my keyboard) sound that radiates warmth like a hug for your ears.
What can a band with such well-established boundary-pushing DIY credentials do to continue confounding expectations? Well, perhaps the last thing we expected was for them to record an album in an actual studio with a producer for the first time, and that’s just what they’ve done for their 19th LP Miracle Level. Performed in singer/bassist Satomi Matsuzaki’s native Japanese, the record is described by producer Mike Birdavsky as “Deerhoof at their most sparse and vulnerable.”
We asked drummer Greg Saunier ten questions about the new LP, inspirations and fantasy collaborations.
1) What inspires you to make music?
I don’t think it’s inspiration first and then music-making second. The inspiration is the music itself. It comes to me whether I like it or not. Always has. Not that I’m complaining!
2) What is the best description of your music that you’ve read/heard in a review?
On a blog called The Night Mail, there was an essay about the power relationship inherent in pop songs, and how the “vocal-subject” can resist the power of instrumental forces. I’ve never seen anyone explain Satomi’s role in Deerhoof so well: She is the radically self-assertive Other, rejecting bourgeois values, refusing to fit in, and maintaining her right to be wholly unknowable.
3) This is the first album that you’ve written in Japanese, did this require you to change your approach to songwriting?
We don’t really have much of an approach to songwriting to begin with. No two songs ever get born through the same womb. But Satomi has often written the lyrics for our songs, after the music was already done, and this was like that too. I don’t think it was super different for her, since she is bilingual.
4) It’s also the first that’s been recorded entirely in a studio with a producer – how did this change the process of making the record and has the experience left you keen to work this way again?
Usually we record very fast and then have to spend months getting things right in post-production. This time we only had two weeks at the studio, from setting up instruments to walking out with a finished record. So we took months getting the songs written just the way we liked them, and rehearsed them over and over until we could play them just so. Very normal way to record a record, but it was the exact opposite of what we were used to.
5) Is there a venue or city that you’d especially love to play, and why?
Probably Kinshasa. We were in a group in 2011 with Congolese bandmates, and ever since then I’ve wished I could see them again, visit their home, and play music for their friends and music community.
6) What is the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you at a gig?
Going to a place Deerhoof has never been before, and the audience is jammed and they sing along with our songs! It is completely bananas. Nothing like hearing your own private ideas that came to you in a daydream being sung back to you at full volume by a room full of former strangers.
7) If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be and why?
I would dismantle the music industry.
8) If you could collaborate with any artist, past or present, who would it be and what would you work on together?
I’d like to collaborate with Satomi, Ed and John. Who are in my band. But who live too far away from me. I miss them!
9) Who is your favourite new band/artist that we should be checking out and what do you like about them?
Lately I’ve been checking out Accademia dell’Annunciata & Riccardo Doni. Their new record Durante: Concerti per archi is really good! Lots going on in the continuo section. All those harpsichords and theorbos sound like Keith and Ronnie.
10) If you could give any aspiring musicians one piece of advice, what would it be?
There is no such thing as an aspiring musician! We’re all musicians from the moment we come out of the womb singing. My advice would be to not take the business sector’s definition of music too seriously. Humans and other animals have been making music for aeons. The thing where music got defined as recorded content that goes through record labels and streaming services and record review websites — this conception of music is barely a blip.
Miracle-Level is out now via Joyful Noise Recordings – order now on Bandcamp
Find out more on Deerhoof’s official website
Interview by Paul Maps
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